Wine of the Week: Blenheim Syrah ’09

Oct 30

A year ago I tasted the 2008 vintage at Blenheim, made by then-new winemaker Kristy Harmon, and was impressed with the quality and elegant style that complements Virginia terroir so well. Today I enjoyed the ’09 viogner, dry rose, and most of all, the 2009 syrah.

This is the most compelling Virginia red wine of the 2009 vintage I’ve tried to date. This is not a “shiraz” style wine; it’s a northern Rhone style, with garrigue, spicy cherry, white pepper and smoky earth on the nose; very different from the standard red Bordeaux aromas. The wine is 86% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 4% Grenache, 50% barrel aged in French oak; Kristy confims that the grapes are all Virginia-grown (the Grenache and Mourvedre are from a vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley AVA).

On the palate, the flavors are lively and bright cherry and spice, with a smoky oak complexity that grows with time.

While enjoyable now, this wine will be at its best starting from a year from now for 4-5 more years, and lasting up to a decade due to bright acidity and stelvin closure.

This is definitely a food wine; the aromas and flavors call out for something like cassolet, coq au vin or roasted veggies and roast meats.

Texas Wine Beats New York 8-3 in Dallas Blind Tasting

Oct 28

As announced here a few days ago, a parallel competition took place Monday evening alongside the NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. Eleven flights of wine, one from each state, went up against each other as the football game unfolded. The result was very different; perhaps because of a “home field advantage”; when the “dust” settled, Texas wines won judges’ preference over New York wines, 8-3.

The wine competition was the brainchild of Secretary Todd Staples ­­of the Texas Dept. of Agriculture and was organized by founder Jeff Siegel, the Dallas-based “Wine Curmudgeon”, and Russ Kane, author of the soon-to-be-published Vintage Texas, the Texas Dept. of Agriculture and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation with help from the Texas chapter of master sommeliers.

While New York has had a long-standing reputation as the “Giant” of the Eastern wine industry due to its many wineries, diverse climates and long winemaking tradition, the upset score proved that Texan winemakers aren’t just “Cowboys”, and the diversity of the Texas wines that bested those from New York (from chardonnay to dry rose) shows that there is plenty of quality and diversity in wines from the Lone Star State. This tasting proves that consumers and trade members both need to give Texas wines more tasting and consideration.

In fairness to New York, its wines were at a disadvantage. Siegel points out that state liquor regulations prevented him from featuring any New York wines not already carried by Texas distributors, severely limiting the selection. And although I was told that the Texas-based judges in the room “really don’t drink Texas wines often”, there probably was at least an unconscious group palate bias for wines with lower acid levels than you find in New York. A rigorous empiricist would say that for these results to have any meaning, the tasting needs to be replicated in New York with New York judges (Jim Trezise of the NY Wine and Grape Foundation, Fred LeBrun from the Albany Times-Union and myself were the only non-Texas judges at the event).

You might think a blind competition between wines from climates as different as Texas’ is from New York would be pretty easy to spot. In fact, Siegel and Kane collaborated carefully and came up with varietal and style classes that paired the wines very fairly and evenly; most judges admitted they couldn’t tell which states they thought the wines came from in each of the flights.

The eleven flights ran the style gamut from unoaked chardonnay and red and white natives and hybrids, through light, medium and full-bodied dry reds, to dessert wines. While I thought I could tell the New York wine in each flight, I was wrong at least twice, and in other cases it was pretty much a toss-up, showing how carefully the wines had been paired. While you’d think New York would excel in cool-climate classes with Texas doing the same in warm-climate classes, and while this was often true, there were some surprises.

Here are the results by flight, with the winning wine in bold:

Unoaked Chardonnay: Llano Estacado Chardonnay ‘09, Texas; Heron Hill Chardonnay, New York.

White Wine (dry/off-dry): Ravines Sauvignon Blanc Finger Lakes, New York ’08; Brennan Viognier ’09, Texas

Riesling (off-dry): Dr. Konstantin Frank semi-dry Riesling Finger Lakes, New York ’09; Messina Hof “Father and Son” Riesling, Texas, ‘09

Hybrid/native varietal white: Haak Blanc du Bois semi-sweet ’10 Texas; Bully Hill Traminette ‘07, New York.

Rose (dry): Ravines Pinot Noir rose ‘08, Finger Lakes, New York; McPherson Syrah rose ‘09, Texas

Cabernet Franc: Becker Cabernet Franc Reserve ’09, Texas High Plains; Wagner Cabernet Franc ’07, Finger Lakes, New York

Red Varietal or Blended Wine, light-bodied: Dutchman Family Winery Dolcetto ’08, Texas High Plains; Brotherhood Pinot Noir ’08, New York

Red Varietal or Blended Wine, med. Bodied: Dr. Konstantin Frank Merlot ’08, Finger Lakes, New York; Lone Oak Texas Tempranillo ’08 “Lost Draw”, Texas High Plains

Red Varietal or Blended Wine, Full-Bodied: Inwood “Magellan” Bordeaux Blend ’06, Texas; Heron Hill “Eclipse” ’06 New York.

Hybrid/Native varietal red Bully Hill Baco Noir, non-vintage “Bulldog”, New York; Dry Comal Creek ’08 Black Spanish, Texas Hill Country

Dessert-style wine: Wagner Vidal Ice Wine ‘08, Finger Lakes, New York; Flat Creek Muscat “Mistella” non-vintage, Texas

MN Grape Growers Association Enlists Services of Richard Leahy, Bob Mignarri, Tom Payette and Lisa Smiley for their 7th Annual Cold ClimateGrape and Wine Conference February 17-19, 2011

Oct 28

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Thomas W. Martell, President of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association (MGGA), is pleased to announce the services of four seasoned, experienced and respected wine industry professionals for their upcoming Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference.The Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference is a major event for the wine industry in the cold climate states and Canadian provinces.It’s exciting to witness the growth of the cold climate grape & wine industry and the contributions of this conference to that growth trajectory,” says Martell. “The addition of industry luminaries Richard Leahy, Bob Mignarri, Tom Payette and Lisa Smiley bring professionalism and style, plus a tremendous educational opportunity for our conference attendees.” Leahy joins the Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference with 13 years of experience coordinating the seminar program for Wineries Unlimited. Martell adds, “It was satisfying to witness the rapt attention to the keynote address Leahy gave at the 2010 Cold Climate Conference. Richard Leahy is well-known and respected throughout the wine industry through his former position as the East Coast Editor for Vineyard & Winery Management. We are thrilled to bring his experience and expertise to our conference.”

“I’m very pleased to work with my accomplished colleagues Lisa and Bob, with the MGGA Board and the Board’s Conference Co-chairs Terri Savaryn and Rudy Jungwirth,” says Leahy. “When I gave the keynote address this year and every seat was taken at 8:30 a.m., I knew this conference was a must-attend for the many members of the cold climate wine industry. Their energy and enthusiasm are inspiring, and I’m glad to contribute my skills and experience to build the reputation of this conference.”

Bob Mignarri, owner of Quality Event Management, has more than 28 years of experience producing trade shows.  He formerly collaborated with Leahy on the well-known Wineries Unlimited Conference as its Trade show manager. His dedication helped grow the trade show from 34 exhibitors in 1994 to 221 exhibitors last year. “We became aware of Bob’s professionalism within the wine industry and among its suppliers through his work with Wineries Unlimited. We’re confident that his networking and expertise will help take our trade show to the next level,” says Martell.

Lisa Smiley, member of the MGGA, and a Board member of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, Eastern Section, is no stranger to the Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference, serving as conference director in 2006 and 2007.  “Lisa is a familiar leader in the cold climate grape and wine industry,” explains Martell. “She is enthusiastic about sharing her expertise. She and Richard complement one another in terms of ideas, energy and their passion for the wine and grape industry.”

The MGGA is also excited by the debut of a day-long workshop Thursday, Feb. 17 on “Starting Your Winery Successfully Step-by-Step”, chaired and moderated by winemaking consultant Tom Payette. A frequent speaker at the Wineries Unlimited trade show, Payette is well-known and respected in the Eastern wine industry, and writes a technical column for Vineyard & Winery Management magazine.

About the Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference:

The focus for the three day Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference is on the opportunities and challenges facing growers and vintners in the Upper Midwest and other cold climate growing areas. It features three concurrent seminar tracks covering viticulture, enology and marketing plus a trade show and a half-day evening program for those new to or just entering the wine industry. The 2011 Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference will be held at the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel from February 17-19.  Last year’s 450+ conference attendees represented 16 states, WashingtonD.C. and three provinces. Attendance is expected to grow 15% in 2011. Online registration and more conference details will be available at

About the MGGA:

The Minnesota Grape Growers Association was founded in 1976 and is dedicated to advancing the art and science of growing grapes and producing wine in cold climates. Current membership is over 700 and represents growers, wineries, suppliers and enthusiasts from Minnesota, the upper Midwest, eastern USA and Canada.  In addition to its annual Cold Climate Grape & Wine Conference, the Association sponsors educational workshops, tours, and tastings, and co-sponsors the International Cold Climate Wine Competition. For more information visit:

Wine of the Week: Afton Mtn. Riesling 2009, Monticello

Oct 28

Since Tony and Elizabeth Smith bought Afton Mountain Vineyards last year, wine quality is improving with some exciting new wines to show.

2009 was a top vintage for Virginia whites; a cool, long growing season ensuring both ripeness and freshness.

Although there are 33 wineries in Virginia that make riesling, it’s a real challenge because it rots so easily in this climate; some large producers use out-of-state fruit).

This wine showed that a cool but clean vintage like 2009 can produce excellent riesling in Virginia. The nose is subtle, with hints of yellow apple and pear. On the palate, it is fresh and bright, with lime and apple flavors, bright acidity, and a clean long finish.

This is a good candidate for a “locavore” Thanksgiving wine, and a good sign that Afton Mountain is in good hands.

Cowboys vs. Giants Rivalry Taken to Wine Competition Today

Oct 25

Readers of this blog don’t often read references to ball sports here, but today is an exception. As a non-NFL-sponsored adjunct to the football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, there will be a New York vs. Texas wine tasting to determine whether Texans are just cowboys when it comes to wine, and whether New York is still the giant of the Eastern wine scene.

The competition, organized by founder Jeff Siegel, the Dallas-based “Wine Curmudgeon”, with help from the New York Wine and Grape Foundation and the Texas chapter of master sommeliers. This writer will be one of the judges. Taste-off begins about 4:30 PM Central time; stay tuned here for the results, although there will be no instant replays or interruptions for beer commercials.