Maryland Wine: A Sneak Preview of the DLW Conference in Baltimore

Nov 22

As a sneak preview for you Drink Local Wine fans for our upcoming annual conference to be held April 12-14 in Baltimore, I will share some tasting notes from my site visit trip.

Maryland is a sideways ‘L’ shaped state with most of the wineries clustered in the Piedmont between the Potomac River and the Mason Dixon line north of Baltimore, but an increasing number in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern shore. For mysterious reasons (less clay in the soil?) cabernet sauvignon has had a much more consistent track record here than in the more famous Virginia to the south, since the industry got going in the early 1980s. The grape selection is much as you see in Virginia (with less viognier and more pinot grigio), with red Bordeaux varieties and blends dominating the red scene. “Up-and-coming” varieties include albarino, syrah and, as with Virginia, petit verdot. Sangiovese (with the right clones) are also promising, as shown by Fiore Winery.

It’s important to point out the historic role of Maryland in introducing French hybrids to commercial viticulture in the East, thanks to the research of Philip Wagner at (the first) Boordy vineyards near Baltimore in the 1940s. French hybrids are now grown from New Hampshire to western Colorado, and have been an important part of sustainable viticulture, paving the way for transition to vinifera viticulture in the 1980s and beyond in the Mid-Atlantic.

Leading French hybrids in Maryland are the same as in Virginia; seyval blanc and vidal blanc for whites and chambourcin for reds. These grapes are often blended with vinifera grapes but can also make stylish stand-alone varietal wines.

At Boordy Vineyards, I spoke with proprietor Rob DeFord, who has followed viticulturist Lucie Morton’s recommendation and re-planted his vineyards to close row spacing (1 meter) with cane pruning, and finished planting his final 3 acres to albarino. I also tasted through the current Boordy line-up. Although their signature sur-lie seyval is no more, Boordy wines are still on the cutting edge of quality in Maryland; they won Best of Show at the 2012 Maryland Governor’s Cup along with Best White Wine.

Boordy Pinot Grigio 2011: Nose is nicely nuanced with smoky pear and citrus notes. On the palate, melon, pear and grapefruit flavors emerge. The wine is dry but round, not as crisp as the usual pinot grigio but with more depth; stylish and with character. Winner of “Best White Wine” at the 2012 Maryland Governor’s Cup. $13.99.

Boordy Pinot Grigio 2012 (tank sample): Slightly pink from skin contact (pre-fining), the nose is bright with spicy pink grapefruit, with like flavors and vibrant acidity. Will be a winner!

Boordy Chardonnay 2011: Readers know I’m not much of chardonnay fan, but as there has been a collective raising of winemaker consciousness outside of Burgundy for the last five years or so, with the rise of the unoaked category, it’s been rewarding to see a return to Burgundian style chardonnay in the Eastern U.S. This was partially barrel fermented (40% French). The nose has a nice light Burgundian style with lemon minerality and just enough oak, not too much; elegant. $13.99

Boordy Chardonnay Reserve 2010: Fermented and aged in French oak, the nose has a complex mix of oak, lemon, yeast and a hint of hazelnut, reminiscent of fine white Burgundy. The palate has great acidity despite having gone through malolactic fermentation, and finishes like Puligny-Montrachet for 30% less money. $21.10

Boordy Dry Rose 2012: pre-release, on the market soon. Mostly merlot, there is a huge floral and rose petal nose, along with cotton candy and pink grapefruit. On the palate, the wine is juicy, vibrant and fresh with a clean finish. $13.99 (2011 price).

Boordy Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010: This is the first Boordy cabernet franc to have a “reserve” designation. The nose is a nicely nuanced blend of cherry and white pepper (18 months in French oak) and drinks more like a classic pinot noir than a cabernet franc-dominated red Bordeaux or even Chinon; elegant.

Boordy Landmark Reserve 2010: This “flagship wine” blends merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, aged 18 months in French oak. The nose seems dominated by spicy syrah hints, with dried cherries and clean leather. On the palate, the wine is fresh, with well-integrated fruit and oak but the spice and leather of the syrah give it a Rioja reserva penache. It’s worth noting that this original and stylish blend won “Best of Show” in the 2012 Maryland Governor’s Cup. $35.00

Boordy “Great Blue Heron” vidal blanc 2011: Part of the label series “Icons of Maryland”, this versatile and fresh vidal has 2% residual sugar but very well balanced with acidity, making a clean, lively and versatile wine for sipping or enjoying with appetizers or light fare.$11.93 (steal)

Boordy “Diamondback Terrapin” petit cabernet 2010:: Another in the “Icons of Maryland” series, this is a fruit-forward, juicy cabernet for people who don’t want a tannic version. The wine is dry, but clean, fruity and vibrant, and still identifiably a cabernet sauvignon. $13.07 (deal)

Boordy “Veritas” Ruby Port 2007: made from chambourcin, the wine is well-aged so has a fun blend of fruit and age elements. On the nose it’s richly fruity with some smoky whiskey tones (although aged in French and American, not bourbon, barrels). On the palate the wine is juicy cherry fruit, low in tannin, but round and smooth with some tawny nutty hints. Easy to drink, nice complexities and a bargain for $16/half bottle. Won “Best of Class” in the 2011 Maryland Governor’s Cup. Also, a deal for a local port of this age and complexity at $16/half bottle.

Port of Leonardtown Winery (Southern Maryland Cooperative) Vidal Blanc 2010 (dry). This is a stylish, elegant vidal which resembles nothing as much as a good dry Italian white (but not pinot grigio). Nose: subtle pear and apple notes with a hint of minerality. Palate: dry, a good balance between a solid depth of pear on the mid-palate and lively acidity in the finish. Because vidal is a bit heavier than chardonnay or pinot grigio, this wine has the texture to stand up to cream sauces and grilled fish and chicken, but is still not clumsy, and is completely dry at 13%. In fact, it tastes much like an Italian garganegna, which along with trebbiano is used in Soave. More Eastern vintners should examine this as a stylish dry incarnation of this versatile hybrid.

Knob Hall “Prestige” 2010, Cumberland Valley AVA

This delicate red Bordeaux blend is as enchanting as a Chopin nocturne. Surprisingly light for a big vintage like 2010 at 12.5% alcohol, the wine is an elegant Right Bank style blend with just enough spice and cedar from well-integrated oak to give the wine a touch of complexity while keeping well-integrated fruit forward. Refreshing, subtle and clean but true to the Bordeaux flavor profile, it’s easy to drink yet elegant.

Chrysalis Norton 2011 Recommended by Jancis Robinson MW

Nov 22

Those who follow the Virginia wine scene remember that last July Jancis Robinson MW, editor of the authoritative Oxford Companion to Wine and also one of the earliest wine blogs, (known as the “purple pages”) was the keynote speaker at the national Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville; I also gave her a number of Virginia wines to taste and review.

Last week, not only did she include a Virginia wine in her weekly wine recommendations, but it was a norton; the 2011 Chrysalis estate bottled norton (there are several labels including the barrel select which I poured last week at a seminar at the annual American Wine Society conference).

Robinson was in New York to promote her new two-tome work called simply Wine Grapes (a definitive guide to the subject), and while meeting with some sommeliers, and as she says on her blog, “At one point I found myself raving about the quality of the Norton grape with a fellow sommelier enthusiast… I love its bright fruit, its earthy undertow and what seems like innate balance in most of the examples I have tasted over the years.”

She went on to say she knew “of no one more besotted by Norton than Jennifer McCloud, whose Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia specialises in the variety.” McCloud sent her a range of her nortons which she included in a piece on “all-American norton” in August. She hasn’t tasted this wine “but I did taste the more expensive Chrysalis, Barrel Select Norton 2011 Virginia, which is stunning. I’m really highlighting this to try to make more people aware of Norton’s respectability and interest value.”

She explains that it can be purchased at Astor in New York, and at the winery itself, who are offering it at $17.  She will be including norton in a presentation on interesting wine grapes, “such as that it has twice as high a level of supposedly health-giving resveratrol as Cabernet Sauvignon.” If that isn’t a good enough reason to start drinking local, the fact that it’s the perfect Thanksgiving red wine should be.

The complete post can be found at

Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2011 (!) Beats 1er Cru Volnay, 2010 Version Impresses OR Pinot-philes

Nov 16

If you told people you were planting a commercial vineyard in Eastern North America to just chardonnay and pinot noir, you could expect people to laugh in your face. With high seasonal humidity and frequent late season tropical storms, the thin-skinned pinot noir tends to rot before it ripens in the East.

Gung-ho pinot-philes in New York’s Finger Lakes started a pinot noir guild to share wines and best practices, with the goal of making a name for the region’s pinot noir as had been done for its rieslings, but it was disbanded. I asked guild founder Bob Madill (general manager of Sheldrake Point Vineyards on Cayuga Lake) why. He said that the main problem for the Finger Lakes versus Oregon, Burgundy or New Zealand was the high average levels of rainfall during the month of harvest, and the consequent difficulty of maintaining crop quality. Indeed, I had been cellaring Finger Lakes pinot noirs going back to 1997, and none of them held up for more than three years in the bottle.

Finger Lakes average humidity is usually lower than what we have in Virginia, and we also have more frequent tropical storms in late summer. It’s not impossible to find decent pinot noir in Virginia; Shep Rouse has made a consistently good one, and the relatively new Cross Keys Vineyards and Ox Eye Vineyards (note: also in the Shenandoah Valley) have also done a surprisingly good job (the Valley has less humidity and rainfall than the Piedmont east of the Blue Ridge).

However, making a decent Virginia pinot noir seems hardly worth the hassle, risks and low yields compared to the easier results with thicker-skinned red Bordeaux varieties, so I was surprised to learn of Ankida Ridge Vineyards just off the George Washington National Forest high in Amherst County, growing Dijon clone chardonnay and pinot noir on a ridge saddle of 1,800 feet. When I heard the vineyard consultant was Lucie Morton (she was the one who suggested these varieties), I figured the Vroomans (the owners) had their act together.

At the national Wine Bloggers Conference in 2011, I tasted Ankida Ridge’s 2010 pinot noir, which immediately impressed me with its spice notes and rich cherry fruit (over 14% alcohol). This was the first harvest from the vineyard blended with high Brix fruit from another vineyard, so the wine was rich, but not hot, and the purity of the cherry fruit (and absence of visual browning typical in Eastern pinot) showed this was a new generation of pinot noir in Virginia.

If I told you that in the wretched 2011 vintage, Ankida Ridge made an even better pinot noir than it did in the hot 2010 vintage, and that it beat a premier cru Volnay in a blind judging, you might be skeptical. In, fact, this is the case. Before a month and a half of rains hit Virginia last September, there was a hot spell, and since pinot noir ripens early in here, Ankida Ridge got the fruit in clean before the rains came. Ironically the best wine in the state made in a wet harvest could be this pinot noir! It was the first full yield from the vineyard (planted in 2008 to Dijon clones  115, 667, 777, and vcr18) so the purity of fruit, terroir and wine chemistry was even better than in 2010.

Winemaking regimen according to winemaker Nathan Vrooman: “We chill fruit, destem with no crush to achieve whole berry fermentation. Then cold soak for approximately 3 days. We do two Punchdowns daily, use two different yeast strains, press when dry, age in all french oak (25% new medium toast barrels), 100% MLF, bottled with premium cork after aging 10 months in barrel.”

Here’s my tasting note: Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, Virginia (all estate fruit).

Color: transparent but darkly hued ruby, no browning. Nose: complex and very Burgundian, with spicy red cherry, some strawberry in the background, and an almost flinty minerality; reminiscent of Chambolle Musigny, but showing depth and potential for evolution.
Palate: very bright and freshly tart with racy acidity, bursting with tangy cherries. The texture is just as impressive, dominated by fruit and acid, with noticeably low alcohol (12.8%) for a wine of such ripe flavors. The texture is also free of heavy oak, and the wine finishes with the same vibrant, dancing cherry flavors and acidity that began on the nose. After being open half an hour, the nose begins to show clean earth and truffle notes.
The wine is very young but is better than most Burgundies I’ve had (i.e. been able to afford); in the East, the only pinot noir I’ve had this good was the 2007 Le Clos Jordanne from the high-end Burgundian specialist of that name in the town of Jordan on the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, which is darned good company to be in.

This wine was placed in the “Judgment of Virginia” tasting at the R.R. Smith art museum in Staunton in October, where seven sets of Virginia wine were tasted blind against French equivalents, and this pinot noir clearly beat a 2009 Louis Latour Volnay En Chevret Premier Cru (complete details on my blog;

Even the ripe but not as sophisticated 2010 vintage of Ankida Ridge pinot noir impressed Oregon pinot noir fans and industry members. Neal Hulkower Ph.D. who writes on the Oregon wine scene recently tasted the 2010 vintage with some Oregon pinots and industry friends. “Bottom line:  the Ankida Ridge pleasantly surprised a small group of diehard Oregon pinot fans (including one who is a general manager of a Dundee Hills winery and another who is in the industry).  After a promising first vintage, we look forward to seeing how the winery progresses over the years.

Ankida Ridge Vineyards also makes an elegantly Burgundian chardonnay, but this piece is about the pinot. Just released on 11/14, this pinot noir will last a decade if well cellared, and retails for $42. It drinks like the price; if you think about how much you’ve spent for spurious Burgundies or over-oaked and high-alcohol West Coast pinot noirs, this is the real deal. I’m told you can purchase online or can pickup at Ankida Ridge’s  Dec 1 Fete de Noel or at one of their future tasting events.  Check website for dates; Also, the wine can be purchased at Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison where they are a partner in their “Best of Virginia” program (generously featuring fine wines from wineries around the state).

History of American Wine Webinar Now Available Free Through UVA

Nov 12

The free webinar titled “Wine Across America: Realizing Thomas Jefferson’s Dream” which is a summary of the 400-year old history of the American wine industry, presented by Richard Leahy on 11/2/12, is now available  through the University of Virginia’s office of alumni services, at

Results of First Virginia vs. Oregon Viognier and Cabernet Franc Judging

Nov 04

ON Sunday 11/4, a bi-coastal blind tasting took place which pitted viogniers and cabernet francs from Virginia against those from southern Oregon. The Virginia half took place at the Wine Loft in the West Village Shops in Short Pump, and featured the following judges: Frank Morgan (blogger, of “Drink What YOU Like”), Christine Iezzi of The Country Vintner, Bartholomew Broadbent of Broadbent Selections, Emily McHenry, sommelier at the Wine Loft and Booth Hardy, Richmond-based sommelier.

The tasting featured six viogniers and six cabernet francs, half from Virginia and half from Oregon. The serving order was randomized and the vintages in the viognier tasting ranged from 2009 to 2011. The vintages ranged from 2007 to 2010 for the cabernet francs.

Presiding over the tasting in Oregon was Neal Hulkower, Ph.D. and consultant, and in Virginia, this author and consultant.

The wines were scored according to the Borda system, which is relative ranking by taste preference rather than numeric scoring on a point system (ties are allowed). The panel consensus score, and each separate set of judge scores, are included in the table below:

Viognier All Judges
2011 King Family Vineyards Viognier (VA) 1
2010 Narmada Viognier (VA) 2
2011 Spangler Viognier (OR) 3
2011 Troon Viognier (OR) 4
2009 Michael Shaps Viognier (VA) 5
2010 Del Rio Viognier (OR) 6
Cabernet Franc All Judges
2009 Sunset Hills Cabernet Franc (VA) 1
2009 Spangler Cabernet Franc (OR) 2
2010 Troon Cabernet Franc Reserve (OR) 3
2010 Jefferson Vineyards Cabernet Franc (VA) 4
2007 Cliff Creek Cabernet Franc (OR) 5
2009 Barboursville Cabernet Franc Reserve (VA) 6
Virginia retained first place in both viognier and cabernet franc, as well as second place for viognier, affirming its reputation for both grape varieties.  However, Southern Oregon made a strong showing, especially in cabernet franc, with second and third places, while taking third and fourth places for viognier.

Stay tuned to this site for more complete reporting on this unique tasting.