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Two of my favorite recently tasted wines, both from New England

At the end of the first week of March, I drove to Lancaster, PA to help run the 5th Eastern Winery Exposition, the largest and most successful wine industry trade show east of the Rocky Mountains. En route, at the show, and afterwards I tasted some fine and even remarkable wines; details follow.

Elk Run Vineyards is in Mt. Airy in central Maryland and has been growing and making vinifera-only wines since 1983. Fred and Carol Wilson are the owners. Fred has been the winemaker for many years but Julian Wilson has been taking increasing responsibility for winemaking and vineyard management in the last five years.

The product line was diverse with solid and consistent quality. Here are the highlights:

Gewurztraminer 2015: (1.3% R.S.) Cold Friday Vineyard. Nose: classic lychee and rosewater aromatics. Palate: juicy, rich, unctuous, spicy, long finish. I’d prefer it drier, but well-made with fine Alsatian aromas and flavors.

Pinot Noir 2013: Cold Friday Vineyard. Elk Run was the first winery in Maryland to grow, make and bottle pinot noir. Nose: lovely Cote de Beaune style; floral red cherry and spice. Palate: firm acid and tannin, ripe cherries and spice, a classic style; will age another year or two. Fine East Coast pinot.

Syrah 2013: Medium-ruby color. Nose: elegant blueberry and black cherry with some spice. Palate: great concentration, finesse, a classic Rhone style. Shows promise for the grape in this region.

Lord Baltimore Maryland Port of Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: Sure, it’s pretty pricey at over $27/half bottle, but if you’re a port fan and want to support local wine, you need to try this. It’s only made every 3 years or so in exceptional years with long, warm growing seasons. Technically it would compare to a “colheita” in Portugal. Even though it’s a single vintage wine, it’s aged for three years in old oak and has tawny character. The color has a hint of orange. The nose is bright and spirit, with dried red fruits in a clean tawny style. On the palate, the wine is rich and spicy, dominated by dried red fruits. Firm and dry on the palate with a long finish. Very classy.

At Eastern Winery Exposition I got to try a wide variety of wines from different species and even some fine fruit wines.

The most impressive rosé I’ve had in at least six months was Sharpe Hill (CT) Rosé of St. Croix 2014. The grape is a Swenson hybrid that’s much like gamay, only very cold hardy and even fruitier. Winemaker Howard Bursen makes a blush and a dry oak-aged red from it, but I love this dry, very assertively fruity and full-bodied rosé. The color is just a shade darker than Provençal style, but the aromatics are large; ripe cherry and strawberry. On the palate, flavor volume is large too, huge cherry and strawberry with ample acidity to match and a clean, zesty finish.

In the Tuesday seminar on the relationship between soils and fine wine, Thomas Bachelder, who makes wine in Burgundy, Ontario and Oregon, presented a white Savigny-les-Beaune 2013 “Les Bas Liards”, single vineyard, in order to illustrate the terroir of Burgundy; tight acidity, vivid citrus fruit, making the palate call out for shellfish. After we tasted the wine, Thomas dropped a bombshell by revealing that this was a rare single vineyard pinot blanc, not chardonnay, and allowed by the laws of the appellation. The wine didn’t have the weight of chardonnay, but I liked its bright lemony fruitiness offset by the mineral acidity.

The most complex wines I tasted at the show were two from Hermit Woods Winery in New Hampshire. The “Red Scare Oak” (NV, 375 ml) was 14.5% red oak aged wine. On the nose, it was legal nose candy that will make your eyes bug out. At first, it was like a St. Emilion on steroids; ripe briar fruits and lots of garden herbs like rosemary, basil and sage. Then, after time, the briar fruits emerge like the blue bulbs on a Christmas tree; blueberry, blackberry and raspberry, also very floral rose aromas with undertones of honey.

On the palate, the wine has excellent fruit/acid balance, leading with ripe, plush briar fruits and rose petal, elegantly balanced. You can drink this wine at room temperature be impressed with its finesse, then be shocked to realize it is a dry fruit wine (a fruit mead or melomel with blueberry, blackberry and raspberry) that doesn’t need any residual sugar. Brilliant!

Hermit Woods “Hermitage” NV, is another dry, oak aged fruit wine, in this case blueberry, elderberry, and black currants. Locally grown fruits are “fermented dry and barrel aged to create Bordeaux-style depth and character.” I continue to be both fascinated and impressed by the dry and elegant fruit wines from Hermit Woods Winery. This wine of deep ruby color began with bright red fruits and herbal hints of sage and fennel on the nose. As it breathed, it evolved into a more classic grape-based wine. I poured this wine for the owners of a boutique chardonnay and pinot noir vineyard and winery, and we enjoyed it with Persian cuisine on the Persian New Year (3/20/16). Neither of them guessed it was not a grape-based wine, but both gave complimentary remarks before I told them what it was.

One of them guessed that the wine was syrah. This brought me back to the wine’s name, “hermitage”. It’s a play on “Hermit’s Woods”, but I kept thinking that syrah and a Rhone-based blend were closer as a metaphor than a Bordeaux blend. The nose evolved to smoky black cherry and licorice with a bit of white pepper, and on the palate the wine was rich and round, with impressive fruit/oak integration. I kept thinking of the Rhone or even Provence (think Mas de Daumas Gassac) with the herbal spice elements and the rich body (14.2% alc.) This could have been a blend of mourvedre, grenache and cinsault as well as syrah from the southern Rhone.  Who would have guessed it was a briar/bush fruit blend from New Hampshire? Impressive and stylish from anywhere, and tops for a non-grape fruit wine. Rock on. $36.00/750ml

Returning from EWE, I stopped at DuCard Vineyards in Etlan, Madison Co. off Rt. 231 and got current with their new release wines. Highlights:

The DuCard Rosé 2015 (the two cabernets and merlot) was stylish and elegant in a delicate Provençal way. Light, creamy strawberries on the nose, followed by a fresh, broad palate of creamy strawberries; dry but also smooth.

Cuvée 719, 2015 is an original concept, a dry wine made from early-harvest traminette that drinks more like a sauvignon blanc. The nose is herbal like s. blanc; on the palate, the wine is firm, crisp but has enough traminette fruit to be a credible light, dry version of that grape. An improvement on the 2014 vintage, it will be a versatile fun summertime white.

Gibson Hollow White 2014 is DuCard’s signature off-dry white wine, made with ripe traminette. On the nose, great fruity, spicy varietal character with rose, nutmeg and grapefruit aromas. On the palate, a fun, juicy wine with fruit, acid and spice balanced well; excellent for this grape which is often too soft.

Popham Run Red 2012: DuCard’s Bordeaux blend, the nose reveals a mature fruitiness with bright red cherries. On the palate, fine fruit/acid balance, nice bright red cherries, still improving in the bottle.

“Version 1” cabernet sauvignon: 2012 (fruit from Carter Mtn. Vineyard, Monticello): Aged in a reserve style, one year in oak, two years in bottle. Nose: lovely pure fresh cassis. Palate: pure, smooth texture, flavors still closed, needs time and decanting but classic with oak in the background.

Cabernet Franc Vintner Reserve 2013: Just released a month ago. Deep ruby color. Nose: suble, elegant black cherry with hints of sage and herb. Palate: firm acidity, solid black cherry, needs decanting. Will match food well.

Virginia Native Norton 2013: Nose: smoky damson plum. Palate: bright fruit/acid balance, solid black cherry and plum flavors, firm acid finish. Needs decanting, stylish.

C’est Trop 2013: DuCard’s distinctive port-style wine made from norton. Nose: lovely fruity nose with exotic spices. Palate: HUGE spice and bright fruits and acid balance, surprisingly like the Duoro red grape-based ports. Very stylish.

After my return I went to Smith Mountain Lake in southern Virginia to enjoy the early spring, and visited a few wineries in the region since I hadn’t done so before.

First was Ramulose Ridge Vineyards growing most of its own fruit, on Hendricks Store Rd. in Moneta. It’s a fairly new operation with an elegant logo and about 14 wines. I frankly can’t recommend the white wines, but I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and style of the reds (they also have a line of popular sweet wines which I skipped).

Chambourcin 2012 was a robust, full-bodied version, with ample American and Hungarian oak, but dark color and plenty of black cherry chambourcin fruit to match.

My favorite was the Syrah 2012. Fresh and delicate red cherry fruit was complemented with hints of smoke and bacon. The fun part for me was that this was an unoaked wine, so all the aromas and flavors were derived from the grape and its fermentation. Syrah in this part of the world is a delicate thing and tends to resemble the Northern Rhone where neutral oak is the norm. Here we have a brightly fruity and individual wine without being overwhelmed with oak; good judgment on the part of the winemaker. Stylish and original.

A short distance down the road brought me to Hickory Hill Vineyards just down the road. A small winery with a tasting room in a barn, they have a lot more going on than meets the eye. Smith Mountain Lake’s oldest winery, Hickory Hill has been in operation for 31 years and has some very well-made wines.

Full Pond White is a skillful blend of chardonnay and vidal, and the wine is one of two commemorative labels for the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake. On the nose, bright yellow apple, and on the palate, a fine blend of fruit and acidity, easy to drink and versatile.

Chardonnay 2011: You might think a white from a crummy vintage five years ago would be a goner, but this was surprisingly good (I bought a bottle). They’ve been experimenting with French oak innerstaves in stainless steel tanks. The wine had no malolactic fermentation and was in tank with innerstaves for 18 months. On the nose, clean with complex creamy notes with a hint of butterscotch. On the palate, the wine was clean and rich but still fresh, with apple and pear flavors, balanced and elegant.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: Nose of ripe cassis/currant with smoke and cigar box hints. Still young, with firm tannins, clean with solid black fruit. Stylish, good value ($20)

Sixty-Six 2012: The second 50th anniversary of SML commemorative label is a high-end ($35) but high-class red Bordeaux blend with very smoooooooth and rich black fruits. Clean and fresh, this blend is also elegant and rich with poised fruit/acid balance. The wine is still young and will age for years, impressive.

LeoGrande Winery is between Bedford and Lynchburg a few minutes north of Rt. 460. They have 10 acres of vines and all wines (except a blend with niagara) are estate bottled.  Italian varieties are their specialty, and “old style” chardonnay. The most impressive wine was the Nebbiolo Reserve 2010 (15% barbera and 5% petit verdot). The nose is classically varietal; mature, with forest floor, truffles  and dried fruit aromatics. On the palate, the wine was complex, with dried fruit, oak and truffle flavors.

Coming soon: wineries on the Virginia Wine Summit tour.