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Tag: Michael Shaps

Michael Shaps Works Wine

While the title is a twist on Shaps’ Wineworks , it is literally true. Michael Shaps produces wines for his own successful venture, Virginia Wineworks, but he also either makes wine or consults for a number of wineries in the state. This would include the winemaking at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards located nearby his Wineworks tasting room. During our recent visit to the Monticello area, we made an afternoon by visiting both wineries.

We always enjoy the no-nonsense tasting experience at Virginia Wineworks, and this time around we got to sample wines in boxed containers. Yes, wines in boxes. There is a trend underway to reconsider how traditionally disreputable methods of packaging wine (and that includes screw cap enclosures) are being viewed. However, we’ve had boxed wines from Bordeaux that were very good, and so we tasted the Wineworks boxed wines with open minds. We both concluded that they were very good, and for the amount of wine that they hold (four bottles) well worth the price. The Box Wineworks White Blend is a perfect aperitif; however, Paul favored the Box Wineworks Red, a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Tannat. This was a fruity, lighter-bodied wine that is perfect on its own or with simple meals such as meatloaf, grilled chicken, or pork chops.
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We also got to sample the Michael Shaps-labeled wines, and these are his premium wines. I remain a fan of his Viognier, and the 2009 vintage was my favorite of the white wines. Nice aromatics and a fuller mouth feel make for an elegant wine. However, I also enjoyed the Chardonnay 2008 with its pear notes and creamy finish. Of the red wines, my preference was for the Meritage 2008. Petit Verdot leads the blend at 44% and contributes to the earthy/spicy notes and dark fruit aromas. Merlot (33%) and Cabernet Franc (23%) add elements of cherry and raspberry. Paul favored the Petit Verdot 2009 and its characteristics of black currants, dark cherry, tobacco and pepper.
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Vintner and wine educator Santa Rava conducted our tasting and expertly answered our questions (which can be numerous). Santa hails from the Sonoma area and is herself a winemaker. The quality of Michael Shaps’ wines and his reputation as a winemaker attracted her to the area in order to become part of the winemaking team at Wineworks. She also share with us that Michael is a full owner of a winery in Burgundy; in fact, Michael and his wife Christie also own and rent a 200-year old home in the winemaking village of Meursault, France. The home boasts two master bedrooms, a large kitchen with a private chef upon request, and heated towel racks. Perfect for a wine-tasting trip to Burgundy, a relaxing European getaway, or a honeymoon—or all of the above!

With our tasting completed, we were ready for lunch and decided to enjoy a bite at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards. The focus here is wine, too, and Michael Shaps is the winemaker. Before lunch, though, we had to select a wine to pair with lunch. This, of course, required a trip to the tasting bar. Our favorites? Of the white wines, the 2010 Chardonnay Reserve earned my top honors with its pineapple and pear notes and fuller mouth feel. Paul liked the 2011 Viognier and noted fruity aromas and peachy flavors. The red wines brought us to a joint conclusion—the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was our favorite. Smoky notes with cherry, blackberry, and earthy elements made for a more complex yet accessible wine. We opted to enjoy this one with lunch. So what was for lunch? For me, it was the steak frites with parmesan fries; for Paul, it was the homemade pizza. The foods are all the products of local farms, too! A bluegrass trio provided entertainment.
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Plan a trip to the Monticello area to sample Michael Shaps’ wines, and then enjoy wine and lunch at Pippin Hill. Be sure to mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Merlot Vertical Tasting

On Saturday we attended the Merlot Vertical Tasting at Breaux Vineyards. We arrived a few minutes early and had time to do a regular tasting. While we were tasting we were able to chat with Jen Breaux. It was great catching up with her. She informed us that Breaux will be announcing their new winemaker in about a week. They’ve had some great candidates and are excited about the new energy coming to Breaux. She also told us that famed winemaker Michael Shaps will be consulting with Breaux over the next year to help make the transition a smooth one. We were excited to hear that Michael Shaps would be conducting the Merlot Vertical Tasting. As our tasting came to an end and the vertical about to begin, Jen told us of the plans to expand. There are plans to build a new inventory building and tasting room. There will also be a club room! We are looking forward to the additions coming to Breaux.

After an introduction from Jen Breaux and a taste of the 2010 Cabernet Rose (pre-release) the Merlot Vertical began. Michael Shaps informed us about the wines we’d be tasting. We tasted merlots from 2000, 2001, 2002 (reserve), 2004, 2006, and 2007. The wines were presented in pairs with a delicious course to enjoy with each pair of wines. We began with the 2000 and 2001 vintages. These were served with grass fed beef stewed with shitake mushrooms and grape tomatoes served with roasted turnips and grilled zucchini. Of these two both Warren and I enjoyed the 2000. We noted extracted fruit, anise, plum, and toffee. I thought this one paired perfectly with the grass fed beef.

The second course of free range chicken over gnocchi tossed in pumpkin sage cream sauce and dusted with smashed pecans and served with sliced pecorino-romano cheese was served with the 2002 reserve merlot and the 2004 merlot. Of these two vintages the 2002 reserve merlot was the hands down winner. We have written about the 2002 reserve before and absolutely love it. We noted raisin, dates, tobacco, anise and plum. I only have one bottle of this vintage left on my rack and I’m hanging on to it. It only gets better with time.

The 2006 and the 2007 merlot vintages were served with grilled lamb and roasted onion terrine served with warm over rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes and peas with lamb gravy. The 2007 merlot stood out during this course. We noted its dark color, dark fruit characteristics and light tannic presence. Once again the pairing was perfect.

After each course Michael Shaps surveyed the participants to determine their favorites. The consensus was pretty much on target. Warren and I both selected the 2002 Merlot Reserve as our favorite of the day. Our second and third selections were split. I selected the 2007 as my second and Warren selected the 2000. In third place I selected the 2000 and Warren selected the 2007. We thought all these vintages were excellent examples of the merlots being produced by Breaux.

We finished the event with a taste of the Lot 816 Merlot barrel sample. While tasting the sample we chatted with other attendees and Breaux friends. Before leaving we picked out Cellar Club selections. Michael Shaps did a wonderful job leading us through the vertical. With all the news of changes coming to Breaux, the future looks bright! The next time you visit Breaux Vineyards be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

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!

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