I just returned from a two week (seemed like a month) marathon running the Eastern Winery Exposition (a great success) and then recovering from same skiing in the Adirondacks. While at the show, I had the opportunity to try many fine wines, and many exotic ones as well.
But first, a recap on winery visits on the way to Syracuse where EWE was held, and back.
Aside from judging in the Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup and the Monticello Cup, I also judged with a group at Keswick Vineyards to choose what we felt was the best team blend from six teams whose members belonged to the Keswick Wine Club. A benefit of belonging to this club is being invited to join a team on a weekend in February to concoct a blend that the team feels is best, to enter in the competition for “best team blend.”
The components were all chambourcin, syrah, touriga and norton, and each team had chosen a different blend. After some back-and-forth discussion, we all agreed on one blend. That team is prominently featured on the top of the label for the 2013 Consensus, which turned out to be a blend of 45% syrah, 37% touriga and 18% Chambourcin.
Next on the Virginia scene was a visit to Early Mountain Vineyards where Jonathan Hollerith and Steve Monson are now co-winemakers. Although it’s not publicized, Paul Hobbs of California is working with them on a chardonnay from 2014, currently in barrel. Steve explains the wine was made in an oxidative style, instead of the more common anaerobic style, and was whole-cluster pressed with four chardonnay clones which were co-fermented with native yeast with spontaneous malolactic fermentation (some barrels developed it and some didn’t).
The wine was twelve months in 33% new oak. The nose had lemony citrus fruit with an elegant yeastiness, and well-integrated oak. On the palate, the wine has incredible texture—plush with lemon curd and bright fruit and fresh acid finish.
Steve explains they are planting a few new varieties experimentally in “micro-lots” and also doing clonal trials with cabernet franc based on soil type and pH. They have bought the Quaker Run vineyard where they will plant new whites including sauvignon blanc and malvasia bianca.
Many Virginia vintners are working to find a way to balance the high acid of petit manseng for a table wine. I like the way Early Mountain is doing it, in a “Block 11” blend of 75% petit manseng and 25% muscat which had a portion of malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity. The nose has great lemon/grapefruit Alsatian muscat notes. On the palate, I first get hints of lemongrass, basil, and kiwi then huge pink grapefruit, mango and peach on the mid-palate. The wine is almost dry and a versatile match for food but also an aromatic orgy (in a good way!)
At the Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup awards, the winning meritage-style blend “Clio” from Muse Vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley was youthful, fresh and balanced and seemed like a 2012 instead of a mature 2009. Granite Heights Winery poured their gold medal-winning 2012 petit manseng, showing that a couple of years of age can mellow this grape nicely, but they also poured the 2013 (with partial MLF and 2.5% residual sugar to balance higher acid) as well as the young but fresh 2014 vintage. Winemaker/owner Luke Kylick explains that his winemaking philosophy with this grape is to “match the vintage” and these three wines are a great illustration.
On March 3rd, the 2013 vintage of “3” was officially released (at 3:33 pm). A three-way collaboration between Monticello AVA winemakers Emily Pelton, Matthieu Finot and Jake Busching, the wine is a 33% blend of merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. For the 2013 vintage, Matthieu of King Family Vineyards made the petit verdot while Emily Pelton of Veritas Vineyards made the cabernet franc and Jake Busching of Grace Estate Vineyards made the merlot.
Matthieu says he’d prefer to wait another six months to release the wine and that it will be best in 2018. The wine was aged 50% in new French oak and the rest neutral. Matthieu says “3” is made to show the vintage style well. “2013 is not as complex as 2009 or 2010 but has more depth than 2012,” he says.
On tasting, the nose opened to lively, fresh red and black fruits. The palate was smooth with a burst of fruit mid-palate with a fresh, crisp finish and smooth tannins. I agree with Matthieu that, as with most 2013 Virginia reds I’ve tasted, this is still too young, but it will be stylish and approachable after decanting.
Elsewhere around Virginia, I tasted and enjoyed the wines of Carroll Vineyards while doing a book signing at the Leesburg Vintner. The proprietor of the retail store, Mike Carroll, also has a small vineyard and bottles wines which he can sell at the store (although sadly, the law required him to give up beer sales to do it). I liked his elegant St. Emilion-style merlot and fragrant, delicate and crisp viognier the most.
At Pollak Vineyards west of Charlottesville, I tasted the new wines, so new that the 2014 rosé had only been released that day (bright cherry fruit but needs another month or so). The 2012 reds were all showing well as well as the rich, stylish 2012 chardonnay. My favorite of the 2012 reds was the meritage (40% each merlot and cabernet franc and 20% petit verdot); red fruits, mocha, herbs with a plush smooth texture and velvet finish.