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.


  1. Michael Kaiser /


    Just visited Elk Run, Black Ankle and Sugarloaf Mountain while visiting my parents up in Frederick. I had only really had Black Ankle before, but the quality of all three was very impressive. No hybrids at any of these three.

  2. Richmond /

    Maryland suffers from a shortage of local grapes and a poor business environment. Most of the grapes are grown by wineries and they tend to start with too few acres. Vineyards tend to be small, and there are lots of experimental plantings looking for what works well. One vineyard owner says that Pinot Blanc grows well, but this is not a high demand variety.

    I grow some Chambourcin, Seyval, and Norton for my own use. The Chambourcin and Seyval grow very well; all I have to do is put cuttings in the ground and they grow. Norton, however, is difficult to grow from cuttings, but when it does grow it grows well. I like the Norton which I co-ferment with the Chambourcin and some Seyval. Others don’t like Norton because it seems to take an extra year to bear fruit. The wine maker at Serpent Ridge tore out his Norton plantings to make room for other varieties. The availability of grape stock for the person who only wants a few vines is limited. This problem includes used winemaking equipment.

    An example of the business problems that wineries face are the various ways that the local health authorities regulate the wineries. Basignani winery in Baltimore County has a traditional wood fired pizza oven outside next to the tasting room. You can watch as the owner Bert Basignani hand makes the pizza and cooks it for you. He does a great job. In contrast Black Ankle in Frederick county wanted to bake bread in a wood fired oven in their tasting room, but the health inspector placed so many demands on them that the entire tasting room would have to have been built like a commercial kitchen with no tasters allowed. Detour winery had the health inpsector there demand that any spilled wine had to go into the septic tank because he though it was hazardous waste. The owner at Detour also ended up building a seperate tasting room because of the inspection problems. Penn Oaks winery had problems trying to get a zoning permit for a tasting room at their vineyard. The locals love the open space provided by the vines, but opposed the idea that there might be events at the winery.

    There have been some positive changes, but there is still much room for improvement with the local governments.

    Thank you for the good article.

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