New Releases Continue Renaissance at Piedmont

We’ve chronicled the steady improvements at Piedmont Vineyards since Gerhard von Finck took the helm as winemaker. Gerhard invited us to a weekend gala that celebrated his new releases, and we gladly accepted the offer. We can report that the improvements continue at Piedmont Vineyards, and Gerhard has much to celebrate.

As usual, our tasting began with the white wines, and we samples four wines here. (Although the tasting sheet listed the Hunt Country Chardonnay 2008, we were given a sneak sample of the upcoming 2009.) The official new releases included the Native Yeast Chardonnay 2009 and the Special Reserve Chardonnay 2009. My own favorite was the Native Yeast Chardonnay 2009. As the name suggests it is fermented in native yeasts, and for the wine maker this process can induce a degree of anxiety. Why? It is a non-interventionist approach that depends on the natural fermentation process, and much can go wrong along the way. California’s Frog’s Leap Chardonnay is an example of a wine created in this fashion. Anyway, Gerhard’s version is aged in French oak for nine months and presents aromas of pineapple and honey with similar characteristics in the mouth. A longer finish was noted with some toasted nuts at the end to suggest a more complex wine. Paul preferred the Special Reserve Chardonnay 2009 which was aged for nine months in Hungarian oak. He appreciated its more floral nose and fruitier presentation but did not mind the soft oak at the finish. Now for those who enjoyed the Hunt Country Chardonnay 2008, we can report that the 2009 is also unoaked and as crisp as the 2008 version; however, we observed a sharper fruit focus to the 2009 offering. It should prove to be quite popular upon release!

On to the red wines, and the Hunt Country Red 2008 was first in the glass. This Merlot-based offering was Gerhard’s personal favorite of the red wines, and I enjoyed this one, too. Aged 18 months in oak, this blend also includes 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and can be characterized as a very nice, fruit-driven bistro wine. Nice cherry notes and a smooth feel make for an easy drinker to enjoy with pizza, burgers, beef, or a simple platter of deli meats and cheeses. Paul’s favorite was the Cabernet Franc 2009 which was very similar to its 2008 sibling. Aged ten months in French oak, it offers bright cherry flavors with a spicy edge and silky finish.

As we completed our tasting, we chatted with Gerhard and learned that these new releases were the result of hard work and a determination to learn the winemaker’s craft. To this end, he consulted with other winemakers including Doug Fabbioli; we applauded his efforts, and we look forward to a potential autumn released of the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

So of course we were hungry for lunch, and we opted to enjoy a bottle of the Native Yeast Chardonnay 2009 with cheese, bread, and toasted almonds. In the process we were entertained by the band, Expanded Waistlines. After nibbles and wine, we made certain to purchase bottle of our favorite releases and bid adieu to Gerhard von Finck. Of course, we will return to Piedmont Vineyards soon; be sure to visit Piedmont Vineyards and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Cellar Tasting at Linden

Last Sunday we went to Linden Vineyards to see what wines were new since our last visit. We also decided to do a cellar tastings as well.

During our tasting we were able to sample the 2008 Seyval, the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2007 Claret, the 2006 Petit Verdot, and the 2008 Vidal Riesling. As many of you know Jim Law is like the guru of Virginia wines. We were unable to single out any wines for our gold stars….they all deserved gold stars!

After our tasting we had some time before our cellar tasting so we decided to enjoy a glass of wine on the deck. Since Warren is a club member we were able enjoy the view. I had a glass of the 2008 Seyval and Warren took advantage of the library wine weekends (where a different library wine is opened on the weekends for sale) and had the 1998 Rush River Red, a red blend. I wrote down grapefruit and lemon and dry for my notes on the Seyval. Warren noted black pepper, dark fruit, and dried herbs from the Rush River Red. We suggest tasters take advantage of the library wines available on the weekends.

During our cellar tasting we tasted the 2008 Boisseau Chardonnay, 2007 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, 2006 Avenius Red, 2006 Hardscrabble Red, 2005 Late Harvest Vidal, and the 2006 Late Harvest Petit Manseng. Warren and I both put gold stars next to the 2008 Boisseau Chardonnay. We noted orange peel, honeysuckle, and a long finish. The rest of our stars were split. I put a star next to the 2006 Avenius Red and the 2005 Late Harvest Vidal while Warren put his gold stars next to the 2006 Hardscrabble Red and the 2006 Late Harvest Petit Manseng.

During the cellar tasting we realized one of the other participants was Curtis Vincent, the former winemaker at Chrysalis. We had a great chat about wine of course and found out he’ll be starting at Swedenburg in May. We are looking forward to the wines he’ll produce at Swedenburg. After the cellar tasting we got to meet Curtis’ new wife (congrats on your wedding!). We had a chance to say hello to Jim Law as well who was enjoying a glass with Curtis and his wife.

We always enjoy our time at Linden Vineyards. The wines are simply wonderful. Consider visiting Linden Vineyards and tasting their wines. You won’t be disappointed. And tell them 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.

Another Visit To Narmada

Last Saturday after seeing the fall grape leaves at Gray Ghost, we stopped by Narmada to see what has been added to the tasting menu.

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Upon entering the gates we noticed they are now doing tastings in the winery among the tanks. Right away we ran into Rob Cox, the winemaker. He preceded to give us a tour of the facility. It’s just about complete. He took us to the unfinished tasting room that promises to be quite a space. We look forward to returning to see the completed tasting room.

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After our tour Rob directed us in tasting the line of Narmada wines. Many of them we tasted back in September but there were a few additions since our last visit. The three additions were the Chardonnay, the Viognier, and the Cabernet Franc.

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We enjoyed them all but the Viognier got our gold star on this visit. This viognier is steel fermented and it spends seven months on oak. I noted citrus fruit and melon. Warren noted honeysuckle and peach. We enjoyed this one so much we enjoyed a glass on the crush pad, which is set up with tables and chairs.

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While enjoying the our glass we got to chat briefly with Sudha Patil, one of the owners. She asked for any advice we might have for the winery. We informed her that they seemed to be doing everything right. We enjoy the wines, the scenery, and we’re sure we’ll enjoy the tasting room when it opens later this month. Plan a visit to Narmada soon and if you do, tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!