Friday, July 29, 2011

Second Annual New Hampshire Wine Festival

( Vines at Flag Hill in June 2010 )

On August 6th the New Hampshire Winery Association, its members and hundreds of state residents and tourists will meet up at the Rochester Fairgrounds in Rochester, NH for the Second Annual New Hampshire Wine Festival. Information about the event can be found at the New Hampshire Winery Association web site and at Zorvino Vineyards, where you can also buy tickets.

Margot and I covered the first edition of the festival last year, check out the pics and notes in NH Live Free and Wine Festival 2010.

We picked some favorites after tasting wines both old and new. Since first getting to know the NH wines about 10 years ago we have seen a lot of changes. The growth in the number of wineries (now 23+) and how many wines they produce has been considerable for our small state. The quality has bounced around quite a bit with all producers having their high and low spots. We have had some issues with sediment in white wines, re-fermentation, utter lack of concentration and fake tasting fruit flavors, all of which has resulted in some dumped bottles.

I remember a presentation at one of the winery association (we were members for a time) dinners where some history of wine in the state was discussed. I haven’t seen this in print anywhere so I can’t be sure I have the info straight. What I recall was that NH has a grape growing history going back into the first half of the 20th century and winemaking roots starting in the 1970’s. The original generation of businesses crashed, being renewed with Peter Oldak & Jewell Town Vineyards in the 1980’s. My new friend Lorie of Wining Ways just wrote a piece for Palate Press about New Hampshire, Granite Wine, picking up the story from where I just left off. We’ve grown a lot since then!

This year with 17 wineries in attendance, over 100 wines, a larger space and additional tasting tickets available I will surely be ratcheting up my tasting game.

( The line last year! )

I like the wines from New England as a reflection of how I grew up. I lived in no-longer-even-remotely-rural Enfield, CT with lots of farms, local produce and DIY family members. I learned to cook, clean, appreciate the great outdoors and have fun. It doesn’t matter what season you are in, the wines made from local fruits, climate hardy grapes and other, even offbeat, items can cover all the occasions; but probably only if you grew up like me. So the festival is a great opportunity for me to catch up on another year’s offerings, some of which I haven’t conveniently found yet.

So what I am looking forward to?
  • Marecha Foch, Noiret, Diamond and LaCrescent from Candia Vineyards. These are my favorite regional grapes.
  • Ciders from Farnum Hill. The Kingston Black would be nice.
  • Foch, Vignoles and Cayuga from Flag Hill. They are easy drinking AND local.
  • Anything from Jewell Towne, and certainly anything new. They are consistent and very well made.
  • The meads from Moonlight. This stuff comes in all styles and is always a treat to try!
  • Gewurztraminer, Seyval and whole pantload of new stuff from LaBelle!
  • Blueberry and anything new from Sweet Baby Vineyards.
  • The upstate cold weather hardy wines of Stone Gate Vineyards.
  • What’s new from Fulchino. I don’t know them well so we’ll see with some tasting.
  • New wineries like Appolo, Hermit Woods and Sap House potentially participating.
See you at the festival!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Life’s Too Short Not To Be Badass!

“Life’s too short to drink bad wine” is bantered about by many wine lovers who quest to only drink the very best wines. Well, to do that you have to drink a lot of wine, and the math major in me thinks that means you will run into lots of lesser wines that just don’t please ya. But are all of the latter wines bad?

Show me a definition of bad that is universally recognized and I’ll yield. Until then I have to go with making the distinction between flawed (and therefore bad in an objective sense) and not for me (not flawed, but not my style) when I think about wine. Furthermore not everyone is as adept as others at picking up flaws, so that means how people regard a wine is going to vary and a sense of “rightness” becomes elitist. I’ll say this much, if you are lucky enough to drink only “great wine” good for you. Secondly bring your ass and your great wine over to my house more often!

Post -#WBC11 there has been a fair amount of buzz about conference logistics, participant antics and the quality (for some people an apparent lack of) of the Virginia wines available for tasting. Hardy Wallace threw the gauntlet down today with his inspired post, Catfish? Wine Bloggers Conference. His post essentially suggests that because there wasn’t enough critically negative comments about the wines that the lot of conference attendees could be accused of being bottom feeding catfish just looking for free booze. Okay, he has a right to his opinion. And he's asking a question. That's fair game. Since I am comfortable with the diverse goals and voices of the attendees, had critical comments to share, and had some shared with me, I fundamentally disagree however. Even with the meta-message, that we can’t be fair if we aren’t being critical in both directions, being held up I still say it doesn’t fit here. But that isn’t point. We may never agree.
But that isn't the only answer. Sometimes in life (and what I am about to say next is a crude male convention, but the metaphor does apply to the critics job) you have to whip out your balls and put them on the table and see how you measure up. I’ve only got the one, but don’t pity me because I have more mojo in the one than most guys will ever have; so I am not afraid. I do want to thank Hardy, the inspiration is welcome and it now makes the most sense for me to act instead of talk here.Part of making great things happen is how great you are doing it. 

I’ll make my point most poignantly by taking a look at my homemade wines I shared at the conference. I brought a 2010 Strawberry, 2009 Hard Cider and a 2010 Dandelion to share with whomever was up for a taste. In the end I didn’t have to worry because the bottles didn’t stay full for long. But that is the rainbow or the unicorn in the story.

These were not my best wines, well maybe the strawberry is one of my best, but I brought them because they reflected my home state and a great DIY ethic, something I am a big proponent of. All three are award winning (and golds too for all you haters!) so I had some confidence to back me up.

The strawberry is off-dry and presents a nose and mouthful of strawberries. It is what is says it is. And everyone agreed on that. I think the acid sugar balance was off in 2010 from 2009. I have already factored that into my 2011 batch that was already resting when I was in VA. Of the tasters I shared it with only a few folks didn’t want to take a second sip, whereas most people gave it a fair taste , only dumping so they could move on with agility. The overwhelming feedback was that it was a well made wine with big aromas and flavors. A good warm weather drinker. Totally fair, it is fruit wine after all. I wasn’t hoping to topple any great wine empires with it.

I popped open the cider during Saturday dinner. The wines on the table (which were slow to come) weren’t doing it for any of us and I thought the change of pace would be nice. My cider is still (no bubbles) and with a few ticks of residual sugar comes across and only slightly sweet. Again, comments about the big aromas. I announced it on Twitter and had people coming running. I used a blend of sweet and tart apples and a variety of yeasts in 2009. This one was made from a sweet mead yeast which left the residual sugar around naturally. I make a dry style that is much more like English ciders, but I find most of my friends don’t like it so I don’t make as much of it. Cider is a fascination to many (sadly) and I think many of the tasters were primarily hoping to try something different and from another place. I’m happy to oblige! I got lots of positive comments and nothing outright negative. And I asked. I handed the partially empty bottle to another table on the way out. I heard it was empty before I was out the front door!

Now for my thoughts the dandelion. This wine was an experiment and a shout out to my great great uncles & grandfathers who made this shit in their basements just because they could. It is a funky wine with aromas of herbs, grass and flowers. The citrus and sugar needed to make the post-fermentation gasoline drinkable resulted in a nice and pleasant, although offbeat, wine a great refresher when well chilled. This wine is the one many more people opted not to take the second sip of and you know what, good for them! It isn’t for everyone, but the shear fact I was able to give them their first taste of dandelion wine and they didn’t spit it out in my face was pretty cool. I wasn’t looking for worship here, and the honest feedback I did get will help me in my future wine-making.

What did I think about the Virginia wine? I found much of it to be undistinguished, with many of the reds coming off like wines from lesser Bordeaux or bulk wines from the Rhone. Some aromas, some flavors with manageable acidity and tannins, but in general not setting off any fireworks for me. For the whites the intense focus on Viognier was an interesting ride, one I wrote a little about while I was still there. After stepping off the Viognier train I was left with a sense that grape and what it can do is still be very much explored in Virginia.

In that Virginia Viognier post I left off with a question as to which of the styles, oaked or un-oaked, was the likely style for which people should expect from the state as its official grape and wine. I prefer the latter style because I like the fresh fruit and pungent floral aromas not to be dried and toasted. So I wondered why the oaked style was so prevalent in the state. The answer is that producers have been making this choice differently from one year to the next based on vineyard conditions and/or a desire to try different things to learn and grow. Some make it, but aren’t set on it, while others believe it to be the expression they want to put forth. Alright, so now to name names.

Of all the Viogniers I tasted these are the ones I was most excited about:

Delaplane Cellars 2010 Maggie’s Vineyard – This was my favorite of the pre-conference virtual tasting. The dried fruit flavors, touch of sugar and the long finish really worked for me.

Jefferson Vineyards 2010 – this was one of the last Viognier’s I tasted on Friday. I realize it is only 75% Viognier, but it is fresh, aromatic with a good deal of fruit on the palate. It was very clean finishing. I’ll be shipping some of this soon.

And more whites I would definitely recommend

Barboursville Vermentino – this was a stand-out refresher at Mount Vernon. Big nose with a crisp, dry finish.

Gabriele Rausse Chardonnay – this is a great drinking wine and one that did some of its best work in the heat!

Ciders from

I wasn’t surprised the cider was refreshing, it’s how I drink the homemade stuff at home! Hats off to both places for using some great apples to make a sparkling product that can be enjoyed by so many people!

Cooper 2010 - had the best balance of oak to stainless.

And a few whites that I felt were under-performers and need to have their game upped in future years

Breaux Vineyards Viognier 2010 – This was served at dinner. Served a little warm and the oak was way too big.

Ducard Signature Viognier – I found heat from the nose through the finish. The lack of balance that created didn’t help me give the nose much time.

Veritas Viognier – Also a dinner paired wine. Light aromas, acid out of balance.

I’ve been pulling together my ideas about the red wines from Virginia. My premise after tasting a bunch of them is that a focus on the blends will be their key to success. Why do I say this? Because most of the Bordeaux varietals on their own were boring and lacking in distinction. I found many of them to be one dimensional and where some of them had good character, I think they should be matched with worthy peers to great more dimension in a blend. There are examples of that, and I think more would be a good thing. The least interesting wines, those with very subtle aromas and flavors, might not good candidates for rescue, what can I say?

Which ones grabbed me or gave me ideas?

Barboursville Octagon – I had this at least 3 times and in vintages 2002 and 2006 (that I found from my notes, but thinking one more). The nose on the 2006 was what got me. The richness of the 2002 in comparison was one of my motivations to think blends was a key story. It is Merlot driven but still not fooling around.

Tarara TerraNoVA – I had this from a magnum twice, and didn’t get the year either time. I like a rich red wine and the Tannat in this is going to create port like characteristics. Bring it on! I enjoyed it both times. I’m buying some!

Barren Ridge 2008 Meritage – This Merlot driven blend from 2008 was tasty, but light in the nose. It needs some time.

Jefferson 2008 Meritage – I thought the Jefferson from 2008 was nuanced with spice and some good sized tannins, though it still tasted young.

Tarrara CasaNoVA 2008 – This is the wine that I speed tasted my first thought about the trend of the blends being the best in show for me. Lovely ideas!

Which reds were worthy on their own?

Ducard Cab Franc Reserve 2009 – I think this wine had a good balance of mint, cherry and a solid structure; but it could use some time.

Blenheim Cabernet 2009 – I found a little density in this young wine and can’t wait to try some as it ages.

Which ones would I blend with?

Afton Mountain Cabernet – I didn’t find a lot of depth here, but a varietal correctness is not a question. Could help with mellowing something bigger.

Sweely Merlot 2007 – this was solid but not potent. A great blender for a Meritage.

Which ones might not have a lot of life left?

Sweely Cabernet Franc 2007 – it was very mellow with any concentration. Might be too light to help blend anything that wasn’t huge to start.

Michael Shaps 2007 Meritage – I almost didn’t take of sip of this wine after a few comments at the table. It was very unbalanced and aggressive.

Ingleside Vineyards 2006 Petit Verdot – This varietal wine came across as very light from start to finish. With the steak at dinner it didn’t really do anything either.

So what are the above named producers supposed to think about how their wines fared in my criticism? I hope they understand the respect I have for them in their pursuits, because making wine isn’t easy, and making good wine is even harder than that. Trust me, I’ve been at it for 8 years and made some sucky wine. But, I am most hopeful that they will see that I am sharing what I perceived and what my experience tells me about where the wines could go. If they are open to feedback and willing to keep striving to make better wine each year, who knows how much the feedback could help?

I’ve read post-conference reviews of many wines I didn’t try while I was there so if something great exists that is made similarly to something I am not hot on, I may well not know it. I aim to be educated so leave a comment telling me what I should know. Who knows I might even order some just to check it out. I’ll put my money where my mouth is.

So for all you catfish out there a roll call is been ordered. I showed you mine, you gonna whip out yours?



Kicking Off Summer of Riesling

I heard about the Summer of Riesling (#summerofriesling) after last’s year’s edition. The buzz about it being bigger from the prior year and with more wines from different regions peaked my interest.

This year I knew that I could write a number of posts about Riesling that included our friends, reviews, food pairings, stories and promotional events. Earlier in the summer I was busy with the Relay For Life (raised $10K again!) and the pre-conference networking for #WBC11. I had been accumulating bottles slowly the whole time and still have a few, primarily New England producers, to purchase. I have no idea what I am going to do when I feature Riesling for the rest of the summer, I am just going to get inspired to create something interesting each time.

To get things rolling I offer a dinner pairing of a Grilled Salmon (recipe below) and the Salmon Run Finger Lakes, NY 2010 Riesling. There are two things about this wine that prompted me to include it, first it is dry and I wanted to start with a wine that demonstrates the falsity of the sweet Riesling myth. Secondly, I had this wine with a particularly good meal at the Granite Restaurant in Concord, NH a few years back. The dinner was an anniversary celebration for my wife and I, and one not long after my cancer treatment, so one we enjoyed with a newfound appreciation of what we had for sure. I wouldn’t have considered the wine as closely then and I was curious what I would think now.

Salmon Run 2010 Riesling

Aromas of pear and melon. Flavors of pear and green apple. The acidity is intense and the resulting steely sensation is a great attribute. The finish is pretty long with citrus pulling up the caboose. The wine is currently on sale at the NH Liquor store for $11.99.

The pairing of the salmon and the dry Riesling was a really great call. I’ve used sweeter Rieslings for spicier grilled salmon, but here the dry wine saw its fruit extended by the fish, with the creamy texture of the fish melding with the acid in the wine perfectly. I’d serve this again for sure!

The rest of my list is as eclectic as it is a workable survey of widely available and affordable wines. The regional wines are more common at their local level, but some do sell beyond.
  • Kendal-Jackson Vintners Reserve 2009
  • Loosen Brothers Dr. L Qba 2007
  • Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine
  • Ferrante Winery 2010
  • Relax 2006
  • LaBelle Winery 2009
  • Koening Winery 2008
  • Trimbach 2007
  • Pacific Rim 2007 Vin de Glaciere
  • Allenhofen 2007
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry 2009

I still have to buy these
  • Australia – looking for something dry
  • Vermont – already looking for suggestions
  • Massachusetts - Westport Rivers
  • Connecticut – Sharpe Hill
  • Rhode Island – Newport Winery
  • Maine – I am going to be in Maine in a few weeks and will pick one up
So with that lineup I have all of the New England states covered, with the states of California, Idaho, Ohio and Washington represented as well. For countries we have Australia, Canada (QC), France (1), Germany (3) and of course the United States. That is a pretty adventuresome list with vintages form 2006 to 2010, and from dry to sweet and dessert styles.

So a couple times a week now Riesling is going to make an appearance. Are you enjoying any of the Summer of Riesling on your own? There are bars and restaurants all over with event-specific menus and wines lists with more Rieslings to pick from than usual. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed!



Grilled Salmon Recipe

1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup (minus 1 tsp) brown sugar
Dash of Chili powder
1 large salmon steak
Meyer lemon sugar

Mix the first 5 ingredients. Salt & pepper the fish. Marinate the fish for 2 hours. Grill or broil until cooked.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What In The World Was #WBC11?

The 2011 installment of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC11) was held in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend. There are so many ways to describe the experience, some I can relate to, and some I can’t. Whatever any particular person did experience the following things were at least the general expectations from the event in the lead up to it:
  • A chance to sample local Virginia wines and meet the winemakers and winery owners. This was to happen both at the conference center, at Monticello and at the wineries themselves.
  • Socialization with other wine bloggers, product reps, wine & technology advocates, media personalities and all manner of other wine-obsessed people.
  • A schedule of sessions on a range of topics of interest to wine bloggers and the broader community they participate in.
  • Keynote addresses from Jancis Robinson & Eric Asimov
  • The announcement of the 2011 Wine Blog Awards
So how do I think it measured up? Pretty well I’d say. I’ve been to conferences on non-wine topics before and across the boards they all bear similarities making general comparisons and conclusions fair.

I did get to sample Virginia wines. I likely could have sampled more, but other conference attendees might suggest that I did my share and anything more might have been a risk! I did also sample wines poured by sponsors, non-Virginia participants in the speed tastings and the kind folks from Ohio, Missouri, Texas, Indiana and Maryland who brought examples of their states’ wines to share.

The Virginia wines were new to me so I can’t comment on progress made in the region over time. Having now sampled a nice cross section of them and been able tohear from some of the winemakers I certainly can saw a few things of note.

The picture to the right is of the first tasting group at our Ducard Vineyards visit. The tasting room is decorated in reclaimed wood and evokes images of the tasting rooms I am used to in NH & VT. 

I heard it several times, Virginia does not have an ideal climate for grape growing but it offers a slice of opportunity and has some more optimal regions. As a result the grape growers and winemakers are working hard to manage where they find themselves. I hope hard work continues to pay off, and I look forward to going back in time and observing how the region has grown.

For whites I tasted Viognier, Chardonnay, Vermentino, Vidal and several white blends. For reds there were plenty of Carbernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Meritage or other style red blends.

In only a few cases did I find anything I would classify as a flaw so my overall impression was that there are lots of wineries producing well made wines in Virginia. I’ve already written an article on my observations of the two emerging styles of Virginia Viognier and I also have plans for a post specifically considering the reds and I why I think the blends are the key to future success in the state.

The the left is Scott Elliff from Ducard Vineyards talking about the challenges of grape growing in Virginia and his approach to vine management.

I had plenty of opportunity to interact with others while on the ground in VA, but there is no way it was ever going to be enough for someone who could potentially meet each and every participant as a new connection. I did as much as I could do, and the connections I did make are the highlight of my attendance and something I will be able to use to share and learn.

( Frantz Ventre, winemaker at Sweely, talking about their aging process. )

The session schedule for the conference was interesting and lighter in focused and impactful content than I am used to from the annual WineMaker Magazine conference. That said, there was enough to make something valuable of it. I will be making suggestions for next year and potentially show interest in moderating and/or presenting.

The best session for me was the one kicking around the Drink Local topic. The panel and the audience had a vibrant conversation about what it means to drink local, why it doesn’t happen as much as it could and what could be done about improving this. You can read my post session notes in Drink Local Wine. This is a conversation that needs to continue and spark action in regions all over the country. I for one am already working connections with New England bloggers I met to see if we can’t start thinking and acting more like the folks we met from Virginia!

A notable session was the Aromas of Wine with Winebow breakout. The reason it was notable for me is that is represents a concept I have yet to act on with my friends at home. Using your sense of smell to create solid sensory memories of fruits & vegetables whose aromas are typically found in wine.  We were presented with a tray with small cups of different aromatic food items and given the opportunity to profile 6 wines (blind, 3 red & 3 white) and relate them to the aromas from the food items. Sheri Sauter Morano, MW was our guide and she was both informative and engaging. I am hoping to get my hands on her presentation as motivation to recreate this at home for friends. The tray of aromas can be found in the picture below. Pretty neat!

The keynote addresses were not a huge highlight for me. I was and am more interested in being inspired by what other people like me were doing in their own wine-focused lives. I am not particularly prone to idolatry and from the amount of tweets and posts using both of the presenters names I take it that a lot of people are, and are also using the name recognition to turn eyeballs their way. I actually has to ask who Eric Asimov was. That will tell you that I obviously focus elsewhere. Both Jancis Robinson & Eric Asimov did offer some useful tips but stayed in a safe and pretty obvious space with their thoughts. Two of the themes were to be original and to do your research, and I found that neither to be harnessed well by either. Eric’s word were a better fit for the audience, but could have been even more focused with some additional research into the group and its interests. Jancis seemed to flit from one topic to another and I couldn’t quite grasp what she was getting at. Take it for what you will.

The Wine Blog Awards ended up being a bust for me (for a lot of folks based on my reading of other posts) and is something that could easily be scrapped or completely re-jiggered for some actual benefit. Nothing about the judging process, criteria or what the merits of the winners were was shared. Useless! My very focused suggestion here is that the awards should be based on actual participation in the conference (you have to come and get involved) and be judged and voted on by attendees while we are there. This would be a huge incentive for folks to network with each other and learn what was really out there for wine blogs so the hidden gems and the folks with personality and interesting thoughts might see some recognition. It could be aggressive to do, but we are some of the most technologically savvy, fast moving people in the world so suck it up and figure it out I say!

The picture to the left is the massive grape press at Sweely Estate Winery. I could do some damage with that!

When I got home I collected my action items from all the inspiration I gathered from the weekend and posted them asking for my new community to hold me to it. I want to be a better wine blogger, you are all part of it and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to make what I learned stick. Check out what wrote in Taking Action with What I Learned From #WBC11.

I’ll bring this to a close on the high note that many of use shared. We partied at night. No, seriously, we did. And many of my best conversations were over the glasses of wine that were being consumed and not dumped. Nothing like a little juice to get the juices flowing! Wine is about people and when the day was done the strongest ties amongst the people that I met were because we had no other place to be and no better wine to drink. We dug in to what was in front of us and let it take us where it would. There is no finer testament to the conference being a success than that!

( Some of the crew I mixed it up with. Hanging with locals who asked us if we were wine bloggers! )



Monday, July 25, 2011

Taking Action with What I Learned From #WBC11

At home I am known as a man of action and someone who works with a swiftness of purpose. Whether it is in my IT job, raising money and awareness in the fight against cancer, my winemaking & home brewing or my blogging, people tell me I work and play equally hard.

It is with this in mind (that as I fly home from #WBC11) I am already thinking about what I learned and how I will apply it to my writing and networking. The lessons are motivating. The time to act is now so I can foster maximum potential. Here’s my plan.
  • I am going to get inspired. How? I am going to read more of the writing being produced by you all and this community I am part of. Why? To find and reflect on more examples of others pursuing and sharing their passions, and to be more informed on what is going on in the community.
  • I am going to keep my focus on the two topic areas I am most passionate about. Those are winemaking & home brewing and food & beverage pairing. Smatterings of straight-up product reviews and wine travel posts will continue to show up as well.
  • I’m going to give my blog a facelift. As my content has evolved the look of my site hasn't. Improving the look of my site will be a positive change for both myself and my readers.
  • I am going to get others involved. From the connections I made this weekend several peers emerged that will make great partners through our shared passions. I am expecting guest posts and both virtual and real life events to be the likely outcomes.
  • I am going to get more local. I always have been an advocate of my local wine and food scene and I am going to increase my commitment to that. At the Saturday night conference dinner I was already networking with another local blogger about how we can emulate the obvious success of the Virginia wine bloggers in our own backyard.
  • I am going to continue to challenge myself to be creative and project my passions in my writing and social interactions.
And to make this all work I expect to be held accountable for these actions by you. I write for myself (screw all of you!) but I highly respect the experience and diverse opinions of the community of readers I have developed. I know that your opinions and questions will drive me to do what I say I am going to do.

Game on!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

#WBC11 Red Wine Speed Tasting

Here’s some more speed tasting notes. Drink it!

Tarrara Casa Nova 2008

Cherry and raspberry aromas. Moderate tannins. Lengthy finish. This (and wines made in the similar BDX or Meritage style are making me think that blending could be the secret to great wines from up and coming US wine regions.

From the Commonwealth Collection which is a selection of the best barrels. Bordeaux style blend. Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv. Jordan started in restaurant business. Originally from Niagara region.

Barboursville Vineyard Octagon 2006

Huge aromas of cherry and red berries with some dark fruits and grape leaves. Very soft tannins. You feel the teeth chatter, but it slips away fast.

 Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc driven with some PV. First made in 1993.

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2007

Deep purple color with intense nose with a black pepper and smoke. Dusty finish evocative of the warm climate wines found in Italy and Spain.

From the country of Georgia. New varietal and from a new country for me!

Boxwood Blend 2009

All Cab in the nose. Green flavors in the mouth with fine and smooth tannins. Long, slightly dry soil influence on the finish.

60% Cab Sauv, 36% Merlot, 4% PV. 100% of Estate fruit. 17 total acres, all red. Boxwood is the name of the farm which has a historical designation.

Abourious 2009

Wicked dark. Killer unique aroma. Jammy and wicked fruit forward like Zin. This shit sells itself. Has aromas and flavors with hints of hybrid grapes.

From the Russian River valley. The grape comes from France, south of Bordeaux. Not much is known about.

Sivas-Sonoma Old Vine Zin 2009

Very fruit forward with lots of red berries. Tannins are there but mostly at the very end.

This is the inaugural vintage and not yet in distribution in many locales.

Decibel Hawkes Bay Malbec 2009

A bit of funk in the nose. Very soft. This wine could take a NZ Pinot for a run with some lamb!

50 case production. Malbec is found mostly in Hawkes Bay within NZ.

Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Cab 2009

Deep color with a slight blue shift. Big in the nose. Tannins come in but stop short of getting wicked.

Robert Larsen is a funny guy.

Chateau Edmus 2007

Wicked funky nose. Need some brie and stinky fresh goat cheese. Tannins dry out at the end. Definitely a good example of Bordeaux.

Veritas Petit Verdot 2009

Deep purple color. Nice moderate aromas. Hints of deceptive residual sugar. Finish is not super long, but clean.

Lorinon Reserve 2006

Abundant fruit in the nose. Lots of cherry, with subtle wood notes in the mouth.

1 of 600 wines from Rioja. Pia is a cool name!

Artesa Pinot Noir 2009

Flowers and red berries in the nose. Raspberry, graphite and vanilla in the mouth. Nice subtle Pinot for Cali.



Getting “Viggy” With It – Thoughts on Virginia Viognier

In the lead up to #WBC11 my excitement grew for many reasons, but the opportunity to taste Viogniers made by many of the Virginia wineries was a highlight. I love Viognier and always seek out and try new ones where I find myself.

Last week I had a sneak peek opportunity to taste 6 different styles of what may soon become Virginia’s official signature grape and wine. I had a mixed experience due to what was most likely issues with the shipping of the wines, and not the wines themselves. Read a bit farther for my thoughts on second tastes of those wines.

After two days of tasting Viognier on the ground and in their home environment I feel like I am starting to see two different styles trying to play together in the sandbox. The first, and the predominant, style is an oak influenced version where some or all of the wine is fermented and/or aged in oak, with a few seeing a fraction of MLF. The second style is a 100% stainless with no MLF and the most pleasing (to me of course) selections have a tad of residual sugar to help with the appreciation of the floral aromas. I found the latter style in many fewer instances and on several occasions was told the non-oaked version was not the typical for the maker and may or may not be a annual product.

I like the latter style more, and based on past experience it seems like the one that would be more recognizable by tasters from outside the region. To me the beautiful floral aromas that can be coaxed out of Vigonier are best finished with force with a tad of sugar in the mouth. I’ve had several made in this way from California and France and have also made it is in the same way several times; netting gold medals with very high scores.

On to the most common style. The oaked versions have not disappointed me and I can’t say I found any flaws in the ones I have tried. I am warming to this style, but will clearly state that you must approach it with different expectations. The potent nose filling floral aromas are not often found, and broadly the aromatics shift to baking spices, wood and dried fruits. As I have taken my tour of Virginia Viogniers I have found a wide range in the oaked vs. un-oaked fractions and I don’t believe I can clearly say that within this class there is a clear best practice. The versions that have some roundness and a little residual sugar do in fact evoke similarities to the un-oaked style, but the flavor profile of the finish will then be a bit more like figs or sweetbread.

I hope to try a few more (of both styles) before I go home which will give me a broad cast of characters to pick from for some direct shipping and future enjoyment.

Another great outcome of my magical Viognier tour has been the chance to try the wines from Barboursville and Blenheim again after my question marks from the pre-conference tasting. Furthermore I was able to do my tastings right in front of the winemakers share my honest feedback.  In both cases the makers knew my name before I shook their hand for the first time and also hoped I would give the wines a second chance. How cool! Both wines presented me with increased aromatics and richer flavors than the first time. Nothing I noted, and I checked my blog post, from that first tasting was found the second time around.

Several times today it was mentioned that Viognier may soon become the official grape and wine of Virginia. I don’t think this can be a bad thing, but with two styles clearly vying for attention from mom & dad, which will it be? Can it be the official wine of the state without making this choice? Maybe, but that could be dangerous.

I’d love to hear from others on what they think of the Viognier binge we have all been able to go on this week.



Charlottesville Farmer's Market

I've come to find that if you want to better understand the character of and take the pulse of a place the farmer's market is a pretty good place to do that. Here is a short photo blog of the sights at the market in Charlottesville, VA.

That's a lot of diversity in one place. I'd say it reflects what I have observed elsewhere while I've been here and that is worth celebrating!



Friday, July 22, 2011

#WBC11 White Wine Speed Tasting

Here are my notes on the white wine speed tasting round as I tasted and without any review. Love it or leave it!

Barren Ridge – Vidal Blanc 2010

Lime & other citrus in the nose. Nice tart sweet balance in the mouth. More citrus and some herbs come through in the mouth. Slight effervescence. There were 450 cases made of this wine.

Small vineyard, 6 acres total. Varieties planted are: Merlot, Petit Verdot, Chamborcin, Viognier, & Vidal Blanc. Pauline & Amandine, the winemakers were pouring.

Rappahannock Cellars – Viognier 2010

Flowers and oak in the nose. Wants to make me think it is sweet, but RS is 0. Baking spices & creamy, buttery texture comes through in the mouth. Clean finish.

Fermented 100% in oak, some new & new neutral. Alcohol at 14.5%. Jason & Alan were pouring and providing details.

Artesa – Carneros Chardonnay 2010

Oak & fruit in the nose. Citrus finish. Roundness in the center with toast and baking spices pushing the fruit out of the way.

Shindig Vidal Blanc/Riesling 2010

Peachy & citrusy. Tartness in the center. Acid on the way out. Flavors are very much intertwined.

Billed as a wine perfect for sushi. Intriguing pairing to try. The grapes come from Finger Lakes, NY. Andrew Stover is the Sommelier for Vin50.

Veritas Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010

Melon & tropical aromas. Citrus, grass, herbs come in middle of the way through.

Neutral barrels are used for sur lie which the winemaker is especially excited about.

Not many VA wineries make SB due to humidity typical to many locales in the state. Vineyard is at 1300 feet with considerable airflow to keep the humidity at bay. Two clones, one from UC Davis and one from Bordeaux. This blend (of the two clones) was made because of an affinity for each other that had not yet been experienced.

Chateau Le Gay Dry Rose

Nose is affected by what was in my glass previously. Second pour. Strawberry flavors with hints of oak. Dry with hints of sweetness early on . Short, but clean finish.

Bordeaux blend rose. Not sure if I have specifically had this before.

Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008

Mellow woody nose. Melon with spices in the mouth. A nuttiness comes through midway through and fall down the finish.

This is a very pleasant wine that is well balanced, but isn’t going to resonate with lots of folks because of the oak.

Decibel New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Some herbs and citrus in the nose. Slightly tropical with citrus in the mouth. Very smooth and clean finish.

Not what I am used. Daniel went to NZ to make wine because he could go there and do something new without lots of restrictions. Grown and made in Hawkes Bay, NZ.

Afton  Mountain Tete du Cuvee 2008

Spicy nose. Green apple, unripe peach in the mouth. Medium finish with hit of tartness before it heads out.

50/50 Pinot & Chard. 100% Estate grown fruit. Traditional method sparkling wine production.


Viviana Superiore Cuvee 2009

Love that nose! Flowers, concentrated citrus. Hotness comes through. Medium-dry. Something chemical that comes in hard.

Texas made. A blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier & Muscat Cannelli.

Chateau Morrissette Dry Rose

Beautiful pink color. Strawberry aromas and flavors. A bit of spice and structure in the mouth. Made from 100% Chambourcin.

Boxwood Rose 2010

Funky nose. Rich, full bodied red grape flavors. Unusual richness.

Cab /Merlot blend from an all red grape vineyard & winery.



Drink Local Wine

The panel for Drink Local Wine covered some pretty wide ground today. With help from the audience many of the issues and considerations about drinking local were brought to the fore.

Here's what I took away:
  • Producers need to visit the local restaurants and bars where they would like to see their wines sold.
  • Restaurant & bar owners should visit and get to know the producers of wines in their region.
  • Consumers and writers need to hammer the message home about wanting to see local wines on wine lists and on the minds of wine directors and sommeliers. 
  • For consumers, price needs to be considered in terms of what it takes for small business to make an sell an artisinal product.
  • For producers, price needs to be considered based on a realistic assessment of the quality of the products that they make.
  • Value (and the excitement of exploring new wines) should be more important to everyone.
  • Everyone needs to keep the maturity of a given region mind when trying to argue that more local wines should be represented in the local restaurants. In many cases it may take more time.
  • We need to keep talking to each other, sharing our discoveries from near and far and be part of the growth of local wines.
A point that jumped out at me as I was listening to some Q&A about local beer getting more attention ended up being a nice way to look at the challenge of local wine. Local beers don't have a lot of competition from the commercial beers when it comes to taste and diversity, but local wines do. Bud, Miller and Coors don't offer much up against local beers, but there are so many wine labels in so many styles with quality from here to there, so it's no surprise that new local wines have to work so much harder to get recognition.

I'd love to see the #DrinkLocal dialogue continue here or anywhere. Drop a comment on your thoughts, stories of your local wines or to disagree with anything said. As long as we keep talking we can't go wrong!



I Came For the Wine, and Started With the Cider

I hit the ground for the #WBC11 yesterday. I came to Virginia for new wine experiences. But it should be fitting that I start with cider. For many of you who read you already know I love hard cider. Virginia has a growing cider industry and I expect to taste the offerings from several of the cider makers before I head home in a few days. To be sure that that I didn't miss out on some of the action I arranged in advance to visit one of the nearby cidermakers, Albemarle CiderWorks, before the conference officially started.

A big think goes out to Mindy & Gred of @SwirlSipSnark for the kind offer of a ride out to Albemarle and entertaining all of my questions about the local wine/cider producers and the Virginia wine industry at large. Thanks are also due Courtney (@CiderApprentice) for keeping track of the tweets and being ready to host us when we arrived.

We tasted four ciders and in the following order:

Jupiter’s Legacy – dry, dry, dry with aromas of dry hay and a clean apple finish. This was made from a blend of 20 apple varieties (of the 250 they have growing on the property!) and a bit of that complexity does come through in the mouth.

Old Virginia Winesap – This cider has some sweet fruit & flower aromas with the flavor of tart apple skin. Made from Winesap apples whose legacy goes back to Colonial times.

Royal Pippin – This cider smells like honey and has a bit more sweetness than the first two. The Pippin apples it is made from are Albemarle Pippins which are recognized as one of the world’s great dessert apples.

Ragged Mountain – This was the sweetest (but that shouldn’t be taken to mean sweet) of the bunch with complex aromas almost like the dried fruit type often associated with sherry. This is the one I enjoyed the most, but in total fairness it think it was the one that refreshed me the most on the killer hot day we had.

Albemarle CiderWorks successfully makes ciders from classic vintage & heirloom apple varieties in a way I have only found in one other place, home in New England. I look forward to second and third tastes at the conference events coming up today and tomorrow!

#WBC11 is the North American Wine Bloggers Conference which is being held in Charlottesville, Virginia this year. For the next several days I get to network and taste wines with 400 other rabid wine lovers. Based on last night’s parties I have no idea how I am going to feel come Sunday, but I’ll try to keep up! A generous scholarship supported by the sponsors below has made my trip to the WBC possible, and I am grateful for the generosity and passion behind those donations that got me here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Neu Direction 2007 Malbec

I spotted this bottle on my wine rack today and couldn’t figure out where it came from. I am actually going to have to ask around to see if any of my friends can claim being the original owner. My life is just like that I guess!

The wine pours with a deeply concentrated purple/red color where the light is struggling to come through. Sometimes that is a good sign!

The aroma of cherry fills the nose followed by dry soil and a little smoke. In the mouth there is more plum than I picked up in the nose, and tons of cherry. The dry soil aroma is swapped out for a bit of unsweetened chocolate and black pepper.

The tannins are pretty soft and compliment the acidity on the finish quite nicely. The wine lingers long enough for a full profile, but doesn’t hang around annoyingly. I would drink this wine routinely if I had it available to me! Now I hope I do find out how I came by it.

The one thing that struck me about the bottle presentation and story is that the wine is fair trade certified, which I think is rare for imported wines. There is also a nod to environmental sustainability, which in agriculture is so important for the future of our society. Well done, my friends!



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

R.C. Ivison Fino Pale Dry Sherry

I’m nothing close to a sherry connoisseur and furthermore can count on less than one hand the number I had had before. I bought the selection I am reviewing here so that I would have a sherry that was worthy of both sipping and cooking, and I am not sure it measures up for both. If you know something about sherry and can educate me therein, it would be much appreciated.

It pours with a light golden color with no gas or sediment. The aromas of f dried fruits and nuts are quite pungent and remind me of aged port or passito style wines I have had before.

The body is light and from beginning to end it is dry, as I expected it to be. The flavor is of the paper like skin of a freshly cracked nut. The finish is moderate in length with some acid to clean up.

I picked this bottle up at the Boston Wine Exchange and I think it was $14.

I’m not sure what I should do with this wine beyond the occasionally cooking because it doesn’t really suit my palette. Any suggestions?



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chateau Mezain Bordeaux 2009

Pours a ruby color with a nice purple shift. Moderate aromas of cherry, red berries and dry earth.  The oak is apparent but restrained, as are the tannins which come across as soft and fine grained.

Flavors of raspberry, cherry and tobacco come through with a long finish and only a slight amount of pucker from acidity. The more I taste it the more I get a hint of gamey character in the middle of the taste.

I can’t say I would purchase this wine on purpose again, but I wouldn’t turn it down if it were served to me!

This is firmly a value Bordeaux, but not a bad one for the price of $12.99 at the local state liquor store.



Saturday, July 16, 2011

My First Homemade Wine From a Cellar Craft Kit

I've been making wine since 2004 and have used kits from several manufacturers, but Cellar Craft had not been one of them, until recently. At the 2011 WineMaker Magazine annual conference I reconnected with a number of people including Christina Carpenter who represents Cellar Craft from British Columbia. Christina asked if I had use the product before and I quietly admitted that I hadn't. Not losing a good opportunity she offers samples of a series of wines made from their kits, including reds that had been aged long enough to be drinking really well. I found every one of them to be stylistically accurate, aromatic, flavorful and well balanced. My favorites were the Amarone and the Red Mountain Cabernet.

The samples got me thinking that I should try several kits from Cellar Craft and see how outcome compared to the kits wines I had already planned to make. I also considered that as long as my influence resulted in a positive outcome that I could also enter the wines in competition to get even more feedback. Speaking of competition feedback, I recently wrote an blog for the WineMaker Magazine web site about the feedback one can get from wine competitions.

The distinction about the Showcase Collection from Cellar Craft that attracted my attention the most, are the grape packs included with the kits. I know from making juice and grape blends that the concentration of aromas, color and flavors all get a bump from the grape material.

Christina must have been reading my mind, not really since I made my intentions to use their product clear, and graciously offered my two free kits to make and enjoy. She didn’t ask for anything in return, but writing an article about my experience with the product is the least I can do to say thank you. For those of you who make wine from kits I hope this article will help you to better understand the product, and if you haven’t used it before, even consider doing so for yourself.

I got to pick my varieties and I went with my favorites from the tasting, the Amarone and Red Mountain Cabernet.

The first one I made was the Amarone. I have loved being able to make Amarone at home as it is so damned expensive!

I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking. The full instructions for the Showcase Collection Red Wine Kits can be found in Instructions section at Cellar Craft web site. 

( Adding the bentonite to warm water in the clean fermenter. )

( Adding the contents of the juice bag to the fermenter. )

( The muslin bag filled with the contents of the grape pack. The grapes were concentrated and sticky with heady aromas. So cool! )

( The kit contained two packages of oak powder used during the initial fermentation. )

( Right after the yeast was pitched. I realized I didn't take a photo of the active fermentation, so you will have to imagine what it looked like! )

When I racked the wine into the carboy I took a taste as I normally do. I was met with the pleasant aromas and concentrated fruit flavors typical to Amarone so I knew I had something good going on. I can’t wait to see how this wine develops in time.

We’ve since made the Red Mountain Cabernet as well. My wife noted after seeing the concentration of the juice from that kit that she feels like the Cellar Craft product is richer and more concentrated than some of the other products we have used. That may well be true, but I think the best judgment will be in the finished product after a bit of age. I look forward to those days for sure!

I thoroughly enjoyed using this product and am already on the lookout for unique styles of wine that I can make using kits from Cellar Craft. A big thank you is due to Christina and Cellar Craft for giving me the kits and the opportunity to try their product risk free.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”