We last visited Granite Heights Orchard and Winery last summer and were impressed with the winemaking philosophy of winemakers and owners Luke and Toni Kilyk. We were also pleased with the wines that we tasted. This time around we noted a continued dedication to excellent winemaking, vineyard management and tasting room experiences.
Two new white wines were added on the tasting menu since our last visit, and these included a crisp 2012 Chardonnay that was fermented and aged in stainless steel barrels. Apple, pear and citrus elements prevailed, and its refreshing acidity made it an easy sipper. The 2011 Petit Manseng was likewise fermented and aged in stainless steel barrels with no malolactic fermentation. We noted ripe tropical fruit and pear characteristics with a fuller mouth feel than the Chardonnay. Residual sugar of around .5% elevated the fruit flavors without the cloying sweetness.
Two new red wines were also released this year, and these included my favorite, the 2009 Evening Serenade and Paul’s fave the 2009 End of the Road. The 2009 Evening Serenade is a blend of Merlot (84%) and Cabernet Franc (16%) and presented a smoky nose with flavors dark cherry and blackberry. End of the Road is a blend of Cabernet Franc (84%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (16%); Paul detected a smoky nose with notes of sweet tobacco; currants and plum flavors were also appreciated. Of course, it is still summer, and red wine drinkers may be more inclined to enjoy a rose instead. The 2012 Rose is dry (yay!) and made from Merlot grapes; nice strawberry and melon flavors and a crisp finish made for an enjoyable wine.
As readers can tell, our visit at Granite Heights began in the tasting room, and we were treated to a seated tasting. We’ve already reported on the tasteful, no-frill tasting room, and a knowledgeable tasting educator delivered an excellent tasting experience. We also got to chat with Luke and Toni Kilyk who graciously answered our questions and gave us a tour of the facility. Luke and Toni remain committed to producing wine and sharing it with customers in a quaint and intimate atmosphere. We tasted the commitment to quality winemaking, and we can attest to the consistent climate control of the barrel room as well as its immaculate cleanliness. The Kilyks have even invested in a bottling machine to insure quality control up to the final bottling. Of course, Virginia’s climate raises many challenges in the vineyard, and Luke informed us that a wine machine would be installed in the vineyard to minimize frost damage. New vines will also be planted and these include more Merlot as well as Vermentino, a white grape that is not widely planted in Virginia.
Granite Heights currently produces 900 cases of wine, and while case production may increase a bit over time, the Kilyks remain steadfast in their commitment to producing limited quantities of quality wines. The tasting experience will likewise remain wine-focused, and there are no plans to build an expansive tasting room. Weddings, bridal parties, and a dog park? These are also not part of the plan.
We applaud Luke and Toni Kilyk’s continued dedication to excellent wine making especially at a time when more and more newer wineries seem to place emphasis on themselves as events facilities or party destinations. We can gladly report that this is not the case at Granite Heights Orchard and Winery, and the results can be tasted in the wine glass. The wines continue to the reason to return to Granite Heights Orchard and Winery.
We purchased bottles of our favorite Granite Heights wines, and we will return very soon. Please plan to visit Luke and Toni Kilyk at Granite Heights Orchard and Winery, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Yes, we love going to summer concerts at Wolftrap’s Filene Center. Where do we always sit? The lawn. Why? We can bring along wonderful picnic foods and along with a favorite bottle of Virginia wine. Here is a round up of the most recent concerts paired with Virginia wines:
America the Beautiful: Historic Americana captured by iconic photographer Ansel Adams. Food of choice? Chunky chicken salad seasoned with jalapeño/cilantro dressing. Wine pairing? 2011 Vidal Blanc from Gray Ghost Vineyards.
Gypsy Kings: We never miss the international sounds of the Gypsy Kings. It was a warm, sultry night; rain clouds threatened to dampen the evening. The missing ingredient? A bouquet of summer blossoms. Ok—let’s put the cliches aside. We never miss the Gypsy Kings, and this year we brought along grilled chicken topped with a spicy yogurt mint sauce. Our wine of choice? the aromatic 2012 Reflection from Breaux Vineyards.
Diana Ross: The Supreme Diva sings her classic Motown hits, but we heard that she only drinks bubbly. Our sparking of choice? The Thibuat-Janisson Sparkling Brut to pair with brie, fresh berries, and almonds.
Al Dente, an upscale Italian restaurant located in northwest DC, recently expanded its wine list to include a rather extensive offering of Virginia wines. We visited Al Dente last Friday to chat with Executive Chef Roberto Donna about his decision to include local wines on his wine list. Of course, we were also hungry and enjoyed an excellent meal with a favorite Virginia wine.
Al Dente provides a true Italian dining experience in DC. The menu features homemade pastas, fresh fish and meat selections, and gourmet Neapolitan pizzas prepared in a brick oven. The contemporary décor is hip yet inviting, and its open design provides an airy atmosphere. Executive Chef Roberto Donna hails from Turin located in northern Italy; he is a James Beard winner and twice declared DC’s “Chef of the Year” since 1984. Al Dente’s wine list is also top notch and offers a selection of mostly Italian wines that range from good yet inexpensive to outstanding and pricey.
So why did Roberto Donna, a heralded chef who knows a thing or two about wine, decide to include Virginia wines on his wine list? I was eager to know the answer since readers can just about imagine my excitement when I saw the wine list. We all know that bloggers can be a pesky lot with too many questions to ask, but the affable Donna was more than gracious and spent some time chatting with me. According to Donna, he has tasted his way through several Virginia wines over the past ten years and is impressed with the improved quality. He finds them to be food-friendly wines that do not over power the palate with high levels of alcohol associated with the heavily extracted fruit bombs of California. Therefore, an expanded wine list to include Virginia wines was kicked off in June; in fact, Al Dente features one Virginia wine by the glass each week to entice diners to try them out. For example, last week Delaplane Cellars’ Melange Blanc was the featured wine and available by the glass. So far, the response from diners has been very positive.
Which Virginia wines are on the list? Too many for me to recall; however, I can report that it represents an honor roll of Virginia’s best wineries and their wines from the best vintages. These include selections from Barboursville Vineyards, Breaux Vineyards, Delaplane Cellars, Glen Manor Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, Linden Vineyards, and Rappahannock Cellars. Of course, these are the ones that I can remember, and I am sure that I’ve left a few off of the list. However, you get the idea—some of Virginia’s best wineries are pouring their best wines at Al Dente.
The smell from the wood-burning brick oven and the scent of fresh tomato sauce made us very hungry. Our friend Matt joined us, and we dined on homemade fettucini with tomato-basil sauce tossed with garlic and cherry tomatoes. The wine of choice? The 2009 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve. An excellent Italian meal paired with an excellent Virginia wine—how much better can life get?
We hope that Al Dente and its Executive Chef Roberto Donna will inspire other DC restaurants to follow the lead and include Virginia wines on their wine lists too. As Donna aptly put it, local wines have vastly improved in quality and it is time for local restaurants to do their part by serving them. Plan to dine at Al Dente restaurant and ask for a Virginia wine to pair with your meal. And when you do, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
So we’re back on the wine trails and taking advantage of some crisp weather for this time of the year. Warm breezy days have replaced the usually hot muggy weather, and we’re not complaining! We still have summer activities planned, and we are still on the quest for summer wines. Here are a few recommendations from this weekend’s tastings:
8 Chains North: Our favorite summer white wine here was the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc made from estate grown grapes. It was half fermented and aged in neutral French oak barrels and half in stainless steel. We appreciated its aromas of lemon/lime and hay; we also detected a mineral note. Crisp and refreshing due to its nice acidity, this should be perfect on a hot day with shellfish or poultry. I also liked the dry 2012 Pink Lady, a rose wine with delightful strawberry aromas and flavors. Big juicy steaks on the grill? Try the 2010 Furnace Mountain Red, a blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Elements of dark plum and blackberry and tobacco prevailed; I also detected some anise in the mouth. Full bodied and still young to boot, so open early or decant if you intend to enjoy this one now.
Breaux Vineyards: 2012 Reflection is a new release for Breaux Vineyards and called Reflection because it represents the best representation of Breaux’s terrior. A blend of Viognier, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Chardonnay, Reflection was very aromatic with notes of orange blossom and honeysuckle; tropical fruit flavors pleased the palate. I labeled this one the ultimate summer white wine. I must admit that we tasted this one as part of the complimentary tasting for club members; as part of that tasting, we also sampled the 2012 Zydeco, a blend of Chambourcin (90%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). Very fruity with tobacco notes, this softer and easy to drink red wine should be perfect for a summer barbeque or picnic.
Hillsborough Vineyards: The golden hued 2011 Carnelian earned my summer wine award here. The Carnelian is made from 100% Rousanne grapes. Floral aromas with notes of lime and fresh hay make for a wine that is perfect on a warm day and paired with fish, pork, or gamey cheeses. The Bloodstone 2010 made from Fer Servadou (94%) and Tannat (6%) should please red wine sippers who prefer a fruitier red wine to pair with grilled fare. A fruity nose and palate were complemented by whiffs of violet and dried herbs.
Be sure to visit these wineries to stock up on your own summer favorites. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
We are big fans of summer concerts at the Wolftrap, and we always get lawn tickets so that we can bring along a picnic and a favorite Virginia wine. Here are some of the wines that helped us to enjoy music under the stars:
1. Frozen Planet accompanied by the NSO: Linden 2011 Riesling Vidal paired with grilled chicken and topped with spicy mango salsa.
2. Pink Martini: Pink rose—what else? We brought along the 2011 Rose from Zephaniah to pair with oven-baked chicken and rice pilaf.
3. Rained out/cancellation—We toyed with perhaps another outing to the arena but then the rains came along with a symphony of thunder. We decided to stay in and snack on a hunk of white cheese and crackers. We cracked open a bottle of the Barboursville 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, raised the blinds, and appreciated Mother Nature’s own lively entertainment.
Fellow blogger Kurt Jensen and his wife Carol organized a bloggers’ social at Early Mountain Vineyards this past Saturday. Those in attendance included Kurt and Carol from Wine About Virginia, Erin and Dan from At the Lamp Post, Anthony from Virginia Pour House, Stacey from Virginia Wine Know, and Frederick and Allison from This Is Wine.
The social began with a tour of the winery and vineyards by new winemaker Steve Monson. We learned that the late frost did no real damage to the vineyards but that the current rain patterns did lead to more vigor in the vineyards. Also, the Early Mountain team and Monson in particular are dedicated to producing quality Bordeaux-style red blends; the focus on white wines will remain on Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Fans of the Early Mountain Viognier may be disheartened to know that the 2011 vintage will be the last. Viognier vines do not perform well at the Early Mountain site, and these vines will be removed.
Once the tour was completed, we returned to the gorgeous tasting room and each selected a flight of wines to enjoy. I opted for the Rose flight, and these included Early Mountain Malbec Merlot Rose, Stinson Vineyards Rose, King Family Crose, and Sunset Hills Vineyards Rose. All were from the 2012 vintage. My favorite of the flight was the 2012 King Family Crose—a classic dry, Old World rose with a light pink color; strawberry and citrus elements prevailed.
Paul sampled the Early Mountain Ascent Flight that featured the 2012 Pinot Gris, the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2011 Handshake Red (a blend), and the 2008 Merlot. The champ here was the 2012 Pinot Gris with its bright, fruity elements and rounder mouth feel. He noted that it was perfect for the summer and a fresh, crisp salad!
We also enjoyed light fare with our wine; I convinced Paul to skip the salad and go for the warm pretzels with caramel sauce. They were quite yummy!
Of course, we compared tasting notes, socialized and chatted about winery visits and other happenings on the wine trails.
We had a great time at Early Mountain Vineyards and thank Kurt and Carol for organizing the outing; special thanks to the Early Mountain team for hosting us. Plan a visit to Early Mountain Vineyards and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Yes, summer is here and it’s time to enjoy refreshing wines during the hot days ahead. We’ve visited a few wineries over the past couple of weekends, and here are some recommendations for wines to enjoy during the summer:
Fabbioli Cellars: We are big rose fans all year long but even more so during the summer. Fabbioli’s 2012 Rose Luna is dry and made from Sangiovese grapes; done in stainless steel tanks, its light pink hue and strawberry notes make for a versatile wine that can be enjoyed on its own, with a picnic, or at a cookout. A crisp finish makes it refreshing to boot. The 2011 fruit forward Chambourcin should pair well with grilled fare especially if spicy rubs and sauces are being used. Of course, we always recommend the popular Raspberry Merlot with any chocolate dessert especially brownies!
Gray Ghost Vineyards: I like crab cakes this time of the year, and the Seyval Blanc from Gray Ghost Vineyards is one that I always keep on hand to pair with them. The 2012 vintage presents citrus flavors and a mineral note too; a short time on Hungarian oak provides a rounded feel not unlike a Fume Blanc. A sweeter option might be the 2011 Vidal Blanc with its floral aromas and fruity palate. Steaks on the grill should pair well with the 2011 Petit Verdot, Paul’s personal favorite. Elements of blackberry, dark plum, and black pepper finished with nice tannins to make it perfect partner with a strip steak and grilled veggies.
Rappahannock Cellars: Since our last visit, Theo Smith has taken the helm as winemaker; however, the wines presented for tasting on our visit were mostly produced by Jason Burrus. Burrus is now winemaker at Chrysalis Vineyards. Our recommendations for summer wines here? Try 2012 Rose with its aromas of watermelon and strawberry; .5% residual sugar elevates the fruit to make for a fruity wine destined to pair well with cheeses, salads, and picnics. My own favorite was the 2012 Viognier. Its floral aromas and notes of peach and lemon zest led to a lengthier finish. This is a nice wine to have around if dining al fresco with seafood, poultry or pork on the menu.
Summertime is a fun time to visit Virginia wineries. Magnolias and honeysuckle scent the air, and butterflies flutter about the vineyards. Plan a visit to these wineries to find your own summer wines, and enjoy summer’s flora and fauna while sipping a glass of at the winery. Of course, be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery is experiencing a rebirth under new ownership, and the winery’s fliers declare a “new look, new wines, new style.” We met co-owner Aimee Henckle at the winery to receive a tour and tasting of the new Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery to determine if indeed a new direction was taking place. At the end, we concluded that indeed a new Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery was born.
We met Aimee at the Harvest House, the facility that once served as the home for the previous owners but now re-purposed for club members and events. Aimee and her husband Todd bought Lost Creek last year; they got the wine bug several years ago while visiting the wine regions of Bordeaux and Napa. They also explored wineries in Oregon and contemplated a go at winemaking in the Portland area. However, the couple eventually wanted to part of an emerging wine region with all of its challenges, and Virginia seemed to fit the bill. Aimee and Todd visited Virginia wineries and were particularly inspired by Jordan Harris, winemaker at Tarara. In fact, their experiences with Harris’ wines encouraged them to pursue the purchase of Lost Creek Winery.
There is no doubt that the Harvest House will provide club members with an comfy yet elegant environment in which to appreciate the new wines at Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. An open floor plan, earth-toned walls and gleaming hard wood floors highlight the well-appointed facility. Aimee shared with us that the new focus at Lost Creek will be on Bordeaux-style dry wines, and these will be sampled at the Harvest House’s all-wood bar. An open indoor kitchen and outdoor grill complete with brick oven will allow for cooking classes and other culinary events to be held at the House.
From the Harvest House, Aimee led us to the tasting room for a sample of current releases at the new Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. New wines and new style were not understatements. Readers may recall that the old Lost Creek produced mostly sweet wines made in stainless steel tanks. The sugar bowl has been put away, and French oak barrels can now be found in barrel room. Furthermore, Doukenie winemaker Sebastien Marquet serves as the consulting winemaker, and he brings to the new Lost Creek not only a background in French winemaking but also experience with the challenges of winemaking in Virginia. The results of these changes spoke for themselves. A new dry Vidal Blanc 2012 was made from estate- grown grapes and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Melon notes and a refreshing minerality made for a perfect summer wine. Our favorite white, though, was the Chardonnay 2012 that was also done in stainless steel tanks. Honey, pear and citrus notes were evident; yes, we noted a nice minerality here too. And yes, no sugar added! Sweet wine lovers need not despair as the Serenity (made from Vidal Blanc) boasts 1.5% residual sugar and its bright fruity characteristics are destined to please sippers with a sweeter palate.
On to the reds, and the first one was our favorite, the 2011 Cabernet Franc. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, it presented a smoky nose with cherry notes and tobacco aromas; spice elements reminded us that indeed we tasted Cabernet Franc. The final red wine was likewise well made, and that was the Genesis 2011, a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, we detected a whiff of violet with dark plum flavors and earthy/spicy aromas.
And so the Genesis 2011 ended our tasting, and it confirmed for us that this is indeed a reborn Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. Aimee shared with us that future plans include the release of a barrel-aged Chardonnay; in fact, we got to sample this one, and it will be quite good upon release. Expanded wine production is also on the agenda, and more planting in the vineyard will boost acres planted in vines from 16 to 21. Also, Lost Creek is now part of a new Potomac cluster that includes Tarara and Fabbioli Cellars—good company to keep!
With our tour and tasting done, we decided to each enjoy a glass of our favorites, the Chardonnay and the Cabernet Franc; guitarist Nate Davis provided soothing entertainment on a gorgeous late spring afternoon. We plan to visit Lost Creek very soon, and we encourage readers to experience the “new look, new wines, and new style” at Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. Mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
We conclude our wrap up of our late May trip to the Monticello area with write-ups of Barbousrville Vineyards and Lazy Days Winery.
Barboursville Vineyards: We always enjoy the wines at Barboursville Vineyards, and we found a few favorites this time around. Of the white wines, we were both pleased with the Sauvignon Blanc 2012 with its characteristic citrus notes and whiff of fresh grass. A crisp finish makes for a perfect wine for the summer. Of the red wines, I was impressed with the Nebbiolo Reserve 2009; notes of violet, dark cherry, and sweet tobacco were evident with this fuller-bodied wine. The Octagon 2008 was also special with rich berry flavors and earthy elements. This, however, was not the Octagon edition that won the Governor’s Cup. That one will be released later in the summer.
On another note, we could not help but notice that the acclaimed wines at Barboursville are attracting ever-larger crowds, and it may be time for the tasting room managers to consider another system for tasting wines at Barboursville. The current conveyer belt system is simply not conducive to an engaging tasting experience. We like to ask questions and interact with the tasting associate, but on this occasion it simply was not possible. We also had the misfortune of being lumped with a large gaggle of silly bridesmaids, and chatting about the oak nuances of the Cabernet Reserve was not on their agenda. We will return to Barboursville Vineyards, of course, but we will make certain to visit as early in the day as possible.
Lazy Days Winery: This winery is located in Amherst and not far from Ankida Ridge Vineyard. The Chardonnay 2012 was a favorite and presented ripe pear aromas and flavors; some aging in neutral oak imparts a subtle buttery feel. Nice to sip on a hot day or with light cheeses and salads! Paul enjoyed the Merlot 2010 and noted smoky aromas with cherry flavors and a bit of spice at the end. He also appreciated its smooth tannins.
We must admit that we visited Lazy Days at the end of the day, and we did not spend as much time there as usual. The tasting staff was very friendly, too. All the more reason to visit at a later time!
Plan a visit to Barboursville Vineyards and Lazy Days Winery, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
We finally made a trip to Ankida Ridge Vineyard, the small winery located in Amherst, Virginia that has made a very big name for itself in a short amount of time. Nestled atop a steep slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ankida Ridge Vineyard is the only Virginia winery that we know of that produces high-quality Pinot Noir. Positive reviews from such experts as local critic Dave McEntyre have created quite the buzz around this winery that only produces 700 cases of wine each year. Our Memorial weekend plans, then, included a trip to this slice of Burgundy.
So why is Ankida Ridge Vineyard referred to as “Little Burgundy?” When owners Christine and Dennis Vrooman purchased the property, they had no intention of planting a vineyard; however, a tasting of local wines got them to thinking that maybe a vineyard was the smart use of their property. Consultations with viticulturist guru Lucie Morton confirmed that the property’s rocky soils and 1800 ft. elevation made it one of the few sites that could successfully grow Pinot Noir, the grape grown in the Burgundy region of France. The Vroomans planted their vineyard in 2008 with the intent to specialize in the Burgundy varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They produced their first crop in 2010.
Christine Vrooman gave us a tour of the vineyard, and from the vineyard’s peak elevation, we noted the lower humidity and brisker breezes. When Christine informed us in the tasting room that they only had two acres of vines planted, we expected to see a relatively small number of vines in the vineyard; however, tight spacing per Morton’s recommendation revealed a different story. We were amazed at how many vines were actually planted. We also observed guinea hens roaming about the vineyard, and they delivered their own unique greeting to us as we walked through the vineyard. These, we learned, thrive on insects and provide a natural way of reducing pests in the vineyard. Less humidity and a regular breeze due to a higher elevation also provide more optimal (or more Burgundian) conditions to produce the ever-fickle Pinot Noir grape. Christine manages the vineyard, and as she conducted the vineyard tour, Christine picked leaves and either separated clustered shoots or secured wayward-growing ones. We got the feeling that these were her babies, and Christine confided to us that her work in the vineyard is indeed conducted with a motherly passion.
So how does this translate to wine in the bottle? We sampled the latest releases in the tasting room; in addition to the Ankida Ridge-labeled wines, the Vroomans have added the Rockgarden label to their lineup. These can be described as second-label wines that feature grapes grown at other sites. Christine’s son Nathan conducted our tasting, and we began with the crisp Rockgarden Cellars Voyage de Vert 2012 that was not unlike a Vino Verde with its green tone and green apple notes. Made from Vidal Blanc and white Pinot Noir, it can be described as the perfect summer wine. Up next was my favorite, the Ankida Ridge Chardonnay 2011 that was aged in neutral oak barrels. Half of the barrels underwent malo-lactic fermentation to provide a creamy mouth feel. Classic pear and apple notes and subtle minerality did indeed conjure images of a classic Burgundy-style Chardonnay.
We then moved on to the Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2011. Pinot Noir is typically picked early in the harvest season; that fact coupled with the vineyard’s location farther west and beyond reach of Hurricane Irene’s rainy visit allowed the Vroomans to produce another excellent Pinot Noir. Lush strawberry notes prevailed with flavors of dark cherry and currants, and spice at the end made for a nice finish. The Rockgarden Cellars Voyage de Rouge 2011 followed and featured Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Elements of cherry, plum and tobacco were noted along with a more tannic presence. A whiff of violet provided a floral note too. Drink now especially if steaks are on the grill! Our final sample was the Rockgarden Cellars Vin Doux, a port-style wine made from Chambourcin grapes. I always enjoy tasting these “smoking jacket wines” and probably do not have enough of them on my wine rack. Dark fruit and pepper characteristics suggested a cigar was in order or at least some dark chocolates.
I must mention that the rustic tasting room did make me daydream about a trip to Burgundy. With doors and windows open even on a warm (and cicada-filled) day, the soothing breezes and low humidity made me forget that I was in Virginia on the eve of summer. We decided to enjoy a glass of the Ankida Ridge Chardonnay 2011 with baguette, cheeses and sliced deli meat while basking in the lovely weather and gorgeous view.
We made certain to purchase our favorite Ankida Ridge wines and know that we will return soon. In the meantime, readers should plan a visit to “Little Burgundy” and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.