Virginia Norton Film Wins First Place with Wine Spectator

Sep 20

According to the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, Virginia’s native grape, Norton, received a significant boost in public awareness this week as the historical grape was featured in Norton, the Most American Grape that You’ve Almost Never Heard Of, the winning video in the 2014 Wine Spectator Video Contest. The short film, featuring Chrysalis Vineyards‘ owner Jennifer McCloud, tells the story of Norton, a red grape named after Daniel Norborne Norton of Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Norton was a physician-turned-vineyardist, and first grew the grape sometime around 1820. McCloud’s Chrysalis Vineyards is the largest Norton producer in the world.

The video was produced by Marina Cracchiolo and Pierre Marcelin, and filmed onsite at Chrysalis Vineyards, in Middleburg, Virginia and in their studio in Washington, DC. The video received the most votes in a field of 9 finalists, and according to Wine Spectator, this year’s contest had a record number of entries, with submissions received from around the globe. “Narrowing the field to the top nine finalists was very difficult”, stated Gloria Maroti Frazee, Director of Education and Video for Wine Spectator.

Ms. Cracchiolo, a CNN news assistant, was thrilled when she heard the news. “Pierre and I are honored that the video, which started off as a fun project for the two of us, has been so well received and generated so much buzz for the Norton grape and Chrysalis Vineyards.”

McCloud remarked, “I’m so happy Marina and Pierre won the contest, not only for the recognition and acknowledgment they received as young filmmakers, but for the exposure their wonderful short film offers our native grape, Norton. Their great storytelling, along with the educational theme made their piece very interesting and engaging. It certainly helped my mission in spreading the word about Norton, The Real American Grape!”

The video is featured on Wine Spectator’s website at

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.

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.

Wine of the Week: Braganini Reserve 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Michigan

Sep 01

It’s been a record hot year across the country (except for California), and if you want to cool off to top domestic sauvignon blanc, this is a brilliant, refreshingly Loire Valley interpretation of the classic white Bordeaux grape.

The Braganini Reserve was produced by St. Julian winery in Paw Paw, Michigan (SW). David Braganini is the grandson of Mariano, the founder of St. Julian. 2008 was a cool year in the East, including Michigan. This wine has the subtle, delicate bouquet of lemongrass and crushed limestone, pointing to the Loire Valley rather than Marlborough, NZ. On the palate, the wine is dry but has a rich, ripe mid-palate viscosity much like cool-climate chardonnay. Lemon curd and a hint of sage overlay this viscosity, with a clean finish. An excellent food wine, this will also reward those who can enjoy delicately dry and fresh Loire-style sauvignon blanc (alc. a mere 12%). For growers in SW Michigan, it may be time to consider plantings of this classic grape which seems to have much promise here. Note: this wine was finished with a Stelvin (screwcap) closure, ensuring its freshness which is holding well.

Wines of the Week 8/22/10

Aug 23

Since this posting category has been vacant awhile, I’m posting two today to represent the last 2 weeks.

#1: Hermann J. Wiemer Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest 1999, Finger Lakes, NY

Readers of this blog know I’m a major riesling fan, and also a fan of Finger Lakes riesling. Hermann Wiemer Vineyards on west Seneca Lake is one of the few of the leading riesling producers in the region who offers library vintages of riesling for sale at the winery. This does a service to those who want pre-aged riesling, and also demonstrates that Finger Lakes riesling can age very well.

There’s a big focus in the riesling world these days on dry rieslings, and it’s good we can all appreciate them as such, but Wiemer does us  aservice by offering late harvest classics like this that can show how much style and dimension you can find in classically sweet (German auslese style) rieslings that can match the Germans for finesse, even if made in the New World.

The 1999 vintage was a warm one with ripe grapes, but especially good for late harvest rieslings, as was the recent 2008 vintage. The wine seemed vibrantly youthful, just coming into its prime at 11 years.  The bouquet was complex, with some petrol hints of age, but mostly sappy ripe yellow and red apple fruit, with yellow peach and even a hint of tropical/tangerine fruit. On the palate, it seemed racy and young; vibrant fruitiness danced over a taut and typical Finger Lakes acidity, which kept the 4.5% residual sugar perfectly balanced. While this particular vintage may no longer be for sale at the winery, look for others; great “keeper” vintages should be 2006 and 2008, but 2001 and 2005 will also reward those who want to enjoy in the near term.

#2: Hiddencroft Cabernet Franc 2007, Loudoun County, VA

The first Hiddencroft wine I tasted was their excellent petit verdot, also from the outstanding ’07 vintage, so I wasn’t too surprised to find this small production wine up to the same artisanal standards, but I felt thi swas quite possibly the juiciest, richest (but fruit-forward) caberent franc I’ve ever had. The dark spicy plum was there, also some cardamom hints, smooth tannins, and not a hint of green “veggies” anywhere. Since I also liked their petit verdot so much, it wasn’t surprising to learn that this was actually a blend, (88% Cabernet Franc/12% Petit Verdot) aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for 12 months. Maybe this proves that the best cabernet franc in the world (like Ch. Cheval Blanc?) isn’t all cabernet franc, but has a strategic portion of a fellow red Bordeaux grape added in.  Hiddencroft is a small winery in Loudoun County

Pollak Petit Verdot, and More

Jun 26

Pollak Vineyards in Greenwood won the Monticello Wine Trail Cup 2 weeks ago with their rich and powerful 2008 Petit Verdot. I was a judge in the competition and was impressed with the entire flight of varietal petit verdot wines regardless of vintage (see previous post); rich, deep, smooth and full of black fruit and herb/spice nuance but long smooth tannins…

So I got a chance to taste the wine while looking at the label, at Pollak’s first Friday Barbecue on June 25th. This was the first such event the winery has put on, and featured the vineyard manager’s own band, barbecue by Buck Island Barbecue, and lots of ’08, ’07 and ’09 wines from Pollak Vineyards.

I was expecting to be impressed by the ’08 petit verdot that me and other judges (blind of course) had chosen as the Monticello Cup winner. But before I describe that, other things that impressed me…

1) ’09 Pollak viognier. Ripe tropical fruit nose, smooth broad mid-palate, then Pow! Huge juicy tropical fruit with depth and weight in the finish! This is a rich, emphatic wine, but not too heavy, just weighty in a stylish way like Aretha Franklin…

2) ’09 Pollak reserve chardonnay. I’m not a fan of most chardonnays, especially the oakey, low acid reserves, but this is different. A nose of racy lemon/citrus and cream, with mineral hints, is followed by rich palate viscocity, prickly pear fruit and lusciousness, but finishes with crisp balancing acidity. I thought of Burgundy (Puligny-Montrachet) and winemaker Jake Bushing confirmed that these grapes (grown at 900 ft. elevation) are from Burgundian clones. Native yeast fermentation augmented by multiple commercial yeasts adds to the complexity. Drinking well but will improve for 2-3 years and then hold.

3) ’09 Pollak pinot gris. Great combination of ripe pinapple fruit and firm, full acidity to balance. A model for those doing pinot gris in Virginia.

4) ’07 Pollak meritage. A standard blend of 44% cabernet franc, 43% merlot and 13% petit verdot, this wine has an intriguing spicy red fruit bouquet, with fresh red fruits and savory herbs on the palate, dry but not too tannic, a fascinating and still evolving blend.

So…notes on the ’08 Pollak petit verdot (14 months in oak). Nose: spicy black fruits, lots of complex, rich oak and fruit integration. Palate: Wow!! Blows you right away with intense, rich and deep black fruits and firm tannins, with nice punchy spice notes, and the finish just keeps on. Very young, needs time. Will match with spicy barbecue for those who can handle the punch, but really rocks with a rich, not too sweet brownie, as the chocolate and long smooth tannins just make perfect…uh, harmony…This is a wine for a long winter’s night. Just how long, is up to you…

Sneak previews from the cellar: ’09 petit verdot; rich and aromatic but full and supple tannins; ’08 cabernet sauvignon: strikingly Haut Medoc-like cigar box and cassis nose, very smooth and long tannins, will be a classic for cabernet in Virginia; and an amazingly elegant viognier-based white port ’07: rich, spicy, full-bodied and smoooooooth…..

Remember…the last Friday of each summer month, the Pollak barbecue and band event will continue (from 5-9 p.m.)