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:

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. 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. The rich 2002 Octagon still seems young, with its jammy nose and long finish.

2007 Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc: Often associated with the Loire Valley, this varietal does just as well in Virginia as Viognier — it’s almost always a safe bet. The Barboursville 2007 tasted big and spicy, with subdued flavors of green herbs at the end. We also had the fortune to taste a double magnum of the 1998 Cabernet Franc, which added flavors of ripe plums and tobacco. Gorgeous.

2009 Veritas Petit Verdot: From the Monticello AVA, this Virginia beauty is a deep purple, with an enticing black cherry nose. It’s big, bold and spicy, ideal perhaps for a rich duck confit. Thomas Jefferson, who never succeeded in producing wine at Monticello, would surely be thrilled to taste this. If you think $30 is too much to spend on a Virginia wine, this will change your mind.

The inimitable Jennifer McCloud pouring wine at Monticello

2008 Chrysalis Norton: The Norton variety may sound unromantic, but it produces beautiful wine in Virginia’s terroir. The Oxford Companion to Wine asserts that it’s “arguably the only variety of American vine species origin making a premium quality wine… Norton is undoubtedly underrated because of entrenched bias against non-vinifera varieties.” Chrysalis makes a particularly big and rich Norton, with a raisiny aroma, ample dark fruit and a burst of black pepper. You’ll be hard-pressed to do better; the personable winemaker, Jennifer McCloud, is “probably the world’s foremost expert on [Norton],” according to Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.

2009 Horton Tannat “The Art of Darkness”: What a delight to see this unusual variety, normally confined to Uruguay and the little-known Madiran AOC in southwest France, thriving in Virginia. This tasty Tannat featured some spiciness and a little gaminess — I found myself hankering for an elk steak or some venison tenderloin.

2007 Horton Pinotage: This blend of 82% Pinotage and 18% Tannat was much fruitier than I expected, without the heavy earth and smoke one sometimes sees in South African expressions of this variety. Easy to drink, with food-friendly acids and noticeable structure.

2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir: Apparently there is a winery crazy enough to grow fussy Pinot Noir grapes in hot, humid Virginia (this variety is normally found in cooler climes like Oregon and Burgundy). And they actually succeeded in producing a charming wine! This Pinot Noir offered up-front fruit, a creamy texture and some spiciness in the finish, without the meat of Oregon or the earth of Burgundy. A very approachable Pinot.

What riches they have in Virginia! And so few of us have any idea these wines exist. Many Virginia wines are on the expensive side, from $20 on up, but served at a dinner party or other special occasion, they will be sure to start a conversation and delight your guests.

Seek out Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Bordeaux-style blends (like Octagon).  You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

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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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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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.

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