With all the wineries near Charlottesville it could take a month or more of entries to summarize all their wines. Here are highlights of King Family Vineyards (Crozet) and four wineries on the Appellation Trail: Grace Estate, Stinson Vineyards, Glass House Winery and White Hall Vineyards.
Chardonnay 2014: An elegant chardonnay with some complexity. Citrus and hazelnut/cream on the nose, with round mid-palate showing malolactic and lees influences; apple and pear flavors with firm acidity in the finish. The wine was barrel fermented but with only 25% new oak. Stylish and versatile but still elegantly balanced.
Viognier 2014: A nice change from the very forwardly-floral honeysuckle school of viognier. This has vanilla and white peach and white flower hints on the nose but also some bass notes from acacia barrels and subtlety from some of the wine fermented in concrete egg. Lots of nuances that make a nice ensemble. On the palate, a nice balance of rich lees and pear/peach fruit with a long finish. Well-crafted to match fine cuisine and giving varietal character with complexity.
Crosé 2015: This newly released, very popular merlot-based rosé is different than in previous years. Recently it had showed a sauvignon blanc-like passion fruit with high acidity; this one is much more mellow, with delicate white and red cherries on the nose and palate, but round and subtle on the palate, dry but smoother and easier to sip than in recent years.
Petit Verdot 2013: Loads of ripe black fruits with hints of violets and smoke on the nose. Palate: smooth plush tannins that still lead to a fresh crisp finish, with spicy plum and black fruit flavors. A fine balance of fruit, acids and oak that showcase this Virginia specialty grape well.
Loreley 2014: A “vin de paille” or straw wine made from dried petit manseng grapes, this drinks most like a Sauternes-style dessert wine made from a much fruitier grape than semillon. Lots of pineapple, apricot and marmalade on the nose and palate, with bright firm citrus acidity to balance, so it doesn’t seem so sweet. Can be enjoyed with crème brulee, fresh fruit, shortbread and cream in the near future or will improve with age for years if well-cellared.
Seven 2013: This popular port-style wine was originally made from petit verdot, then was made from merlot, and is now back to the petit verdot base, fortified and aged in bourbon barrels. You can tell from the smoky whisky aromas mixed with black fruits on the nose. Palate: ripe, smoky black fruits and toffee hints from bourbon in the background, winemaker Matthieu Finot makes a point of finishing this wine with only 2% residual sugar instead of the customary 6-8% in port-style wines so you’ll get the purity of the taste experience un-sullied by too much sugar. Perfect for chocolate pecan pie and winter storms with a fireside and the right person.
Grace Estate Winery has a new tasting room conveniently just off Rt. 810 a half mile south of White Hall, with picnic tables and deck furniture with umbrellas. The highlights of the red flight we found to be the two wines with tannat. First was the ODO 2012, a big robust blend of 60% tannat and 40% petit verdot. The wine is big but balanced, with huge black fruits on the nose. On the palate, firm tannins and solid black fruits with hefty oak. Balanced but needs another 6-9 months to fully integrate.
Next was the Estate tannat 2012, which although dry was surprisingly less intense than the ODO although quite tannic. On the nose there were hints of blueberry fruit. The palate was rich but smooth; big, but balanced with elegant tannins and black fruits with a mocha finish. Very classy but keep until next winter, and could last a decade or more.
Nearby Stinson Vineyards keeps refining their game with Old World style wines like their Loire-style sauvignon blanc and Bandol-style mourvedre-based rosé, and Burgundian-style chardonnay. The sauvignon blanc 2015 is a classic, but instead of the big passion fruit you get from the Marlborough model, this is only 12% alcohol, with lemongrass and citrus aromas. On the palate, grapefruit flavors with lively acidity, but smooth and well-integrated.
The Meritage 2013 is surprisingly juicy and forward, although dry. Aged for 18 months in French oak gives it maturity and mellow finesse, and combined with the bright red fruitiness it’s both elegant and sensual.
Rosé 2015 is dry but elegant, so be careful not to over-chill it. Made from 100% mourvedre, the wine has both the aromas and flavors of fresh, creamy strawberries and will be versatile and welcome this summer…while it lasts.
La Tour d’Afton 2012 is a meritage-style blend from Turk Mountain Vineyard (not open to the public) who sells their wine to Stinson to sell to the public. This rich, smooth blend is usually dominated by petit verdot with 3 other grapes. This vintage blend features 40% petit verdot, 20% cabernet franc, and 20% each merlot and malbec. The nose has rich aromas of damson plum, violets and mocha. On the palate, the texture is round and plush with a fresh vibrant finish. Unfined/unfiltered.
Petit Manseng 2013: the 2012 version won Best Sweet Wine in the Monticello Cup last year and this is just as good. The nose is complex, Sauternes-like with honey, butterscotch and orange marmalade. On the palate, zesty citrus seems almost dry (3% residual sugar) with flavors of tangerine, peach and pineapple; excellent fruit/acid balance.
Imperialis 2013: This 100% tannat port-style wine is the reason no more table wine is made here from this grape. On the nose: smoky, spicy black fruits with some dried exotic spices. On the palate, big volume, lively tannin/acid texture but balanced by black fruits and spice and impressive length.
White Hall Vineyards had been the only winery in the White Hall district in the late ‘90s but now there’s an “appellation trail” linking them with Grace, Stinson and four other wineries along Rt. 810. Two standards in the product line still stand out. The Gewurztraminer 2014 might be the best they’ve ever done, possibly the best in the state. On the nose, classic rosewater aromatics. On the palate, spicy with rose petal flavors, and a gentle bitterness on the finish to enhance the dry character of this low acid grape variety. Classic and well-balanced.
The Cuvée de Champs is White Hall’s proprietary red meritage blend. The 2013 version is very Bordeaux-like with elegance, typicity and finesse, aged 24 months in oak. The nose reveals ripe red fruits, some herbal leafiness. On the palate, the wine has vibrant fresh red fruits with good integration of fruit and oak, with lively acidity in the finish.
Near the end of the Appellation Trail, Glass House is named for the tropical arboretum attached to the winery that has walkways, tables and chairs, and where bands often perform on Friday and Sunday evenings. The glass theme is repeated with film (transparent) labels and glass stoppers instead of corks.
Glass House is one of my favorite Virginia wineries, not just for the original ambiance and quality of their wines but for the originality of the product line. You’ll find viognier, chardonnay, a sweet traminette (“Signorella”), a chambourcin (“C-Villian”), a red Bordeaux blend (“21st Amendment”), but after that, it’s unusual grapes and unusual styles. There’s a (regular) barbera, a barbera made from grapes dried in the passito style (as with amarone), a ripasso-style chambourcin (fermented on the pressed skins of cabernet franc and merlot, giving more tannins and flavor compounds without diluting varietal character), and two port-style dessert wines, one aged with ground 82% dark chocolate! Even the dry rosé has a risqué label and is called “E-Ville Pink Drink”, a pun on the Earlysville Women’s group.
Being original and witty is all fine and good but without wine quality, I’m not interested. Fortunately, wine quality is consistently fine at Glass House despite some of the technical challenges of these original wines, thanks to winemaker Michael McFarland. Here are reviews of my favorites:
Viognier 2015: Nose: bright orange citrus fruits, esp. kumquat and tangerine; distinctive. Palate: no oak, round, smooth with honeysuckle and pear flavors, then returning to orange citrus flavors on the finish with bright fresh acidity. Stylish and refreshing.
E-Ville Pink Drink 2015: 100% cabernet franc, in a pale Provençal style. Nose: faint pink grapefruit and white peach, with like flavors on the palate. Dry but not edgy, just fresh and light, easy to sip, perhaps to quaff but elegant.
21st Amendment 2013: red Bordeaux blend (46% cabernet sauvignon, 38% cabernet franc, 16% merlot). Nose: mature, with classic Bordeaux markers of cassis, black cherry, earth, smoke and garden herbs. Palate: black fruits, smooth tannins, fresh, medium-bodied, crisp, versatile and elegant.
C-Villian 2014: 100% chambourcin aged in a mix of new, neutral oak and tank. Nose: lovely bright fresh black cherries. Palate: juicy, dry, fresh and bright, loads of clean fresh black cherries. Great for warm weather or for Thanksgiving.
Estratto 2014 (second bottling at 18 months in oak). Juice: 100% chambourcin fermented on pressed skins of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Nose: still fruit-dominated but with subtle layers of spice, leather, tea and hazelnut. No obvious oak. Palate: rich, full-bodied, concentrated black fruits and firm acids, this fills the mouth and keeps expanding with complex, well-integrated flavors, spice and rich texture. Distinctive and special.
Meglio del Sesso 2014: this is a chocolate norton port-style wine, but unlike some using liquid additive, the chocolate is actual 82% dark chocolate powder (filtered prior to bottling). This wine used to be lower alcohol, but now it’s port-level at 17% and is 100% norton. The changes improve the wine a lot. Nose: rich, smoky black plum with mocha. Palate: big black fruits, firm acid, warm alcohol, and all the components are very well balanced.
Bellezza 2012: I didn’t taste this exquisite wine today since it’s not open for tasting, but I remember it from six months ago. It is 75% norton and 12% each cabernet franc and chambourcin, and aged like a tawny port; rich, spicy, plump and hard to resist. Distinctive.