Sunday, December 16, 2012

Early Mountain Vineyards

About a year after our first visit to what used to be Sweely Mountain Winery, Debbie, Scott and I made it back to what is now Early Mountain Vineyards. The tasting room had been renovated and tastings are now done at tables inside or out weather permitting. Wine is also brought to your table in the most unique, locally hand-made wine carriers made just for the vineyard.

Since Early Mountain is still building up their portfolio of wines, they are serving their wine in flights as well as other selected Virginia wines. We all opted for the "Early Mountain Ascent" featuring their four wines. We started with the 2011 Pinot Gris that we had barrel tasted in 2011, it had smoothed out and softened to a nice light white. Next was the 2011 Viognier with a hint of fruit, this was Scott's favorite. The 2011 Chardonnay was a nice buttery oak barrel aged white that Debbie and I both favored. Finally the 2008 Merlot was also a smooth and enjoyable red.

A delicious braut with peppers and oinions
After our tasting we ordered some amazing food and while Scott and Debbie opted for wine with their meals, I tested out the seasonal Cider Flight.  First up was the Farmhouse Dry from Potter's Craft Cider, the name doesn't lie, it was a dry and tart cider. Second was the Jupiter's Legacy from Albermarle CiderWorks which was a sweeter cider. The Celestial from Castle Hill Cider was a sparkling cider and my favorite of the bunch. I finished with First Fruit from Foggy Ridge Cider the sweetest of the flight. We finished noshing and made our way to the gift shop where I was happy to find the 2010 Chardonnay by Chatham Vineyards, one of my current favorites and I'm not a typical Chardonnay fan. Perhaps this summer I'll make a beach trip out to Chatham since its on the edge of the eastern shore.

Early Mountain has certainly upped the elegance and the seated tasting adds to a more relaxed experience to the tasting room, the staff was friendly and the food was great. It will be interesting to taste the additional wines they produce in the next couple of years as they expand their wine list.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Marterella Winery

Patio Views
Lori and I had enjoyed a day on the trail, but thought we could sneak in one more stop before heading home. Checking out the map we decided Mediterranean Cellars would be the most logical stop. So as we twisted and turned I saw vineyard signs and took a left instead of a right and we found ourselves across the road at Marterella Winery. A few minutes into our tasting Lori said, "Your car turned in the right direction for a reason." We discovered a hidden gem, not listed on the 2012 Virginia Wine map, you can find it on the VirginiaWine.Org website.

With a full, jovial tasting room, Marterella is a local hot spot and hangout. Kate Marterella owns and runs the tasting room and seemed to have plenty of energy to keep simultaneous tastings going single-handed! Kate and her husband, who unfortunately passed recently, planted vines in 2000 and started making wine in 2003. The tasting room adjacent to her home is about 6 years old and features an outdoor fireplace on the patio with plenty of seating as she also serves Italian pizzas to hungry visitors.

Tasting Room, view from the bar
On our visit we tried 13 wines for $10, visitors have the option to do the full flight or just the reds or whites for $5. We started with the new, not yet bottled 2009 Vidal Blanc which was refreshing with a hint of tropical fruit. We also worked our way through the 2010 Pinot Grigio, NV Viognier, 2008 Chardonnay and 2008 Barrel Select Chardonnay on the white side. While we enjoyed most of these wines our favorite aside from the Vidal Blanc was the steel & oak blended 2008 Chardonnay that had a touch of butterscotch.  The 2010 Rosalie's Rose was a sweeter rose made from mostly Merlot followed by the 2009 Heritage Dry Rose  which was quite the opposite with 100% Merlot and 24 hours on the skins it had a nose of rose petals.

Frankie could run around
For the reds we worked our way through the 2008 Merlot, 2007 Cabernet Fran, 2008 Meritage and the "Vegas Wedding." My favorites were the 2008 Merlot, it was jammy and not too dry, as well as the 2008 Meritage (Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sav & Petit Verdot) it was a big red. Lori also enjoyed the Meritage as well as the Cabernet Franc which in my opinion was a softer, slightly fruitier Cab Franc that what I prefer. Now this "Vegas Wedding" is a Meritage blend of sorts, its the Cabernet Franc mixed with the Merlot (post bottling) to create a surprisingly smooth combination. Finally we tried some dessert wines, the 2010 Grace made from Vidal Blanc & Riesling and the 2010 Sweet Nothings, a sweet Chambourcin with raspberry hints. Lori loved both of these! I should also note that for the chocolate and dessert wine lovers, Marterella has local, custom made chocolates infused with their Sweet Nothings that you can purchase at the tasting room.

We had a great time at this stop and even though we made it in during the end of the day, the tasting room was full of life, human and canine. It was a cozy and welcoming stop, its too bad we didn't have time to cross the road to Mediterranean, on my next trek in that direction I'll just have plan time to go to both wineries!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Seeking Quality Reds? Found. In Virginia.

Last weekend I had an appointment to meet some fellow Virginia wine bloggers out at Berry Hill Vineyards in the afternoon (Berry Hill is by appointment only). Since I wanted to bring some fellow DC'ers with me to the vineyards I wasn't sure until the day before how early we could get out to the trail but mapped out some options of spots I hadn't yet visited.

With Lori and her little dog Frankie in tow we wandered into the hills to Cobbler Mountain Cellars in Delaplane. If heading there you really have to pay attention to your GPS since it doesn't seem to have as many signs along the way as some of the other wineries do. The grapes were planted here in 2006 and the tasting room opened in 2011 so its still a newer winery. We were the first guests to arrive that morning and found that Cobbler Mountain is very pet friendly, they had two friendly dogs that greeted us and found a cat curled up on a couch inside. The tasting room was cozy and decorated for the fall holidays. I really hadn't heard anything about Cobbler Mountain so I had no idea what was in store for us.

For $9 we worked through 9 wines; we did not try their Maple Reserves made from, you guessed it, maple syrups! We started the tasting with a Sparkling Hard Apple Cider where you could taste the Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious apples that were part of the blend. We really enjoyed this cider. We then tried the 2010 Cobblestone White a light, sweet white made from a blend of Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc & Viognier. Up next was the 2011 Chardonnay Reserve with just a touch of oak on the palate. As a picky white drinker I thought the whites were fine, but the reds were really something! 

As one of 5 vineyards in Virginia that produces Malbec the 2011 was the first we tried; now I'm usually not a Malbec fan since they can be very dry, but this one was not at all, it had just the lightest hint of fruit at the finish. Next up was the 2010 Meritage a blend of 4 of the 5 Bordeaux grapes, absent is Merlot, this blend was surprisingly drier than the Malbec. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was another great red, it was aged 24 months in French oak and  a solid red would be great with a steak. The 2010 Petit Verdot was a really big red with a nose of clove & spice, also another great wine. We finished with the 2010 Cabernet Franc which we tasted with chocolate, it was a slightly softer Franc than I prefer, I really love the peppery ones, and this reminded me more of a Merlot, still a very good wine. 

We were so overwhelmed with good wine it took us a while to pick out what we wanted to sit down with and take home. We finally worked it out and headed outside to take in the views next to one of the few camp fires they had set up outside. Overall we were really pleased with Cobbler Mountain, it was a surprise to have one quality red after the next. Hillary  even tried their wines and liked them so much she bought the entire line to serve at State dinners!  

Virginia tends to get a bad rap for poor reds, but our day uncovered a couple good spots for reds. After Cobbler Mountain we were excited to meet up with Anthony of Virgnia Pour House, Kurt & Carol of Wine About Virginia, Fred of This is Wine, Erin of At the Lamppost as well as Jaymie, Allison, Kathy & Dan over at Berry Hill. As mentioned, Berry Hill is by appointment only as it is a micro winery that the owner Dave, started out by selling his grapes to near by vineyards like Narmada, Gray Ghost and Rappahannock then started making his own wine. He definitely takes care in making his Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Here you will be able to try the wines and take some for the road, rather than sit down and stay awhile since it is a smaller operation.

Dave discussing the wines
We sampled 3 wines with Dave, his 2011 Cabernet Franc that was blended with 15% Petit Verdot, at the time of tasting this wine had only been in the bottle for 3 weeks. The 2010 Cabernet Franc was next and Kurt was like a kid in a candy store waiting to try this one since he had barrel tasted it the year before. See his write up at Wine About Virginia for his thoughts on this quality wine. It was 14.9% alcohol, but you couldn't tell that at all after its 20 months in the barrel. Finally we sampled the 2011 Petit Verdot which was blended with 15% Cabernet Franc. It was a big, soft wine and as Dave said "85% of good wine is made in the vineyard," so he just tweaks that last 15%. 

If you like red wines or know someone who likes reds and isn't sold on Virginia wines, Cobbler Mountain Cellars and Berry Hill Vineyards are a must! The service was great, the staff/owners are friendly and there really isn't anything bad you can say about the wines. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hiking & Sipping

Blue Ridge Views from the Appalachian Trail
Last weekend a friend and I made it out to Shenandoah National Park for a quality hike before Sandy blew all of the pretty leaves down. It was a gorgeous, crisp fall day, perfect for a rigorous hike. We went into to the park at Thorton Gap where 211 meets Skyline Drive. We got started early on an out and back trail, which was probably a good idea since on our way down we passed several more hikers than on our way up. By the time we finished we had plenty of time to hit the 2 wineries closest to the mountains, Little Washington Winery and Gadino Cellars

The Little Washington Winery had a very friendly & knowledgeable staff as well as a very inviting tasting room, but we were a little disappointed to find only two Virginia wines there. The were currently pouring their two Chardonnays one steel aged and the other oaked as well as several Spanish wines. It was interesting to try some international wines, but I prefer to try the local goods. After checking out the view, which is quite nice we decided to head down the road to Gadino Cellars. 

Enjoying live music at Gadino
Gadino Cellars was the first Virginia winery I had ever been to and that was about 5 years ago so I was excited to see what it was like now. We found a bustling tasting room, but service was great. We were greeted and told it would be few minutes before we could start tasting so we checked out some of the local crafts, cork stoppers and other items in the tasting room before beginning. For $5 we tried 6 wines and got to keep our glass. There was a nice 2011 Viognier that had the lightest hint of tropical fruit, a 2011 Chardonnay aged in steel then oak was nice and mildly oaky, a 2011 Sunset was a sweeter white made from a Traminette & Seyval Blanc blend. Their rose, the 2011 Moonrise is made by blending a red (Nebbiolo, Cab Franc) and white (Petit Mensang) wine rather than letting the skins of a red sit on the wine for a few days, it was surprisingly good & very interesting. The 2010 Cabernet Franc Riserva won us over as our favorite! It came from 22 year old vines and the dark cherry flavors really came through. We also really enjoyed the 2010 Merlot which was blended with 8% Peiti Verdot and 9% Cab Franc for a drier red than the Franc, but still a big, smooth red. 

We decided to buy some bottles of the reds and then pick up a glass of the whites to sit on the porch and enjoy what was left of the daylight before our long drive back to the city. It was a nice revisit to Gadino and perfect spot if heading back from the trails! 

Little Washington Winery porch views

Friday, October 26, 2012

Party Bus Wine Tasting?

Yes, we have a bit of school spirit
What happens when you mix a vineyard visit with WSU alums, 2 birthday parties, some Brits, and a party bus of said individuals all over the age of 25? A day that's surprisingly not as crazy as anticipated. Granted it was easy to spot the light-weights as the day went on. 

Overall this isn't the way I like to do my wine tasting, but it was a day of fun with friends and the first stop wasn't as bad as I expected (bad as in full of crazy drunk people or poor service for such a crowd), the second stop, however, was a little crazier. Its just a good thing there were only two stops! At 10:00am we were instructed to meet in Ballston to check-in and board our fabulously decked out (70s style) Boomerang Bus (a former school bus). Some folks were already enjoying mimosas and bloody Mary's. We were also told that we could BYOB on the bus. That's right. Our group started with some Hogue Cellers Gewurztraminer from Washington State, as we had gathered some alums for the trip. It was a good wine to start with, nice and light, not too sweet as many Gewurztraminers can be. 

Our first stop was Bluemont Vineyard, at 951 ft, one of the highest points in Northern Virginia. The views were breathtaking! The vineyard has a massive outdoor space so our crew was seated under a trellis away from the "regular" visitors. We tried 1 rose, 2 whites, 2 fruits, 2 reds and 2 dessert wines. With so many people and one server for our 10 tables and the other outdoor spots tasting was understandably slower than when at a tasting bar so we broke out the cheeses and picked some of the wines that weren't on our tasting list. Going down the line we tried the 2011 Petit Manseng, 2010 Rose "The Donkey" (100% Chambourcin), Farm Table White (Vidal Blanc, Viognier & Petit Manseng), The Sparkling Peach (unfiltered 50% Rkatsitelli 50% peach), The Peach (50% Rkat 50% peach), Farm Table Red, 2009 Merlot "The Ram," The Strawberry,and finally The Blackberry. All the wines were very different from one to the next. 

A few in our group of 8-10 really liked The Peach, but most of the group raved about the Farm Table Red which is a blend of 50% Merlot, 21% Cab Fanc, 14% Cab Sav, 10% Norton, 5% Petit Verdot. A couple of us, myself included, found Rose to be our favorite, it was more peppery like a Cab Franc than a fruit forward Chambourcin. One or two still picked The Blackberry as the best, its 82% blackberry wine and 18% red wine. It was almost unanimous that the second choice for all was the 2009 Merlot which was blended with 5% Cab Sav. The few notes about Bluemont that I was able to get is that they are celebrating 5 years this month and have 10 tons of estate grown grapes across Norton, Viognier, Merlot and Albarinio. 

After a couple of hours at Bluemont we moved on to Loudoun Valley Vineyards. We tried 10 wines here and that seemed like a few more than I remembered for my first visit. This tasting was much more chaotic as one might expect with a bus crew. We were sent outside to 3 tables set up in a U, it was really crowded and people were getting "distracted." Bluemont did well with the group, by having us all seated. 

At this tasting we had a 2010 Pinot Grigio, 2009 Viognier, 2010 Traminette, Vin de Pomme (100% apple), 2010 Pinot Noir, 2008 Merlot, 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve, 2008 Dynasty, Route 9 Red, and 2008 Legacy (Port). Not many of us liked the whites, but if we had to pick one the Traminette was the best of the bunch. The Vin de Pomme was a big hit, but we had trouble finding the answer to the difference between an apple wine, hard cider and sparkling cider. Many enjoyed the 2010 Pinot Noir on the red side, however my favorite was the 2008 Dynasty a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot & 25% Touriga. The second choice across the board was the 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve, it was a bold red. On my last visit I found I really enjoyed the Seyval and was bummed to not find it on the tasting list, but I was informed that it will be back in the near future. 

Oh yeah, this was our classy ride about 1/3 full!

By the time we all piled back on the bus it was only about 4pm and those light weights started dropping like flies, well a few of them "dropped it like its hot" in the standing or dancing room of the bus. It was a fun day, but I can't say I'll be going on another bus trip like this one in the near future. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DC Wine Week at the Washington Wine Academy

This past week several DC wine bars and venues celebrated Virginia wines through DC's Wine Week 2012. I was able to join the fun at the Washington Wine Academy for an evening of Virginia's award winning wines. We were greeted with a glass of Kluge (Trump) Blanc de Blanc and welcomed into the tasting room where 3 separate tasting stations were set up and at least 20 Virginia wineries were represented. There was a limited amount of the Governor's Cup Winners so that is the table that I started at, unfortunately I didn't get to try them all but I did enjoy the wines below, (they weren't on the tasting list so forgive any misspellings or missing vintages):
  • Whitehall 2010 Gewurztraminer, slightly fruit forward, and not too sweet
  • Tarara 2010 Hohan Lee, a white blend  
  • Glen Manor 2009 Hodder Hill, dry and earthy
  • Veritas Vintners Reserve
  • King Family 2008 Meritage-my absolute favorite of the bunch
  • Bluestone  Cabernet Sauvignion-my second favorite of the bunch

After tasting the award winners I started the more traditional tasting, comparing similar varietals from different vineyards moving from whites to reds. There were only 2 Chardonnays an oak aged and a steel, the steel aged was from 2010 at Chatham Vineyards with the Church Creek label and amazing! There were 3 Viogniers all from 2011, one was too fruit forward for my palate (Pearmund), one was average (King Family) and the third  from Barboursville Vineyards was the best of the bunch, but I still think the oaked version from Chester Gap is my current favorite. I was excited to taste the Early Mountain Vineyards 2011 Pinot Gris, since I had barrel tasted it last fall, time has softened the tropical fruit undertones, its much lighter than I remembered, but still a good easy to drink white! 

On the red side of things there were several Meritage/Bordeaux style blends. I really enjoyed the RdV Vineyards 2009 Rendevous, it was earthy and the Merlot came through strongly, but it was a very smooth wine. It was great to taste the RdV since visiting is nearly impossible, $40 guided, appointment tours only and for $75 a bottle its a bit out of my price point. Other notable blends were the 2010 King Family Meritage and the 2008 Barboursville Octagon.  

Overall it was a great mix of wines and people, there were quality conversations with wine lovers from all walks of life. I walked away with some new vineyards to add to my list of ones to visit, particularly King Family, Bluestone and Chatham. It was also a great way to compare wines, rather than at a huge festival. I'm glad I was able to close out DC's wine week with a bang! 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Desert Rose: A Pleasantly Surprising Stop

I'd passed Dessert Rose Ranch & Winery in Hume a few times while wine tasting in the area, but never ventured in. After our trip to Linden, Jill and I were seeking something unique and inviting and that is precisely what we found at Desert Rose. It is a working horse ranch that expanded into a winery more recently, thus it should be no surprise that the tasting room is decorated in western ranch gear and features local art work for sale.

We were warmly welcomed into the log-cabin style tasting room were we checked out some of the art before stepping up to the bar. Our server walked us through all 8 of their wines, which was great because each has a unique name that refers back to the winery nuances. We started with the smooth, oak aged 2010 Hitch Hollow Chardonnay, the name "Hitch Hollow" was that of a community that lived on that site back in the 1800s. Next up was the Ole Moo Moo 2011 white blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc & Viognier, its is named for their one remaining cow and we really enjoyed this white. 2011 Sparky Rose, named for the power plant that occupies a bit of the property, was a steel aged blend of Merlot, Cab Sav & Cab Franc that seemed to be effervescent. Following the Rose was the GiGi Peachi, a dry 100% peach wine, named for Gigi, the resident dog, a sweet older dog that will cozy up to you on the porch.

On the red side we began with the 2010 R.E.D. (Retired and Extremely Dangerous) Chambourcin, which was a lighter oak aged Chambourcin that what I'm used to. The 2009 Merlot Blend is 75% Merlot and 12.5% of each Cab Sav & Cab Franc. The 2010 Cabernet Franc has picked up some awards at wine competitions and rightfully so with its peppery finish. We finished with the 2010 Starboard Port, a port style wine made from 100% Norton and contains 8% rs possibly from the whiskey barrels they age it in.

While we enjoyed most of the wines, our clear favorites were Ole Moo Moo, Sparky Rose and the Cabernet Franc. We both opted for a glass on the large deck to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. We were pleasantly surprised with our stop to Desert Rose and would definitely recommend stopping in for a visit. I'm sure you'll find a wine you enjoy and find the rustic artwork adds to the unique experience.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Linden Vineyards: Why all the hype?

A few weeks back I FINALLY made it out to Linden Vineyards, with a friend of mine, Jill, who lives out that way. Let me first say that originally I didn't want to visit Linden because of the rule against going on the porch if you weren't a member on their website, they have since softened the tone online a bit. Several other Virginia wine bloggers had such great things to say about Linden it started to move up on my list of vineyards to visit. Then came the day when I got to go, yay! I was very excited, the views were great as we approached the tasting room.

When we entered the tasting room there was a couple tasting and a few folks on the deck, but it was relatively quiet. So quiet we almost didn't want to talk to each other. We stepped up to the bar and were greeted politely by our server. For $5 we tasted 5 wines. We started with the 2010 Seyval, dry & crisp aged in steel; the 2011 Rose was next, a bit tart with strong undertones of sour cherry; the 2010 Chardonnay we were told was actually a blend and aged in new oak, had a buttery nose; the 2010 Claret was also a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Sav, 15% Petit Verdot and only 8% Cab Franc, but the Franc came out the strongest. We finished with a 2010 Vidal Riesling with 3%r rs and aged in steel. My favorites were the Seyval and surprising the Riesling! I was really looking forward to the Chardonnay, but it wasn't what I had hoped it would be.

After tasting we were deciding between going to another vineyard or to stay for a glass, but the tasting room was so quiet and our server kept hovering it made it an awkward hushed conversation. We decided to skip the glass and try another vineyard since the atmosphere was so stifling. Since Jill had been there a few other times, I asked what she thought of Linden and she said every time she'd been there it was a little tense and hard to relax at.

So after giving it a solid try I'm still left wondering what people love about Linden. Perhaps it is geared to an older demographic? Sure, the views are great, the staff was polite, but the atmosphere not inviting and in my opinion the wines were not any better than many of the neighboring vineyards.  It wasn't terrible by any means, but with so many other more warm and inviting options in the area I'd be reluctant to visit Linden again.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pre-Harvest Celebration at Delaplane Cellars

Kurt & Carol of Wine About Virginia graciously invited me along to Delaplane Cellar's pre-harvest celebration for club members in late August. Since it was my first visit there and we were a tad early we started with the standard tasting upstairs. It was a foggy day in the mountains, but we still had great views from the wall of windows in the tasting room. For $7 you can taste 5 quality wines.

First up was the 2011 Maggie's Viognier which is a great, crisp wine named for Maggie's Vineyard in Loudoun County where the grapes are grown. The 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay was a smooth white aged in neutral French oak. The 2011 Cabernet Franc is a lighter version than what I'm used to, but it was still an enjoyable peppery red, perhaps because just before bottling it was blended with 8% Cab Sav and 4% Petit Verdot. Next up was the smooth yet full bodied 2009 Melange Rouge a Bordeaux style blend with 56% Cab Sav, 30% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 6% Cab Franc. We finished with the 2010 Williams Gap Reserve, another Bordeaux style blend of 31% Cab Sav, 30% Merlot, 27% Cab Franc and 12% Petit Verdot; this blend was a deeper wine with a berry nose and 15.1% alcohol after resting in a mix of oak barrels for 20 months. I enjoyed all of the wines with the exception of the Chardonnay, which is not uncommon for me, a Chardonnay has to really knock my socks off for me to love it.

After our tasting we meandered downstairs for the club tasting. The tasting included the 2011 Maggie's Viognier, 2010 Springlot, 2009 Melange Rouge and 2010 William's Gap Reserve. The 2010 Springlot being the only different one than what was in the tasting room was a Merlot dominate blend (47%), along side 33% Cab Sav and 20% Cab Franc which we did enjoy. There was lots of mingling and a plethora of cheeses, dips and small bites for all the club members to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Charlottesville Never Disappoints

Ripening bananas! 
 After an enjoyable start to the day at Brightwood, we made our way over to Glass House Winery. It is aptly named for the onsite greenhouse that has over 15 types of bananas-which are edible-and many other tropical fruits and plants. In addition to wines, Glass House makes chocolates and displays a variety of art for sale by local artists. The staff was friendly and we tried 3 whites, 2 reds and 1 dessert wine with their signature chocolate. The whites included a 2011 Viognier, 2011 Pinot Gris and the 2011 Vino Signora (Traminette), while I love a solid Viognier, this one wasn't bad, but it wasn't my favorite. On the red side we had the 2010 21st a blend of 50% Cab Franc, 30% Merlot and 20% Cab Sav followed by the 2011 C-Villian, a Chambourcin with 20% Merlot. I loved both of these deep, rich reds aged in oak! The dessert wine was the 2011 Meglio del Sesso which quite literally translates into "better than sex," I'll let you be the judge of that! The wine was made from a blend of Norton & Cab Franc and aged with 82% ground chocolate, this wine is definitely not for the weak! It was a quick stop, but worth a visit, as you can sip in the greenhouse or out on the porch.

Next up was Jefferson Vineyards, I wanted to take Megan here because the wines are consistently good and you get that fantastic Riedel glass with your tasting. For $10 we tried all 11 wines; 4 whites, 1 rose, 4 reds and 4 off-dry wines. The tasting room at Jefferson is always bustling, but we were able to step right up to the bar. Like I said, rarely will you find a bad wine at Jefferson, but you can find a lot to like. Our favorites included the 2010 Pinot Gris which was crisp with a hint of lemon, the 2011 Rose created from a Bordeaux blend was very dry and tad peppery, the 2010 Petit Verdot was the darkest red, but not heavy and had a great smooth tabacco nose and finally the 2009 Meritage a 30%, 30%, 30%, 10% blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, & Cab Sav respectively. In the Meritage the Petit Verdot and Cab Franc are vying for the front seat with their tabacco and pepper coming out strongly. We were able to find a spot on the deck after our tasking and enjoy some snacks while contemplating our next stop.

Following Jefferson was Blenheim Vineyards, last year I brought back a fantastic 2009 Chardonnay from Blenheim and we wanted more. Unfortunately when we arrived we found they were sold out of that gem. They were even out of the 2010 Chardonnay too! So disappointing! Last year I visited on a busy weekend, Dave Matthews (the owner of this vineyard) was playing in Charlottesville so everyone stopped by hoping for a glimpse so tasting tables were set up outside. This year was a much quieter visit and we were able to taste while seated at a table inside. For $5 we tried all 5 wines they were pouring and also got to keep our glasses. First up was the White Table wine a blend of 66% Viognier & 34% Chardonnay, followed by the 2011 Chardonnay combo steel & oak aged, and the last white was the 2011 Viognier. We both loved the White Table wine! It was crisp and refreshing on a hot day and at a reasonable $14 a bottle, we both took some home. The two reds we tried were the Red Table Wine a 46% Cab Franc, 36% Merlot & 18% Cab Sav blend followed by the 2011 Seven Oaks Merlot. The Red Table also turned out to be our favorite, I suppose it could be considered a Mertiage and I do enjoy a quality Meritage. We stepped out to the deck to take in the expansive views while enjoying the afternoon.

Back porch views
We thought Blenheim was our last stop, but curiosity got the better of us. We had to ask the staff what they thought of Trump Winery, which is less than 1 mile from Blenheim and you have to pass it while coming or going. I had heard all the terrible reviews about the high prices and the tastings being served in ridiculous little cones, but the Blenheim staff said it had changed. Sure thing, for $6 you get to keep your glass with either the sparkling flight or the still flight ($10 for all 9), and if you pick the still wines they will give you a taste of a sparkling wine. Half of the wines we tried were from the Kluge era while the other half were of the Trump era. We started with the Trump wines beginning with the crisp 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, then the nice and light 2011 Viognier and the 2011 Rose, a blend of Cab Sav, Merlot & Cab Franc that had a fruit forward nose. On the Kluge side we tasted the 2007 Albemarle Simply Red, a Bordeaux blend which was as smooth as velvet so for $16 you bet I took some home! We then tried the 2009 Estate New World Red which was much drier as it was aged 22 mo in oak as opposed to the 14 for the Simply Red. We finished with the 2008 Estate Blanc de Blanc from 100% Chardonnay made in the traditional French method and it was another favorite. Their patio for relaxing is on the backside of the tasting room along with a croquet set available for anyone to pick up a game. The staff was friendly and I was pleasantly surprised by our visit.

Like usual we had a great visit to the Charlottesville wineries as they all have quality wines, friendly staff members and arguably the best views! I still have a long list of vineyards to visit in the area, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to get to them all.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Breezy Summer Day: Brightwood Vineyard & Farm

In August Megan was in town and it had been too long since I had last visited the Charlottesville vineyards, so we made that our destination. We decided to start the day at Brightwood Vineyard & Farm, a micro winery that  is only open a couple of weekends a year which also promised sightings of baby animals. We were excited for wine, but a bit more so for the baby animals! Upon our arrival we were greeted by one of the 3 farm dogs and a couple of seasonal interns. The interns showed us around the farm where we did get to mingle with donkeys, see some lambs from afar and see lots of chicks and ducks around.

Enjoying the day
After checking out the animals we met Dean, the owner and winemaker at Brightwood. Dean and his wife are very focused on the farming aspect of their business selling in the Charlottesville and Madison farmers markets weekly, while the wine making is Dean's passion on the side. The tasting area, a barrel for the wines and a table for us to sit at was set up in the shade of the trees with a great view of the countryside. Dean produces all of his wines from fruit, none being grapes! He is very passionate about his Elderberry plants and makes both Elderberry and Elderflower wines. We tried his dry and sweet versions of the Elderberry and 3 versions of the Elderflower. The Elderflower has been done in a sweet, dry and reserve. Its is also quite a contrast to the berry version. My favorite was actually the Elderberry sweet wine. It was so interesting the difference in flavor the berry and flower had.  In addition to the wines, Dean makes a British inspired non-alcoholic Elderflower Cordial. The cordial is a concentrate that you mix with a little bit of soda water and it is so refreshing. Megan walked away with a few bottles of that.

Making farm friends
We weren't done with the Elderberry wines, we then moved to a couple other fruits. There was a nice light pear wine and a more distinctive peach wine, which we were informed engaged in a "violent fermentation," which helped it pack its punch. As we sipped and chatted with Dean we also tried his wife's Elderberry pie, as well as their Elderberry and Elderflower jams. We had a great time learning about the farm and enjoying the ambiance of the farm. If you can't make it to one of Brightwood's open weekends I'd definitely recommend finding them at the Charlottesville farmers market and picking up some of their delicious creations! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Casanel Vineyards

Back porch views
After The Barns we made our way over to Casanel Vineyards on Fred of This is Wine's recommendation and barely missed a summer down pour. Casanel was a cozier stop, partially because it was raining, partially because it was a smaller space with its pre-1820 walls and partially because we were in the company of the proprietors, the DeSouza family. We chatted with the family a bit about the changes they are making and how more vineyards in the area may seem like more competition, but in reality it brings out more guests seeking a wine stop.

We tried 7 wines: 2009 Viognier "Mas Que Nada," 2009 Chardonnay "Mas Que Nada," and the 2010 Don Lorenzo's White a Pinot Gris and Chardonnay blend with 1% rs and 14% alcohol as well as the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier. Surprisingly I enjoyed the Chardonnay over the Viognier here, but on the sweet side I'd pick the Late Harvest over the Don. The 2011 Norton Rose was very good and I'm not really a fan of the Norton. On the reds there was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2008 Merlot. Also a surprise, I enjoyed the Merlot more than the Cab Sav. The Merlot did have 8% Petit Verdot, perhaps that made the difference.

After tasting we all picked up bottles and glasses and went down stairs to enjoy snacks and pizza. Casanel has an out door pizza oven and its too bad it rained because they have a new patio and often times live music outside too. This was obviously a family team operations with both of the DeSouza daughters behind the bar working hard in this Civil War era property. If looking for a quiet and quaint spot off the highway, this could be it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Virginia Wine Crew Hits Hamilton Station

It seems as though at least 10 new wineries have opened up in Northern Virginia this year. Kurt & Carol of Wine About Virginia (or maybe it was mostly Kurt) coordinated a visit to The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards on their opening weekend for a sizable group.  There was a solid showing of Virginia Wine bloggers & enthusiasts including Anthony of Virginia Pour House, Dr. Schiller of Schiller Wine, Paul & Warren of Virginia Wine Time, Kristi of Cellar Blog, Fred of This is Wine, "Loco Wino" of Wines in a Can, Stacy of Virginia Wine Know and a few friends some have been calling the "Virginia Wine Mafia." We had a great time mingling, tasting and touring the 102 year old barn and property.

Formerly a dairy farm, the milking barn is now home to the tasting room in which you can see the original stone foundation while tasting in the basement. Most of the materials used, like the license plates covering floor board holes and medicine bottle vases, were repurposed materials found in the barns. From an environmental standpoint they did a great job maintaining the original property and making use of as much of the materials found on site that they could. (Including the tables from salvaged wood.)

We tried 7 wines for $5 and all were 2011 vintages. While we were there they were pouring a Chardonnay, Viognier, Rose, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a Meritage. With such a large group there was something for everyone. My favorites were the Viognier which is currently sourced from Charlottesville as they are still developing some of the land; the Rose from Cab Franc which was 8 months young had a strawberry nose but a peppery bite; and the Cabernet France which has 10% Chambourcin blended in to soften it a bit. 

We wandered around the entire property and enjoyed the wines as well as the views. The guys were also happy to hear that a cigar room was being installed in the former milk storage shed, it will double as the grooms quarters for onsite weddings. I think we all had a very good visit and near Leesburg it's not far from several other wineries which led of few of us to continue our journey over at Casanel Vineyards

Monday, September 3, 2012

Crossing County Lines

I cannot believe it's September! Way back in July, Kurt & Carol of Wine About Virginia, Anthony of Virginia Pour House, and I headed out for a day of tastings in Rapppanhannock County but found ourselves wandering to Fauquier and even up into Loudoun County. For the most part the day was a great success.

Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge Mts
We started with the most western stop of the day, Chester Gap Cellars in Front Royal. Its a drive out there, but it was so worth it. The tasting room is modest, decorated with local wild flowers and protected by a large black dog, Demon, but let that deter you, he's fenced in. We tasted 2 Viogniers, both from 2010 one steel aged and the other French oak aged. Viognier is my favorite white and one that convinced me to give other whites a second chance. These two Viogniers are a great example of how the barrels affect the outcome of the wine. The first, aged in steel, was crisp and light while the second, aged in oak, was creamier more full bodied with a hint of oak and peach. They were both great and that was just the beginning of our tasting. We also sampled a 2009 Merlot, 2009 Vintner's Red (53% Cab Franc, 27% Merlot & 20% Petit Verdot), 2010 Petit Manseng (5.5% rs), 2009 Petit Verdot, and a 2010 Roussane. While I enjoyed all of the wines my other favorite here was the 2010 Petit Mansang and while I'm not much of a sweet wine connoisseur, this was soft and not syrupy with a nice pineapple aroma. 

Sitting & Sipping
Next up was Rappahannock Cellars, this was one of my first visits back in 2007, five years later I can say the wine has definitely matured. We were seated for our tasting that began with the 2011 Rose, a blend of Cab Franc, Merlot & Cab Sav, it was light and a bit fruity, a summer wine for sure. We moved to the 2011 Noblesse Blanc a white blend that with only 1% was still a bit sweet for me. After there was no denying that the 2010 Chardonnay was aged in oak barrels, it was rich and buttery almost like buttered popcorn. Moving to the reds we tried the 2011 Noblese Rouge, a dry but smooth red blend, and the dry 2010 Merlot. Finally we finished with the 2008 Vidal Blanc, a sweet wine that I enjoyed more than the Noblesse Blanc. My overall favorites were the two reds and the four of us opted for a bottle of the Rose to enjoy over lunch. 

To Hume Tastings
Kurt & Carol wanted to make it to one more before they had to leave Anthony and me for a prior engagement so we headed to Hume Vineyards.  Younger than than Chester Gap and Rappannock its only two years old in a cute old barn, however I think the wines will improve with age as they were mostly 2011 vintages that we tried. We tried the 2011 Seyval Blanc, 2011 Viognier, 2011 Rose, 2011 Chamborcin, 2009 Detour (Bordeaux-style blend) and the 2011 Vendage Tardive. I think the overall favorite of the group was the 2011 Vendage Tardive, a late harvest Vidal Blanc with 5% rs. This was a quick stop and after Kurt & Carol left, Anthony and I were stumped on where to go next. After check the map and not wanting to double back to any recent vineyard visits we decided on heading north to Chrysalis Vineyards

Glen working hard! 
I have to say Chrysalis was one of the most entertaining vineyards visits! Our server Glen was a riot! It seemed to be a busy day out there and he was pouring 12 wines (for $10) outside for about 15 people in the July heat and he'd only just arrived to Virginia from France about 3 weeks before.  He kept his cool and had the group laughing the entire time, with phrases like "no strawberries were sacrificed for the production of this wine," in reference to the 2011 Mariposa that really tastes like strawberry wine! While still managing to make it around the bar to serve everyone in a timely manner. Since we tried 12 wines there was everything on the list from Albarino to Norton, with a few blends in between. The whites were a bit younger than than the reds ranging from 2011-2007.  My favorite wines at this stop were the 2010 Sarah's Patio White, a Vidal Blanc & Traminette blend, the 2009 Rubiana which had black pepper notes in this drier red and the 2009 Norton Locksley Reserve, a bold red with a great velvety nose of oak. 

Boxwood tasting room
The last stop of the day was at Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg at the vineyards and home of the glass enclosed "wine cave." We sat outside at a shaded picnic table, but it was still a pretty hot day. Here we sampled 5 wines, all blends: 2011 Rose (46% Merlot, 35% Cab Franc & 19% Malbec), 2010 Boxwood Estate Trellis (68% Merlot, 18% Malbec & 14% Petit Verdot) the Merlot really shines through on this one, 2010 Topiary (61% Cab Franc & 39% Merlot), 2010 Boxwood (50% Cab Sav, 43% Merlot, 7% Peitit Verdot) and the 2009 Topiary (64% Cab Franc, 35% Merlot, 1% Malbec). They were all decent, but my favorite was the 2009 Topiary, the 2010 was slightly more fruit forward than the 2009. Overall we had a long, but adventurous day winding through wine country. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday at all! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Other North Fork Highlights

The tasting bar at Sparkling Pointe

While Sparkling Pointe wasn't #1 it was definitely a good stop. The bubbly was delightful, and the tasting room was clean and crisp with bright Brazilian inspired paintings. The tasting was $17 for four sparkling wines and bottles were $37-$42, however if you were to purchase 2 bottles the tasting was complimentary.  Good, but still a bit pricey when we had lots to see on the island. They also host Carnival each spring and sell perfume made with two of their wines the Topaz and Seduction, the first is a light fresh scent and the later is a warmer fragrance.  Surprisingly the clientele while we visited were all much older then the tasters we saw else where, and I'm not talking baby boomers, I'm thinking more like their parents that came on a bus. Not that they shouldn't enjoy their wine too, but it made for a very mellow stop. Perhaps visiting on one of their "Bossa Nova Fridays" would be a more ideal time for younger generations to visit.

Pindar Vineyards has some enjoyable sweet wines that are good for sipping on their porch, this stop was just so overwhelming. There are two long tasting bars with servers quickly running back and forth between customers, our service was fine, we just really didn't have an opportunity to engage our server in conversation about the vineyard. They clearly do industrial sized production and sell about every wine accessory available. My favorite part about this vineyard was finding the wine crackers that I so love!

Croteaux, where the theme is "Rose on Purpose," had great French themed ambiance and an enjoyable out door space, unfortunately the wines we tried just didn't thrill us. I believe we tried 3 wines for $10 and the second flight included all 6 wines for $15.

Tasting garden at Croteaux
Lastly, we tried a 2011 Cianco di Pinot Noir at Castillo di Borghese that was bright yet dry and seriously worth a taste, however the bottle will run you about $45.