Colorado Wine Fest Announces Best of Fest Winners, 75 Medals Total

Aug 28

With heightened judging standards in place meant to increase its validity, the 2012 Best of Fest Wine Competition awarded 75 medals, showcasing the strength and depth of Colorado wine quality.

“I was pleased with the results of the 2012 Colorado Winefest, which awarded truly medal-worthy wines that represent the impressive diversity of Colorado wine today,” said Richard Leahy, Colorado Mountain Winefest Best of Fest chair and seminar program director for the Eastern Winery Exposition.

The annual wine competition was open to the 50 Colorado winery participants in the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, which will celebrate its 21st year on Sept. 15 at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Co. The judging took place Aug. 13-14 at the Wine Country Inn in Palisade. Winefest and Best of Fest both support the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology, the non-profit organization that supports local winemakers and grape growers.

Of the 189 entrants, 75 earned medals ranging from bronze to double gold, with three wines garnering a “Best of Fest” accolade, meaning it was the best in its category and it was awarded a gold medal or better. The 2012 Best of Fest winners were:

· BookCliff Vineyards 2010 Syrah Reserve (Best of Fest Red Wine)
· Grande River Vineyards 2009 Meritage White (Best of Fest White Wine)
· Meadery of the Rockies Cherries ‘n Honey (Best of Fest Mead & Fruit Wine).

Under Leahy’s leadership, Best of Fest medals were handed out to wines that were both flawless in production and of high quality. The judging was brought back to Colorado after several years of wine being sent to Connecticut with Leahy overseeing an esteemed panel that included David Falchek, a Pennsylvania-based sommelier and American Wine Society board member; Gerry Warren, a Washington-based sommelier and Enological Society Judging of Northwest Wines founder; and Brenda Wray, wine director and co-owner of 626 on Rood in Grand Junction.

“Participating in this competition offered a rare opportunity to experience first-hand Colorado vintners’ success with a range of Rhone varieties, as well as Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux-style blends,” Falchek said. “Huge strides have been made. Still, a good number of wines don’t make the cut, and underscore the work that needs to be done.”

About CAVE
The Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE) is a member-based association that exists to encourage and support enology and viticulture in Colorado. CAVE — one of two organizations that supports Colorado wine — promotes the interests of Colorado grape growers and wineries in legislative and political matters, provides a forum for the exchange of ideas, and disseminates current information pertaining to optimum winemaking and agriculture practices for vineyards in the area. CAVE seeks to establish contacts and relationships with other associations, both regional and statewide, to further development and growth of the industry.

(New) Adventures on the Wine Trail

Aug 22

I keep losing the notes I thought I took on my many wine travels and adventures, and I’m finally updating the “Adventures on the Wine Trail” section of this website with a series of posts on “The Great Northern Wine Tour: Summer 2012″. Please link to the “Adventures on the Wine Trail” button for more.

Finger Lakes Riesling: the Terroir Project, part one

Aug 21

I’ve covered developments in Finger Lakes Riesling over the last decade, including writing a review of Chateau Lafayette Reneau’s 2001 Johannisberg Riesling that was printed in Decanter magazine, and the debut of the Tierce Riesling collaboration between Dave Whiting of Red Newt, Peter Bell of Fox Run and Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road Winery.

Now, Fox Run Vineyards has launched a new Riesling project branded on terroir, called Lake Dana (no connection with long-time Finger Lakes winemaker Dana Keeler).

As a press release from Fox Run states, Lake Dana was the ur-lake formed by retreating glaciers that superseded the present-day Seneca Lake, with a higher shoreline. This shoreline happens to border the vineyards of Fox Run, on west Seneca Lake, and the soil is thick loam over lakeshore shale, “ideal for Riesling.”

There are three wines made in this Lake Dana series, named 10, 11 and 12. The first, 10, is an off-dry wine made “with New World protocols”, fermented with Epernay yeast and whole-cluster pressed. Alcohol is 10.9% with residual sugar 0.5%.

I deduced it was whole-cluster pressed from the almost clear color, the lack of overt aromas and flavors, and the clean clear texture and firm acid. On the nose, there’s an intriguing mix of all three colors of apple, a hint of white flowers and crushed slate, all surprisingly subtle for a Riesling from the big 2010 vintage.

On the palate, the wine is equally subtle; no big fruit flavors, but a tongue-coating texture that is almost hypnotic and points to some botrytis in the grapes at harvest. The finish is fresh and clean with vibrant minerality but also subtle on fruit character. The label declares this wine will age well, and I completely agree. It’s already at the point that the primary fruit is fading, and patient cellaring for 7 or more years will reward those willing to wait. Right now its elegant, but so ethereal you could pound a bottle easily but wonder where the fruit was. It needs to age for years. Recently I opened a bottle of the Heron Hill 25th anniversary Riesling reserve (2002) and while it was good, it was only reaching its stride after a decade in the bottle.

I admire the style of this wine, and the “New World protocols” puts me in mind of a Finger Lakes attempt at matching the “Eroica” from Ch. Ste. Michelle/Ernst Loosen. The retail on this fine and elegant Finger Lakes Riesling is in the same ballpark at $30.00; only 81 cases were made. – to be continued

Keswick’s Killer Cab and a Really Good 10-year old Viognier

Aug 17

On July Fourth I was signing books at Keswick Vineyards’ annual Bluegrass July Fourth celebration. Braving the festering heat, I accepted a barrel sample taste from winemaker Stephen Barnard, of the up-and-coming 2010 cabernet sauvignon. I was blown away, and not just because it was over 90 with 90% humidity. The wine is a blockbuster in the best way; power and grace equally balanced, kind of like watching Barishnakov in ballet. Watch for tasting notes which I will release when the wine is commercially released.

After the festival ended, for a treat, Stephen opened a bottle of 2002 Keswick viognier, since the winery is celebrating its 10th anniversary. I’d never had such an aged viognier before and was curious. Many people say viognier won’t age more than two years, since the pH isn’t anywhere as high as for white Burgundy or Riesling, which can age for years. However, we were in for a pleasant surprise.

The nose was definitely varietal, with floral and apricot notes, amplified by ripe bottle age mellowness. On the palate, the wine was round, with acidity fading but the fruit profile was true and correct, with delicate white flowers, apricot and peach tones. After five minutes the wine started falling apart, but that’s not surprising; what was surprising was how well it held up over ten years and for the first few minutes in the glass. Since 2002 was a hot dry year, it’s even more surprising. This should encourage wineries and connoisseurs to give some of their viogniers more cellaring time to see what can be achieved.

Delaplane: a New Wine Destination?

Aug 17

I was recently in Delaplane doing a book signing at the newly-introduced John Marshall Tasting Experience, put on in the house belonging to the first Supreme Court Chief Justice by neighboring Barrel Oak Winery. After tasting around the hamlet, I was impressed by the number of wineries and the level of quality of the wines of this part of western Fauquier County (even if the Board of Supervisors is less than welcoming to the wine industry).

Barrel Oak Winery whose acronym draws a lot of dog lovers. Despite the informal, fun atmosphere, some of the wines are serious. The 2010 reserve chardonnay (fermented in stainless but aged in neutral French oak) won an impressive Double Gold medal at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition. Rich and complex  yet retaining firm acid and minerality, this wine shows Virginia’s potential to make world-class chardonnay.  Aside from individual wine quality, Barrel Oak Winery has been acknowledged for its welcoming atmosphere, and in 2010 was chosen Best Winery in Virginia by the Virginia Farm Wineries Council.

A short ways up the road just across the railroad tracks, and then up the Delaplane Grade road, is another excellent winery as different as possible in its business model from Barrel Oak. RdV Vineyards only makes two wines, a “right bank” merlot-based wine called Rendezvous and a “left bank” cabernet sauvignon-based flagship blend called Lost Mountain (formerly known as RdV). Production is only 2,500 cases annually. The winery is not open to drop-in visitors but tours and tastings can be made by appointment (for $40/person) for small groups. Both the vineyard, eleven acres of vines rising dramatically from a hump of eroded gneiss, and the winery, with a silo as the center point and three wings radiating from it, make an impressive style statement.

The current vintage is 2009. The Rendezvous is 35% merlot, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 21% cabernet franc and 12% petit verdot. The color is almost opaque dark garnet. The nose has bright berries, earth, chocolate and roasted cherries and plums. On the palate, there are loads of cherries; the texture is rich and round with nice smooth supporting oak. Flavors of concentrated red fruits and chocolate follow, with a dense but smooth finish. Stylish but young. $55.

2009 Lost Mountain: 77% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot, 9% petit verdot. Opaque ruby/garnet. On the nose, hints of brooding dark fruits but much more backward and closed than the Rendezvous. On the palate, firm tannins, tightly wound fruit and oak, lighter weight than the Rendezvous. Flavors emerge of cassis with some cedar notes, and a crisp finish. Very young, but elegant; not over-done. Best after 3 more years.

Delaplane Cellars

Perhaps the happy medium between the popular, large Barrel Oak Winery and the small, exclusive RdV is Delaplane Cellars, just a couple of miles north of RdV on Rt. 17. Owned by Jim and Betsy Dolphin, Delaplane Cellars offers visitors a tastefully appointed tasting room with inspiring views of their own vineyards and the nearby slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thoughtfully, they positioned mirrors on the tasting room walls so you can benefit from the views while facing the staff and tasting wine.

The 2011 whites are clean and crisp, but because of the lean vintage, the reds are far more interesting. The 2009 Cinq2 is a blend of 4 red Bordeaux grapes and tannat, aged for 26 months in French and American oak. On the nose, it has very juicy bright red fruit, with the same style on the palate and despite the tannat, has a firm but not tannic finish.

The 2010 reds are the star of the show here, while they last. Jim’s top of the line reds are all single vineyard designations. The 2010 Springlot  is 47% merlot, 33% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% cabernet franc. An impressively deep ruby color is followed by a nose of bright zesty red raspberries and cherries, almost like a cool-climate zinfandel. On the palate, the wine is bursting with red fruits, briar fruits and fresh acidity, with fine tannins and no obvious oak, a wonderful and zesty wine.

Delaplane 2010 Left Bank Reserve is made from estate fruit, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot. Made from the first crop of young vines, this wine was the favorite of the winter barrel tasting, says Jim. The nose reveals deep black fruits, with smoky mocha chocolate hints. On the palate, there is finely elegant fruit with solid black cherry flavors and fine smooth tannins; very elegant. 140 cases.

Delaplane 2010 Williams Gap Reserve is a single vineyard “middle-of-the-road” Virginia-style red Bordeaux blend of 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot. When I tasted the 2008 version, I remarked how it reminded me of a Dry Creek Valley zinfandel. Deep color is followed by lots of black pepper and vanilla on the nose, still resembling zinfandel that way and also with lots of ripe, dense black fruits. On the palate, it is wonderfully smooth and round at first, then dense but plush tannins take over with a smooth velvet finish. The flavors are still closed, but the richness of the nose and texture say that this is a wine to lay down for a couple of years and break out in the dead of winter, maybe sneaking it into a zinfandel tasting as a ringer.

Delaplane 2010 Tannat:  Deep purple and opaque. Nose: exotic port-like profile of black fruits, blueberry, pepper and cardamom spice. On the palate, very smooth but firm tannins, fruit flavors still a bit closed, exotic but the best American example I’ve had yet. Fans of big, firm reds that aren’t over-oaked will find this very stylish.

Nearby on Rt. 17 just a short distance north from the turn for RdV off Rt. 17 is Three Fox Vineyard; up at the top of the ridge is Fox Meadow Winery which won the 2010 Governor’s Cup with a 2008 cabernet franc. Close by near I-66 to the south are Capitol Vineyards, Chateau O’Brien, Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyard, and if you drive east on Rt. 713 turning right just before Delaplane, you’ll reach Vintage Ridge.  As you can see from this snapshot, there’s a lot of diversity and fine wine in the Delaplane vincinity, in just in one corner of Northern Virginia that may well get more attention for growing fine wine than the county Board of Supervisors would prefer.