The Gifts of Horse Heavens Hills

This post reviews two red wines from the Mercer label, and they include the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2014 Red Blend. The grapes that comprise these wines are grown in vineyards located in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation of course, this appellation is located in Washington state.

2014 Mercer Canyons Cabernet Sauvignon: No surprise that if the Mercer whites reviewed in a previous post were the product of a hot growing season, then the reds developed in the same hot environment Aromas of smoke, candied cherries, ripe blackberries, and spice greeted the nose; similar flavors were observed in the mouth the an oak note on the finish. We found this Cabernet Sauvignon to be quite accessible; however, we opened at least 30 minutes before serving with strip steak and roasted potatoes.

2014 Mercer Canyons Red Blend: We enjoyed this one quite a bit and dubbed it a crowd pleaser. Merlot leads the blend (59%) that includes Syrah (16%), Grenache (10%), Sangiovese (6%), Petit Verdot (6%), and Viognier (2%). Smoky notes led on the nose followed by ripe red fruit and spicy aromas. The palate recalled mixed berry jam which lingered quite a while; dusty tannins provided structure. I enjoyed this one with lamb chops seasoned with rosemary and thyme. Feel free to keep this Red Blend on hand for summer fare done on the grill and lightly coated with barbecue sauce.

We thank Brenda Mercer, marketing manager for Mercer’s wines, for giving us the opportunity to sample the wines (and thus the terroir of their slice of the Horse Heavens Hills appellation.) Please seek out these wines at your wine shop or their website and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

A Taste of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA

We experienced wines from the Horse Heavens Hills AVA recently. Loyal readers may be asking where in Virginia is the Horse Heavens Hills AVA? It is actually located in Washington state along the Columbia River, and the wines that we sampled were from Mercer Estates Winery, a family-owned winery . The Mercer family has owned the property since 1886 and started producing wine from the estate in 2005. We offer our reviews of the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and 2015 Chardonnay in this post.

2015 Sauvignon Blanc: This was produced from a very hot growing season, and initial notes trended toward tropical with a whiff of cut grass. A few swirls of the glass presented grapefruit aromas. Grapefruit flavors and a zesty finish made for a refreshing display on the palate. We enjoyed this Sauvignon Blanc with honey goat cheese and baguette. This is a nice wine for warm weather; enjoy on its own or paired with gamey cheeses, fresh fruit, or shellfish.

2015 Chardonnay: Of course, this too was the product of a hot growing season. Chardonnay grapes in this bottling come from the best locations in the Horse Heavens Hills. I am not an ABCer (Anything But Chardonnay); in fact, I love Chardonnay. Needless to say, I looked forward to sampling this one. Pineapple and lime notes were complemented by juicy pear and apple flavors with oak nuances on the finish. I also savored the fuller mouth feel, and it was the perfect partner with roasted chicken served aside mashed potatoes.

We also sampled two red wines from Mercer, and our impressions of those wines will be posted in a later feature. We thank Brenda Mercer for introducing us to these lovely wines, and we encourage readers to seek out these wines at your local wine shop or order them from their website. Please mention that Virginia Wine Time recommended them.

Pinot and Pasta and Parties Oh My!

Renaissance man Paul Sorvino known for his role in Goodfellas but also a noted operatic tenor, sculptor and cook teams up with wife Dee Dee, herself an accomplished award winning television personality to produce Pinot, Pasta and Parties; this is a cookbook which presents Italian recipes with Paul’s personal flare. I am always on the lookout for well-organized cookbook that present easy-to-follow directions and suggested menus. This one certainly fits the bill, and I thought that I would share my thoughts for readers who want to consider this cookbook.

The book’s thematic organization is its best feature. Chapters entitled “Made in America”, “La La Land”, and “Patriotism at Play” allow the cook to find a go-to menu for the right occasion. The menus themselves are complete from starters to desert and are very easy to follow. Is there something on the menu that doesn’t appeal to your particular palate or looking for an alternative to something on the set menu? No problem. The Sorvinos offer an alternative dish for each menu. For example, the La La Land themed menu that features such dishes as figs in a blanket, California veggie pizza, swordfish with olives and pasta primavera offers eggs in purgatory and stuffed peppers as alternatives.

Dee Dee Sorvino offers her skills as mixologist to present a special cocktail for each themed menu. Appalachia Magic, a mix of moonshine, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, cinnamon bitters and star anise, complements the Made in America menu which features such delights as spaghetti western mac and cheese, meatball slider, and Paul’s special chili. Hosting a Goodfellas Feast? Dee Dee recommends The Goodfella, a blend of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Scotch, Cognac, land limoncello.

The Sorvinos also add a personal touch to the cook book. In addition to an introduction of themselves, each chapter includes a story about themselves, their relationship, and their passion for food, art and entertainment. Photos of themselves throughout the book enhance the personal element and the cook gets to know them both as individuals and as a couple.

I must, however, comment on the lack of suggested wine pairings with the menus. The title of the cookbook begins with the word Pinot; however, Pinot or any other varietal is never mentioned as a recommended pairing with the food. And we are all about wine and food here at Virginia Wine Time! There is an appendix at the end which provides description of Italian wine grapes, and that is it. I also don’t know that I would venture into the political theme suggested in the Patriotism at Play menu. In these times, a respite from political discussions (which usually lead to arguments) during a dinner party might be a good idea; I would adapt that chapter to suggest a July 4th gathering in which everyone can agree that celebrating American independence is always a good idea!

If you are in search of a cookbook that presents Italian dishes from starter to desert, then Pinot, Pasta, and Parties might be worth seeking out. You may also enjoy getting to know more about Paul and Dee Dee Sorvino. Remember, though, Virginia Wine Time recommended it!

Next Stop California!

So we continue our travels via the wine bottle thanks to Locations Wine, and this time we taste a white blend from California fittingly labeled, CA.

CA manages to meld both Old and New World styles. On both the nose and palate, it suggests the weight of a Napa inspired white wine; indeed, it is barrel aged in 30% new French oak in addition to fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Therefore, it presents a crisp entry with fruity flavors of pear, stone fruit and citrus. It finishes with a nutty element as well as a fuller mouth feel. Take time to note its lovely aromas of butterscotch, pear and lemon peel. In a way, it seemsto merge California and the Rhone region of France into a wine bottle. Who says white wines can’t be complex? CA is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussane; growers hale from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. Food pairings? I enjoyed this one with roasted chicken with mashed potatoes. Herbed pork roast, dishes topped with cream sauce, goat cheeses on a toasted baguette—-you get the picture (or the menu ideas.)

We again thank Balzac Communications for this lush blend. Search for CA at your local wine shop, but please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Location of Corse!

We were privileged to receive two more wines from the Locations lineup, and these were both white wines that included a Corsican Veremtino and a blend labeled CA (from California of course.) In this post, we review Corse, the Vermentino wine produced from the island of Corsica. We again thank Balzac Communications for the opportunity to enjoy these wines.

Quite simply, we both adored this wine. On the nose, I noted aromas of spring blossoms, lime, orange zest, and shale; flavors of pear, lime and citrus zest led to a full and fruity palate followed by a crisp finish. Corse fully expresses a Mediterranean climate with its cool, breezy nights and warm, dry days. Did Napoleon Bonaparte, Corsica’s most famous native, enjoy this Vermentino with his favorite meal—-chicken and pasta with parmesan cheese? We hope so, and I thought of Napoleon when I prepared dinner. Crab cakes were on the menu, but I did toss some bowtie pasta with butter and parmesan cheese to serve as a side dish It proved to be a lovely pairing!

We had not enjoyed Corsican wines, but I must say that this first impression was a hit. Seek out Corse at your local wine shop, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you. However, we are not done with Vermentino. In a future post, we compare Corse with a Virginia-made Vermentino; we’ll keep readers in suspense about that one. And what about CA? Stay tuned.

Location, Location Continued

Readers may recall that we previously reviewed a rose, F, produced by Locations Wine. (A short recap of the Locations concept here—-these wines are crafted from grapes sourced from premier vineyards found in the world’s best locations.) In this post, we review I and P; in case you’re wondering, I is the product of grapes grown in Italy; P, from Portugal.

I is a blend of Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola, and Barbera, and these varietals represent fruit from Puglia located Southern region of Italy as well as Barbera located in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. The result is a rich, complex wine with aromas of blackberry, charcuterie, fall spices and cedar. A fruity palate of dark berries gives way to spice and oak nuances. Enjoy with Italian fare or with beef dishes, a platter of sliced dried meats, and hard cheeses.

 

 

If roasted chops are on the menu, consider P, a blend of Portuguese grapes that includes Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, and Touriga Franca. P also presents a fruity nose and palate with notes of plum, cherry and blackberry; hints of anise and black pepper also come out to play. We enjoyed P with roasted pork chops and roasted potatoes sprinkled with basil, thyme, and rosemary.

 

 

We again thank Balzac Communications for the opportunity to enjoy these wines. Seek out these unique wines at your local wine shop and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Location, Location, Location

Location means everything in the wine world, and the concept behind Locations wine is all about location. Winemaker and owner of Locations, Dave Phinney, has championed a concept that great wines can be made by sourcing grapes from the best vineyard sites located on the planets’ best wine producing regions. Phinney purchases quality grapes from various wine growing regions and then produces excellent wines from his facility in St. Helena, California. Thanks to Balzac Communications we were able to sample these wines.

The labels look like the alphabet chart that we all saw in kindergarten—-F, I, P, etc with some blends thrown in for good measure. These include OR, AR and TX. However, these wines are anything but elementary. We have been a fan of these wines for quite some time and appreciate their accessibility without sacrificing quality. They also are able to express a sense of place. We will be reviewing three of our favorites from this lineup starting with F.

So what is F? Well, it follows the letter E; in addition, F is a rose produced from France. Hence, it earns the F designation on the label. F is produced from the Grenache grape grown in the vineyards of southern France. It presents a translucent pink tone in the glass that suggests summer but in reality is quite versatile all year round. We recently enjoyed it on a colder winter evening with pasta tossed with olive oil, thinly sliced ham, parmesan cheese, and Italian herbs. Floral notes were accompanied by aromas of strawberry and peach fuzz. Bright red berry and melon flavors played well with a flinty edge that made for a refreshing, dry rose. I love these kinds of roses in the summer, but I always make certain to have a stash of these on hand for Thanksgiving or any larger gathering where a variety of dishes may be served but different wine palates will have to be satisfied.

Dry roses are versatile and can/should be served year round. Seek out F at your local wine shop, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you! Oh—-stay tuned for other letters of the alphabet!

A Perfect Score-The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21-Century Winery by Craig and Kathryn Hall

perfectscore_3d_compAre you a wine novice and interested in knowing more about wine and wine making process? Maybe you are an aspiring winemaker who wants to up your game to produce better wine. Or maybe you are the wine geek who always wants to know more about terroir or the finer details of making quality wine. A Perfect Score is the read for you. It presents the story of Craig and Kathryn Hall, owners of HALL and WALT wineries in California. Their journey into the world of wine and winemaking eventually earned them perfect 100 scores from wine critic Rob Parker.

How did they earn the perfect score? I pulled out four important ingredients that came together to produce perfection for the Halls:

1)Vision: Kathryn Hall grew up in California wine country, and her parents Bob and Dolores Walt owned a vineyard in Sonoma. She became a lawyer and in the 1990s was appointed by President Clinton to be the U.S. Ambassador to Austria; however, despite her career successes, Kathryn yearned to be back in the vineyard. Her husband, Craig, had been a successful business man and entrepreneur. Together, they agreed to combine their unique talents and areas of expertise to pursue the art of winemaking. Perfect Score takes the reader through the history of Napa as a winemaking region starting in the early 20th century and then into the groundbreaking years of the 1970s when California wines proved to be on par or better than wines from France. Of course, Napa wine trails are cluttered with well-established wineries; adding to the list in the early 2000s was probably taking a risk. However, the Halls established a goal to produce wines of high quality that expressed terroir, and this lead them to purchase the Sacrashe Vineyard in Napa Valley. They were determined that their wines would be unique and distinctive and unlike others found along the Napa trails.

2) Precision: As time would tell, the Sacrashe Vineyard proved to be the correct site for the Halls to realize their vision. They also grew varietals that were suited to their particular site in Napa, and these included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Their Sonoma site produces wines under the WALT label, and grapes grown here include Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A team of expert winemakers that include Steve Leveque and vineyard manager Don Munk allowed the vineyards to express themselves in the bottle while utilizing organic methods that avoided interventions with chemicals.

3) Perseverance: Vineyard managers and winemakers are basically farmers; their crop depends a lot on mother nature. The consumer adds another layer of stress——will they embrace the vision by purchasing the product? Will their pocket books allow them to do so? The Halls had established themselves as players in the winemaking field by racking up 90+ scores by wine critics, but the Great Recession of 2008 demanded that wine drinkers who appreciated fine wine make sacrifices. Those sacrifices included wine. However, despite tolls that the economic downturn played on the wine business, the Halls remained true to their vision and their commitment to quality vineyard and winemaking practices. In the end, their perseverance to paid off as demand returned while the wines continued to score 90+ points.

4) Access: The Halls learned early on that potential customers could be found beyond those who scoured traditional wine industry media. They realized the potential in social media earlier on to create a welcoming presence for a growing legion of HALL and WALT fans.

So what were the results of the Halls’ vision, precision, perseverance, and business acumen? A Perfect Score. In 2010, the HALL Exzellenz Cabernet Sauvignon earned 100 points from renowned wine critic Robert Parker. Parker then awarded 100 points to the 2013 HALL Rainin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Parker’s tasting notes noted qualities in both wines that were unique to the sites where the grapes were grown; of course, 100 points must also be a testimony to expert winemaking and vineyard management.

A Perfect Score should prove to be an insightful and inspiring read for anyone especially those readers who have any sort of interest in wine, wine making, and the wine industry. It presents an intriguing story mixed with personal stories from both Craig and Kathryn. Give it a read so that you too can aspire to your own perfect score!

Wineries That Keep Us Blogging

The tenth year of Virginia Wine Time has given us cause to celebrate, and our visits with the wonderful winemakers who inspired us to blog has been a pleasure. We will also take time to honor wineries and winemakers who inspire us to continue blogging, and these will be either newer wineries that have recently opened or wineries that have experienced a renaissance due to a new direction and renewed purpose. The two wineries featured in this post belong in the latter category, and they are Casanel Vineyards & Winery and The Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek.

Casanel Vineyards & Winery: There is no doubt in our minds that Katie de Souza has a passion for winemaking, and the wines there have taken a profound turn for the wonderful under her leadership. We visited with Katie last fall, and we were very impressed with the line up of premiere wines. In addition, the new tasting room offers a more accessible yet elegant tasting experience. I was most impressed with the Chardonnay; Paul favored the Petit Verdot, and we both fell in love with the limited edition Carmenere. Pay attention to this winery; we plan to visit very soon to sample the latest releases.

casanel - 1

casanel - 3

casanel - 2

The Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek: We remembered the old Lost Creek Winery as a place to go to enjoy picnic wines that tended to be on the sweeter side. We also admired the landscaping! However, the new and improved Lost Creek Winery under the direction of Aimee and Todd Henkle features more serious wines. Dry, complex, nuanced—-these are the descriptors that can now be used in association with these wines. Aimee Henkle conducted our tasting when we visited the winery in January, and I was a fan of the 2014 Reserve Chardonnay with its pear notes and buttery finish. The Genesis, a red blend, was rich and complex with a smoky nose and dark fruit flavors. Drink now or age for later; I have opted to age for a while. We were also treated to a barrel sample of the 2014 Provenance which spent 26 months in oak barrels. Bramble berry notes with a whiff of cedar were quite evident; we intend to return upon release of this one.

lostcreek - 1

lostcreek - 2

lostcreek - 3

We plan to visit these wineries very soon and know that they continue to strive for excellence. Plan to visit Casanel Vineyards & Winery and The Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek too; mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Winery Happenings

We have managed to attend some winery events in the midst of our 10 Anniversary (Blogiversary) celebration in addition to some wacky and unpredictable winter weather. Two relatively recent events that we attended included an enhanced tasting at Veramar Vineyard and a Nebbiolo Vertical tasting at Breaux Vineyards.

veramarOn March 5, we accepted an invitation to attend the Enhanced Tasting experience at Veramar Vineyard. The enhanced tasting is a re-vamped version of the reserve tasting held at the winery in the past. This tasting includes foods paired alongside limited production (reserve) wines and wines featured on the regular tasting menu. At this particular tasting, a 2014 Fume Blanc was partnered with french olives, a chambourcin-based rose was paired with prosciutto, the 2013 Merlot stood alongside duck rilles, and a non-vintage Bordeaux blend called Rooster Red made fast friends with manchego cheese and fig spread. In the end, I found that all of the foods paired well with each of the wines; however, the wines that impressed me the most were the 2014 Fume Blanc and the 2013 Merlot. The Fume Blanc, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in Loudoun County, presented elements of citrus and fresh grass along with a mineral note. It was aged in neutral oak for 17 months so it possessed a richer mouth feel than the leaner Sauvignon Blancs that most drinkers may associate with the grape. The 2013 Merlot presented a smoky nose with notes of tobacco, bramble berry and cherry. The Merlot grapes were estate grown and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, with some time in neutral oak barrels. In the end, I thought that all of the food items paired just fine with all of the wines; so, I felt free to play around and enjoyed the olives with the rose but noshed on the salty prosciutto with the Rooster Red.

Anyway, we enjoyed our enhanced tasting at Veramar Vineyards and made off with bottles of the Fume Blanc and Merlot.

nebbiolovertical - 1
Breaux Vineyards always hosts a series of vertical tastings that include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Nebbiolo. On April 2, we attended the Nebbiolo tasting that featured Nebbiolo wines from the 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010 vintages. We both were impressed with the staying power of the older vintages from 2000, 2001, and 2005. Of these, I favored the classic 2005 vintage with its characteristics of spice, tar, clover, and bramble berries. Tannins were still quite pronounced too! Of course, the 2001 is Breaux’s champion vintage of the grape, and it did not disappoint either. How did these compare with the younger vintages? I will predict that the 2010 vintage will be one of the classic on par with the older siblings. 2007 still needs time; harvested from a very hot growing season, the alcohol level was the most pronounced of the lineup. (We’ve enjoyed this one at home but made sure to decant for a while before serving; pair with something fatty too! ) The 2006 vintage proved to be the most fruit forward, most versatile, and most ready to drink now. The food pairings were delicious and included a pork-stuffed cannelloni, duck with polenta, and a roasted lamb chop with roasted veggies. So what paired well with the cannelloni with its shredded pork and rich cheese? Any of the older vintages particularly the 2001. The duck with the creamy texture of polenta? I seemed to keep grabbing the 2005 and 2010. The fattier, gamy lamb chop? 2007 shined. The 2006 seemed to play well with everything that was served.

nebbiolovertical - 2

nebbiolovertical - 3

nebbiolovertical - 4

Plan an enhanced tasting at Veramar Vineyards or sign up for a vertical tasting at Breaux Vineyards. Experiment with food and wine; do be afraid to go rogue while you’re at it! However, please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.