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.