Virginia Wine Time

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Month: April 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Special Tasting at Linden

Winemaker Jim Law held a special release tasting of upcoming wines at Linden. We look forward to attending this annual event, and this year was no exception. Gorgeous spring weather, bursting blossoms, and fluttering birds provided an idyllic setting to boot.

Jim Law explains the chardonnays.

Jim Law explains the chardonnays.


The event featured five tasting stations, and the first station was located on the outdoor crush pad and appropriately named First Sip. Chardonnay was the star attraction here, and there were four of them to sip. These included the 2011 and 2010 Avenius Chardonnay followed by the 2011 and 2010 Hardscrabble Chardonnay. The Avenius site is known for its rocky soils and thus produces leaner wines with mineral characteristics; we both agreed that the 2011 better presented these unique qualities of the Avenius vineyard. Shellfish will be perfect with one! The Hardscrabble site with its clay soils produce fuller-bodied wines; of the two, I preferred the 2010 Hardscrabble Chardonnay with its richer mouth feel.
Shari Avenious pours her chardonnays.

Shari Avenious pours her chardonnays.


From the white wine station, we moved on to the red wines held in the barrel room. We moved through four tables that presented a total of seven red wines. The first table featured a 2010 Cabernet Franc, and this will be the first time that Law has released a single-varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc in quite some time; however, the 2010 Cabernet Franc proved to be jammier and more muscular than in previous years. Law therefore opted to bottle it on its own. We approved of the decision and enjoyed our sample with a spicy lamb meatball.
Richard Boisseau discusses the 2009 vintage.

Richard Boisseau discusses the 2009 vintage.


The other tables provided more opportunities to sample wines from the 2009 and the 2010 vintages. In all cases, we tended to prefer the 2009 pours. The most accessible was the 2009 Boisseau Red, a blend of 43% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, and 26% Petit Verdot. The 2009 Hardscrabble Red proved to be the most complex and was dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (64%) then Merlot (14%) and Petit Verdot (3%). Paul was a big fan of the 2009 Avenius Red with its plum notes and earthy elements.
There were plenty of nibbles at the special tasting.

There were plenty of nibbles at the special tasting.


Though we did enjoy the 2009 vintages, it was hard to ignore the potential for the 2010 red wines. The 2010 harvest was best since the heralded 2007 season, and it was telling that Cabernet Sauvignon heavily dominated all of the 2010 blends. I am always a fan of the Hardscrabble reds, and once again the 2010 Hardscrabble Red was my favorite of the still evolving 2010 blends. Remember, though, that the 2009 blend contained 64% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 version? 83% I have no doubt that the 2010 Hardscrabble Red will have great cellaring potential once it is released.

We completed our release tasting and then opted to try the current releases in the tasting room. Here again we were able to taste a contrast of seasons. Law has released a 2011 Red, a bright and light bodied red blend that would be suitable with a pizza, burger, or spicy fare. (I called this one a Beaujolais-style wine due to its soft, fruity nature, but I’m not sure if Jim would consider it a complement.) Anyway, it was the product of a very rainy and difficult year yet it was very quaffable. Be sure to enjoy soon, though. It might be an option for Thanksgiving dinner, too. (Paul ended up buying two bottles!). On the other hand, the 2010 Claret was more complex with smoky notes and ripe dark fruit flavors. Steak on the grill? This would pair nicely. Unlike its younger sibling, this one will be able to hang out on the wine rack for a while.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow


Our tastings were done, and we decided to linger for a while with a glass of our favorites. I savored a glass of the 2009 Hardscrabble Red, and Paul enjoyed a glass of the 2009 Avenius Red. We munched on a smoky gouda cheese, summer sausage, and a baguette, and Paul snapped pictures of barn swallows as they flew back and forth between a dark space beneath the deck and nearby trees.
Chardonnay bud break at Linden.

Chardonnay bud break at Linden.


We enjoyed our special release tasting and made sure to purchase some very special wines. Plan a trip to Linden, and mention that Virginia Wine time sent you.

Bloggers Judge Sparkling Wines

Yes, we are back on track with our regular posts about Virginia wine, and this entry will present the results of a tasting that featured sparkling wines. This has become something of a tradition for Virginia bloggers, and we thank Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like for his continued efforts in putting this contest together. Other Virginia wine bloggers in attendance were VWD and GEG from Swirl Sip Snark, Anthony and Jaymie from Virginia Pour House blog, Megan Headley who writes for CVille Weekly, Allan and Kris from Cellar Blog, and Pia Mara Finkell from The BuzzBin. This year’s tasting was held at Early Mountain Vineyards, and thirteen bubblies were tossed into the ring.
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Of the thirteen, ten were from Virginia, one was from the Finger Lakes, another was from New Mexico, and a final outside entry hailed from Spain.
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The judging was done blind. What were the results? How did Virginia’s sparkling fare? When all was tasted, here is how they ranked:

1. Thibaut-Janisson 2008 Cuvee D’etat: This was also my own personal favorite with nice yeasty notes and elements of apple and pear.
2. Thibaut-Janisson NV Blanc de Chardonnay: This also earned the second spot on my own list.
3. Trump 2008 Blanc de Blanc
4. Thibaut-Janisson NV Fizz: This one earned my third place finish.
5. Veritas NV Scintilla
6. Dr. Frank Winery 2006 Chateau Frank (from the Finger Lakes region)
7. Barboursville NV Brut
8. Prince Michel Winery NV Sparkling Wine
9. Gruet Winery NV: Last year it earned the top spot; I placed this one at #11 on my own scorecard. Off aromas and a flatter palate led to a dramatic fall in the ratings this year.
10. Paradise Springs Winery NV Apres
11. Afton Mountain 2010 Bollicine
12. Horton NV Sparkling Viognier: This one earned my #13 rating. It had no characteristics of a sparkling wine. Not one bubble, and I searched in vain for at least one to dance its way to the top of the glass. It tasted like a flat Viognier, and I do mean flat.
13. Jaume Serra Christalino NV Brut Cava: Off aromas and an odd finish sent this one to the bottom of the rankings. It did bubble, though, and for that reason I gave it an edge over the Horton Sparkling.
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So cheers to Virginia: in particular, kudos to Claude Thibaut-Janisson for his continued excellence in producing premier sparkling wines. Special thanks must be extended to Michelle, Jacob, and the entire Early Mountain team for not only hosting the event at their wonderful facility but also for providing us with the stemware, cheeses, breads and deli meats to nibble as we sipped.
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This is the time of year for graduations, weddings, engagements, and other special events. Celebrate a special occasion with a bottle of sparkling wine from Virginia. The local wine shop may sell the Thibaut-Janisson selections; if not, ask that they do. Mention that Virginia Wine Time recommends them!

Hidden Gem

A few weeks ago, before the Drink Local Wine conference in Baltimore, we were cruising around Loudoun County visiting wineries when we decided to stop at Hiddencroft Vineyards. We hadn’t visited Hiddencroft for quite awhile and things had changed. First of all we noticed they are no longer conducting tastings in winery. They now conduct the tastings in the Dutchman’s Creek tasting house. The tasting house is a 1830s farm house that sits on the property that used to be adjacent to their original property. They acquired the property in 2011 and by Labor Day that year began conducting the tastings there. There are two tasting counters and with rooms on the second floor for larger groups. There is also a deck attached to the house where you can enjoy your wine and nibbles with beautiful views of the vineyard and surrounding property. The day we visited was sunny and warm and the views were wonderful. The deck was hopping with music and lots of visitors enjoying Hiddencroft wine.
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Owner and winemaker Clyde Housel conducted our tasting. We always enjoy tasting with Clyde. He doesn’t mind our numerous questions about the wines, the vineyard, and what’s new. We were able to taste the full lineup of wines and of course a few stood out as our favorites. We began the tasting with the 2011 Chambourcin Rose. We noticed the pretty pink color and notes of melon and spice. This would be a nice summer sipper for picnics and concerts on the lawn at Wolf Trap. Of the white wines our favorite was the 2011 Traminette Dry. It has a floral nose with hints of apple and tropical notes. We enjoyed the apple and white pepper notes on the tongue. There is also a semi-sweet version that would pair well with spicy dishes.

After the whites, we moved on to the lineup of red wines. While we thoroughly enjoyed the non-vintage Cabernet Franc and the Dutchman’s Creek Blend, the standout red was the 2008 Tannat. This red was aged for 42 months on oak. We noted tobacco on the nose with smoke, berries, and a smooth long finish in the mouth. This maybe the best Tannat we’ve tried in the whole state of Virginia. This wine is usually only available to purchase by the bottle but Clyde let us enjoy a glass. We enjoyed the glass on the deck with the other Hiddencroft visitors enjoying the beautiful day. We enjoyed the glass so much, we decided to bring a bottle home with us.
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We simply can’t let so much time pass before our next trip to Hiddencroft Vineyards. It’s a little gem of a winery tucked away in northern Loudoun County that shouldn’t be missed. If you haven’t been to Hiddencroft Vineyards in a while, you need to plan to return. And when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Drink Local Wine (Continued)

So I left off with the wine media junket arriving at the Waterfront Kitchen in Baltimore for a food and wine dinner. The menu continued with the locavore and locapour theme, and it featured locally grown food and locally produced wines.
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The menu included:

Reception: Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery Blanc de Blancs NV

First Course: Black bass, spring pea risotto, and beurre rose
Paired with Knob Hall Winery Rose 2011

Second Course: Gallentine of Chicken, pork sausage, swiss chard and mushroom jus
Paired with Port of Leonardtown Chambourcin 2010 (my fave on the menu)

Third Course: Roasted lamb rack, black truffle risotto, rosemary essence
Paired with: Basignani Winery Lorenzino Reserve 2005

Dessert: Picholine olive oil cake, vanilla ice cream, crème anglaise
Paired with: Serpent Ridge Vineyard Slither NV

Friday was certainly filled with food and wine. Saturday, though, was the day with panel discussions on the past, present and future of Maryland wine. Four sessions were held on these topics, and session moderators included wine blogger and publisher Carlo di Vito, wine columnist Dave McIntyre, Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, and viticulturist Dr. Joseph Fiola. Panelists included author Maguerite Thomas, chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen, Jade Ostner, director of event for the Maryland Wineries Association, radio host Al Spoler, winemakers Ed Boyce of Black Ankle, Dave Collins of Big Cork, Robert Deford of Boordy, and Tom Shelton of Bordeleau.
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I will not get into the nitty gritty details of each session; however, I will summarize the ten conclusions that I drew from them:

1. Maryland wines were not very good in the 1980s and 1990s; however, they have improved in the past decade. Skilled winemakers and viticulturists such as Lucie Morton have contributed to this.

2. Maryland’s climate shares some characteristics with Virginia and Pennsylvania; the best grape growing regions in the state are those that have higher elevations and rocky, less fertile soils.

3. Warm days and cool nights are ideal during growing season.

4. Best grapes for the state seem to be cabernet franc, chambourcin, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc and albarino with potential for quality chardonnay.

5. The focus especially for red wines should be blends rather than bottling single varietals. This is critical for troublesome years such as 2011.

6. Chambourcin has the potential to be the Norton of Maryland.

7. Maryland’s challenge is not quality but constituency, and winemakers should look to Europe for inspiration since they face similar year-to-year challenges.

8. Tight spacing of vines may be a best practice; this absorbs rain water.

9. Maryland wineries continue to open; 62 are now open for business

10. Consumers must enjoy the wine tasting experience and made aware of improved quality. Maryland Wineries Association will continue awareness programs such as Eat Drink Go Local.

The conference concluded with a twitter taste off that was held at Camden Yards. At least 20 Maryland wineries were on hand to pour their finest wines, and tasters were encouraged to tweet their impressions. The taste off was opened to the public after 4 PM. What were our favorites?
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White Wines:
Black Ankle 2011 Albarino
Old Westminster 2011 Chardonnay
Sugarloaf 2011 Pinot Grigio

Red Wines:
Big Cork 2012 Meritage
Boordy 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve
Black Ankle 2010 Crumbling Rock
Sugarloaf 2010 EVOE!

The ultimate champions of the twitter taste-off were the 2011 Albarino from Black Ankle and the Sugarloaf 2010 EVOE!

Drink Local Wine provided a perfect opportunity for Maryland winemakers to present the best wines, and there was no doubt that Maryland can produce quality wines. Most of our fellow bloggers had never tasted Maryland wines, and I must confess that we have visited only a couple of Maryland wineries. However, that will be changing. We plan to frequent Maryland wineries more often, and we encourage readers to do the same. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Drink Local Wine Comes to Maryland

dlw-drink-local-wine-logoDrink Local Wine, established in 2008 by Jeff Siegel of The Wine Curmudgeon and Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre, held its fifth annual drink local conference in Maryland on April 13. In previous years the conference was held in Texas, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado. We attended the event and concluded that it was a wonderful way to showcase the great strides made by Maryland’s winemakers. The next two posts will capture the highlights of the conference that culminated in a twitter tasting held at Camden Yards.

Our participation in the conference actually began with a media tour of Maryland wineries on Friday, April 12. We boarded a bus with other bloggers, columnists, and writers from the Tremont Suites Hotel in Baltimore. Our first destination was Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard located in Dickerson, Maryland. Winemaker Benoit Pineau was on hand to conduct a tasting of Sugarloaf’s wines; however, Elk Run Vineyards’ representatives were also on hand to likewise showcase their best wines. A buffet of cheeses, olives, breads and deli meats were offered for enjoyment. Favorites included the 2011 Comus, a lush Bordeaux blend created in a difficult year. Yes, Maryland got the same copious amounts of rain in 2011 that plagued Virginia that summer. My ultimate favorite, though, was the 2010 EVOE!, so named after the excited cries of ancient Bacchanalians to honor the god, Bacchus. In a contrast of seasons, the 2010 EVOE! was more dark-hued and complex. Like Comus, it is a Bordeaux-style blend. From Elk Run, I enjoyed the Alsatian-styled 2011 Gewurztraminer. Tours were offered, and an added treat was the ability to vote for an upcoming release. Benoit Pineau asked us all to sample four red wine samples and then to vote on a favorite, and these included a Cabernet Franc, a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc (75%) and Merlot (25%) blend and then a Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Franc (25%) blend. These were all from the 2012 vintage. My vote? The Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. Benoit will be the ultimate judge on which will be finally bottled, but I will definitely follow up to see if I picked the winner!
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By lunchtime, it was time for the press junket to leave Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards; our next destination was Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy. Did I mention lunch? It was here that we were treated to a lunch prepared by Woodberry Kitchen of Baltimore, a restaurant devoted to eating and drinking local. We were greeted by a glass of an outstanding 2012 Gruner Veltliner (yes, Gruner in Maryland) that complemented seasonal tartines. Lunch began with a warm greeting from owners Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron. They gave a brief synopsis of their story and the decision to make wine in Maryland. The couple opted to purchase farm property with the rockiest, least fertile soil possible; not good for corn or tomatoes, but great for a vineyard. Anyway, we tasted the excellent results of their decision. With grilled Chesapeake oysters we sipped the floral 2011 Bedlam, a blend of Chardonnay, Albarino, Muscat, Viognier and Gruner Veltliner. Wheat berry salad with radishes, pea shoots and pecans was paired with a berry-driven 2010 Rolling Hills, a red blend that included all of the Bordeaux grapes. The main event, though, was a platter of whole Maryland Suffolk grilled lamb, lamb sausage, scallions, and potatoes. The lamb was indeed fresh and local; Woodberry Kitchen’s George the Butcher butchered the lamb, and it was absolutely divine. Equally divine was the 2010 Leaf Stone Syrah with its elements of tobacco, dark plum, and blackberries. (This was my favorite pour of the day.) A dessert course rounded out our dining experience, and we were served Beiler’s Heritage Acres cornflour cake made from locally produced flour. This was partnered with a port-style Terra Dulce II.
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With our appetites satisfied, we departed for the last leg of our tour that concluded with a visit and tasting to Boordy Vineyards located in Hydes, Maryland. Vineyards here are nestled in the Piedmont Plateau and the Blue Ridge Province. Robert Deford greeted us and provided a brief history of the winery. Boordy Vineyards is the oldest commercial winery in Maryland, and Philip and Jocelyn Wagner established the winery in 1930 to protest Prohibition. Deford bought the property in 1980; however, he replanted the vineyard in 2005 to maximize its potential to produce world-class wines. We tasted the results in the tasting room. The buzz-worthy wines were the rich 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve and the 2010 Landmark Reserve, an award winning blended red wine. Also on hand to pour their wines was Cygnus Wine Cellars and Fiore Winery. Fiore Winery offered two grappas, and these were an interesting twist to the traditional line up of white, red and dessert wines.
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The day ended with a dinner at the Waterfront Kitchen in Fells Point, an event hosted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Wineries Association. Yes, more food and wine. However, I will provide details about this experience in the next post. Before I sign out, though, I must thank Nomacorc for sponsoring the very comfy bus that took us hither and yon. I’ll write more about Nomacorc in a future post.

Start your own tours of Maryland wineries soon. The wineries mentioned in this post are great places to begin. Just mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Italian Bubbles

I attended a tasting of Lombardy’s version of bubbly from Franciacorta. The tasting was held at the Capital Wine School and conducted by Michael Franz, a local wine writer, educator and consultant.
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Readers may recall that I have tasted sparkling wines from Franciacorta in the past as part of a Taste of Lombardy event in DC. However, this particular tasting focused exclusively on Franciacorta. So what did I think? Well, I’ll first provide some background about Franciacorta and the wines that is produces. Franciacorta is located in northern Italian region of Lombardy; in particular, in the foothills of the Alps. Still wines have been made in this region since the 1500s; sparkling wines, though, have been produced within the past 50 years. Franciacorta sparkling wines are produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco. The styles range from Saten (blanc de blanc), Rose, Vintage, and Reserve. In Virginia, reserve wines are those that the wine maker deems to be deserving of the reserve label. In Italy, though, it is not that simple. Italian laws dictate which wines can classified as reserve wines, and in Franciacorta, reserve wines (labeled Riserva) are those that stay “on its lees for a minimum of 60 months.”

So what did we taste, and what did I like? We sampled five sparkling wines from Franciacorta, and they included the Ricci Curbastro Saten 2007 ($40), Bellavista Cuvee Brut ($40), Ricci Curbastro Brut ($36) Montenisa Brut Rose ($38), and Bellavista Grand Cuvee Rose 2007 ($65). The Saten was described as a consumer category wine and one that would appeal to an American market. I would compare it to the least favorites of the Virginia sparkling tasting—very fruity with limited acidity and a few bubbles. It suggested sweetness, and I thought of Sunday brunch at a non-descript café. However, the NV Bellavista Cuvee Brut stepped forward to show off what this region can produce. This one spent seven months on oak and was crafted from grapes of several vintages. Fruit elements were more delicate and nuanced; yeasty notes, a firmer mid-palate structure, and bright acidity resulted in a more classic sparkling wine. Exceeding this one was the Bellavista Grand Cuvee Rose 2007, reserve made from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Recall the definition of reserva—it stayed on the lees for a minimum of 60 months; more finesse and better balance were my top descriptors. Not to be outdone, though, was the Montenisa Brut Rose with its strawberry aromas, bready notes, and refreshing acidity. The Ricci Curbastro Brut rated above the Saten but below the other three sparkling wines.

So its NYE and I have a house full of guests. Which Franciacorta sparkling wine do I chill? For $40 it was tough to beat the Bellavista Cuvee Brut. Let’s say it’s a tenth year anniversary or some other very special occasion; then I would vote for the Bellavista Grand Cuvee Rose. At $65, it was on par with Champagne wines (and perhaps a few bucks less.)

This was certainly a nice, intimate tasting with a handful of industry folks who were far more knowledgeable than I. Michael Franz was indeed the expert on the Franciacorta region; in fact, he explained that global warming might be playing a role in that region’s ability to produce quality sparkling wines. This phenomenon has been observed in Champagne, and Franciacorta may be on the verge of adjusting its regulations on where grapes intended for sparkling wines can produced. Franciacorta sparklings are now made from the region’s cooler climates; however, there is a concern that warmer temperatures at these altitudes may produce flabbier wines; therefore, new regulations may require that these grapes be grown at a higher altitude. (Climate change and the impact on wine regions is itself a fascinating topic.)

I also had the pleasure of meeting Jay Youmans, the master sommelier who has revolutionized the judging at the Virginia Governor’s Cup. He is the managing director of the Capital Wine School in Washington DC; in particular, it is near the Friendship Heights Metro. The school offers a number of courses that range from winetasting 101 to master-level, and I may just check out some of these courses for my own enrichment.

Conduct your own tasting of sparkling wines and toss in some samples from Virginia and Italy. Can’t find them at the local wine shop? Ask the manager to stock them. Want to know more about wine tasting? Take a class at the Capital Wine School. Of course, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

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