Welcome back to richardleahy.com, a blog focused on wines of Virginia and the East. My website has been under re-design for the last month, so to get current here are details of the East Coast wines I enjoyed the most in 2015, by category. Aside from the favorite red and white wines, the others are listed in no particular order.
- Adventure Farm Blanc de Blancs , brut, Monticello, VA. 100% chardonnay. This dry but creamy sparkling chardonnay is bright and smooth and keeps you reaching for another glass; a great balance of lemon and cream. More complex than the prosecco style of sparkler; not cheap ($28) but worth it.
- Bet The Farm Gamay brut, methode traditionelle, Finger Lakes. A pale pink color, the traditional processing gives it a wonderful full creamy mousse. The wine is fresh and vibrant but delicate; strawberries with red cherry hints and crisp red fruit acidity. Although fruity, the wine is delightfully dry. A great way to celebrate summer foods and the season.
- Michael Shaps Wineworks Wild Meadow Chardonnay 2008, Loudoun County, VA. Made from Dijon clone 96, using wild/native yeast fermentation, partial malolactic fermentation, French oak (50% new). Nose: evident oak but balanced by ripe pear and apple notes. Palate: HUGE dimension, rich and layered texture but with fresh vibrant acidity in the finish. A complex wine, like lemon crème brulée as a wine and shows how well a top Virginia chardonnay can age. The 2013 vintage had a similar style but is still too young. If you want the 2008 experience, buy the 2013 and lay it down another five years. My personal favorite white wine of 2015.
- Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino 2014, estate, Monticello, VA. Nose: bright citrus and passion fruit. Palate: round, juicy, with fine fruit/acid balance with fine crisp minerality in the finish. If pinot grigio is a Fiat, this is the Lamborghini of Italian white grapes made in Virginia. Distinctive and stylish.
- King Family Vineyards Viognier 2014, Monticello, VA. Nose: fresh apricot and peach. Palate: amazing texture (30% malolactic fermentation). HUGE fruit, round and rich, lots of peach, nectarine and a fresh finish. Winemaker Matthieu Finot says it’s his favorite viognier so far.
- Michael Shaps Wineworks Viognier 2014, Monticello, VA. This delicately floral, fragrant and crisp viognier won the Monticello Cup. A fine delicate but enchanting example showcasing how well 2014 worked for aromatic white wines in Virginia.
- Desert Rose Unhitched Chardonnay 2014, VA. Nose: clean pear and apple notes. Palate: crisp fresh apple flavors grow in fruitiness on the mid-palate with a bit of chenin blanc-like ripeness. Off-dry, stylish, fresh and easy to drink.
- King Ferry Winery/Treleavan Tacie’s Chardonnay 2012, Finger Lakes, NY. I’ve not been much of a chardonnay booster, but this is a nicely elegant example of moderate oak and partial malolactic fermentation married to bright, lively lemony fruit.
- Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard 2011, Niagara VQA Twenty Mile Bench, ON. Thomas Bachelder (winemaker at Domaine Queylus on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario also makes chardonnay and pinot noir in Burgundy AND Oregon. This Burgundian-inspired chardonnay had clean, vibrant fruit and acid, with enough malolactic fermentation to add complexity without it becoming obnoxious. A great example of cool climate chardonnay in the New World.
- Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2014, Monticello, VA. One of my favorite rosés, this is 100% mourvedre made in the saignee method. Spicy smoky red cherry fruit with lively balancing acidity makes for a fun and original warm weather alternative to red wine.
- Loving Cup Vineyards “Dudley Nose” Rosé 2014, Monticello, VA. This is the only certified organic rosé in Virginia, and it’s fun and original. Named for a genetic quirk that turns dogs’ noses pink, the wine is 100% corot noir, a disease-resistant red hybrid developed by Cornell’s Geneva Research Station. Vibrantly ruby pink, the wine has assertive red cherry fruit and flavors and is also dry and fresh.
- Keswick Vineyards “V2” 2014, Verdejo/Viognier, Monticello, VA. This is a unique and stylish blend, 70% verdejo (an aromatic Spanish white grape) and 30% viognier. The nose has lovely fragrant citrus, pear and white flowers. On the palate, the wine is zippy, with bright floral citrus fruit. Delicious and elegant.
- Dr. Frank Vinifera Cellars Reserve Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, NY. This is a new product for riesling specialist Dr. Frank Cellars. This is an auslese-style sweet riesling (6% residual sugar) that has about 50% of the grapes concentrated from botrytis, giving a rich viscous texture to the wine to balance the acidity; the wine is also left on the fine lees for some months before bottling. Nose: ripe peach, apple and a hint of pineapple. Palate; rich, round, full-bodied, sweet but with balanced acidity. Young, will age gracefully.
- Hermann Wiemer Reserve Dry Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, NY. A careful selection of grapes from select lots are fermented separately then blended together for a racy and elegant balance of fruit, acid and minerality. The wine is very vibrant and a bit tight and tart now, but is best laid down and enjoyed after a decade or more.
- Early Mountain Vineyards “Block 11” 2014: A fun, fruity blend of 75% petit manseng and 25% muscat which had a portion of malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity. The nose has great lemon/grapefruit Alsatian muscat notes. On the palate, I first get hints of lemongrass, basil, and kiwi then huge pink grapefruit, mango and peach on the mid-palate. The wine is almost dry and a versatile match for food but also an aromatic orgy (in a good way!)
- Muse Vineyards “Clio” meritage 2010, Shenandoah Valley, VA. An even four-way blend of the two cabernets, merlot and petit verdot. The 2009 vintage of this wine won the 2015 Governor’s Cup, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this wine won in 2016. It’s a very different style from that wine though to match the ripe, rich and warm character of the 2010 vintage. Opaque, almost black in color, the nose is complex with ripe black fruits, rich oak tones, and hints of herbs, pepper and clove. On the palate, the wine has huge volume (14.4% alcohol), but is ripe and smooth, with loads of smooth tannins to match an opulently rich blend of black fruits. This blend of Muse (four equal ratios of the two cabernets, merlot and petit verdot) has worked brilliantly two years in a row in very different vintage conditions, and could be a model others learn from. This is my favorite red wine of the year and is on a par with any other Virginia red wine I’ve tasted.
- Linden Vineyards “Hardscrabble” 2012, 100% estate, VA. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. 14.4% alc. Nose: closed at first but elegant spice hints. Palate: ripe red cassis, smooth tannins, elegant and polished, young but will open nicely with decanting. Firm acids balance rich red fruits.
- Long Point Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2012, estate bottled, Cayuga Lake, NY. A rich, full-bodied style with big black pepper and cherry flavors, and hefty oak with solid fruit to match; a cab franc to match with steak and that can take another few years of cellaring.
- Josie’s Knoll Merlot 2011, Monticello, VA. Nose: fresh, clean, lively. Palate: clean, fresh red and black fruits; a fantastic job in a very challenging vintage.
- Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Tannat, VA. Nose: clean but closed. Palate: layered fine tannins, not harsh for a straight varietal but surprisingly elegant. Rich, young, needs time but stylish, shows great potential for this grape as a varietal.
- King Family Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014, Monticello, VA. Great nose; pure, clean blackberry and black cherry, with hints of pencil lead. Palate: juicy, clean, lovely ripe mid-palate brambleberry fruit, crisp finish. Classic and fruit-driven.
- Veritas Vineyards Petit Verdot 2010, Monticello, VA. Nose: smoky, complex black fruits with a touch of game. Palate: firm acid, solid black fruits, tastes like a two year old wine still. Young, needs time but huge dimension and well-balanced.
- Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2013, VA. A fine combination of house style and vintage character. Bright fresh, clean red and black cherry with hints of clean forest floor and truffle, firm acid and no clunky vanilla oak cluttering up a classic pinot. One which can lay down a few years. To drink in the near term, decant a few minutes.
- King Ferry Winery/Treleavan – Pinot Noir 2012, Finger Lakes, NY: The nose has fascinating aromas of strawberry, forest floor and truffles. On the palate, the wine is racy with (typical for the variety) high acid, and moderate oak. A wine for Burgundy fans, it needs a little time but will reward patience.
- Keswick Vineyards Cabernet France Reserve 2013, Monticello. Nose: classic graphite, sage and black cherry notes with allspice. Palate: huge dimension and flavor, large volume of red and black cherry, hints of oak and nutmeg, big and vibrant but balanced.
- “3” 2013, Monticello, VA. A 33.33% blend of cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot that is a three-way collaboration between Jake Busching (now at Michael Shaps Wineworks), Emily Pelton of Veritas Vineyards, and Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards. On tasting, the nose opened to lively, fresh red and black fruits. The palate was smooth with a burst of fruit mid-palate with a fresh, crisp finish and smooth tannins.
- Pollak Vineyards Meritage 2012, Monticello, VA. This blend is 40% each merlot and cabernet franc and 20% petit verdot; red fruits, mocha, herbs with a plush smooth texture and velvet finish.
- Fox Meadow “Le Renard Rouge” 2010. An earlier version of this high-end meritage blend won the Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup. Blend: 40% each of cabernet franc and merlot, 10% each cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. This wine was only released after years in oak last summer. Nose: elegant, subtle, nice spice. Palate: fine tobacco, cassis, and spice with bass notes of black fruits as the wine opens. Elegantly balanced between fruit, oak and acid, chewy mid-palate. Should be laid down to age in the bottle another 2-3 years and then decanted. Great example of how patient aging of top vintage red in oak is worth waiting for.
- Barboursville Vineyards “Octagon” 2012, VA. Only merlot and petit verdot due to uneven ripening of cabernet franc. Nose: lovely subtle herb, black fruits and spice. Palate: firm, crisp fruit, a bit tight and young, needs time but solid fruit core.
- Rockbridge Vineyards V d’Or 2010: a triumph for this class of white dessert wine made from grapes artificially frozen. A blend of vidal, vignoles, riesling and traminette, the wine is rich and intense but also mellow and balanced, with tropical fruit, fig, vanilla and fine acid throughout. This vintage won a record number of medals and out-scored another dessert wine costing $350.00. 15% residual sugar, 13% alcohol.
- Bluestone Vineyards “Dry Dock” 2012 Shenandoah Valley. Dry norton port aged in bourbon barrels. Nose: richly ripe, dark, and spicy with damson plum and boysenberry fruit. Palate: high alcohol (18%) but also firm acidity. Dry, with vibrant fruit and firm acid; needs time. Best with ripe cheese or bittersweet chocolate.
- Linden Vineyards Petit Manseng 2011 Late Harvest, VA. A mature varietal nose of pineapple and mango made complex with additions of oak and yeast. Gold in color (12.7% residual sugar, 13% alcohol), the wine starts with ripe tropical sweetness, moves into apple pie with baking spices, then ends with firm crisp acid. A fine example of the sweet style this grape can achieve in Virginia.
- Glass House Winery Bellezza. Port-style; 75% norton, 12.5% chambourcin, 12.5% cabernet franc. 17.5% alc. Monticello, VA. Nose: touriga-like spice and plum, with toffee and caramel hints on the palate and firm acid balancing rich ripe fruit and heady spirits. A candidate for the best of Virginia’s growing class of norton-based ports. Very stylish.