5th Annual Sparkling Tasting

After the Merlot Vertical at Breaux Vineyards on Saturday we headed over to Tarara Winery for the 5th annual sparkling tasting organized by Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like. It is now our tradition to get together each year to do a blind sparkling tasting to rate different sparklings from both Virginia and around the world. This year we tasted eleven different sparklings. This year the attendees were Frank, Kathy, Nancy, Erica, Kimberly and Brandon, Allison and Tarara winemaker, Jordan Harris.
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Of the eleven sparklings, seven were from Virginia, two were from France, one from New York, and one from California.
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We gathered around the tasting table with about a dozen glasses placed in front of each seat. Jordan and his helpers poured the wines so we wouldn’t know which wines were which. We began our tasting, writing notes, and ranking the wines. When all the rankings were compiled, the results were announced. Here are the results:

1. Trump Blanc de Blanc
2. Green Hill Blanc de Blancs
3. Stone Tower 2009 Wild Boar
4. Boneyard Blanc de Blanc
5. Flat Rock Cellars, Niagara (Tie)
5. Roederer Hermitate 2004 (Tie)
7. Trump Reserve
8. Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Blanc
9. FIZZ
10. Piper-Hidseck
11. Grower Champagne – Louis de Sasy
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Our top three picks were:
1. Trump Blanc de Blanc
2. Green Hill Blanc de Blancs
3. Stone Tower 2009 Wild Boar

Warren and I were quite surprised the Thibaut-Janisson ranked lower on the list. We absolutely love this sparkling. I have a bottle in my fridge right now! It might be our favorite. Maybe it was a bad bottle, it was too warm, or some other anomaly. We just can’t be sure. But we were surprised. We are very happy though that Virginia sparklings took the top four spots. Each year the rankings are a bit different but Virginia seems to do well each year.
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A huge THANK YOU to Jordan Harris and the staff at Tarara Winery for hosting the event and providing all the glasses, and the wonderful nibbles at the end of the tasting. We had a wonderful time and met some new wine friends along the way! After our tasting we all went to dinner at Palio in Leesburg for dinner. We had a great time!
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We are getting close to the time when people do a lot of celebrating…graduations, weddings, birthdays…so consider a Virginia Sparkling for your celebrating! When you visit one of the wineries that produces a sparkling, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Breaux Merlot Vertical

On Saturday we attended the Merlot Vertical Tasting at Breaux Vineyards. We try to attend the verticals at Breaux as often as we can. We always have a great time and thoroughly enjoy the wines and the food pairings. This time, as usual, we weren’t disappointed. We were also so pleased to see so many of our wine friends attending as well. Frank Morgan from Drink What You Like, Erica and Kirsten from Cellar Blog, and our long time wine friend Susan were all in attendance.
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The vertical began with an introduction by Jen Breaux. We then heard from winemaker David Pagan Castano about the wines we’d be tasting. The years of merlot we tasted were 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and a barrel sample from 2012. The wonderful food pairings were provided by Grandale Farm Restaurant. Throughout the tasting we could taste the wines as we wanted and try different vintages with the different courses.
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The first course was local pulled pork and cremini mushrooms over a gruyere onion risotto cake with plum demi glaze. With this course we preferred the 2010 and the 2012 vintages.
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The second course was caper and mustard braised chicken over tarragon faro with frisee and scallion oil. The wines we preferred for this course were the 2006 and the 2002.
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The third course was beef and bacon stewed over angel hair pasta, Brussels sprouts, and basil in a red wine tomato sauce. This was my favorite course! Both Warren and I paired this course with the 2002, 2007, and 2010.
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The final course was a Breaux Lineage 1st Edition infused truffle. It was served with the Lineage 1st Edition.
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During the different courses we were able to ask David and Jen questions about the vintages and hear his take on the different conditions that helped produce each vintage. Jen Breaux treated everyone to a special treat in honor of Frank Morgan joining the vertical. We each had a glass of the 2002 Merlot Reserve. Everyone was impressed with what an amazing wine it is. I was pleased to taste it because I have one on my rack and was glad to see it can stay on the rack a bit longer.

David informally surveyed the crowd about our favorites. While there were lots of answers, it seemed the 2002, 2007, and 2010 were the favorites. They certainly were our favorites as well as the 2002 Reserve.
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Before leaving we purchased our favorites and posed for pictures. It was great to see Jen, David, Bruce and Silvia. And of course it’s always great to see all our wine friends! If you haven’t been to Breaux lately, check out their events page. You might find one you’d like to attend. And when you do, mention Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Quality at Quievremont Vineyards

We enjoyed our first sample of wines from Quievremont Vineyards at our Mardi Gras party thanks to our friend Erika Johansen from Cellar Blog. Erika brought over a bottle of the 2012 Meritage and we (and our guests) were quite impressed. As a result, Paul and I decided to make an appointment for a tasting at Quievremont, and we concluded that quality best describes the current lineup of wines.
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We met owner John Quievremont on a chilly Saturday afternoon to taste wines in his very small storage/tasting room. The property can be described as classic bucolic with babbling brooks and mooing cows to transport visitors to a quieter time. John and wife Terri bought the property as a relief from the hectic life of work in the city; however, noted viticulture expert Lucie Morton convinced them to plant a vineyard. This was done in 2011, and the vineyard now grows chardonnay, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec. It looks like Morton was on to something. Their 2012 Meritage, for example, earned a silver medal at the 2014 Governor’s Cup competition.
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Our tasting began with white wines, of course, and we were treated to a side-by-side tasting of chardonnays from 2011 and 2012. The 2011 proved to be more acidic in nature; however, the 2012 vintage was my ideal. Minimal oak aging in neutral French oak barrels imparted a nice mouth feel with tropical fruit notes and flavors of apple and pear associated with a classic chardonnay. The 2012 Chardonnay earned a silver at the Governor’s Cup, too!
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We moved on to the red wines, and our favorite was indeed the 2012 Meritage, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc. It presented elements of dark fruit, sweet tobacco, and spice. Smooth tannins made for a nice feel in the mouth. Looking for an everyday red wine? The 2012 Vin de Maison should fit the bill. Syrah is included in the mix of cabernet franc and merlot to produce a lighter-bodied red wine that is perfect on its own or partnered with meatloaf, pizza, or a mix of cheeses.
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John was gracious enough to answer our questions, and we learned that case production for 2013 was substantially lower than the 800 cases in 2012. The culprit? Late frost followed by hungry critters such as raccoon, turkeys, bears, etc. However, winemaker Theo Smith is dedicated to quality over quantity, and his craftsmanship is responsible for the current lineup of excellent wines. Future plans include a tasting room. John Quievremont opted to plant the vineyards first and then worry about a tasting room later—odd, isn’t it? Many new Virginia wineries boast expansive tasting facilities these days but not much to show in the vineyards. That is not the case at Quievremont where the emphasis is on quality fruit and excellent wines. If all goes according to plans, the new tasting room will open in time for harvest 2014.
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We completed our tasting and left with several bottles of wine. We know that we will return soon; however, readers should make an appointment to taste the award winning wines at Quievremont Vineyards. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

4 Winemakers 3(+) Questions

So what makes for an ideal growing season in Virginia? Hot, dry summers with growing seasons that extend into the fall. Oh, and no late or early frosts. Easy question, easy answer. However, what if winter is unusually brutal with sub-zero temperatures and frequent outbreaks of ice and snow that lasts well into March? It may be easy to dismiss winter as an influence on the vineyards; after all, the grapes have been harvested and the vines lay dormant, right? We weren’t so sure about that and asked four Virginia winemakers to offer their opinions on the Arctic winter and its possible consequences. And what about the 2013 vintage? How are things coming along in the tanks and barrels? In this post, we will compare opinions from two winemakers in northern Virginia: Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery and Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars.

1. This has been a winter of long-lasting, record-breaking cold weather. This week’s temperatures plunged to below zero in much of Virginia. Are you concerned about stress to the vines? Have you changed vineyard management (i.e. pruning) as a result?

Jordan Harris (JH): I am certainly concerned but I do not believe that there will be wide spread damage on our sites. The coldest we have gotten to is 3 degrees. I have been through that many times in Niagara and at that point there doesn’t tend to be a lot of damage. There may be some issues with really sensitive varieties like Merlot but I would guess it will be in the 15-20% bud loss range for them. In places where they may have got to -5 they could start to see more wide spread damage as you are then entering the temperature range that can harm buds in most varieties.

My biggest concern is actually that we planted a lot last year so I am not sure how the young vines will have stood up to the cold and if we will have significant attrition rates and have to replant those. Really I won’t be able to tell that until well after bud break.

As for pruning, if I were smarter, I probably would have changed it up a bit this year but hind sight is always 20/20. We are exclusively cane pruned VSP (Double Guyot) and we were done by mid January so there is not much we can do now. We do leave a third cane each year so we can replace one of the two that we lay down in case of frost or I guess now winter cold. This year we may just lay that cane down as a third right over top of another one for more buds but my concern is if they are all fruitful then we will have a lot of shoot thinning to do and wonder if we will be able to keep up and maintain a balanced and clean canopy.

Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery
Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery

Doug Fabbiolo (DF): We had a cold spell in December that got me scared. We did a brief, non scientific bud evaluation and decided to only do a rough pruning. We are leaving a lot of buds on the vines at this point and do not anticipate a final pruning until May when the fruit shows itself and we can make some cuts that will be sure to be fruitful.

2. Early bud break is always a concern when it occurs; however, are there worries about a later bud break? What is the optimal time for bud break? (The cherry blossoms are scheduled to bloom much later this year due to the long-lingering winter.)

JH: You mean like in 2013 when we were so late that there was no risk of frost ☺. After last year I say there is no ideal time in Virginia. I would personally like to see bud-break around the start of April to get a long enough growing season but at least get out of March which is very scary (2012). I actually think there is a good chance we will still see an early to regular bud-break anyway. The soil has a lot of moisture so as long as we get some warmth the vines will come on really fast this year I think. Not that we can accurate guess the weather for tomorrow, but long range it looks like Spring hits pretty well around the 15th which could very well give us bud-break sometime in the first week of April, but more likely the second or third week in many varieties is my guess.

DF: The optimal time for budbreak is after the last killing frost. That never happens. I am hoping with the later start, we will be closer to that situation. The vines will catch up if they have some warm days in late spring.

Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars
Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars

3. Now that the 2013 harvest is history, how is the 2013 vintage shaping up, and what are the comparisons to past vintages?

JH: I am actually really enjoying the wines, I just wish there was a lot more of it. The later reds struggled a bit to get as ripe as I would like, but varieties like Merlot and Tannat really have some great flavor and striking elegance. The whites (predominately Chardonnay since we got next to no Viognier this year) are beautiful. They are elegant but ripe and are really showing the results of either a great site or meticulous management or both. In the end, I don’t want a repeat of 2013 because it was very trying on my patience and stress level, but the wines are good. Once again, quality is not my concern as much as quantity in this case.

It really is hard to compare our 2013s to another vintage for me given I have only been here since 2007. The closest I can say to any of the vintages I have done would be 2008 but 2013 was a shorter and wetter year for us than 2008. That said I think we have a far better understanding of our site from 2008 so still made better wine. You could say structurally similar to 2012 for us, but the ripeness level is not quite as high.

DF: 2013 was challenging during the growing season but finished up in the best way possible with warm days, cool nights and no rain. I am very pleased with what we are tasting. We will be trialing more blends again today. I am tasting good ripe fruits, rich tannin structure and balanced acids. Some of this is from winemaking techniques done as the grapes came in, but most is because of a decent growing year.

And who are the other two winemakers and how did they respond? Stay tuned to find out. In the meantime, spring is hopefully in the air, and it is time to visit Virginia wineries. Plan a trip to Tarara Winery and Fabbioli Cellars to sample their excellent wines, but be sure to tell Jordan and Doug that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

A Visit To Pearmund Cellars

On the way home from Gray Ghost over the weekend, we decided to stop at Pearmund Cellars to check out the latest offerings and to see if they had any of the Governor’s Cup gold medal winning 2010 Ameritage.
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We were lucky to have Tammy Davis as our tasting associate. She walked us through the current line up of wines and even treated us to a few others that happened to be opened on the day we visited. While we enjoyed all the wines there were a few that did stand out as our favorites.
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Our favorite white was the 2011 Old Vine Chardonnay. This one was aged for 8 months on neutral and French oak, sur lie style. The grapes came from the Meriwether vineyard in Fauquier County. We noted pear, vanilla, and a honey feel. Warren was thinking of seafood for this wine.

Our favorite red was in fact the gold medal winning 2010 Ameritage. This is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, cabernet franc, malbec, and merlot. It was aged for 14 months in American oak. We noted blackberry, cherry, and tobacco in this very balanced wine. Of course we thought of a nice filet mignon as a pairing for this one. After our tasting Warren enjoyed a glass of the 2010 Ameritage and I enjoyed a glass of the 2010 Merlot (one of my favorites!) with a baguette while sitting on the patio.
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We had a fun time chatting with all the staff. All the staff members signed a bottle of the 2010 Ameritage for us to take home. Thank you! After purchasing some of our favorites we said our goodbyes. A huge THANK YOU to Tammy for the wonderful service and hospitality. We had a great time during our tasting! If you haven’t been to Pearmund Cellars lately, plan a trip soon. And when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
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Gray Ghost Cabernet Vertical

On Saturday evening we went to Gray Ghost Vineyards to attend the Vertical Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. This is a black tie optional event for a limited number of guest who get to taste vintages of their Cabernet Sauvignons from odd number years back to 1993.

We saw some familiar faces at the event. And of course it’s always fun to catch up with Al, Cheryl, and Amy with the latest news at Gray Ghost. Al had selected Cabernet Sauvignons from 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. With the wines Cheryl had prepared many dishes that paired nicely with the wines. The chicken and pasta with red sauce was one of my favorites as were the meat balls. During the evening we had a chance to talk about each vintage and compare notes with other participants. We all had our favorites but it seems the years ending in 5s and 7s received must of the chatter. The evening ended with a delicious slice of double chocolate cake and a glass of the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Everyone enjoyed this vintage!

If you haven’t attended one of the tasting events at Gray Ghost Vineyards, check out their events page and find one you might enjoy. And when you attend, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
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Governor’s Cup

From the Press Release from The Virginia Wine Board: RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe tonight awarded the 2014 Virginia Wineries Association’s (VWA) Governor’s Cup to The Williamsburg Winery’s 2010 Adagio, a blended red wine. The Governor’s Cup was awarded Thursday evening, February 27 at the VWA’s Governor’s Cup Gala at the John Marshall Hotel.

AdagioSpeaking at the Governor’s Cup awards ceremony, Governor McAuliffe said, “I am honored to award the Governor’s Cup to The Williamsburg Winery, one of Virginia’s oldest and most prolific wineries. It is no secret the Commonwealth’s wine industry has experienced tremendous growth both in quantity and quality in recent years. Such growth has an enormous impact on Virginia in terms of economic development and job creation. The Virginia Governor’s Cup, now recognized as one of the nation’s most stringent competitions, helps to raise awareness of the world class wines grown and blended right here in the Commonwealth. My congratulations to The Williamsburg Winery for their long history of success and their most recent notable contribution to the Virginia wine industry.”

The Williamsburg Winery’s Adagio is a blend of 42% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 28% Petit Verdot. Aged in French, American and Hungarian Oak, the ratio is 43% new oak, 14% one year old oak; 29% two year old oak; and 14% three year old oak. The winemaker’s tasting notes are as follows: The 2010 Adagio is a very bold upfront wine with loads of jammy fruit. The blackberries and blueberry notes are accentuated with some elegant mature darker fruit such as figs, dates and prunes. There is a hint of spice (warm cinnamon) with molasses and soy. The earthy notes come across with a touch of nuttiness. The oak is very integrated into the weight of the wine and the tannins are smooth and graceful. The wine has a wonderful finish that lasts for quite awhile.
“It is very satisfying and very humbling to be with my peers and the others who have won the Governor’s Cup. The 2010 Adagio was unbelievable, exceeding all expectations for quality, and it was nice for Adagio to get that recognition,” said Matthew Meyer, vice president and winemaker of The Williamsburg Winery. “Adagio, from the Italian ad agio, or ‘at ease’, is a musical term indicating the tempo of a composition that is meant to be slow and stately, so named in honor of the extraordinary depth, elegance and grace of this wine.”
The 2014 Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition was conducted over three weeks of preliminary tastings, held at the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C. The final round of tastings was held at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond in early February. The Governor’s Cup award winner was selected from the 2014 Governor’s Cup Case. The top 12 scoring wines of the competition, The Governor’s Cup Case, were selected from 410 entries of both red and white wines, from 96 wineries.

In addition to The Williamsburg Winery’s 2010 Adagio, the other 11 wines in the Governor’s Cup Case are:

Barboursville Vineyard – 2008 Malvaxia Passito
Barboursville Vineyard – 2010 Nebbiolo Reserve
Barboursville Vineyard – 2010 Octagon
Barren Ridge Vineyard – 2009 Meritage
Fabbioli Cellars – 2011 Tannat
Horton Vineyards – 2010 Tannat
King Family Vineyards – 2011 Meritage
North Gate Vineyard – 2011 Meritage
Rockbridge Vineyard – 2008 Meritage, DeChiel Reserve, unfiltered
Sunset Hills Vineyard – 2010 Mosaic
Two Twisted Post Winery – 2012 Chardonnay

The Governor’s Cup competition, revamped in 2011, is a result of a partnership among the gubernatorial-appointed Virginia Wine Board (VWB), the Virginia Vineyards Association (VVA), and the VWA, which owns and manages the competition. Any wine made from 100% Virginia fruit was eligible for the competition, while ciders and fruit wines had their own category and medalists. All entries included an affidavit with a certification of 100% Virginia fruit and vineyard particulars, including grower names and location, as well as information on alcohol, acidity or basicity (pH), and residual sugar.

Wine included in the Governor’s Cup Case will be used by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office for marketing purposes in Virginia, across the country, and around the world. A number of cases will be shipped to select wine media, promoting Virginia wines to a larger national and international audience. The award winning wines will be used for education purposes at Virginia winemaker roundtable discussions to improve overall quality of Virginia wines. Governor’s Cup Case wines will also be used by Governor McAuliffe on select domestic and international marketing missions and other events designed to promote Virginia wine and winery tourism.

Jay Youmans, one of only of 31 Masters of Wine (MW) in the U.S., directed the competition. Youmans, who is also a Certified Wine Educator (CWE) and the owner and educational director of the Capital Wine School in Washington, DC, recruited wine judges from the professional wine buying and wine media community. The judges were compensated for their time for a rigorous schedule of judging to ensure the competition maintained the highest level of professional evaluation. There were 30 judges in the preliminary round and 15 judges in the final round. A list of the judges along with their bios can be found at http://www.virginiawine.org/governors-cup

One of the most important aspects of the revised competition is the educational component of the judging. After the competition, regional forums for the winemakers will be held with the judging director. Notes with the judges’ blind comments will be shared with individual winemakers, so that they will get direct feedback on how their wines were received.
The Williamsburg Winery is located on Wessex Hundred, a 300-acre farm located in Virginia’s Historic Triangle. The winery has experienced continuous growth through an expanding portfolio of wines. The introduction of the 2007 Adagio was the culmination of a single-minded goal to produce the highest quality wines in the world. This is the second Governor’s Cup for Williamsburg Winery. The winery won in 1989 for its 1988 Chardonnay.

“Winning the Governor’s Cup is a testament to Matthew’s talent and to the dedication of our entire team, whose focus is on excellence in wines made 100% from Virginia grapes. Our goal is to grow as a leader in the industry, developing wines that reflect the character of our Commonwealth, neither Californian or European, but displaying elegance and interesting flavors,” said Patrick Duffeler, president and CEO, The Williamsburg Winery.

In addition to awarding Williamsburg Winery’s 2010 Adagio the 2014 Governor’s Cup, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore was named Wine Person of the Year for his contributions to this rapidly growing sector of the Commonwealth’s economy.

As Secretary, Haymore works closely with the Governor, General Assembly, and key stakeholders on numerous legislative and budgetary initiatives to integrate agriculture and forestry fully into Virginia’s overall economic development and jobs creation platform. A dedicated proponent of the Virginia wine industry, Secretary Haymore has worked in partnership with Virginia’s wineries and vineyards to proudly showcase Virginia wines during domestic and international trade missions. During his time as Secretary, Haymore has facilitated the first commercial shipment of Virginia Wine to China; helped to launch the Virginia Wine Summit, bringing national and international attention to Virginia wine; helped to almost triple the amount of funds placed in the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund for research, education and marketing; and worked with the General Assembly to establish a reimbursable tax credit program for the establishment or expansion of vineyards and wineries. His strategic focus has led to new sales and opportunities for Virginia wineries that will continue the industry’s growth in the years to come.

Sales of Virginia wine reached a record high in fiscal year 2013 with more than 511,000 cases, or more than 6.1 million bottles, sold. Virginia currently ranks fifth in the number of wineries in the nation with 250 wineries. Virginia is also tied with Texas as the nation’s fifth largest wine grape producing state. According to a recently released economic impact study, the Virginia wine industry employs more than 4,700 people and contributes almost $750 million to the Commonwealth’s economy on an annual basis.

For a complete list of previous Governor’s Cup winners and information about the Virginia wine industry, please visit the Virginia Wine Marketing Office http://www.virginiawine.org/governors-cup/awards/ or call 804-344-8200.