Tasting Notes from the Great Northern Tour 2014-15

Jul 28

Over the course of the last year I visited the Niagara wine region of Ontario and then the Finger Lakes, the Hudson River Valley, then Niagara and Seneca and Cayuga Lakes again last week. It’s time to share my highlights of the “Great Northern Tour” of 2014-15.

Niagara Wine Country, Ontario

This year due to a very tight schedule I only visited Peller Estate (with an excellent restaurant, where all their current wines are available by the glass for very reasonable prices). Favorite wines:

  • Signature Chardonnay Reserve 2013: light gold color. Nose: complex, smoky, a bit like old riesling, yellow apple hints. On the palate: high acid, lemon/citrus. Made with no malolactic fermentation, deftly balanced between acidity and complex, rich lees impact on the texture. Chewy and intense, still needs time but worth the wait; impressively Burgundian.
  • Rose 2014: a blend of gamay and pinot noir. Nose: lovely, like a heritage variety watermelon, with herbal notes (thyme?) gentle and fragrant. On the palate, fine acid, gentle red fruits, but firm zesty acid; stylish.
  • Gamay 2013 Four Mile Creek: Nose: smoky/gamey/flinty at first, some reduction. Then, red/black racy plum and cherry and white pepper w. flint. Palate: lively, zesty, earth and mushroom, then bright red cherry and racy flint; a quick finish but stylish, will be fleshed out in a few months for fall cuisine.
  • Signature Series Cabernet Franc 2012: Very impressive and varietal-true nose of leafy black cherry with herbal notes. On the palate, firm black fruits, mocha chocolate finish. Stylish.

I had more time to visit wineries both in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Bench regions in 2014. Here are my favorites:

Foreign Affair Winery (north of the QEW in Vineland) has one of the most charming logos I’ve seen; the silhouette of a moose with an inlaid oval proclaiming “Ciao”. The owner, and Italian-Canadian trade mission official, was inspired by the apassimento style of drying a portion of grapes in the Veronese wines based on Corvina, that culimate in the rich, concentrated Amarone. At this winery, they use a portion of dried grapes for every wine, ranging from 15% and 20% for sauvignon blanc, riesling and chardonnay, to 100% for their 2007 cabernet franc and “Grand Q” meritage blend 2010.

My favorite was the pinot noir 2009 (with 40% apassimento grapes). Nose: complex, fascinating: lifted whiff of dried strawberries. On the palate, wow! Great concentration of strawberry and cherries and huge spice and pepper with amazing length. The concentration was all fruit-driven, not tannin or oak. Very original and stylish (14.2% alc.)

Next was Tawse Winery near Vineland in the Bench district, a high-class (and high-priced) establishment. They employ gravity-flow processing and the tasting room at the bottom of the hill has impressive floor-to-ceiling windows of the processing area tanks going up the hill. They have also won the “Best winery in Canada” twice in the last five years. Wines may be pricey but they deliver the goods. Favorites include:

  • Lauritzen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (Vinemount Ridge). Nose: deep earth and mushroom notes with black cherry. Palate: depth and finesse, forest floor and black cherry with truffles, still young and needs four more years but stylish.
  • Cabernet Franc 2009 Creek Shores VQA: Nose, crushed limestone and black cherry, roses. On the palate, great vivacity and fruit/acid balance. Still young but amazing and wonderfully fresh fruit finish.
  • Gewurztraminer 2012 20 Mile Bench VQA. Nose: passion fruit and freshly peeled grapefruit with lychee and pine nuts. Very exotic and terroir-driven. Palate: pink grapefruit with huge citrus minerality that goes on and on; great fruit/acid balance.
  • Riesling Icewine 2013: Apple pie on the nose, ripe apples with a hint of cinnamon and allspice. Palate: perfect fruit/acid balance of green/yellow apples and spice, loads of acid and drinks as if it were dry. Outstanding; needs a decade.

Not far from Tawse is Hidden Bench, aptly named and off the beaten path. All vineyards are certified organic. They have several old vine bottlings and a riesling vineyard planted in 1974. Highlights:

  • Felseck Riesling 2012: Nose of white flowers and barley. Palate: Wow! Electric, taught, focused and tart with brilliant green apple, mineral and slate.
  • Rosonel Vineyard “Roman’s Block” Riesling 2012: These vines were planted in 1974. Nose: like the palate of the Felseck; taught, tight minerality. Palate: smoke and flint and lime gunpowder. Has depth and weight but  young, needs a decade.
  • Pinot Noir Estate 2011 (blend of three vineyards) Nose: red cherries and flowers, a Cote de Beaune style, then grows deeper with black cherry and earth. Palate: Wow! impressive intensity, depth and length; needs time.

 Malivoire Wine Co. is also located on the Niagara Bench in this neighborhood. Highlights:

  • Pinot Gris 2012: Nose: lychee and grapefruit/citrus notes with hints of limestone. Palate: great rich texture but with refreshing acidity; nicely balanced.
  • Ladybug Rose 2013: 70% cabernet franc, 20% gamay, 10% pinot noir. Nose: watermelon and strawberry; stylish. Palate: lively Provencal style with great fruit/acid balance.
  • Gamay 2012: Nose: smoky eucalyptus. Palate: broad, with black and red cherry, lively acid and great length and finish.

Henry of Pelham in the Short Hills Bench is one of the eastern-most wineries in the Bench area, close to the city of St. Catharines. Owned and run by the three Speck brothers, they have five product lines as well as sparkling and icewines so there’s a plethora of things to taste. A house specialty is their baco noir, regular and reserve, which proves what a quality wine can be produced from this red cold-hardy hybrid. Highlights:

  • Chardonnay Speck Family Reserve 2011 (Short Hills Bench VQA). Made from old vine blocks dating to 1998. Nose: rich, yet subtle with hints of oak and almond and lemon. Palate: long, rich and smooth, lemon and mineral hints, richly textured and integrated, no obvious oak on the palate.
  • Riesling Reserve 2008 (Short Hills VQA) Nose: brilliant white flowers with peach, green/yellow apple with loads of lemon/citrus minerality. Palate: dry, brilliant, taut fruit/acid balancde, with apple and lemon/citrus. Still very young and lively, solid firm acidity and long finish. Drinking well now, will age another 10-15 years.
  • Pinot Noir Speck Family Reserve 2009 (Short Hills Bench VQA) Nose: fragrant red cherry and crushed flint, resembles Savigny Les Beaune in Burgundy. Palate: fantastic fruit concentration, layered, smooth and rich but all fruit-driven.
  • Baco Noir Classic 2013 Nose: creme brulee, then black raspberry, subtle but elegant. Palate: juicy, round black raspberry flavors then fine, firm acid with crisp finish. Incredibly velvety on the mid-palate, possibly the best baco I’ve ever had.

Moving from the Bench down to the Lakeshore Plain, Trius is a major producer with both high-end, vineyard-specific wines and a popular-priced line in the mid teens, finished with screw caps, that are a great quality for the price. Highlights:

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2013: done in a Marlborough style, the nose has huge gooseberry and musque clone mineral and slate. On the palate, passion fruit and bright tropical citrus flavors end with a round texture; fine fruit/acid balance.
  • Trius Red 2011: a meritage-style blend with 60% aging in French, 40% in American oak. Nose: fragrant red fruits, floral notes, no oak. Palate: smooth, fruit-forward, with well-knit black fruits. Stylish.
  • Trius Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: Nose: dusty tannins, red cassis, black cherries and pepper. Palate: round and rich, ripe yet firm tannins, clean fruit and fresh finish. A pleasure to drink a cabernet with such bright red cassis without heavy tannins or oak.

Near Trius on the Lakeshore Plain is Stratus, with a post-modern tasting room, gravity-flow processing (they even have an elevator for tanks of wine!), and exquisite wines (with prices to match), made by the talented and experienced J.L. Groux. Highlights:

  • Signature White 2010: A brilliant, original, aromatic and stylish blend of semillon, viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Nose: Wow! Flowers, tropical fruit, passion fruit, star fruit, ripe pear, peach and apricot! Palate: electric, rich and densely layered but with loads of ripe tropical fruit and acid to balance with a vibrant, fresh clean finish. Like a Strauss waltz; outstanding and without oak. J.L. says it can age a decade.
  • Malbec 2011: It’s rare to find this once-obscure Bordeaux grape as a varietal in the East, especially in a cool climate, but this works! Dense ruby color. Nose: classic sandlewood and boysenberry. Palate: rich, sexy, plush velvet texture, then firm acid finish.
  • Red Icewine 2012 (cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre (!) and syrah) Nose: loads of strawberry. Palate: Wow! loads of strawberry, rhubarb, great fruit/acid balance, sexy and luxurious.

Finally, we end on the Lakeshore Plain (in 2014) where we started in 2015, at Peller Estate with highlights of that visit:

  • Private Reserve Muscat 2013: Nose: floral in the best sense, loads of white flowers and mineral. Palate: round but with fine and vibrant acidity, dry, refreshing but very aromatic. Should make a killer food pairing.
  • Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2012, Four Mile Creek: Nose: solid black cherry and raspberry, flowers, vanilla, a hint of oak. Palate: tannic, solid black cherry fruit core, lively acid, crushed flint or limestone notes on the finish. Great fruit, balance, terroir expression.
  • Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2012: Nose: pencil lead, black cherry, some black pepper. Palate: lively black fruits and black pepper, firm tannins, great length and finish.
  • Meritage 2012 (cabernets franc and sauvignon, merlot) Nose: lovely finely-tuned lifted aromatics of garden herbs, black pepper and black cherry. Palate: vibrant and juicy with electric acidity and smooth chocolate tannins in the finish.

Highlights on the Virginia Wine Trail 6/15

Jul 01

This month I traveled around Virginia wine country from the Monticello AVA to northern Loudoun to the Shenandoah Valley. Some of that time I traveled with the long-standing Canadian wine writer Edward Finstein (“The Wine Doc”) who was on a magazine assignment. Thanks to fine wines and well-air conditioned vehicles he came away with a favorable impression of Virginia wine despite the heat.

Here are highlights of the month:

Breaux Vineyards

Under new winemaker Heather Mundon (on the job about a year), Breaux has really solidified its product line with consistent high quality. While the reserve wines are impressive, the six wines on the regular tasting are all very well made and offer very versatile range of styles with something for everyone. With 100 acres of vines, most everything is estate bottled with the nervy acidity and fresh fruit of northern Loudoun County.

These six wines are:

  • the 2014 Jolie Blond, a high-acid Loire Valley-like seyval blanc, competitive with New Zealand sauvignon blanc, with lots of white grapefruit and refreshing acidity.
  • 2014 Viognier, elegant and complex with white flowers, tropical fruits, a round mid-palate but pleasingly fresh finish.
  • Equation (NV) This is a merlot-based blend that, last I had it 3-4 years ago, I was not impressed with, but this wine was very different: stylish red and black fruits deftly blended with oak, hints of mocha in the finish but fresh and clean. Very versatile to enjoy by itself or food, even slightly chilled for summer.
  •  2013 Marquis De Lafayette, the label for Breaux’s varietal cabernet franc, is in a classic Virginia style; red cherry and chocolate notes, smooth tannins and fine fruit/oak integration. Will be great this fall.
  • 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: It’s a treat to pay no extra to taste a library cabernet from a great vintage. This is a hefty cabernet but the wine has mellowed well, with classic aroma notes of red cassis and cigar box. On the palate, it’s full-bodied but well-balanced with a long, clean finish; a rare treat.
  • 2013 Chere Marie is 100% vidal blanc, with citrus and melon notes, and although it’s 2% residual sugar, it seems drier, with very good fruit/acid balance and fresh finish; great for sipping anytime and versatile with food.

At Keswick Vineyards east of Charlottesville, the 2014 wines have  been released, and my favorite was the V2, this year a blend of 70% verdejo (an aromatic Spanish white grape) and 30% viognier. The nose had a lovely fragrance of citrus, pear and white flowers. On the palate, the wine was zippy and bright with floral and citrus notes. Delicious, dry and elegant.

Another fine 2014 was the Consensus Blend (disclosure: I was one of the judges evaluating final blends). 68% chambourcin, 27% syrah with small amounts of touriga and norton, this wine was edgy when I judged it in February but has come together nicely and is an excellent warm-weather red. On the nose it is juicy, fun and fruity. On the palate, it continues that way and is very fun, original, fruity and drinkable. Although dry it is not tannic.

The 2013 Homage de Genevive viognier is a fine example of the style Virginia is defining for the grape. The nose has gentle hints of white flowers, peach, and apricot. On the palate, there is huge peach with apricot flavors and a slight sweetness, but with a refreshing finish.

At Horton Vineyards, the “Wine Doc” and I were most impressed with the 2014 nebbiolo rose (aromas of passion fruit, lively on the palate with passion fruit/strawberry flavors); the 2013 malbec (dark ruby, excellent aromatics of sandlewood and blueberry, juicy and vibrant on the palate, and a great deal at $15); and the 2012 syrah (white pepper and red cherry notes on the nose, “roasted” red cherries and spice on the palate with a long finish; very Rhone-like).

At Barboursville Vineyards,  the star of current wines is the 2014 vermentino,  a grape from Sardinia that is making a stylish white wine like a Ferrari version of pinot grigio. The nose had a large volume with notes of spicy pear and nectarine. On the palate, it was richly tactile but with HUGE nectarine and peach flavors, then firm, racy acidity. Distinctive and stylish, a great aromatic white for food matching.

Tasting library wines in their library room (a classy alternative to the crowded tasting room), we were particularly impressed with the 2008 merlot, featuring fresh red fruits and herbs, very “Right Bank”. On the palate, I thought of St. Emilion, with the fresh, crisp texture, nice blend of red fruits and herbs.

The star was, no surprise, the 2009 Octagon (Governor’s Cup winner). On the nose, coconut oak tones and lots of baking spices blended with subtle red fruits. On the palate, the wine has huge depth and dimension, plush and spicy. It’s young and needs time but will be worth the wait; drink 2018 or later.

We were also impressed with their (non-Virginia) sparkling wines; a brut rose of pinot noir from the Oltrepopavese region of Lombardy, frothy with fine mousse and a lively nose of cherry and strawberry with yeast notes. The palate was dry with great finesse and balance of bright red fruits and cream.

The most original wine we tasted was their white sparkling wine (also from Lombardy) that was 14 years (!) en tirage or on the lees. For comparison, vintage champagne from France is usually en tirage for five years. The years on the lees give mellowness and complexity to the wine and take the edge of the acidity. This wine was made to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Zonin (Barboursville’s parent company) family wine business.

The wine was remarkable: butterscotch, hazelnut and toasty caramel aromas, followed by like flavors but with a dry and fresh finish.

Early Mountain Vineyards

Early Mountain Vineyards

Early Mountain Vineyards brought some welcome new releases from 2014, including their pinot gris, rose and Block 11 white blend.

The 2014 pinot gris had a nose more like the Alsatian style than Italian pinot grigio with hints of spicy pear. On the palate, it was richly round but with a bright fresh finish, just what you’d want to order in a restaurant for wide versatility.

The 2014 rose was made from merlot fruit that winemaker Jon Hollerith explained expressed better character for rose than for red wine and was picked early for optimal rose character (also blended with some malbec). The nose was light with bright fresh watermelon and strawberry. On the palate, the wine was delicate in the Provencal style, dry but delicate and with herbal and mineral notes and not too acidic.

The Block 11 white is a blend of petit manseng and muscat. On the nose, nice herbal, sauvignon blanc-like notes, then floral muscat. On the palate the wine is juicy and brightly acidic with tangerine and passion fruit; lots of fun, fruity and dry.

The Eluvium 2012 is a “Right Bank”-style blend of 50% merlot, with smaller amounts of the two cabernets. On the nose, ripe, juicy red and black fruits with hints of chocolate/mocha and oak. On the palate, the wine is rich and lively, with spice and herbal notes, still young but promising.

The Foothills Red 2013 is also a “Right Bank” merlot-dominated blend but I think even more stylish and promising. VERY “Right Bank” on the nose; earth and dried red fruits and spice/cedar. On the palate, amazingly like St. Emilion w. fresh acidity, red fruits and chocolate/mocha on finish. This elegant, stylish (and non-oaky!) red follows a successful model for high-end Virginia red blends based on merlot and cabernet franc, and this one is stunningly like a St. Emilion Grand Cru wine in ways you just can’t fake with powdered additives or such.

Crossing into the Shenandoah Valley, our first stop was Bluestone Vineyards, first planted as a “hobby” vineyard in 2000 but with its first serious commercial planting in 2008. Although fairly new on the scene, Bluestone has made impressive awards for its wines both in and out of state, including several gold medal wines in the Governor’s Cup competition the last couple of years. Although I wouldn’t recommend anyone in the Valley plant cabernet sauvignon, their hilly, well-drained site west of Bridgeport ripens that grape well and they’ve won top awards with it.

We tasted a dry norton port right from whisky barrels in the cellar. It was richly ripe with a dark, spicy nose of damson plum and boysenberry. On the palate, alcohol was high (15.8%) as well as acidity, but young, vibrant and clean. The wine is dry with firm acid and needs time and oxygen but is pure and admirable.

The Steep Face chambourcin 2013 was made from a block of vines planted on a literally steep west-facing slope, and is a great validation of the reputation of chambourcin in the Valley. Dark purple/ruby color, and subtle spicy black cherry with flint notes on the nose. On the palate, the wine was juicy with fresh red/black cherry flavors, nice and round on the finish with good acid and fruit integration. The “wine doc” was impressed because he hasn’t had fully ripened chambourcin from Canadian vines.

They don't call this (foreground) vineyard slope at Bluestone the "steep face" for nothing.

They don’t call this (foreground) vineyard slope at Bluestone the “steep face” for nothing.

The Bluestone meritage 2010 won a gold medal in this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, made from 33% each of the two cabernets and merlot, with 50% new French oak. On the nose, big, rich, hefty ripe red fruits, offset by fine earth and herbal notes. On the palate, a bit high alcohol, but smooth, ripe, warm, round and well-integrated. Well-deserved gold medal.

Blue Ice 2013 is a cryo-wine made from artificially frozen traminette grapes. The nose was lovely lychee and grapey muscat-like fruitiness. On the palate, it showed excellent fruit/acid balance with ripe rich fruit but with a fine zesty citrus finish. Very stylish example of top quality for grapes picked ripe then artificially frozen and pressed.

Our next stop was Muse Vineyards west of Woodstock, who won the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup with their excellent “Clio” 2009 (red meritage-style blend, equal parts the two cabernets, merlot and petit verdot) made from the first fruit of vines planted in 2007 and 2008. Tasting this wine again was a vindication of the Cup judging; the nose was lively, focused, flinty mineral with bright ripe red fruits. On the palate, there was excellent balance of fruit, acid and oak. The wine is young but fruit-driven and will age well. Outstanding and fresh.

2015-06-22 14.28.55

Also impressive at Muse were the roussane 2013 with spicy pear aromas and flavors, rich viscosity but flinty, mineral finish; and the grenache 2013 (labeled “Calliope”). This wine is kind of amazing because the grenache grape is tight-bunched and easily prone to rot, but in the Shenandoah Valley at this site can be grown sustainably.

Not only were the grapes clean but the wine is remarkably Rhone-like (as was the roussane); light ruby color, with classic notes of white pepper and raspberry/red cherry on the nose, followed by clean leather and sour cherry on the palate, with firm acid and a lively finish. Much closer to Chateauneuf-du-Pape than to West Coast or Australian or even Spanish examples.

Crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains on I-66 we drove south to Hume and tasted the wines of Philip Carter Winery and then enjoyed them at dinner, at the Inn at Vineyards Crossing, an elegant . Emmanuel, the new winemaker at Philip Carter, is French but has worked at Wineworks and elsewhere in the Virginia industry.

The 2014 viognier was delicate but elegant, with fresh white flowers, white peach and ginger on the nose. On the palate, the wine was juicy and rich with a rich texture yet still vibrant, fresh yet fleshy. Ripe peach and nectarine flavors ended with fine balance.

The fine Philip Carter 2014 viognier with an appetizer/salad course at the Inn at Vineyard Crossing, Hume

The fine Philip Carter 2014 viognier with an appetizer/salad course at the Inn at Vineyards Crossing, Hume

The 2014 rose (100% merlot) was in the Provencal style, with lots of strawberry on the nose, juicy but very dry and intense red fruit flavors, lively with great fruit/acid balance.

The 2010 meritage  (42% cabernet franc, 32% petit verdot, 21% cabernet sauvignon, 5% merlot) had rich, ripe black fruits on the nose, with a whiff of alcohol (13.8%) but on the palate, not too hot. Flavors of cocoa and coffee were matched with brisk acidity. The wine is both fresh and young, while ripe and rich. Stylishly fruit-driven and elegant.

Lastly, I was quite impressed with the 2013 “1762″ port-style wine, an original blend of 80% barbera and 20% chambourcin. On the nose, a pleasing combination of smoky black cherry from the barbera and red cherry from the chambourcin. On the palate, black raspberry, juicy but fresh, clean, no alcohol burn, (18%), easy to quaff. Aged in whisky barrels which advance the maturation process. $38/500 ml bottle, but if you like fine port-style wines and want to support Virginia wineries this is one of the better ones.

The Inn at Vineyards Crossing is correctly described as “an intimate and romantic retreat in Virginia wine & hunt country” and I recommend it for those who want a well-situated and elegant place from which to explore Fauquier County wineries. It features a swimming pool and four o’clock afternoon wine tastings.

 

 

 

Heritage Grapes: The Garganega Wines from Menti

Jun 17

The garganega wines of Menti in Gamballera, Italy

The garganega wines of Menti in Gamballera, Italy

A heritage grape is one that is closely associated with a particular place and has built fame for how that grape expresses there (cabernet sauvignon in the Medoc, merlot in St. Emilion, chardonnay and pinot noir in Burgundy, riesling in Germany and sauvignon blanc in the Loire Valley and Marlborough, NZ).

All of the above named grapes are also international varieties, but there are dozens–no, hundreds–of other heritage grapes that make stunning wines in particular corners of the world but for various reasons were never elevated to “international” status.

This week we’ll look at the Italian grape garganega, which distinguishes the white wine Soave from just another dry Italian quaffing wine.

Soave is from the Verona region of northeastern Italy and is described by leading British wine writers Jancis Robinson MW and Hugh Johnson in their jointly written World Atlas of Wine (fifth edition) as “Italy’s most famous white wine”, although the qualitative difference between the high yielding vines grown in the valley where the lower-quality trebbiano grape dominates and the low-yielding high-quality vines of the Classico DOC is pretty obvious.

The Soave Classico DOC (appellation in Italy) is limited to the hillsides which, having much lower organic matter, are lower yielding, and the heritage garganega grape must constitute at least 70% of the blend.

Some quality-minded producers have chosen to de-classify their wines by opting out of the DOC for labeling, including the featured producer here, Menti.

Menti is located in the Soave Classico region in the town of Gambellara, and the firm has been in the family since it was founded in the 19th century. Menti is a small producer with about 16 acres of grapes, garganega and another local variety, durella.

Aside from being a small production winery specializing in estate heritage grapes, Menti also practices biodynamic vineyard management as well as using only natural yeasts and minimal intervention winemaking, in order to better maintain the features of the vineyards’ terroir.

Instead of labeling with Soave Classico DOC as they could, instead they  began printing on their label “100% Gambellara terroir”. Although they had belonged to the Gambellara Producers Association and other Consortiums, they made the decision to leaving these associations and to reduce the price of the bottle for the consumer with money they save in paying due.

Menti is also concerned with its carbon footprint, so they use lighter weight glass bottles (390 grams) which reduces carbon both in bottle production and the cost of gas and C02 emissions in transport. Also, since March 2011 due to a photovoltaic system placed on the roof of the winery the entire winemaking process is carried out using clean self-produced energy.

Now, a look at the grape and the wines. Renowned wine taster and British wine writer Steven Spurrier has said that the increase in quality of Soave wines focused on the Classico DOC with limiting yields and increasing the level of garganega has led to Soave becoming possibly Italy’s best widely available white wine. Johnson and Robinson describe “real Soave” as having flavors of “almonds and lemon” which is a great description. The wine is lean and steely, but with subtle almond and lemon hints with a mineral edge of acidity, much as you’d expect from white Burgundy or Austria’s gruener veltliner.

Menti’s importer (Grand Cru Selections) and their agent in Italy sent me three wines, two still wines and a rustic sparkling wine, all 100% garganega from the volcanic soils of Gambellara.

My tasting companion (who we’ll call “wineosaurus”) and I both liked the style and the originality of the “Roncaie sui Lievi 2013.” This is a sparkling wine sealed with a simple crown cap and surprisingly showing the lees (dead yeast cells) and light cloudy sediment still in the bottle. On the nose, the wine was surprisingly, and pleasantly, cider-like, with yellow fruits (apple, lemon, and pear) with smoky mineral notes. On the palate, the wine was crisp, nicely bubbly, dry and refreshing, with a slight but pleasing almond-like bitterness on the finish. This is a great summertime aperitif sparkler. A little over 1,000 cases produced; US retail $18. For you questing Millennials looking for really original terroir wines without a big carbon footprint, this is worth seeing out. Also bottled with no sulfites, so technically an organic wine.

The next favorite wine of the three was the Riva Arsiglia 2012, a single vineyard (old vine) still wine which was surprisingly different from the sparkling Roncaie sui Lievi. First, this was a 2012 vintage and still wine. Second, the first really had a rustic, subtle clean earthiness to it I associate with garganega, but this wine as “wineosaurus” pointed out, was much more like a Marlborough sauvignon blanc. On the nose, it also had smoky almond and lemon rind with hints of mineral. On the palate though, it was rich and round like pinot gris, with spicy edges, and the zesty lemon and mineral tones continued. The mid-palate combined the weight of pinot gris with the zestiness of pinot grigio and the finish was freshly bright and fruity. For a three year old white this was a very versatile wine that felt like it still had not reached its peak, and could match a variety of foods and purposes. US retail: $22.

Remember, both of these wines were native yeast products, and the sparkling wine had re-fermentation induced with garganega resin and natural yeasts and sugars; although they were from the same estate, different vintages and processes  yielded different styles, but both were excellent expressions of the garganega heritage grape.

For more information on Menti, visit www.giovannimenti.com; for information on where to find their wines, visit www.grandcruselectionswine.com/

Jake Busching Named New Head Winemaker, GM at Michael Shaps Wineworks

Jun 13

[edited from a press release of 6/13/15]. Michael Shaps Wineworks (www.michaelshapswines.com) has named Jake Busching as the new Head Winemaker & General Manager.  Busching comes with 17 years experience and an outstanding reputation in the Virginia wine industry.  He most recently held the position of General Manager, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Grace Estate, and prior to that he performed similar roles at Pollak Vineyards and Keswick Vineyards.

In other staff changes, Wineworks’ current enologist Joy Ting has been promoted to Production Manager & Head Enologist.  Joy will work closely with Jake to ensure that the logistics of the production facility and the cellar crew are managed efficiently.  Working directly under Joy, Jessica Trapeni will be the new full time lab technician.

“I have known Jake both personally and professionally for nearly twenty years in his various roles of vineyard manager and winemaker and am very enthusiastic about the future of our winery”  comments owner Michael Shaps.  “Jake’s wealth of experience and industry knowledge has already made him a key addition to the Wineworks family.

Michael Shaps (left) and new Wineworks winemaker and GM Jake Busching (right)

Michael Shaps (left) and new Wineworks winemaker and GM Jake Busching (right)

I feel very fortunate to work with such a talented team and have the utmost confidence in them.”

Located just south of Charlottesville, Virginia, Michael Shaps Wineworks is Virginia’s largest custom contract winemaking operation, with a total production reaching 30,000 cases per year with over a dozen clients.  Known for his innovation in the industry, Michael Shaps introduced the “bag in a box” to Virginia wine consumers and most recently introduced a refillable wine growler.  In addition to the Virginia winery, Michael owns a winery in Burgundy, France (www.maisonshaps.com) and imports these wines to the United States, where they are sold throughout Virginia and in the tasting room at Michael Shaps Wineworks.

First Annual “Jefferson’s Virginia” Summer Festival Runs Until July 4th

Jun 06

2015-06-06 13.16.08A series of events themed around Thomas Jefferson, named “Jefferson’s Virginia Summer Festival”, will take place between Monticello and Jefferson’s Poplar Forest until July 4th.  A “Jefferson Heritage Trail” has been established between the third President’s two Virginia residences and will feature “a hub of events that promise to inspire, entertain and spotlight our area’s amazing natural beauty and history.

“Jefferson’s Virginia” Heritage Trail founding member Ankida Ridge Vineyards has just cleared five acres for planting more pinot noir and chardonnay.

Trail members are a diverse group of tourism-oriented business and associations, including local wineries, restaurants, lodging establishments, and major destinations like Monticello, Poplar Forest and the D-Day Memorial.

The festivities kicked off with a farm-to-table wine and food pairing dinner at Pippin Hill Farm in North Garden on May 28th, and will feature a dinner at Poplar Forest paired with wines from Ankida Ridge Vineyards (a founding trail member) with commentary from a professional Thomas Jefferson re-enactor Saturday June 6th. Other events will include music, heritage celebrations, educational tours, architectural tours, museum presentations and more.

For a complete list of trail members and scheduled events, visit www.jeffersonsvirginiasummerfestival.org.

 

Cider Sighting: Millstone from Monkton, MD

Jun 04

2015-06-03 18.41.03Beer Run in Charlottesville is a mecca (whoops! Will I get whacked by ISIS for that metaphor??) for cider, craft beer and wine. They have regular tastings in all 3 mediums and today they had the Millstone cidery from Monkton, Maryland (also home of the “Emperor of Wine”, Robert Parker) pouring their thoughtfully elegant and artisanal dry, crisp ciders for a crowd that was largely bearded, over 50 and could pass for home fermenters of any of the above mentioned beverages.

Millstone is a family operation that has fine-tuned experimental batches of non-filtered ciders and meads over the last decade, fermented dry and then back-sweetened; a process prone to exploding bottles until the right formula is found.

“I was inspired by the creativity Ciders and Meads offer, we experiment with a wide variety of ingredients crafting unique flavors and tastes to explore,” says Millstone brother Curt.

The cidery operates out of the refurbished Monkton Mill (circa 1840). “Half the fun of what we do is tracking down passionate local farmers who have really wild cider apple varietals and interesting floral sources for their honey,” says brother Kyle.

The cidery/meadery features about 15 products that combine cider, mead, floral and honey ingredients that are locally grown and they frequently blend the categories of wine, mead and cider. For example, there is the “bonfire” label, a hot cyser 70% blended with Applewine 30% Honeywine with Fish Peppers (!)

My favorites at the Beer Run tasting were the Gingeroot cider, “cider warmed during the winter months in the barrel with organic baby ginger and infused with raw blueberry honey,” and the Cobbler cider, “Cask aged cider blended with bourbon barrel aged rustic peach wine. A farmhouse spring delight melding candied peach aromatics with tart peach skin flavors and a touch of vanilla.”

This cider had tart, brisk but fresh peach flavors balanced by a lemony tart and fresh cider, notable for a fair amount of sediment. I’m imagining enjoying this in the depths of the Dog Days with some garden rolls, cilantro and fresh peach chutney.

One thing I like about the cider is they both list and draw pictures of the ingredients on the back, in this case, gold rush and York imperial apples and peaches.

For those who like locavore beverages, imaginative ingredients and small batch crafting for tart, fresh, dry and crisp ciders, you can’t do better than Millstone. I wonder if the “Emperor of Wine” has learned of what’s happening under his famous nose?

Lynn Chamberlain Interviews Richard Leahy on “Wine & Dine Radio”

Jun 01

Lynn Chamberlain, host of iWineRadio, the exclusive wine-dedicated internet radio channel on iTunesNews/Talk Radio since 2004; interviewed wine author Richard Leahy on the new second edition of his comprehensive book on Virginia wine, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines.  The brief but detailed podcast can be found at http://www.winefairy.com/iWineRadio1063b.mp3 . More information on Beyond Jefferson’s Vines including a list of wineries selling autographed copies of the new edition is available here.

Chamberlain is a journalist who specializes in podcast interviews with subjects in wine, food and travel, and her alias is “the wine fairy.” Her website is www.winefairy.com.

Wine & Dine Radio host Lynn Chamberlain

Wine & Dine Radio host Lynn Chamberlain

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