Wine and Cheer at Sunset Hills

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!
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.
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.
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.

Summer Sippers at Sunset

After our stop at Breaux Vineyards we headed over to Sunset Hills to continue our search for summer sippers. We hadn’t been to Sunset Hills for almost a year. Not only did we want to find some summer sippers but we also wanted to check out the full tasting menu.

We had no problem finding several summer sippers at Sunset Hills. We began with the 2011 Chardonnay. It was crisp and bright with hints of pear, apple, and a nice acidic finish. The 2011 Viognier is a lighter viognier this year. We noted a floral nose….orange blossom with a nice mouth feel and melon, apricot, and white flower notes. On the slightly sweeter side at 1.2% RS, the 2011 Sunset White would be perfect for a hot afternoon. We noted honey, tropical fruit, and a nice lingering mouth feel.

If Rose interests you, and it should, think about the 2011 Rose. We recently brought this one to Wolf Trap to enjoy during a concert. It’s 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. It was all about the cherry and raspberry. It paired very nicely with our picnic fair at Wolf Trap. We finished our tasting with two reds: the 2011 Merlot and the 2010 Sunset Red. The merlot presented notes of cherry, blackberry, and plum. It’s medium bodied and would make a great sipper come this fall. The 2010 Red was a bit bigger and may need some more time on the rack. We noted tobacco, raspberry, and pepper with moderate tannins.

Before leaving we purchased a few of our favorites and promised we’d return sooner than later. If you stop at Sunset Hills anytime soon, tell Meredith we said hello and tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Return To Sunset Hills

Sunset Hills Vineyard is one of those wineries you could visit every weekend. We don’t get the chance to visit that often but when we do we always enjoy our time there. Meredith Wilson, the tasting room manager, follows us on Facebook and Twitter and has been encouraging us to make a return trip to Sunset Hills. This past weekend we found ourselves in Loudoun County and simply had to stop by to try the wines and visit with Meredith. Once again, we had a great time enjoying the wines and lunch. And I was so pleased to see a special Hybrid parking space up close! And you know I pulled right in there!

We were lucky enough to have Meredith guide us through out tasting. She’s very knowledgeable of the Sunset HIlls wines and was able to answer all our questions. The white wines came first as they always should. The stand out here was the 2010 Viognier. I don’t think it is currently on the tasting menu but we were able to try it. We noted a floral nose with fruity notes of peach, lemon, and melon in the mouth. While this viognier has only .5% residual sugar, it certainly gives the impression of sweet. We thought this one would pair nicely with seafood dishes. This is an excellent example of the viogniers being produced in Virginia.

Before moving on to the reds, we tasted the 2010 Sunset Rose. This is a blend of cabernet franc, syrah, and mouvedre. This one quickly received our gold star! The rose has a very aromatic nose with hints of raspberry and strawberry in the mouth. Warren even noted some lavender. We also noted a crisp finish with a hint of minerality. Even though the summer is over, this one made us think of the concerts we attend at Wolf Trap during the summer. We always take roses with us to the concerts and this one would fit right in on a warm evening.

We finished our tasting with reds. The stand out in this group was the 2009 Cabernet Franc. This is created by blending 86% cab franc, 8% petit verdot, 4% merlot, and 2% tannat. We noted cherry, black pepper, and smoke. We also noticed the long finish and subtle tannins. Sunset Hills is also tasting the 2006 Kluge New World Red and it is really tasting good right now. We have always enjoyed the New World Red and tasting it again after a while was a nice treat.

After our tasting we enjoyed a lunch of pepperoni, manchego cheese, warm bread, and some tapenade. We selected the 2010 Sunset Rose to enjoy with our lunch items. And of course it paired beautifully with our meal. Before leaving we chatted with Meredith again about their upcoming events. One that caught our eye is the Vine to Wine Harvest Series. On selected dates you get to learn about the 2011 harvest and taste the fruit and fermenting wine. I have my eye on the October 23rd event because they will be featuring Petit Verdot. Be sure to check out their website for full details. A HUGE Thank You to Meredith for making our visit a great one! And the next time you visit Sunset Hills, be sure to tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Sunset at Sunset Hills

After we visited Breaux Vineyards last Sunday, we headed to Sunset Hills to taste the wines. This was the first time Warren’s parents have visited Sunset Hills. We were lucky to be visiting them on their two year anniversary weekend.

Sunset Hills currently only has two whites available for tasting. We were disappointed to find out so many of their wines were sold out. We were hoping to try the viognier but that just wasn’t to be. However, we did taste two chardonnays. Here are my impressions:

2009 Chardonnay-peach, fruity, round mouth feel, my kind of chard, easy to drink, patio sipper, this one gets my gold star.

2009 Reserve Chardonnay-oak, butter nose, Warren’s kind of chardonnay, more complex, Warren’s gold star.

After the two chardonnays, we moved on to the reds. There were four to taste. Here are my notes:

2008 Cabernet Franc-raspberry nose, pepper, paired with pepperoni and cheese, more of a pizza wine, this one got my gold star for the reds.

2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve-earthy nose, dark fruit, higher percentage of cab franc, 84%, more herbal notes, mocha, Warren’s gold star.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon-herb on the nose, cherry, plum, cedar, black pepper, 9% cab franc, a little young, can lay down a few years.

2008 Petit Verdot – 25% cab sauv, chocolate nose, medium bodied (the tasting notes say this is a monster red), blueberry, cherry, earthy qualities.

After our tasting we selected the 2008 Cabernet Franc to have with some lunch items. We chose several items from the Lite Fare menu to have for lunch with the cab franc. Before leaving we saw this wonderful sunset. It certainly explains the name of the winery. How lucky we were to see it! Next time you find yourself visiting Sunset Hills, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Tasting at Sunset Hills Vineyards

Readers may recall that the last time we were at Sunset Hills Vineyards, we found ourselves blending away at a wine-blending session with winemaker Nate Walsh.  This time around we resumed our familiar roles as bloggers at the tasting bar with gold stars at the ready.

Of the white wines, our favorite was the 2009 Viognier which was done in stainless steel; however, it possesses a heavier mouth feel that some tasters might associate with light treatment on oak.  It presented a lovely nose of honeysuckle and peach.  Flavors of peach and honey prevailed, too.  Those who favor Burgundian-style Chardonnays might prefer the buttery 2008 Reserve Chardonnay with its pear and almond notes.

We reached a split decision on the red wines.  I presented my gold star to the 2008 Cabernet Franc with its rich dark berry and black pepper flavors.  Tannins were certainly noticeable, too.  Aged in both American and French oak for two years, this Cabernet Franc has enough body to pair with heavier steak meals.  Paul’s award went to the 2008 Merlot with its layers of dark cherries, plums and spice.  It’s blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon which accounts for the complexity and tannic presence. 

With the record-breaking heat we’ve experienced this summer, light sippers might be more popular than fuller-bodied wines.  The fruity 009 Sunset White with its floral nose might fit the bill as well as the crisp 2009 Sunset Rose with its strawberry aromas.  It’s quite dry and should be a versatile pour, too.  Pair this one with anything from picnic fare to barbeque. 

Of course, we were hungry after our tasting, and we availed ourselves to the gourmet food basket that included French bread, a cheese selection, and Italian meats.  I let Paul select the wine, and I was not surprised when he opted for the 2008 Merlot. We sipped away out on the shady veranda and observed butterflies, dragonflies, cardinals, and blue jays as the fluttered about the grounds. 

With lunch consumed and bottles purchased, we bid our farewells to Sunset Hills Vineyard with promises to return.  Check out the current offerings at Sunset Hills Vineyard, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Winemaker For A Day

Readers may recall that we recently visited Sunset Hills Vineyard, and we were quite impressed with their lineup of wines. We then decided to participate in a subsequent blending session which featured Cabernet Franc as the dominant varietal. How did we do? Well, it was not an easy task, and we had to sample lots of wine to get our blend just right; however, we also had to compete with other amateur winemakers that day. The competition was fierce!

Participants were grouped and then seated at various tables in the tasting room, and each table was given the label of a certain wine producing region. For example, one table was called the “Napa” table; our table was the Virginia table! (Yes, it was purely coincidental.) Anyway, our winemaking partners were Troi and Derick. We all hit it off right away, and we quickly found out that Trois is a fan of local wines from Virginia and Maryland. With introductions completed, we were all eager to sip and blend. Our first samples were four tastings of Cabernet Franc picked from two different lots. An added twist was that the samples from each lot were then aged in different oak barrels—new American oak, French oak, and Hungarian oak. The Virginia table gravitated toward the French oak and Hungarian oak samples. We found these to be more fruit-forward with a softer oak finish. The sample from American oak tended to present more blackberry flavors with a noticeable woodsy character.

As we sipped, we took extensive notes so that we could compliment our favorite Cabernet Franc with an appropriate blend of other wines. Since the final product will be a Cabernet Franc, the blends had to include at least 75% Cabernet Franc. With this in minds, the Virginia table was ready to blend away, and we were presented with four other samples once we were done with our Cabernet Franc. These other samples included two offerings of the ’08 Cabernet Sauvignon from Tranquility Vineyard (each were treated with different yeasts), a 2009 Merlot from Sunset Hill Vineyard, and a 2008 Petit Verdot from Breaux Vineyards. What did we conclude? We all really enjoyed the Cabernet Franc samples and opted to create a 90% blend from the French and Hungarian oak tastings with a greater proportion coming from the French oak product. We then blended in 7% from the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (yeast sample #1) and 3% from the jammy, spicy 2008 Petit Verdot. Our final blend presented layers of mixed berries in the mouth with some violet and spice on the nose—the Virginia table was very pleased!

However, the other tables were also madly blending with pipettes and beakers operating at full speed. When all tables were done, we then had to sample all of the final blends and vote on our favorites. Without getting into the tasting notes for each blend, I’ll simply reveal that our particular blend place third out of the ten blends produced. The top-rated blend as well as the second place blend also favored the Cabernet Franc from the French and Hungarian oak barrels but in different proportions; though I was rooting strongly for the Virginia table’s blend, I did have to admit that the winning blend was the indeed the best. In fact, winemaker Nate Walsh revealed that the winning blend was very close to the one currently used to create the award-winning Cabernet Franc Reserve.

So we tried our hand at blending red wines, and we now understand how difficult a task it is to complete. We were intrigued by how different the same varietal, Cabernet Franc, tasted when produced from a different lot and aged in a different oak barrel. Terroir and winemaking methods do indeed make the wine! We also enjoyed meeting new friends Troi and Derick, and we hope to meet up with them on the wine trail soon.

Pay a visit to Sunset Hills Vineyard, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.