Friday Sips

We began our Friday evening with the 2009 Chardonnay from Pollak Vineyards. As you may know I am a huge fan of Pollak Vineyards wines. It seems like I’m always looking for occasions to enjoy one of the wines from Pollak. I selected the chardonnay to go with our cheese and crackers as we waited for dinner to be ready.

We sipped and noticed pear, a hint of citrus, and toasty oak on the nose of this wonderful wine. In the mouth we noted apple, pear, a hint of oak and a creamy mouth feel. This wine went really well with our cheese and crackers. It was a perfect way to start the weekend.

For dinner we selected the 2009 Cab Franc from Gray Ghost to go with our pasta and chicken. Again we love the Gray Ghost wines. On the nose of this one we noted mixed red berries. In the mouth we got very similar fruit characteristics of cherry, strawberry and maybe even a hint of mocha. Warren detected some mint or menthol. This is a light bodied wine with a beautiful magenta color. It accompanied our meal very well. We hope you enjoyed some Virginia wine this evening!

Cabernet and Chocolates

On Sunday we attended the annual Cabernet and Chocolates event at Gray Ghost Vineyards. We always have a great time enjoying chocolates and all the red wines. We got to see some of our favorite wine friends. We also got to taste the new 2010 Riesling! It was delicious! Here are some pictures from the event.

Holiday Open House

On Saturday we went to the Gray Ghost Holiday Open house. They hold this event annually and we try not to miss it. Each year they have a different holiday glass design. This year its train. Turns out, Al Kellert also made a train out of corks for the yearly cork contest.You have to guess how many corks it took to create the train. Warren and I guess every year but never win. We aren’t the best at guesstimation. At this time of the year the tank room is decorated for the holidays showing all the previous creations for the cork contest.

During the event we enjoyed some wonderful foods and all the delicious wines offered at Gray Ghost. I noticed the Victorian Red had changed slightly since the last time I tasted it. This time it had some big cranberry notes on the nose and in the mouth. It was a surprising change that I thoroughly enjoyed. Warren decided his favorite of the day was the Reserve Chardonnay. He has always been a big fan of the Reserve Chardonnay.

Here are some pictures from the Holiday Open House at Gray Ghost:

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today Warren made the thanksgiving meal for me, my mom, and his parents. Everything was delicious of course and we had a wonderful time visiting with everyone. Normally we would post about what wines to serve for Thanksgiving. This time however, we’re posting after the fact and posting about the wines we did have for Thanksgiving. It was mostly a Gray Ghost Thanksgiving this year.

We began with a butternut squash soup and had the 2009 Gewurztraminer from Gray Ghost. After the soup Warren served a harvest salad with the 2008 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay from Fox Meadow. The main course consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauces (both kinds), green beans, and cornbread. We had the 2009 Cabernet Franc from Gray Ghost. For desert we had Warren’s mother’s pecan pie and the 2009 Adieu from Gray Ghost. All the wines paired perfectly with the meal. What Virginia wines did you have for Thanksgiving?

New Releases at Gray Ghost Vineyards

Gray Ghost Vineyards has released several new wines, and this gave us the perfect excuse to pay the Kellerts a visit. Recent releases include the 2009 Cabernet Franc, the 2009 Seyval Blanc, and the 2009 Merlot.

Winemaker Al Kellert conducted our tasting, and that gave us the opportunity to catch up with Al about the latest happenings at Gray Ghost Vineyards. Of course, the newest releases were our chief interest, and the 2009 Seyval Blanc was the first to be poured into our glasses. Fermented for a short time in Hungarian oak, it resembled a California-style Fume blanc with a very faint smokiness and citrus characteristics. Perfect for summer, this Seyval Blanc should pair nicely with anything that would partner favorably with a Sauvignon Blanc.

The 2009 Cabernet Franc was the latest red to be released on the day of our visit. Gray Ghost Vineyards produces a stand-alone Cabernet Franc that is not blended with any other variety, and it presents qualities more akin to a Chinon-style Cabernet Franc. Aged ten months in French oak barrels, vibrant cherry and raspberry aromas and flavors abound with a characteristic spicy edge. I’d consider this one for fall menus, especially Thanksgiving dinner. Now what about the 2009 Merlot? Paul reserved a case of it in March when we participated in the barrel tasting; based on this sneak preview, he went ahead and ordered a case. However, on the day of our visit, the Merlot was not yet released and therefore not available for tasting. Not to worry, though, because Paul picked up his case while we were at the winery, and we had a bottle with dinner that evening! We decanted it first, and we noted a deep garnet color. After swirls, sniffs, and sips the word, “deep” came to mind for both of us. Rich, dark cherry and black berry characteristics prevailed with some vanilla at the finish. We enjoyed it that evening with filet mignon, and it was the perfect pairing.

As we sipped away at the tasting bar, Al Kellert revealed to us that all of the 2009 releases were produced from 100% estate grown fruit. This had been a goal of his for quite some time, and for the Kellerts, it represents a statement about quality. Anyone who has visited Gray Ghost Vineyards can attest to the immaculate state of the vineyards, and careful maintenance and management of the vineyards have allowed the Kellerts to achieve this milestone. We were also curious about the 2010 season and what appears to be an early veraison in the vineyards. Al acknowledged that the extreme heat that has been characteristic of the 2010 spring and summer led to early developments in the vineyards; however, he was confident that the upcoming harvest has the potential to produce complex and robust red wines. (Of course, that assumes no extreme circumstances like hurricanes!)

With our tasting done, we decided to enjoy a glass of the 2009 Seyval Blanc out on the veranda with a hunk of goat cheese and bread. We will return to Gray Ghost Vineyards soon, and readers should visit even sooner—just mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

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.