2012 Growth

Last weekend we were at Linden for the annual barrel tasting and I snapped this picture of the vineyards. The growth is well on it’s way. Some say as much as three weeks earlier than last year.

Friday Wines

A few weeks ago, on a Friday evening, we enjoyed a few wines as we usually do. We’ve been busy posting about events and winery visits that we had to put this off a few weeks.

We started the evening with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Glen Manor Vineyards. We are huge fans of Jeff White’s wines and this sauvignon blanc didn’t disappoint. We had it with manchego cheese and sour dough bread. While enjoying the wine we definitely noticed grassy and boxwood on the nose. On the tongue we noticed tropical fruit, minerality, and a nice crisp ending. It paired wonderfully with the cheese and bread.

For dinner we were having lasagna and selected the 2009 Private Reserve Red from Chrysalis Vineyards from the VIP Wine Club. We noted dried fruit, tobacco, anise, and a whiff of sandalwood. In the mouth we noted dried plum, dried herbs, tobacco, and a vanilla finish. We think this wine is still integrating and could benefit from more time on the rack. The acidity of the wine did a nice job of cutting the red sauce of the lasagna. Yes, it is a little young but paired well with our meal.

We’ll continue to enjoy our Friday wines and post about our impressions. If you haven’t been to Glen Manor Vineyards or Chrysalis Vineyards lately, plan a trip to visit them soon and tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Linden Barrel Tasting

The Linden Barrel Tasting is an event that we always mark on our calendars. This year’s tasting featured some white wines from the 2011 vintage, a 2011 Claret, and special releases from the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Paired with the wines were delicious treats from the Ashby Inn and Restaurant.

Our tasting started on the right note with a sample of the 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc paired with mussels. We’re big fans of the Avenius Sauvignon Blanc, and we were huge fans of this 2011 vintage. Lots of citrus and soft melon notes with a nice acidity made for a refreshing wine that is destined to please summer palates. From there we proceeded to the barrel room where we tasted samples from the 2011 Avenius Chardonnay, the 2011 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, and the 2011 Boisseau Chardonnay. Each offered a unique style—the Avenius presented a Chablis-style wine while the Hardscrabble seemed reminiscent of an Old-World, Burgundian white wine. The Boisseau offering most resembled a New World Chardonnay with a heavier mouth feel and pineapple flavors. All were lovely. Favorites? That might depend on what’s for dinner. Oysters? Avenius. White fish or chicken? Hardscrabble. Anything with a cream sauce? Boisseau.

The 2011 Claret was enjoyed with a sample of specialty sausages from Croftburn Market in Culpeper. Was 2011 the year of dismay for Virginia red wines? This Claret would answer, “No.” Fruity and light bodied, its mix included Merlot (44%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), and Cabernet Franc (20%). I thought that it paired best with the spiciest meat sample, the pepperoni. Like other 2011 red wine samples that we have tasted, I suspect that this 2011 Claret will be enjoyed upon release rather than later.

We moved on to the special release room where we were able to compare and contrast the 2008 and 2009 red blends from the Boisseau, Hardscrabble, and Avenius vineyards. I noted a distinct difference between the vintages that suggested something other than different years or blend composites, and it was in this room that I recorded the quote of the day from Jim Law. When asked about the more fruit-forward style of the 2009 vintages by another taster in the room, Law responded, “I lost the fear of my grapes.” Law explained that he learned from winemakers in Bordeaux that extraction is the ultimate key to crafting good red wine rather than intense ripening in the vineyard. With this lesson learned, Law described the 2009 season as a shift in his own winemaking style. The difference was most evident in the 2009 Hardscrabble Red. The 2008 vintage represented a style that was characteristic of the Hardscrabble wines— very structured with earthier nuances and berry flavors. The 2009 vintage, though, presented layers of fruit at the start with deep plum and dark cherry characteristics. A similar style was evident in the rounder 2009 Boisseau Red in which Merlot dominated (44%), and the Petit Verdot-led 2009 Avenius Red.

The tasting seemed to end too early; however, we took advantage of a nice spring afternoon to sit on the deck with a glass of a favorite Linden wine. Barn swallows fluttered about, and the scent of wisteria wafted from below. It could not have been a more perfect afternoon. Be sure to visit Linden for a tasting of Jim Law’s exquisite wines, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Jefferson Vineyards Celebrates Jefferson’s B’day

And what better way to celebrate the Founding Father of Virginia wine’s birthday than tasting the exquisite Meritage blends at Jefferson Vineyards. Winemaker Andy Reagan hosted this event; of course, we had a great time.

The oldest wine poured at this event was the 2002 Meritage; the youngest, the still evolving 2010 Meritage. We attended last year’s Meritage tasting, and as I recall my favorite was the 2007 Meritage that was a blend of Cabernet Franc (39%), Merlot (26%), Cabernet Sauvignon (18%) and Petit Verdot (17%). This year’s favorite? The complex 2007 Meritage! Brambleberry characteristics with earthy nuances and a smooth finish made for a wine that can still get better with age. Paul’s own fave was the 2004 Meritage. No surprise here—Merlot comprises 70% of the blend, and Paul is a Merlot addict. Cabernet Franc (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (7%) and Malbec (3%) completed the mix. Paul noted cherry flavors and a whiff of dried herbs.

Andy also offered samples of his Meritage Reserve wines. These are his special blends. One reserve was a blend of the 07, 08, 09 vintages; the other, a mix of the 08, 09 and 10 vintages. Each vintage was aged separately in new French oak puncheons for 48 months, 36 months and 24 months respectively. Of these, my preference was the first blend—dark fruit elements with aromas of sweet tobacco suggested a complex, heavy pour. Meat and cigars are mandatory partners with this one!

The tasting stations offered foods to pair with each Meritage. Grilled beef, duck, and an assortment of cheeses added to the tasting experience. Of course, Paul gravitated to the sliced duck breast, but he does enjoy duck with complex wines. Now if only he would eat asparagus!

Other distinguished guests included the dynamic duo who write Swirl, Sip, Snark. We enjoyed comparing notes and chatting about wine. Andy was a generous host who answered all of our questions and engaged us in all sorts of banter. Of course, we wondered when Paul would stop eating all of the duck!

Be sure to pay Andy Reagan a visit at Jefferson Vineyards, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Wine and Conversation with Stephen Barnard

A weekend trip to the Charlottesville area also coincided with the birthday of Thomas Jefferson. Of course, we had to celebrate the occasion by visiting Virginia wineries located near Jefferson’s home, Monticello. On our list of places to go was Keswick Vineyards, and fortunate for us we met up with award-winning winemaker, Stephen Barnard. Stephen treated us to a tasting of current releases, samples of upcoming releases and in the process gave us his impressions of the tricky 2011 harvest.

Of the current offerings, my favorites was the 2010 Viognier with its honeysuckle and coconut aromas and flavor of apricot; it also offered a heavier mouth-feel thanks to barrel fermentation and aging in neutral French oak barrels for ten months. The 2010 Cabernet Franc was my favorite red with its aromas of violet and mixed red berries; it presented a spicy edge to boot! However, the 2009 Les Vent d’Anges Rives Red should not be ignored. Made from the Syrah grape, its smoky nose and dark fruit flavors should partner well with any thing that moos.

We were interested in 2011 wines, though, and Stephen was more than willing to oblige us with samples of current and upcoming releases from the vintage. Some are already in bottles. One version of a 2011 Rose was made from Cabernet Sauvignon and recalled fruity Spanish-style Roses with abundant red berry flavors. Another version that is now being poured in the tasting room is likewise dry but lighter with bright strawberry and melon flavors. Both presented a refreshing acidity. The 2011 Viognier Signature (which bears the signature of owner Al Schonberg) was similar to the 2010 Reserve; a well-balanced wine, tasters may think that it resembles Viognier produced from France. Rich yet fruity with some coconut aromas, I thought that it was delightful.

Stephen then treated us to several barrel samples. A couple of standouts here would include a big barrel of the 2011 Chardonnay. This was my favorite of the barrel samples. It was creamy, well rounded, and presented a nutty finish. Paul really enjoyed the sample from the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon in American oak. It was fruit forward, with notes of sweet tobacco, cherry and raspberry. This will probably be blended with a barrel of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon in a French oak barrel. Another interesting barrel sample came from the 2011 Norton in new American oak. Paul is not a big fan of Norton but enjoyed the fruity nature of this wine. Blueberry really came through. With the chance to try these barrel samples, we can see there are some great wines to come from Keswick.

So what was Barnard’s take on the 2011 growing season? “I think it was a good thing for winemaking in Virginia. The 2011 wines will present more acidity and more finesse than what is evident in the 2010 wines.” Stephen’s comments seem to represent a trend in opinions from winemakers across the state. Was it a troublesome season? Yes. Will it be impossible to make quality wines? No. Much of this will have to do with vineyard location, of course. However, the winemaker’s diligence and skill will also play a role. We were very pleased with the 2011 samples that we tasted at Keswick Vineyards.

As we left Keswick Vineyards, we spied a Thomas Jefferson impersonator in period clothing and telltale red ponytail. We are sure that the original Mr. Jefferson would approve of the wines at Keswick Vineyards. Be sure to visit Keswick Vineyards, and remember to mention that you read about the wines at Virginia Wine Time.

Mind The Gap

Yes, mind the wines at Chester Gap Cellars—they are quite good. We made a pre-spring break visit to the winery, and as always, Bernd Jung’s wines continue to impress.

Our tasting started with the two dry white wines, the stainless steel fermented 2009 Viognier and the creamier Viognier Reserve that is aged in oak barrels. Guess who preferred the oaked version? I did, of course. The eight months of aging in oak barrels imparted a weightier mouth feel while presenting peachy fruit characteristics. Paul goes for the crisper white wines that stainless steel fermentation tends to produce. I actually liked this one too with its intoxicating floral notes and, as Paul noted, “really peachy flavors.”

The red wines were likewise very solid. We both enjoyed the 2009 Merlot and appreciated its aromas of cherry, raspberry, dried herbs and sweet tobacco. We also noted similar fruit characteristics in the mouth, and Paul observed a “smooth finish.” Paul is the Merlot fan, and he jotted down, “daily sipper” on the tasting sheet. The 2009 Cabernet Franc proved to be a bit bolder but also well crafted with characteristic dark berry, eucalyptus and spice elements. However, the ultimate red wine had to be the young 2009 Vintners Red. Aged for 24 months in oak barrels and just bottled in February, this blend includes 53% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot. Earthy elements prevailed; however, swirling coaxed dark fruit and spicy aromas to appear. Buy now but drink later is my advice; in fact, I purchased a bottle for a future dinner that may feature leg of lamb!

Our tasting finished with the 2010 Petit Manseng. We are starting to hone our knowledge on this upcoming varietal in Virginia as it is appearing more frequently on tasting menus in the state. This one was presented as more of a dessert wine with residual sugar just under 6%. We also learned that Bernd Jung has planted Rousanne vines, and we were treated to a sneak pour of a newly bottled Rousanne. We’re not sure of Jung’s plans for the Rousanne grapes, but we intend to keep up with this development.

So as we tasted away at the tasting bar, Paul and I made note of the ever-present crack in the tasting room’s cement floor, and our tasting associates confirmed that indeed the crack had become a conversation piece as well as a permanent fixture. In fact, a future plan may be some sort of social media site entitled, “Mind the Gap.” We liked the idea as much as we enjoyed the wines. Paul and I shared a glass of the 2009 Merlot while enjoying a warm afternoon on the winery’s deck. Of course, we made sure to purchase some of our favorite wines. Plan a visit to Chester Gap Cellars, and be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.