Monthly Archives: July 2011

Virginia Is For (Red Wine) Lovers

30 July 2011

A veritable forest of stemware covered our dinner table

Virginia produces delicious Viogniers (among other white wines), but it turns out there are some remarkable reds in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I looked for some at Binny’s yesterday, but all I found was a lone Sauvignon Blanc from Barboursville (a Cabernet Franc is also available on their website). Until Virginia wines catch on, and I do hope they will, you will likely have to order them straight from the winery’s website. A bit of a pain, perhaps, but worth the trouble.

Here are a few favorites from the Wine Blogger Conference’s tastings, in no particular order:  (more…)

A Golden Surprise: Virginia Viognier

27 July 2011

The 2009 Barboursville paired wonderfully with some antipasti.

I must admit I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Virginia wine country, where the recent Wine Blogger Conference took place. The Oxford Companion to Wine notes that “Chardonnay and the red Bordeaux varieties do exceptionally well [in Virginia], and interesting wines are also made from Norton, Touriga Nacional, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Viognier and Petit Manseng.” After reading this passage, I suspected there might be a few standouts, but that most wine would be just “eh.”

What a wonderful surprise to find wine after Virginia wine tasting really good. And I don’t mean just “good for Virginia;” these were world-class wines hiding in the picturesque foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on par with wine made just about anywhere.

I was especially delighted by the quality of the numerous Virginia Viogniers I tasted, which ranged from crisp and floral to lusciously rich and soulful. The Oxford Companion to Wine mentions that “there has been considerable experimentation with [Viognier] all over North America, notably in Virginia and Canada.”

I would venture that the time of experimentation with Viognier in Virginia is over. They know what they’re doing.

Here is a list of some of my favorite examples: (more…)

Speed Blogging! (Part 2)

23 July 2011

Speed blogging attempt #2! This time it was all reds; and I felt privileged to try some truly unusual stuff:

2006 Barboursville Vineyards “Octagon”: I was very excited to try this magnum of a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It’s a big wine, with good fruit, a bit of spice, medium tannins and a pleasant metallic finish. It still tastes young. I want to drink it with a grilled steak. $40 for a bottle, $90 for a magnum. Both label and wine have an elegance, making the magnum a great choice for a dinner party.

2007 Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi: Saperavi, I just learned now, is the national grape of Georgia (the country). The wine comes from a beautiful Bordeaux-style chateau, which I hope the Russians don’t try to conquer (again). It looks gorgeous. The wine has big black pepper spiciness followed by a burst of dark fruit. Most enjoyable! A fine deal for $19.99, ideal with some kofta.

2009 Boxwood Estate Winery “Boxwood”: It smells tight, this Bordeaux-style blend from Virginia, and there’s something I should remember about maceration, sandy loam and malolactic fermentation, according to the sales rep. It tastes tight as well — more like a Rhone, to my mind. It dries the tongue right out, making it a good choice for fatty red meat, like prime rib. $25 at retail.

2009 Old World Winery “Abourious”: I met the assistant winemaker for this California wine the night before, and I became very excited to try this variety called Abouriou, native to southwest France. It has to be labeled simply “red wine,” because the variety is so rare, it’s not even officially recognized by the Tax and Trade Bureau. The quintessential Odd Bacchus wine! A dark, purply red, it smells like caramel popcorn and tastes like black current/black pepper jam. A racy blast of flavor — seek it out. It’s $55, but hey, it’s Abouriou.

(more…)

Speed Blogging! (Part 1)

22 July 2011

As part of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference, we have a “Speed Blogging” session, in which we’re to sample a bunch o’ wine and blog about it as we’re tasting. I’ve never tried such a thing, but since some of these wines are most definitely unusual, I think it’s worth a try:

2010 Keswick Vineyards Verdejo: Light, sprightly, acidic, with green aromas. Melon, green apples and grassy flavors. Still experimenting, Keswick Vineyards grows only an acre of this varietal, which is much more likely to be found in Spain than Virginia. $18 retail. Not a bad deal for what’s sure to be a conversation starter.

2009 Tarara Winery “Nevaeh”: Set on the Potomac in the far north of Virginia, this winery focuses on “low yields and terrior.” This wine is  a blend of 70% Viognier (a varietal noted as doing well in Virginia) and 30% Chardonnay. Tight, bright aromas, with ample oak but enough balancing acids to make it food-friendly. Buttery and minerally, it’s not as floral as I expected. $30 retail. Expensive, but pretty darn tasty.

2009 Williamsburg Winery Chardonnay: “If you want a Burgundian-style Chardonnay but don’t want to pay for it, this wine is for you,” according to the sales rep. Rich bouquet, with some flinty stone. Nicely balanced, with some of the wine aged in steel and some in oak. Nice and light, with butter offset by food-friendly acids – ideal for fish, cheese… And a great buy for $14 retail.

2010 Cornerstone Cellars “Stepping Stone” Rosé: A light, charming pink, this rosé is 100% Syrah from Oak Knoll in the Napa Valley. Some bubblegum on the nose, I enjoyed its creamy texture and watermelon flavors. The $18 price tag seems a bit of a stretch, but there’s no denying it’s good.

2009 Emma Pearl Central Coast Chardonnay: I really liked this Chardonnay (blended with 10% Viognier); it felt lush and rich, with just enough acids to make me want to pair it with a schnitzel or some saltimbocca. Or maybe I’m just in desperate need of food after six hours of wine tasting. A fine deal at $18 retail. (My neighbor, incidentally, exclaimed “Schnitzel?! F**k yeah!”

(more…)

Wine Blogging In Charlottesville

20 July 2011

I am rather excited to report that I’ll be headed to Charlottesville, Virginia, tomorrow to take part in the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference. About 300 of us wine bloggers are gathering, and, judging by the agenda, either the spit buckets or the bloggers will be completely loaded the entire time.

I am particularly looking forward to “The Other 46” tasting, which highlights wineries from states other than California, Washington, Oregon and New York. Every state in the country now has at least one winery, and many of them produce some pretty darn good stuff.

We’re also touring some of the wine country around Charlottesville, which, I must admit, I barely realized existed. But Virginia boasts more wineries than any state other than the four mentioned above. It’s an impressive comeback for a state that had but 15 acres of vineyards when Prohibition was finally repealed. If the Virginia Wine website is to be believed, the state has had great success with vinifera grapes grafted onto American rootstocks. I’m looking forward to trying some local Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Norton; varieties noted as doing particularly well in the Virginia terroir.

I’ll try to keep my reports from Virginia as concise, lucid and properly spelled as possible, but it all depends on how many wines are just too good to end up in that spit bucket.

Don’t Put Up With Any Crap

18 July 2011

Now that Sam’s Wine is but a cherished memory, the title of “Best Large Wine Store in Chicago” falls to Binny’s Beverage Depot. (Although I do love my neighborhood shop, In Fine Spirits, with its small but very well-chosen selection.)

I trekked down to Binny’s the other day in search of some unusual, delicious and inexpensive wine to pour at my upcoming wedding. I already planned on serving some Serbian Tamjanika and Vranac, but I needed some contrasting options.

After discussing the logistics of ordering and delivering the wine with “Michael,” one of Binny’s’ wine consultants, we hit the floor. I explained how I write a blog devoted to unusual and obscure wines and spirits, and asked for something a little off-the-wall. He led me to a display of Pillar Box Red, an Australian blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ah yes, an Australian Shiraz — I’m sure no one at the reception will have tried that before.

He next recommended the Peter Lehman Layers, a somewhat more interesting Australian blend once again dominated by Shiraz. I realized I must have been unclear. I explained again that I wanted something really unusual, “like the two wines I’ve already chosen to serve, a Serbian Tamjanika and Vra–”

Michael interrupted. “Oh, we don’t have any Serbian wine here.”

“Yes, I realize that,” I responded, “But that’s the level of ‘unusual’ I’m looking for. Maybe you have some fun Greek options?”

Michael looked at me like I’d just farted.  (more…)

Bathtub Amaretto

16 July 2011

One of my coworkers occasionally concocts some homemade liqueurs, most frequently making her own bracing version of limoncello. She recently turned her attention to amaretto, and, knowing how I enjoy a nipper every now and then, she gave me a little bottle.

It tasted quite good on its own — warm, dark, a bit syrupy, with a rich almond flavor at the back of the palate. And it’s actually quite easy to make: (more…)

Picnic In Pink

14 July 2011

Hours-long picnics are one of the great joys of summer. When gathering up bottles of wine to accompany the pasta salads, cheeses and fruits, I invariably reach for a bottle of dry rosé. There’s something inherently fun and casual about pink wines; they’re difficult to take too seriously. And yet, the best of them are a far cry from insipid White Zinfandels, with luscious fruit and a reassuringly adult finish of stone.

Many of the most renowned rosés come from Provence, but wine regions all over the world now produce excellent examples. While browsing the unfortunately brief selection of rosé at Whole Foods recently, I discovered one called Murphy’s Law which comes 56% from Washington and 44% from Oregon.

Intrigued, I examined the back label and found a plea from the winemaker: “Please don’t jinx this fragrant and intense blend of ‘All-Star’ grapes from primo vineyards in the Pacific Northwest.” Although Pinot Noir (44.2%) is an A-List celeb, Counoise (45.8%), Grenache (5%) and Blaufränkisch (5%) are unquestionably David Hasselhoff varietals: Big in Europe.

(more…)

The Aviation

11 July 2011

Perhaps as a holdover from my old cosmo-swilling days, I usually have a number of fresh limes on hand, but rarely any lemons. But we recently happened to have a couple extra after jarring a batch of preserved lemons, and I resolved to make good use of them.

I also happened to have a bottle of gin I’ve been itching to open. Back in April, when we visited Door County, Wisconsin, I picked up a bottle of Death’s Door Gin. This gin is actually vintage, marked with the date the “organic hard red winter wheat” was harvested from Washington Island: August, 2009. Because Washington Island, set at the very end of the Door County Peninsula, is a particularly scenic and tranquil spot, I couldn’t resist this gin made from its wheat (as well as “wild juniper berries and various other botanicals”).

On its own, the gin has a nose of juniper (of course) and a bit of fresh mint. Sipped neat, anise flavor gives way to juniper before a hit of white pepper.

A gin this complex and smooth deserves better than a swish of tonic. Since I had some fresh lemons, I dusted off my old Aviation recipe. (more…)

One Of The Greatest Hopes

7 July 2011

When a colleague at work gave me a bottle of Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) from Spain, I didn’t think it would be suitable to discuss on this blog. After all, this varietal grows all over the country. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, Garnacha Tinta is “Spain’s second most planted red wine grape after Tempranillo in 2004,” covering no fewer than 203,300 acres.

But I looked a little closer at the label of this 2006 Via Terra Garnacha, and noticed it came from a Denominación de Origen (DO) I had never heard of: Terra Alta. I located this large, Catalan wine region on a map in The World Atlas of Wine, lying just west of much more famous Priorat, near the city of Tarragona.

Neither the atlas nor the Oxford Companion had very much to say about this mountainous “high land,” other than to note that it’s scenic and up-and-coming, but not yet fully developed. Wikipedia agrees, adding that Terra Alta wines were consumed almost exclusively locally until just recently.

André Dominé’s Wine goes into further detail, describing how “the red wines here were considered to be as rough as the climate,” but thanks to more modern wine-making techniques, “these wines have now become softer and more complex.” Indeed, the best examples have led “Spain’s top enologists [to] consider Terra Alta to be one of the greatest hopes.”

It seemed this Garnacha could be worth writing about after all! (more…)

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