Wine and Cheer at Sunset Hills

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On Superbowl weekend (and between snow flakes, ice pellets, and frozen rain), we decided to visit Loudoun County wineries. Sunset Hills Vineyard was at the top of our list of wineries to visit, and once there we found a very festive tasting room with club members celebrating recent releases; many sported shirts declaring a favorite team. Amidst the hoopla and good cheer, we were privileged to receive a full tasting by Meredith Wilson, the tasting room manager and a long time wine friend of ours. Meredith’s sports wear suggested that she preferred Denver in the big bowl game; however, at the end of our tasting, we favored team Sunset!
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We were treated to the full gamut of well-crafted wines at Sunset Hills Vineyards, so I will present a few of the highlights here.

White Wines:
Albarino 2012—Wow. This grape shows potential at some Virginia wineries with Jenni McCloud at Chyrsalis Vineyards leading the way, and this one from Sunset is quite nice. Citrus notes prevail with a noticeable mineral element and a crisp finish. Extremely limited production, though, with only about three cases made. We hope that the potential for this varietal will be expanded at Sunset, because we would like to buy a few bottles of it in the future.
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Chardonnay Vertical+ Petit Manseng: Yes, I am an unapologetic Chardonnay fan. Imagine my delight when Meredith gave us a side-by-side of two 2012 Sunset Chardonnays and a Petit Manseng all from the 2012 vintage. All three presented a similar fuller-mouth feel; however, both Chardonnays presented different nuances. The Petit Manseng exhibited the fullest body of the three. Although from the same vintage, the Chardonnays represented efforts from two different vineyards—the Shenandoah Springs vineyard located in a higher elevation in the Shenandoah, and the Vineyard One located on the Sunset property. The former was a bit leaner with citrus and mineral notes and tropical fruit elements. I noted some pear flavors too. The Vineyard One offered a fuller mouth feel along with a classic Chardonnay profile—pear and apple characteristics with a nice honey note. Which did I prefer? Depends on what’s for dinner. Shenandoah Springs with shell fish, but Vineyard One with poultry topped with a cream sauce. And the Petit Manseng? At less than 1% residual sugar, it has been the driest Petit Manseng that we’ve tasted in Virginia. Fuller-bodied for sure with tropical fruit notes and flavors with a hint of freesia on the nose. At the dinner table, this one could be an alternative to a full-bodied Chardonnay or Viognier.

Red Wines:
Petit Verdot: We were able to compare the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Different growing seasons=different results. Both were very good. The 2011 vintage, produced from a very challenging season, was quite nice. It was lighter-bodied than its older sibling and Paul suggested that he could even sip this on e on its own. I preferred the 2010 with its denser color and its characteristics of dark plum, sweet tobacco, and spice.

2010 Nebbiolo: The Superbowl champ for me. Characteristic Nebbiolo and an example of what Virginia can do with this grape. Earthy aromas with notes of clover and licorice and a whiff of violet were noted. Buy now but drink later—this will only get better with age. Another polar votext? Beef stew and the 2010 Nebbiolo will take the chill off.

Ready for spring? So are we. The Sunset White with its blend of Traminette and Vidal Blanc will conjure images of warm breezes, lingering sunsets, and a crab feast. Dreams of barbeque? The 2012 Cabernet Franc will be a perfect partner for grilled fare. Until then, though, we can only stock up on the wines and wait for the seasons to change.
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Our tasting ended too soon, but we extended our stay with a basket of hard cheeses and salami. We also enjoyed a glass of wine and took in the Superbowl revelry that was all around us. We each sipped on a glass of the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc. We reviewed our tasting and conversation with Meredith, and were impressed with the continued dedication to vineyard-specific wines. The different nuances, in the case of the Chardonnays, could be tasted in the glass. It was also obvious to us that winemaker Nate Walsh has dedicated himself to quality winemaking regardless of circumstances such as the rainy 2011 season. While we had our favorites, the wines here were well made.

We will return to Sunset Hills sooner rather than later. In the meantime, readers should plan a visit; tell Meredith that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Notaviva to Launch Cruise on the Danube

A fun yet elegant cruise down the Danube River which runs through historic cities like Vienna, Austria—what more could your ask for? A pairing with Virginia wines, of course. Notaviva Vineyards is planning just such a trip for November 2015. We stopped by Notaviva Vineyards to get the details from owners Stephen and Shannon Mackey; of course, we also wanted to sample the current releases.

The pairing of Virginia wine with historic sites and sounds has been dubbed “Melodies of the Danube”, and AmaWaterways will host the event. Stephen Mackey will host a number of wine and music pairings that will feature Notaviva wines. Also, Mackey will attempt to host a wine tasting from the cruise ship that can also be experienced in the Notaviva tasting room at the same time. The goal is to promote wine drinking as a multi-sensory experience while elevating the awareness of Virginia wines. Stephen Mackey’s passion for wine and music are well known, so this should be quite an event for participants. Notaviva wines that will be featured on the trip will be named after the famed German trio Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Imagine hearing strains of Beethoven on the Danube while sipping a wine named after the famed composer!
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Sounds like fun? There will be a number of teaser events between now and then to entice wine sippers/music lovers/history buffs to sign up for the cruise. Check out the website for information on these upcoming events, but we can report that the first mixer to promote the cruise will be held on February 9. There is plenty of time for interested travelers to plan for the trip; at least 64 cabins will be available.
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And what about the wines? Our favorite white wine was the yet-to-be released 2012 Sabado made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A classic Sauvignon Blanc, it exhibited notes of citrus and grass along with a refreshing acidity. With spring around the corner, the floral 2011 Verano which is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Traminette should be a pleaser. Pineapple and white pepper elements were noted along with a fuller mouth feel. Of the red wines, I was most pleased with the 2012 Vierzig Blaufrankisch. This is a blend of the German grape, Blaufrankisch, and Cabernet Franc (15%). I noted rich cherry and raspberry flavors along with a note of sweet tobacco. It was accessible and easy to sip; no coincidence that it was made to be listened to with the Mozart symphony by the same name, Vierzig.
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Notaviva will maintain its focus on wine, music and fun. In the coming months, guitarist Paul Rogers from the band Bad Company will be at the winery to host food, wine and music classes. Before then, Valentine’s Day will feature comedy and wine.

Readers who are intrigued by this opportunity should either visit the Notaviva website for more information or stop by the winery for updates and a wine tasting. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

No Wind, No Rain, Nor Winter’s Cold….

Can stop us, babe—from the wine trails, of course. We have been eager to get back on the wine trails, but this year’s winter weather has ranged from an icy mix to snow to thunderous downpours with fog all along the way. Needless to say, these conditions have limited our time on the road. However, we donned our raincoats and wellingtons and managed to visit Delaplane Cellars and Philip Carter Winery of Virginia this past weekend.

Delaplane Cellars: We always enjoy visiting here if only to admire the gorgeous views from the tasting room. And the wines are pretty good to boot! The 2012 Chardonnay remains a favorite of mine and presented pear notes with a hint of toast and a creamy mouth feel. Only five bottles remained as of Saturday, but they were down to four when we left—guess why. The 2011 Merlot and 2011 Cinq3 remain on the tasting menu, and these were both lighter bodied and fruity with earthy elements. However, the 2012 Tannat proved to be more complex. This was bottled in August 2012 and is therefore still quite young— it is tannat after all. Smoky aromas with a whiff of coffee and sweet tobacco were noted with along flavors of blackberry and blueberry; it was also quite chewy. Buy now and drink later; if you can’t wait, I’d follow the advice on the tasting sheet and decant at least 30 minutes before serving.
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Philip Carter Winery: It was a busy afternoon here, and we ran into winemaker Jeremy Ligon as we entered. Jeremy was about to conduct a wine class (hence the crowd), but he did take time to give us a warm welcome. We were left in the hands of Lauren Forlano (her father owns Forlano’s Market), our very capable tasting educator. The well-balanced 2012 Chardonnay remained our favorite of the white wines with it flavors of ripe pear and melon. A touch of Viognier (25%) provided a tropical note. Partial malolactic fermentation and aging in neutral French oak barrels produced a creamier mouth feel with a hint of toast at the end. Dreaming of spring or summer? The citrusy 2012 Falconwood White or the fruity 2013 Governor Fauquier will fit the bill. Both conjured dreams of warm breezes and picnics. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon proved to be our favorite red wine. This is a more recent release, and it took quite a bit of swirling to coax the nose; however, we did note aromas of violet, chocolate, and dark fruit. It was also quite tannic, but the tannins will soften over time. As advised above, buy now and drink later; however, if you insist on drinking now, decant and serve with a nice steak and roasted veggies.
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After our tasting, we enjoyed the 2012 Chardonnay beside the cozy fireplace as we watched the cold rain cascade from ominous dark clouds.
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Stay tuned as we navigate the ever-changing winter weather to sample the current releases at local wineries. Oh—the title of this post? Perhaps we will let readers guess. Clue—a famous Motown hit sung by a legendary diva at Wolftrap last summer. Ponder the possibilities over a favorite glass of Virginia wine and let us know. In the meantime, visit these Virginia wineries and mention know that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Wine Club Pick Ups

On Sunday we braved the cold temperatures and threats of ice to get to a few wineries to pick up club wines. I had wines to pick up at Breaux and Doukenie and we thought our first winery trip in 2014 would be to pick up those wines.
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After some icy travel, we made it to Breaux. We were so glad to see our wine friends Bruce and Silvia. Bruce conducted our tasting. We tasted the club wines and the regular tasting menu wines. We have tasted many of them before but were reminded how much we enjoy them. The 2012 Viognier stood out with the floral nose and honeysuckle notes. I also enjoyed the new version of Equation. It is a new blend of mostly 2011 reds. I decided to bring a bottle home for an evening when we are looking for a sipper to go with pizza or burgers. We had the chance to taste the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon to compare it to the 2006 vintage. I preferred the 2010. We noted sweet tobacco, raisiny fruit, jammy and cherry notes. It could use a little more time but I thought it was ready to enjoy now.
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After our tasting we decided to enjoy a glass of wine with a baguette and cheese. Warren enjoyed the Cellar Selection 2012 Reflection and I enjoyed the 2012 Vidal Blanc. We are always looking for white wines to add to our racks so we brought home a bottle of each of these. We always enjoy our time at Breaux and we take advantage of the benefits of being club members.

We then headed to Doukenie to pick up my club wines there. The ice hadn’t let up a bit. We still made it there safely. As a club member we get a complimentary tasting when we pick up our wines. We decided to do just that.
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If I remember correctly, we tasted the 2012 Pinot Gris, the 2010 Le Vin Rouge, the 2011 Merlot, the 2011 Cabernet Franc, and the 2011 Vintner’s Reserve. The Pinot Gris reminded me of warmer days. I kept thinking I would enjoy it more on a warm spring day while sitting on the balcony. Those days will return in a few months. The 2011 Cabernet Franc tickled my taste buds the most. I enjoyed the cherry notes, black fruit flavors and the smooth ending. We enjoyed it so much we enjoyed a glass of it before getting back on the road to brave the icy weather on the way home.

We headed up with almost a half a case of wine! If you haven’t been to Breaux Vineyards or Doukenie Winery lately, plan a trip in the new year. And when you do visit, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Virginia Wine at Wagshal’s

On Saturday we were coming home from a Maryland winery visit with my sister when we decided to stop in Wagshal’s and pick up some dinner. Imagine our surprise when we saw they were serving some Virginia wines by the glass! After picking up some steaks and potatoes, we decided to enjoy a glass each. Warren selected the North Gate Meritage and I selected the Fabbioli Chardonnay. They were both very good. We noticed the shelf where they were displaying the wines. They also sell a few other Virginia wines. If you find yourself at Wagshal’s on New Mexico Avenue, check out the Virginia wines they offer and enjoy a glass. And if you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
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Happy Birthday Frank Morgan!

We spent this past weekend with fellow blogger Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like. He turned 40! Frank and his lovely wife Acada celebrated the milestone in the Charlottesville area with wine, food and friends.

We helped Frank ring in another new decade with a cellar tasting at Veritas Vineyards. Elliot, assistant to winemaker Emily Pelton, conducted our tasting and answered all of our questions. Sneak previews of newly harvested 2013 grapes now resting in their tanks begged us to ponder the possibilities of the 2013 vintage.
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After our tasting at Veritas, we headed to Afton Mountain Vineyards. Owner Tony Smith conducted our tasting. Lingering fall colors were appreciated through the windows that lined the tasting room. We later decided to share a bottle of the 2012 Cabernet Franc with cheeses and a baguette.
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The grand event was a birthday dinner at Tastings of Charlottesville. Keswick winemaker Stephan Benard and his wife Kat met us as did Bob Garsson, and his wife, of Project Sunlight. A gourmet feast awaited us along with a menu of excellent wines. I did not copy the labels and vintages, but I can attest that all of the wines poured that evening were excellent. They included a Cruet, a Mersault (my personal favorite), a Chenin Blanc from South Africa (selected with the help of South African native Stephan Benard), and a knock out Bordeaux. The evening’s highlight, though, was the intricate cake shaped like a wine bottle cradled in a straw-line box. Perfect for the occasion and also for the birthday boy who is indeed passionate about wine.
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We wish Frank Morgan all the best; however time does fly, and before we know it, he will turn 50! Yikes! By then, we will be hitting 30 (times 2). Anyway, plan your own special celebrations with a trip to Virginia wine country. Visit these wineries and a special dinner at Tasting of Charlottesville. Please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Monticello Wrap Up

It’s hard to believe that another Virginia Wine Month is over! We made sure to enjoy as much of it as possible. We opened the month with a swing through the Monticello area, and we posted about some of the wineries that we visited. Today we finish our write up about that trip.

Blenheim Vineyards: We always look forward to tasting the latest releases by winemaker Kirsty Harmon. On this particular visit, Paul enjoyed the crisp Viognier 2012 with its tropical fruit characteristics. I preferred the Chardonnay 2012 and its fuller mouth feel and pear flavors. We both concurred that the Cabernet Sauvignon was the favorite red. Juicy with lots of plum and berry flavors, it was quite delicious. We got a chance to chat with Kirsty, and we asked her about the 2013 harvest that was then toward its grand finale. She echoed what many winemakers have shared with us—the biggest challenge was not the late frost or the early summer rains. It was the hungry wild life such as raccoons and bears that caused the biggest headaches. However, Kirsty was pleased with the way that the summer trended toward warm, dry days and cooler nights and expressed optimism that the vintage would be a good one.
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King Family Vineyards: Another favorite of ours—we are big fans of Mathieu Finot’s wines. It really is not hard to simply state “all of the above” when pondering our preferred wines here. Matt is our preferred wine educator at King Family, and he skillfully guided us through our tasting. Paul was a fan of the 2012 Viognier, 10% of which was done in a concrete egg. It spent time in both stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels and presented elements of peach, melon and white pepper. I was a bigger fan of the 2012 Chardonnay (no suprises here—I do enjoy Chardonnay.) Citrus notes were complimented by characteristics of pear and spice; a creamy mouth feel led to a longer finish. My kind of Chardonnay! We both enjoyed the 2012 Crose, a dry rose with notes of grapefruit, bright berry, and peach. With Thanksgiving around the corner, a light-bodied Cabernet Franc might be in order, and the 2012 Cabernet Franc should fit the bill. Red berry flavors with characteristic pepper notes make for the perfect partner with turkey and cranberry sauce. Matt also took us on a private tour of the new facility showing us all the new equipment, the huge barrel room, and new crush pad. Thank you, Matt!
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Pollak Vineyards: Okay—so we visit this lots and lots too. Casey, as always, provided us with an excellent tasting experience. We can report that the 2011 Chardonnay is still tasting quite well; however, we were both impressed with the 2012 Pinot Gris with its floral notes and stone fruit elements. The dry 2012 Rose caught my attention, and it displayed aromas of strawberry and spice that should delight any rose lover. This one should prove to be a popular option for Thanksgiving, but the lighter bodied 2011 Cabernet Franc might also be a quite choice. We were given a sample of the 2010 Meritage, and it ended up being my favorite of the red wines. I have a bottle of this one on my rack, so this gave me a chance to monitor its progress. Concentrated fruit aromas with hints of anise and tobacco led to flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and spice. Nice tannins too. I noted a subtle vanilla note at the end to boot. (Note to self—age for a bit longer and enjoy with prime rib.)
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White Hall Vineyards: The price points always impress us here. I liked the Pinot Gris 2011 that was fermented 50% in neutral oak and 50% in stainless steel. Pear and soft apricot notes led to a whiff of hay on the nose. I was surprised that Paul preferred the crisp Chardonnay 2012 with its pear and citrus aromas and flavors. It was fermented and aged in both French and American oak barrels; however, it still proved to more crisp than creamy—probably why Paul enjoyed it so much. Of the red wines, the Merlot 2012 was very accessible. It was blended with small amounts of Malbec and Chambourcin and presented aromas of violet, tobacco, and dried herbs. Spice notes complemented the cherry and blackberry flavors. Nice on its own or with a beef dish.
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Moss Vineyards: Our final stop was Moss Vineyards. It was also winery number 163 for us. They have been open for a bit more than a year. Our favorite white here was the 2012 Viognier. It was crisp and elegant. Our favorite red was the 2010 Architettura Reserve. We noted dried plum, concentrated flavors and tight tannins. They have 52 acres of property with 9 acres cleared and 7000 vines planted. They grow cab suav, cab franc, merlot, petit verdot, viognier and vermintino. We will plan to visit them again soon to see how the wines are developing and what new wines they have on the tasting menu. We had a great time chatting about wine and their adventure into Virginia wine.
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We always enjoy visiting wineries in the Monticello area. Plan to visit these and other nearby wineries to stock up on holiday favorites. Please mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Halloween Party

vwm25smallOur final celebration for Virginia Wine Month was a Halloween Party for many of our friends. Warren cooked lots of different food items and I made cupcakes for dessert. Of course the wines for the evening were strictly Virginia wines. We selected several whites and several reds. The list of the wines that were included were:

 

 
Whites
2012 Delaplane Cellars Petit Manseng
2011 Gray Ghost Reserve Chardonnay
2012 Chrysalis Viognier
2012 Tarara Charval
2011 Linden Seyval
2012 Pollak Rose
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Reds
2011 Lost Creek Cabernet Franc
2009 Granite Heights End of the Road
2009 Afton Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve
2008 Chester Gap Petit Verdot
2009 Delaplane Tannat
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The wines were very well received. We judged how well they were liked by how empty the bottle was at the end of the evening. The 2011 Gray Ghost Reserve Chardonnay and the 2011 Linden Seyval were empty at the end of the night. Of the reds the Granite Heights End of the Road and the Delaplane Tannat were both empty as well. We can assume then they were the most enjoyed wines or they appealed to the palates of our guests more than the other wines. Either way, all the wines were enjoyed and everyone had a wonderful time. We are already looking forward to the party next year and showcasing more Virginia wine. If you visit any of these wineries be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
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Virginia Wine at Whole Foods

vwm25smallOn Friday night we went to the Whole Foods Market Tysons for their weekly Fab Five Fridays. The wine pairings for the evening were all Virginia wines. We thought this would be another great way to celebrate Virginia Wine Month. We posted about it Twitter and Facebook and were pleased to see some of our readers turn out to taste some Virginia wine. Neche Harris from the Marketing Team asked us to be on hand to answer questions about Virginia wine while tasters went from station to station. We were happy to promote Virginia wine!

The first course was arugula salad with Idiazabal cheese, apples, and caramelized walnuts. It was paired with the Barboursville Pinot Grigio. This is one of our favorites and we thought it paired nicely with the salad.

The second course was a spicy Italian sandwich with fresh mozzarella. It was paired with the Horton Norton Red Blend. I am not a huge fan of Norton but Warren thought the fruity notes helped calm the spicy nature of the sandwich.
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The third course was Alfredo and penne pasta. It was paired with the Horton Viognier. This was my favorite pairing. I really enjoyed the penne pasta and thought the viognier was a good pairing with the cheesy Alfredo sauce.
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The fourth course was spaghetti bolognese. It was paired with the Crosskeys Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot is one of my favorite grapes. I have several different Virginia Petit Verdots on my rack. Besides the spaghetti being delicious, the wine was very nice as well. This petit verdot had just the right tannin structure to balance the bolognese sauce.
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The fifth and final course was a pumpkin roll with cream cheese. It was paired with the Pearmund Riesling. The sweetness of the wine paired nicely with the spice and cream cheese of the pumpkin roll.
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While tasting the different courses we were able to chat with many people about Virginia wines. It was great to chat about Virginia wine and info people about wineries, wines, and destinations available in Virginia. We had lengthy conversations with Kerry and Danielle and Tom and Anna.
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Whole Foods Market doesn’t always showcase Virginia but Friday night Pearmund Cellars was pouring several of their wines and Albemarle Ciderworks was tasting several of their ciders. We were so pleased to see and hear such great things about Virginia Wine (and cider). We’ve attended many of the Fab 5 Fridays in the past but no more. Starting Thursday October 31st (Halloween) Fab 5 is moving to Thursdays. So be sure to check out the Fab 5 on Thursday now and when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Celebrating Virginia Wine Month in the Monticello Area

vwm25smallWe took advantage of the long weekend to visit with Paul’s family and to sample wines in the Monticello area. Here is a summary of our favorite pours:

Barboursville Vineyards: We are pleased to report that the tasting set up has changed since our last visit, and an additional tasting station has been added to ease the bottleneck that occurred during hectic times. Our tasting experience was much more enjoyable, and we hope that the management continues to explore efficient ways handle the growing crowds that visit the winery. Paul favored the crisp Pinot Grigio 2012; I preferred the more complex Chardonnay Reserve 2012—no surprises here, right. However, we did appreciate the Viognier Reserve that is aging quite nicely. Of the red wines, it was tough to beat the Nebbiolo Reserve 2010 with its smoky notes and aromas of violet, tobacco and black currants. Paul thought that the Cabernet Franc Reserve 2011 did just that and notes its nose of cedar, blackberries, and cherries. We agreed to disagree.
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Jefferson Vineyards: This is our first visit here since winemaker Chris Ritzcovan has taken the helm. We enjoyed several wines here poured by one of our favorite tasting associates, Allison. Paul is not a Riesling fan, but he did enjoy the Johannisberg Riesling 2011 with its stone fruit aromas and subtle hay note. I preferred the 2011 Chardonnay Reserve 2011 and its weightier mouth feel. We reached another split decision on the red wines. Paul was most enthusiastic about the earthy Petit Verdot 2012 and its smoky nose and elements of dark berries, coffee, and dried herbs. My own favorite was the complex Meritage 2010. A whiff of violet led aromas of dark fruit, tobacco and anise. Components include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
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Keswick Vineyards: We always enjoy Stephen Benard’s wines and look forward to sampling his latest releases. We both appreciated the 2012 Viognier that was fermented in a combination of tank and French oak. Peach and tropical fruit notes with a bit of vanilla at the end made for a luscious wine; it had a nice length too. I was a bigger fan of the 2012 Chardonnay that I characterized as a classic Burgundy style wine. Lovely pear flavors accented by hints of oak and a long-lasting finish make for a food-friendly yet elegant wine. The 2012 Consensus is created by wine club members and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Norton. We found this one to be an accessible wine with smoky notes and elements of tobacco, mixed berries, and black pepper. Stephan also treated us to several of the Signature line of wines available to club members. We really enjoyed the chardonnay and viognier. We also got to sample a few of the 2013s in the barrels. They will be quite nice! Stephan and I also posed for a silly picture that Paul posted on Twitter. We always have fun chatting about wine and catching up with Stephan. Thank you, Stephan!
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Trump Winery: Hard to beat the Sparkling Blanc de Blanc with its nose of apples, pears, and toast. Paul enjoyed the crisp Chardonnay 2012 that was fermented 90% in stainless steel tank and 10% in French oak barrels. These leaner Chardonnays tend to be his style and are certainly easy to sip on their own. Fans of the simply red will be pleased to know that the 2008 vintage is still available and tasting quite nicely.
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More on our visit to the Monticello area next time. Until then, plan your own visit to these wineries and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.