My Blends

Warren shared his blending experience with you in the last post. I’ll share mine in this post. I will agree with Warren about Al’s malbec. It’s one of the best I’ve tasted. It reminded me of Lori Corcoran’s malbec. Maybe in the future Al will plant enough to produce a stand alone. It’s definitely a great addition to the pieces he uses for blending.

My first blend was made up of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Malbec, and 10% Petit Verdot. I really liked the stand alone versions of these grapes and thought larger amounts of merlot and cab sauv would make a nice wine. Well, in the end this first blend had too much spice for my taste. I didn’t understand that because I only had 15% of the cab franc which were I thought most of the spice would come from. Al explained to me that when you put them all together, they bring out different characteristics and my blend just happened to bring out more spice. Of course I needed to change the percentages in my second blend.

Since I really enjoyed the malbec as a stand alone, I decided to make that one of the major components of my second blend. I went with 30% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. This second blend was so much better than the first blend. The spiciness was gone and replaced with some nice fruit and decent tannins. I was ready to bottle this blend. Warren said he enjoyed it as well.

Al explained how they create 15 different blends, make a gallon of each one, and taste them at three different time intervals. The blend for this year’s Ranger Reserve is 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 12% Malbec. We got a chance to taste it and of course it was wonderful. We had a great time at the blending class and look forward to blending again in the future.

Blending Makes Perfect

Ever wonder how Virginia wine makers come up with the combinations for their Bordeaux-style blends?  These blends may be recognizable to readers as Meritage blends, but these are indeed Bordeaux-style blends.  To be considered a Meritage (or Bordeaux blend), a wine must consist of a combination of any or all of these varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  No single varietal can make up more than 50% of the blend. Readers may recall that we attempted to blend a Cabernet Franc at Sunset Hills, but this time we decided to test our blending talents at Gray Ghost Vineyards.  Our challenge here was to produce a Bordeaux-style blend that would mimic Gray Ghost Vineyards’ award-winning Ranger Reserve.  Of course, this challenge required tasting, blending, and then more tasting; needless to say, we were eager to participate!

Our session was conducted by winemaker Al Kellert who began the session with a brief history of the Bordeaux varietals.  This was very informative, and I learned that Petit Verdot was the earliest of these varietals to be planted in France. This may have occurred in a time before the contemporary era (or BC for traditionalists).  Also, Al answered the question that many participants may have wanted to ask—why blend?  Wine makers blend for a number of reasons—one good reason may be to hide flaws of certain individual wines especially during poor vintages. However, another reason to blend is to create a “whole that is better than the parts”.  This last reason suggests an artistic component to the process, and it is one that Al Kellert embraces as a winemaker.  In fact, The Gray Ghost Reserve is the end result of at least 15 different blends that are tasted at different intervals in the aging process.  The winning combination is one that has met a predetermined goal—a blend of all five varietals that harmonizes the best qualities of each so that no one varietal dominates over the others.

Our task, then, was to create a blend that met the criteria for a Bordeaux-style wine.  We were not informed of previous blends used by Al to produce the Ranger Reserve, so participants were not pre-disposed to produce a blend that mirrored Al’s previous products.  We began with bottle samples of each Bordeaux varietal, and these samples produced from estate-grown fruit—even the Malbec.  After these individual samplings, we were then charged to create our own blends.  My own favorite of the single varietal samples was the 2008 Merlot with its fruit-driven profile; I decided that this one would be my “headliner.”  However, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon provided backbone with its darker fruit characteristics, nice tannic structure and longer finish.  I ultimately decided that this one would be my co-star with the others acting as supporting cast members.  The supports added various degrees of smoke, spice, and berry fruits would complement the mix; so, armed with pipettes and a beaker I blended away!

So what did I create?  I must say that I was quite pleased with my end results.  I actually finished two blends, and both were dominated by the Merlot.  My first blend started with 30% Merlot with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but I opted to kick up the Merlot a notch to 40% in my second blend.  It was my second blend that I preferred. With this one, I also added in more Cabernet Sauvignon, decreased the Cabernet Franc a notch but added more Petit Verdot.  A relative splash of Malbec finished off my second blend.  As a result, I accomplished my goal, and I created a layered, fruit-driven yet complex blend that included dark fruit flavors, earthy/spicy aromas, and a generous finish.  And the color was dense to boot!

Of course, I was not alone at the blending table, and Paul was busy concocting his own vintner’s special.  I’ll let him describe his own process and results.  However, I will close by noting that I was very surprised at the quality of Al Kellert’s  Malbec.  In fact, more than one blender at our table featured the Malbec as the dominant varietal. This is a tough grape to grow in Virginia, and the Gray Ghost Vineyard has very few Malbec vines planted in it.  What little is produced each year is used in the Ranger Reserve, so an individual bottling would not be possible.  (There were requests to plant more Malbec, though!)

What were Paul’s blends?  How did we compare to the ultimate champion, Al Kellert?  I’ll let Paul provide those details.  In the meantime, plan a visit to Gray Ghost Vineyards, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Spring Wine Festival

Looking for a Spring Wine Festival? We’d like to suggest the Spring Wine Festival at the Plains. There will be over 250 Virginia wines presented for tasting. There will be fine art, fancy food, culinary seminars, musical entertainment, and the opening night of Twilight Polo.

We attended this event last fall and loved it. Many of the wineries we are unable to get to taste their wines at this festival. It’s a great way to taste some wines you’d never get to taste unless you made a trip to their tasting room.

Check out the website and get your tickets now! And if you see us there, say hi!

Reflections on The Drink Local Conference

Paul certainly captured the spirit of the Drink Local Wine Conference that was held at the Lansdowne Resort this past Sunday. I thought that I would add a few of my own thoughts on the event:

1. We’re on the verge of something really big!
Readers of our blog know that we’ve been heralding Virginia wines for five year now, and the treat for us has been to witness the tremendous growth in the local wine industry. The number of wineries and vineyards in the area has exploded in the past few years; however, the most successful wineries have kept a focus on wine quality. It was fascinating to me to listen to and even interact with successful owners and winemakers such as Mathieu Finot of King Family, Jenni McCloud of Chrysalis, Luca Paschina of Barboursville and Jordan Harris of Tarara. Their quest is to discover what varietals work for Virginia, to experiment and take risks, and to ultimately put Virginia on the map as a region that produces unique yet world-class wines. Which ones will be the flagship grapes? Opinions seem to converge on Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot with Merlot and Chardonnay in the running. The panel discussions with wine makers and social media experts confirmed what I have known for years now—Virginia is on the verge of something big!

2. Social Media connects consumers to local wines.
Ok—I must admit that I am not a Twitter or Facebook fan. Paul handles all of that for Virginia Wine Time. However, after Sunday’s panel discussion on social media, I am now a fervent believer that Twitter, Facebook, and blogs fill the gap between local wineries and traditional media. Virginia wineries may not be headlining Wine Spectator, but then again most wine drinkers don’t really care. A tweet about a favorite Virginia wine creates a buzz that Wine Spectator could never create. Jenn Breaux Blosser of Breaux Vineyards is by far the most engaged with social media, and she had never been shy about networking via Twitter and Facebook. I do believe the testimonial that she delivered at the conference—social media pulls in customers that she could never reach via traditional media.

There are exceptions, though. I was thrilled to meet Dave McIntyre, wine critic for the Washington Post. Dave’s wine column in Wapo’s food section is one that I never miss, and he has been an active promoter of local wines. I’ll take Dave’s word about wine over Robert Parker’s any day of the week. However, I’d apply the same standard to bloggers and “tweeters” and admit that an expert palate like Dave McIntyre’s certainly trumps mine; so, if Dave recommends a Virginia wine, trust him—it’s really good and worth seeking out!

3. Virginia (and Maryland) makes some excellent wines.
The highlight of the day had to be the wine “Twitter Taste-Off” when we all got to sample the best wines that 21 local wineries had to offer. Paul noted that Breaux Vineyards’s 2002 Reserve Merlot and Chrysalis’ 2008 Albarino took top honors, and those were certainly excellent pours. However, there were a number of outstanding wines that included Michael Shaps’ Viognier (my own personal fave), King Family’s 2008 Meritage (which may give the successful 2007 vintage a run for its money), and Boxwood’s 2007 Topiary. The sleepers of the event had to be the 2005 Petit Verdot from Ingleside and the current Syrah from Maryland’s Black Ankle. (For those who like a fuller-bodied Chardonnay, Maryland’s Elk Run offering may be worth a try, too.)

I was definitely inspired by the day’s events, and now I am even more anxious to hit the wine trails to discover the quality wines that Virginia wineries have to offer. And now I am determined to visit Maryland wineries, too! Of course, another pleasure was to meet other bloggers, and who knew that we would be dubbed the “wine mafia”! Could this be a movie in the making? The Winefather?

Be sure to visit Virginia wineries this spring, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Drink Local Wine Conference

Today we attended the Drink Local Wine conference at Lansdowne. We had a great time meeting fellow wine bloggers and meeting members of the Virginia wine community.

The first session we attended was a panel discussion about the grapes that work best for Virginia. The panelists were Matthew Meyert from Williamsburg Winery, Jennifer McCloud from Chrysalis Vineyard, and Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards. The moderator of this discussion was Richard Leahy of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine. The discussion centered around grapes that work best in Virginia. Both hybrids and vinifera were discussed. It was interesting to hear all the different grapes that each winemaker thought worked best in Virginia.

Our second session was all about social media. The panelists were Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report, Jennifer Breaux Blosser from Breaux Vineyards, and Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon. The moderator was Michael Wangbicker. This session started with a great discussion about how social media is part of any marketing plan for a winery. We learned that many wineries have seen increases in customers and sales. The discussion got a little heated at one point when it became print media versus online media. Everyone has their opinions. I shared mine. You can probably guess which side I am on. This was my favorite session. I really enjoyed the discussions. All the panelists did a great job!

After the social media session we had lunch. Here’s a photo of the new named “Wine Mafia” having lunch. It was great discussing wines and blogging with these guys.


Pictured: Anything Wine, New York Cork Report, Drink What You Like, and The Other 46.

After lunch we had a session about drinking local and eating local. The panelists were Mary Watson-DeLauder from Lansdowne Resort, Andrew Stover, Chef Wino, and Todd Kliman from Washingtonian magazine. The moderator was Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post. This one started out slow but by the end was pretty interested. I found myself Twittering more than listening until discussion began to peak my interest.

The final event of the day was the Twitter Taste-off. There were 20-some Virginia wineries pouring a red and a white. Participants were to go around the room stopping at different tables to taste the wines each winery brought. We then tweeted about our tastings. At the end we were to vote on our favorites. If you follow us on Twitter, you know we tweeted a lot about the viogniers we tasted. We tried to start with all the whites and then move on to the reds but as we were tasting we ran into so many wine friends that we had to stop and talk. By the time we go to the reds we were running out of time. We had to get our ballets in. After a few more tastings we turned in our ballets. We then waited for the results. The winner of the reds was Breaux Vineyards 2002 Merlot Reserve. The winner for the whites was the Chrysalis Vineyards 2008 Albarino. We enjoyed both of these selections and were pleased to see they won.

While others headed off to dinner after the taste off, we were headed home. We had a great day and thank everyone at Drink Local Wine for the wonderful hospitality. It was also great to meet all the bloggers we chat with on Twitter. We met so many people today! What a great way to promote Virginia wine.


Pictured: Sip, Swirl, Snark, Drink What You Like, and Anything Wine

Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival

Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival-For the second year in a row the Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival will take place this weekend, April 24 and 25 at St. John the Evangelist school in Warrenton Virginia. At the festival you’ll be able to taste wines from about 20 Virginia wineries, hear music from local musicians, see and purchase art from several local artists, and browse the merchandise from several local and regional vendors.

Be sure to check out the website and get your tickets now. We attended the festival last year and really had a great time. We tasted some wines we couldn’t taste unless we visited the wineries.

Drink Local Wine 2010

This weekend is the Drink Local Wine Conference at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Virginia. Most of the events will be happening on Sunday. There will be seminars and an amazing Twitter Taste-off with many Virginia wineries and some from Maryland as well. Warren and I are planning on attending on Sunday and participating in all the activities. We are really looking forward to the Twitter Taste-off. We are also really looking forward to meetings many of the wine bloggers we have come to know by their tweets and their blog posts.

Are you planning on attending the conference on Sunday? Even if we know you are attending, leave a comment letting us know you are attending. We’re interested to find out who all is planning on attending. And if you are attending, plan on looking for us and saying hello! If you haven’t signed up yet, do it now while the price is lower.

We hope to see you there!