Virginia

Top 10 Wines Of 2012

22 December 2012

It's raining wine (glasses)!As when I wrote the previous Top 10 post about spirits and cocktails, compiling this list filled me with a sense of gratitude. What fortune, to have tasted so many fascinating and unusual wines this past year!

The title of this post is a bit misleading, however. I certainly won’t pretend to claim to know what the “best” wines of the year were. Instead, this rather idiosyncratic list highlights the wines I thought were the most exciting, whether it was because of superlative quality, unusual grape variety or off-the-beaten-track vineyard sites.

If this list demonstrates one thing, it’s that there’s a whole world of delicious unusual wine out there, and it’s bigger than even I imagined. There’s never been a better time to take a risk on something off the wall.

Links lead to the original posts about the wines:

10. MEXICAN WINE — Perhaps the most surprising discovery of the year, the Mexican wines I tasted proved to be refined and satisfying. There wasn’t a stinker in the bunch! One representative wine is the 2011 Monte Xanic Chenin Colombard, a blend of 98% Chenin Blanc and 2% Colombard. This wine from Baja started with lush, white, almost tropical fruit. It had a spicy midsection with some grapefruity acids and a slightly chalky finish. Quite delicious, and excellent with some duck carnitas tacos.

9. 2010 PAGE SPRINGS CELLARS “LA SERRANA” — Wine from Arizona surprised me as much as that from Mexico. But the Mediterranean terroir there seems to work quite well for certain varieties, especially those usually associated with the Rhône. This blend of 50% Viognier and 50% Rousanne had a nutty, almost buttery aroma, and it certainly tasted rich and creamy. But it was fruity as well, and ample acids kept the wine light on its feet.

8. AUSTRIAN ST. LAURENT — It can be hard to find, but this sexy, earthy red will reward the hunt. The single-vineyard 2007 Johanneshof Reinisch “Holzspur” Grand Reserve St. Laurent is a fine example. A brick red, the Holzspur sucked me in with a dusky nose of very dark fruit. It had a medium body, powerful spice, big fruit and a long finish. It’s Eartha Kitt in a bottle.

7. PESSAC-LÉOGNAN — A mere 650 acres are devoted to white grapes in this highly regarded but little-known corner of Bordeaux, producing some positively sumptuous wines. My favorite was the 2005 Château Malartic-Lagravière “Le Sillage de Malartic”, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. On the nose were voluptuously ripe peaches, and tropical fruit worked its way into the palate. Some minerals kept things grounded, as did a rather woody finish. A joy to drink.

6. NV MICHEL TURGY RÉSERVE-SÉLECTION BLANC-DE-BLANC BRUT CHAMPAGNE — Champagne can hardly be classified as an obscure beverage, but it is all too unusual in my household. I had been saving this bottle of grower Champagne (made by the same person/company which owns the vineyards, in contrast to the vast majority of Champagnes on the market) for a special occasion, and it rose to the moment. The elegantly tiny bubbles felt delicate on the tongue, and the lively acids hinted at by the appley nose balanced the rich flavors of caramel corn and a bit of toast. And the finish! Nearly endless.

Brian at Keswick Vineyards5. 2010 KESWICK VINEYARDS MERLOT — Virginia boasts an array of fine wineries these days, and Keswick Vineyards is one of the very best. Most of Keswick’s production gets sucked up by its wine club, meaning that you either have to join the club or visit the winery. It’s worth the effort. The Merlot had a beautiful nose that reminded me of when I used to spread raspberry jam and Nutella on toasted rolls. On the palate, it was voluptuous but well-structured — like a 40-something Sophia Loren.

4. 2004 CHÂTEAU FLUTEAU CUVÉE PRESTIGE BLANC DE BLANCS — The only thing more unusual than a grower Champagne is a vintage grower Champagne. This example, made in part by a Chicago native, had nose-catching aromas of lime, peach and yeast . On the palate, it moved from popcorn to tart apple to a whisper of limestone on the finish. The ample bubbles felt very fine, delicate and elegant, and there was some real depth there as well. As it breathed, the Fluteau mellowed, becoming even richer.

3. RARE WINE COMPANY “MALMSEY” SPECIAL RESERVE MADEIRA — Madeira, a fortified wine produced on the tiny Atlantic island of the same name, tends to appear with dessert, if at all. But at Stella! in New Orleans, the creative sommelier paired it with some crispy veal sweetbreads with andouille sausage, turnips and egg yolk. Good heavens, what a marvelous pairing! The Madeira smelled rich and woodsy, with some wheat toast in there as well. It tasted predictably sweet and caramelly, but startlingly bright acids kicked in on the finish, ensuring that it would be food friendly. It complemented the delicate sweetbreads but stood up to the andouille and turnips as well. Quite the balancing act! I don’t often write “Wow!” in my notebook, but write it I did.

2. 2006 CHÂTEAU CHEVAL BLANC — You could be forgiven for wondering why something from one of the most celebrated wineries on the planet makes an appearance on a blog “dedicated to drinking the unusual and obscure.” Well I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty unusual for me to sample a $1,035 bottle of wine. I tried it in a wine bar in the city of Bordeaux, near where it’s made, and though it’s still very young, it tasted dazzling. It had a chocolatey nose, and a more open character than the other Bordeaux First Growths I sampled. It felt racier — sexier — with voluptuous fruit corseted by strong tannins.

1. 2010 SATTLERHOF TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE — Crafted from Sauvignon Blanc fruit affected by Noble Rot, which concentrates the flavors and sugars, this Austrian beauty blew me away. If you don’t like sweet wines, this one might just change your mind. A deeply golden hue, it had rich fruit and a lush, luxurious sweetness balanced — perfectly, beautifully, improbably — by a veritable kick line of acids. Sheer, unadulterated delight.

Don’t Miss These Virginia Wineries

15 August 2012

4. JEFFERSON VINEYARDS: In this pretty piece of Virginia countryside, Thomas Jefferson planted the first commercial vineyards in Virginia and probably the first in the entire New World. His viticultural efforts generally failed, unfortunately, but nowadays, Jefferson Vineyards produces some very tasty wine indeed. The reds here were particularly appealing.

The light-bodied Cabernet Franc (a blend of 2010 and 2011 vintages, since the 2011 vintage was marred by Hurricane Irene) had an aroma of dark fruit and iron, and it tasted fruity and earthy with some good structure. Jefferson Vineyards was the first to bottle a varietal Petit Verdot in Virginia, and the 2010 vintage continues that proud tradition. It had a jammy nose and plummy, meaty flavors with juicy acids and a touch of tobacco in the finish. And the rich Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”), a Bordeaux-style blend, smelled marvelously rich and had a palate to match: jam, vanilla, balanced acids and a chocolatey finish. Delightful.

 

3. PIPPIN HILL FARM: The wines here tasted just fine; a through-line seemed to be rather limey, occasionally pointy acids in many of the whites and some of the reds. I’m not necessarily dying to try any of them again, but I would kill to be back on the gorgeous terrace outside the tasting room. My stars and stripes, what a view! Vineyards, farms, mansions, the Blue Mountains in the distance…

It’s truly spectacular. A glorious place for lunch and a glass of wine.

 

 

2: BARBOURSVILLE VINEYARDS: One of the first modern wineries in Virginia, Barboursville was founded in 1976 by the Zonins, a renowned Italian winemaking family. As you might expect, you’ll encounter several Italian varietals here, such as a richly fruity Sangiovese, an earthy Barbera and a tightly wound Nebbiolo. The sharply focused Viognier Reserve, austere Octagon (a Bordeaux-style blend) and Sauternes-like Malvaxia Reserve also made quite an impression on me.

Because the tasting room can be quite crowded, especially on weekends, I recommend trying the wines paired with some wonderfully delicious Italian cuisine in the adjacent Palladio Restaurant. The Caprese salad with perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes and sumptuously creamy burrata cheese haunts me still. Work off lunch with a stroll past the vineyards to the ruins of Governor James Barbour’s mansion, dating from the early 19th century.

 

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Albemarle County’s Celebrity Wineries

11 August 2012

The wines of Virginia blew me away at the Wine Bloggers Conference, held last year in Charlottesville. I had no idea such great things were happening down there; after all, I’d never even sampled a Virginia wine before the conference. They’re not available in every corner grocery. And because of the rarity of these wines up north, I was excited to have the opportunity to return to Albemarle County and get my palate around a few more of these beauties.

Two wineries I put at the top of my list were Trump and Blenheim, owned by Donald Trump and Dave Matthews, respectively. I missed their wines entirely on last year’s visit, and I was curious how these celebrity wineries, set less than a mile apart from each other, would perform. Would Trump wines be overblown, lacking restraint and finesse? Would Blenheim’s be, as iTunes describes the Dave Matthews Band’s debut album, “long-winded” and “unfocused”? I was determined to find out.

The Trump Winery, as you might imagine, comes with quite a story. Trump purchased the winery from Patricia Kluge, a figure who is not beloved in the Virginia wine scene. She engaged in some major real estate bets and winery expansions just as the economy tanked in 2008, and lost much of her fortune, including her winery. A certain sommelier told me that he engaged in a little Schadenfreude, attending the auctions of her furniture, jewelry and wine, managing to purchase hundreds of cases for as little as $2.00 each (most cases of wine went for $14). But an assistant winemaker I spoke with said that Kluge was actually great for the Virginia wine industry. She brought in major winemaking talent, but no one could stand to work for her longer than a year or two. They would then quit, and go off to start their own wineries or find employment at existing ones.

Donald Trump purchased the winery, as well as the front lawn of Kluge’s palatial mansion (he’s waiting for the price on the house itself to go down, as it surely will, since Trump owns all the land right up to the front door). Amid all these shenanigans, Kluge Estate (now the Trump Winery) continued to produce acclaimed wines, and I wanted to try some myself. After a drive through some beautifully rolling countryside past notable landmarks such as Monticello, I found my way to the glossy tasting room.

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A Weekend In The Country

2 August 2011

Monticello: The beginning of the U.S. wine industry

Now that I’ve undoubtedly frustrated you by describing all sorts of wonderful Virginia wines that you can’t find in your local wine shop, I thought I had better come up with a way for you to try them at the source. Here is a great itinerary for a long weekend in Virginia wine country:

Thursday: Fly to Charlottesville. If you’re coming from Chicago, take advantage of the new non-stop flights from O’Hare with American Airlines (my tickets cost about $215). Pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to the Clifton Inn, a manor house built by Thomas Jefferson for his daughter, set on 100 rolling acres. Check in and relax at this elegant estate before driving to downtown Charlottesville.

Have dinner along the historic pedestrianized Main Street, perhaps at the noted wine bar Tastings of Charlottesville. Return to the Clifton Inn for the evening. (If the Clifton Inn looks pricey, there are numerous charming bed-and-breakfasts and reasonably priced hotels in Charlottesville itself.)

Friday: Spend this morning at Monticello, Jefferson’s Palladian-style mansion. Wander the gardens, stand in Jefferson’s renowned wine cellar and tour the house itself, still decorated with Jefferson’s personal furnishings. The history and beauty of this great house are thrilling — it gave me chills to visit.

Drive to nearby Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia’s most famous winery, and have lunch in their renowned Palladio Restaurant. After a stroll along the vineyards to the evocative ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion, tour the cellars and taste their superb wines. The nearby Horton Vineyards is also well worth a visit. Where else could you taste a sparkling Viognier, an Rkatsiteli, a Petit Manseng, a Tannat and a Pinotage, and have them all be delicious?

Return to Clifton for some time to relax at the infinity pool before dinner in their romantic gourmet restaurant. (more…)

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.

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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!”

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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.