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.

Return to Corcoran

We recently visited Corcoran Vineyards. Corcoran happens to be one of our favorites. We always have a good time and enjoy chatting about anything wine with Jim and Lori Corcoran. The day we visited Jim Corcoran was on hand and we had a great conversation about wine and the wine industry.

We started our tasting with the whites of course. We tasted the 2008 Chardonnay. We noted green apple, peaches and a hint of a floral nose. We then tasted the Seyval Blanc with it’s lemon-lime flavors and sweetness, we know this one is a favorite of many. We were disappointed to find out the 2008 Viognier and the 2007 Traminette were sold out.

Onto the reds we started with my favorite, the Malbec. We noted its dark fruit, smooth tannins, and medium body. Warren noted some cedar and oak. This has been a favorite of mine since it was released. I know there aren’t many cases left. We moved on to the Meritage. Descriptors that we wrote down were dried fruit, raisin, fresh herby quality, and deep rich color. We can see this one becoming one of our favorites. We ended the reds with the 2007 Mary’s Cuvee. This one is a collaboration between Lori Corcoran and Mary Watson. It consists of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Tannat. We noted the fruit right up front. It has smooth tannins with a hint of spice. Nice job Lori and Mary!

After our tasting we enjoyed a bottle of the Malbec with our lunch. While finishing the bottle we were joined by Jim Corcoran. As I mentioned earlier, we had a great conversation about all things wine. We could sit and chat with Jim (or Lori or both) for hours and hours. Before long we had to get moving. We thanked Jim for a wonderful afternoon and headed home. If you find yourself in Loudoun County be sure to stop at Corcoran Vineyards or Hunters Run Wine Barn which features Corcoran wines.

Gadino Cellars

On our way home from Sharp Rock a few weeks ago, we stopped at Gadino Cellars to see what was new. We were lucky enough to have Stephanie conduct our tasting. Stephanie is the assistant winemaker and tasting room manager. She’s always so informative and helpful when she conducts our tasting.

We started with the whites. We tasted the 2007 Barrel Select Chardonnay, the 2008 Sunset, and the 2008 Moonrise (which is actually more of a rose’). Our gold star went to the 2007 Barrel Select Chardonnay with it’s hints of apple and pear and nice nutty finish. Stephanie informed us the 2009 Pinot Grigio, the 2009 Viognier, and the 2009 Barrel Select Chardonnay will be released soon. The 2009 Pinot Grigio is already in the bottle. She let me buy one but I promised not to open it until July. I have it in the fridge waiting for July. I’ve been a fan of the Pinot Grigio for a long time so I’m really looking forward to this one.

We then tasted the reds. We tasted the 2008 Cab Franc, the 2007 Petit Verdot, the 2005 Reserve Merlot, and the 2008 Imagine, which was new to us. Even though the Imagine has 3% residual sugar you’d never know it. It’s a blend of chambourcin, cab franc, and cabernet sauvignon. Our gold star went to the 2005 Reserve Merlot. It has a nice cherry nose, smoother tannins which are integrated well. This is another of my favorites. I still have one bottle on my rack that I’ll be holding on to for awhile.

After our tasting and chatting with Stephanie, we decided to enjoy a glass of the 2007 Barrel Select Chardonnay on the deck. It was an unusually warm day for early May. The cool chardonnay hit the spot. Believe it or not, I was so caught up in the tasting, I didn’t take any photos! Next time I’ll be sure to snap some photos. Plan a stop at Gadino soon and tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Linden Barrel Tasting

So we’re behind in our postings, but we promise to get caught up. (Darn those 9-5 things called jobs!)  Anyway, we did attend the Linden barrel tasting held on May 2 and wanted to post about the event.  We love all things Linden, and this barrel tasting confirmed for us that Jim Law is an incredible winemaker.  Of course, he does get phenomenal support from superb fruit cultivated from the Avenius and Boisseau vineyards, and these wines all prove this theorem to be correct—great wine starts in the vineyard.

Our cellar tasting began with the cult-favorite 2009 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc paired with mussels.  Is there another word for “divine”?  Please let us know!  Classic Sauvignon Blanc characteristics prevailed here with the signature minerality associated with the Avenius Sauvignon Blanc.  In fact, we met up with Shari who presented her 2009 Chardonnay at the Concrete Egg.  Yes, a concrete egg.  This storage device could well pass for an atom bomb, but indeed it does house evolving Chardonnay wine that would otherwise ferment in a stainless steel tank.  Shari explained to us that this is not new technology and the egg does provide a more stable environment for wine to develop.  We await the final results, of course, since this sample was quite young; however, we do anticipate a more French-style offering.

And so on to the red wine barrel samples.  Which were the faves?  We reached a split decision, but it a tough decision. Paul’s nod went to the 2009 Boisseau Cabernet Franc due to its fruit-forward presentation.  I gravitated toward the more complex 2009 Hardscrabble barrel with its blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Jim’s father poured from this barrel, and I appreciated the story behind the blend—a difficult spring that gave way to a remarkable summer that will produce a cellar-worthy Bordeaux-style wine.

From there we proceeded to the special release room where upcoming releases were being tasted.  Here again we reached different conclusions.  I held my ultimate gold star for the special release room, and it was presented to the 2007 Hardscrabble Red. The composite here was similar to the barrel sample but included Petit Verdot and splash of Carmenere.  Dark fruit, pencil shavings, and a spicy edge defined this one; given that it’s from the stellar 2007 vintage, count on a cellar-worthy offering to boot.  Paul preferred the more accessible 2007 Avenius Red which was dominated by Petit Verdot but supported by a generous splash of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Drink now or later, this pour offered blackberries, raspberries, and a bit of nutmeg to complement grilled fare that may include a dash of barbeque sauce.

With our barrel tasting done, we enjoyed a glass of the 2009 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc with a baguette.  It was a lovely spring afternoon, and Jim Law’s tasting room offers spectacular mountain views which aw appreciated as we sipped and nibbled. Remember, the cellar tasting is offered to case club members; so, visit Linden to try their current releases and you might be tempted to purchase a case in order to enjoy the benefits.  Be sure to mention, though, that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Closing In On 100 Virginia Wineries Visited!

A recent visit to Sharp Rock Vineyards brings our count to 98, a feat that has taken us five years to accomplish.  With so many new wineries opening up, we predict that #100 is in our sights.  However, we were quite pleased with our first experience at Sharp Rock Vineyards, and we enjoyed meeting winemaker Jim East in the process.

Located at the foot of Old Rag Mountain, Sharp Rock offers a stunning mountain view.  As we approached the tasting room, we were greeted by a couple of lovable dogs who were eager to give us a handshake.  The tasting room itself is a renovated 100 year old barn, and we were greeted by winemaker Jim East as we entered the room.  Four white wines were available for tasting, and my favorite was the Burgundian-style 2008 Chardonnay Reserve.  It presented notes of pear, toasted almonds and vanilla with a honeyed texture in the mouth which comes from aging in French oak barrels. Paul favored the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a perfect summer wine with citrus and mineral characteristics.  Speaking of summer pours, don’t miss the dry 2009 Rose made from Cabernet Sauvignon; it’s crisp and offers refreshing strawberry and melon flavors.

Of the reds, Paul and I both preferred the light-bodied 2008 Synergy, which is a blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot.  Cherries and plums were noted here with some subtle aromas of cinnamon spice.  This one can be a sipper with cheeses and a baguette but can be offered with summer grilled fare.  Look for the fall release of the 2008 Malbec which promises to be a rich, fuller-bodied wine just in time for the fall menus that include heavier roasted meats and game.

In the course of our tasting, Jim shared with us his commitment to producing small quantities of quality wines.  His twelve bottling are made from estate-grown fruit that include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.  Since the winery opened in 1998, Sharp Rock’s wines have won numerous national and international awards, but the best commendations come from customers who visit Sharp Rock Vineyards to enjoy nice wines and lovely scenery. 

After our tasting, we shared a glass of the Chardonnay Reserve and took in the gorgeous mountain views. Our friendly greeters returned to make us feel at home (and to hope that a stray cracker might accidentally fall from the table.)  As we sipped and savored, we were glad to add Sharp Rock Vineyards to the growing list of wineries visited, and we pondered which future visit might push us closer to the 100 mark.  Of course, we know that we will return to Sharp Rock Vineyards for a second time, but readers may want to visit sooner—be sure to 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.

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!

Favorites at Rappahannock Cellars

So we continue to blaze the wine trails this spring to present our findings about the latest releases. This includes a recent visit to Rappahannock Cellars located in Huntly, Virginia. Where did our gold stars land on the tasting sheet? Keep reading to find out!

Of the four white wines available for tasting, Paul and I both agreed that the 2008 Viognier should be the gold star recipient. Its honeysuckle and peach notes suggested a fruity palate but a subtle toasted edge and a creamy texture confirmed this to be a fuller-bodied white wine. This Viognier was fermented in stainless steel and then aged briefly in French oak barrels. The 2008 Noblesse Viognier should prove to be popular during the spring and summer months. An off-dry offering, the Noblesse Viognier presented citrusy characteristics and a vibrant acidity that would match well with light picnic fare.

On to the red wines, and here we reached a split decision. I favored the 2007 Cabernet Franc with its black berry and dark cherry aromas and flavors. I noted an earthiness to this one, too. Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, this Cabernet Franc offers more complexity and boldness than is usually associated with the varietal. Paul’s gold star went to the 2007 Meritage; this was my close second. Paul noted dark plum, cherry, and spice characteristics with a noticeable tannic presence. This is definitely one to age! This Meritage includes a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec and is fermented and aged in both French and American oak barrels. Port lovers would be advised to check out the 2007 Port style Red Dessert Wine made from the Norton grape—dark fruits prevail in the mouth, and the 8% residual sugar provide a characteristic sweetness. Pair with blue cheese, dried fruit, and a cigar!

So after our tasting, we shared a glass of the 2007 Meritage with some dark chocolate out on the front porch. Decadence all the way around! We made certain to purchase some of our gold star favorites before we left. Plan a visit to Rappahanock Cellars; of course, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

All Of The Above

That would be the answer to a multiple choice question that reads, “Which Chester Gap wine is your favorite?” On a lovely spring afternoon, we ventured out to visit Bernd Jung at Chester Gap Cellars; in the past, we have trumpeted Bernd’s outstanding winemaking skills, and after today’s tasting, we conclude that Bernd is one of Virginia’s excellent winemakers. So how could we make such a claim? The proof was in the wine glass, and we could only reach conclusions on our gold star rewards after much debate and deliberation. All of the wines that we tasted were well crafted and reflected careful attention to vineyard and barrel room management.

Bernd offers three Viogniers for sampling, and each one presents a different twist. Paul’s favorite was the stainless steel fermented 2008 Viognier with its crisp finish and characteristics of honeysuckle and lemon. I noted a “steeliness” that reflected a refreshing minerality. My own gold star was presented to the 2008 Viognier Reserve which presented a creamier mouth feel. Characteristic floral and peach aromas. Peachy flavors with a nice acidity and a lengthier, toasty finish qualifies this one as a food wine. Lobster? Poultry with cream sauce? Here is the perfect partner. Bernd shared with us that he only uses high-quality French barrels to ages this Viognier; his 2008 Viognier Boisseau Vineyard is aged in French oak barrels used for cognac, and this one was my close “second” for the white wines. Smoky and full-bodied, this Viognier and its Reserve sibling are built to age for a few years.

Bernd currently offers two red wines for tasting and sale. In a rare moment of concurrence, Paul and I both agreed that the 2007 Merlot was superior. I noted blackberry and menthol characteristics; Paul suggested some earthiness to boot. This Merlot is an example of the excellent 2007 vintage in Virginia, and it should age quite well. The tasting notes suggested a pairing with lamb, and I could not have agreed more heartily with this recommendation. Not to be missed is the 2007 Cabernet Franc with its dark cherry flavors and chewier tannins.

In our chat with Bernd, it was clear to us that his focus is wine. His tasting room is utilitarian—nothing fancy at all, but it does offer exquisite views of the Shenandoah mountain range. However, the wines are excellent, and we learned that he plans to plant more vines that may include Merlot. We applaud Bernd’s efforts to produce limited quantities of wine are well-crafted and worthy of accolades that include an inclusion on restaurant wine lists in the local area.

With spring in the air, plan a visit to Chester Gap and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival

Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival-For the second year in a row the Warrenton Wine and Arts Festival will take place on Saturday April 24 and Sunday April 25 at St. John the Evangelist school in Warrenton Virginia. At the festival you’ll be able to taste wines from about 20 Virginia wineries, hear music from local musicians, see and purchase art from several local artists, and browse the merchandise from several local and regional vendors.

Be sure to check out the website and get your tickets now. We attended the festival last year and really had a great time. We tasted some wines we couldn’t taste unless we visited the wineries. We look forward to attending the festival again this year! If you see us, say hi!