On May 4th we attended the third annual Blending Class at Gray Ghost Vineyards. The outcome of the class was to create a Meritage or Bordeaux style blend using at least three of the five Bordeaux grapes. 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. We were trying to create a blend that was similar to the award winning Ranger Reserve. Our class began with winemaker Al Kellert teaching us about the different Bordeaux grapes. We learned about the flavor profiles for each grape and some history before getting started.
After our lesson on the individual grapes, we got to work on our blends. We began by tasting each of the five grapes separately. All the wines were from the 2011 vintage. As we tasted each of the grapes we kept notes about each one. We wrote down what we thought was prominent in each wine. We thought about things like the nose, the color, the flavors we were getting, the ending, and the tannins. After taking our notes and thinking about the individual wines, we then began the process of putting certain percentages together to create our blends. Since Al had not told us what the blend percentages were for the 2011 Ranger Reserve, we had no idea how much to include from each wine. It was up to our palates to decide what percentages of the wines we liked best. We used our pipettes to put different percentages in our beaker to create the final blend. We were able to blend two different times to get to the one we liked best. After testing and tasting a few times I came up with my final blend. My final blend was actually VERY close to the final blend of the 2011 Ranger Reserve.
My blend consisted of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% Malbec, and 15% Petit Verdot. The 2011 Ranger Reserve blend is 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 16% Malbec, and 16% Petit Verdot. Al was pretty impressed how close I got to the 2011 blend. I was pleased with the outcome.
My favorite individual varietal was the 2011 Malbec. I think most participants enjoyed the malbec as well. The only problem with using malbec as the main ingredient is that Al doesn’t produce enough to create a malbec dominated blend. He informed us that if we used a high percentage of malbec, he’d only have one barrel of the blend to sell. Knowing this, many of the participants changed their blend in the second round to reflect this. I preferred my first blend as my finest. Warren joined me for the class but his allergies were keeping him from truly enjoying the nose and flavor profiles of each wine. He still came up with a pretty decent blend.
After our class we enjoyed a box lunch and a glass of wine on the patio. Al and Cheryl joined us during lunch. It was fun chatting about the class and about Virginia wine. We always have a great time at Gray Ghost. If you haven’t been to Gray Ghost lately, plan a trip soon. And tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
We recently attended the futures tasting at Gray Ghost Vineyards. This used to be called a barrel tasting but because of some changes at the state level, most wineries have changed the name of their barrel tastings. We have always enjoyed the barrel tastings at Gray Ghost so a name change didn’t bother us at all. We were still able to taste the wines that will be released in the future.
At this tasting we were able to taste the 2012 Chardonnay right out of the barrel. Of course it’s not quite ready yet but we noted pineapple and granny smith apple. This will be a nice vintage when it’s released.
The first of the reds we tasted was the 2012 Petit Verdot. Yes, Al is finally doing a stand alone petit verdot. The 2012 presented berry notes, spice, and tart cranberry. This one will spend more time in the barrel before it is bottled. Look for it in another year or so.
The next red we tasted was the 2011 Petit Verdot. This one will be released probably sometime in the fall. Of course I thought it was ready now and wanted Al to just put a barrel of it on the back of my car. We noted plum, spice, blackberry, and tobacco on the finish.
We then tasted the 2011 and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignons. The 2011 was a lighter wine with cherry notes and a smooth ending while the 2012 presented big cherry notes with a few earthy elements. The 2012 will spend more time in the barrel before it is released. Both will be nice wines in the future. Al informed us there would not be a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for 2011.
After tasting the individual wines we were given the chance to blend the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2012 Petit Verdot. The PV only made up 15% of the blend but came through pretty strong in the mix. We also got to blend the 2011s and the combined wine was earthy, smooth, with some red fruit notes.
Once our blending and tasting was complete we placed our orders for our favorite wines to pick up in the “future” once they are bottled and released. I ordered a case of the 2011 Petit Verdot and Warren ordered a case of the 2012 Chardonnay. We know we’ll be enjoying them well into the future. If you missed the futures event at Gray Ghost, plan to attend one of the many events they have on their calendar. And when you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!
We always look forward to the holiday party at Gray Ghost Vineyards; in particular, we look forward to counting the corks on winemaker Al Kellert’s latest holiday creation. This year’s cork creation was candy canes, and the party attendee who correctly guessed the number of corks used to create the piece will win an assortment of Gray Ghost wines. I’ve been attending these for the last twelve years or so, and I’ve never won. However, I feel good about my chances this year after I simply copied Paul’s number and added a few more corks to the count. Paul had just won $14 in the lottery, so I felt confident Paul was on a winning streak that could only be broken by one person—me!
Anyway, a twist to this year’s holiday party at Gray Ghost was the pairing of Gray Ghost wines with locally produced cheeses and meats. In the past, co-winemaker Cheryl Kellert prepared hors d’oerves and sweet treats for the event; this year, though, the Kellerts opted to promote local food products as complements to their wines. The participating dairies included Culpeper Cheese, Everona Dairy, and Marshall Farms. Crofton Market provided the meats. Dessert items included brownies and mini-cheese cakes. Guests were able to enjoy the foods with the full menu of Gray Ghost wines including the newly released 2011 Reserve Chardonnay, and these were sampled in logo glasses with a holiday design created just for the holiday event. Listed below were the cheeses offered for tasting at the event:
Herbs de Provence
Cracked Peppercorn Cheddar
Amish Butter Cheese
Black peppercorn and red wine salami
So what were our favorite wine and cheese pairings? I found the cheeses to be amazing versatile with any of the Gray Ghost wines that were poured. I’m a big fan of the Reserve Chardonnay, and the 2011 vintage paired well with the harder Farmstead Cheddar from Marshall Farms. Paul preferred the 2011 Chardonnay with the Amish Butter Cheese from Culpeper Cheese. My favorite cheese was the cracked peppercorn cheddar from Marshall Farms, and this paired well with the slightly sweet Victorian White (or the sweeter Vidal Blanc) and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Paul’s favorite cheese was the Stoney Man, a manchego-style cheese, from Everona Dairy partnered with the 2010 Ranger Reserve. And what about wines and sweets? The brownies were delicious and played well with both the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Ranger Reserve; however, we did enjoy these with the rose-style Victorian Red. And the mini-cheese cakes? Of course, these can only be savored with the 2011 Adieu.
The Gray Ghost holiday party helped us to kick off the holiday season, and we left fully confident that a basket of Gray Ghost wines will be won by one of us. To be on the safe side, though, we left with bottles of our favorite Gray Ghost wines. We applaud Al and Cheryl Kellert’s efforts to promote the eat (and drink) local concept, too. Plan a visit to Gray Ghost Vineyards soon, and be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.
So we are back from our summer travels and now on the Virginia wine trails again. We decided to resume our quest for summer sippers with a visit to Gray Ghost Vineyards this past weekend.
Ten wines were offered for tasting with five of them from the 2011 vintage. My favorite of these was the crisp 2011 Seyval Blanc with its lemon notes and dry finish. Minimal aging in Hungarian oak provided a bit of roundness to boot. Perfect for summer menus that feature shellfish or any other pairing that might call for a Sauvignon Blanc! Paul favored the 2011 Vidal Blanc with its tropical fruit elements. Another great summer wine, this one should pair well with spicy foods; however, it’s also just fine on its own especially on a hot summer’s day.
It’s never too late to think about Thanksgiving dinner especially if you fear that your favorite Virginia wines might sell out before Mr. Turkey hits the dinner table. The 2011 Gewurztraminer with its tropical fruit flavors and spicy edge would do well with a summer salad topped with fresh ham or grilled shrimp; however, I’d consider this one with herbed turkey and stuffing. Likewise, the very berry 2011 Cabernet Franc with its spicy nuances could be served now with grilled fare but would be a classic pairing with any Thanksgiving meal.
Of course, Gray Ghost Vineyards is known for its dessert wine called Adieu that is made from late harvest Vidal Blanc grapes, and the 2011 vintage delivers rich peach flavors with a honeyed texture. The Adieu is always a crowd pleaser at dinner parties, and I’ve even served it with heavier cheeses.
We always look forward to chatting with Amy Payette, Gray Ghost’s marketing director and daughter of winemakers Al and Cheryl Kellert. Amy was very pleased to inform us that Gray Ghost wines took gold medals in the 2012 NextGen International Competition that was held in California. The wines in this competition were judged by millenials, the up and coming wine consumers who lately have been the focus of attention by the wine industry. Gold-medal winners include the 2010 Reserve Chardonnay and the 2011 Gewurztraminer (which also won best in class.) Amy also shared with us this year’s harvest appears to be on track to be earlier than usual with the Seyval Blanc potentially coming in within the next couple of weeks. This seems to coincide with other reports that we have heard from other winemakers in Virginia, so it may indeed shape up to be an early harvest season statewide.
With our tasting done, we shared a bottle of the 2011 Seyval Blanc with grilled chicken filets, a block of Swiss cheese and melon slices beneath an apple tree. As we sipped and nibbled we spotted gold finches, cardinals, and a quickly fluttering hummingbird. Butterflies of all colors were likewise on full display. We made certain to purchase some of our Gray Ghost favorites before we left (a case in fact). Be sure to pay a visit to Gray Ghost Vineyards to stock up on your own summer sippers, and be certain to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.