I’m a bit behind in my tasting notes; this entry goes back to mid-March.

On the way back from the 2018 Eastern Winery Exposition , I stopped at Pinnacle Ridge Vineyards near Allentown in the Lehigh Valley of eastern PA. Ten years ago or so I’d written a cover story on them for a (then) major trade publication. Under the talented hand of owner/winemaker Brad Knapp (who holds a post-graduate degree in chemistry), Pinnacle Ridge has emerged as one of Pennsylvania’s top wineries. The winery specializes in chambourcin, a grape that performs so well locally there’s a Chambourcin Trail in the Lehigh Valley, but he also makes stellar pinot noir, as good now as when I tasted it a decade ago.

Owner/winemaker of Pinnacle Ridge, Brad Knapp

Tasting Highlights, Pinnacle Ridge: 

  • Traminette 2016: Classic nose; rich, ripe and spicy. On the palate, perfumed but excellent fruit/acid balance.
  • *Pinot Noir Lehigh Valley 2015: Classic Burgundian nose; clean forest floor, bright red cherry notes. Palate: same flavors, balanced and poised, fruit-driven, a Cote de Beaune style that will last through the fall.
  • Chambourcin 2016: Dark ruby color. Nose: bright blackberry. Palate: juicy, dry, fruity, nice dark chocolate finish. Fun and gluggable.
  • Veritas” 2014 (50% merlot, 40% cabernet franc, 10% petit verdot): Nose, light vanilla and bright red fruits. Palate: great finesse and integration of red fruits with a sort of flint/gun metal on the finish, showing a liveliness of fruit/acid balance reminiscent of the Finger Lakes (NY).
  • * “Veritas” 2015 (40% each cab. sauv. and merlot, 10% each cabernet franc and petit verdot). Nose: light, creamy vanilla, red fruits. Palate: lively and smooth, bright red cassis dominates, then chewy ripe tannins, lively fresh finish. Young, stylish; needs time but promising.

While signing copies of my definitive book on Virginia wine (Beyond Jefferson’s Vines), I tasted some new releases at Chrysalis Vineyards in April. Tasting Room Manager Laurie Stevens gave me a taste of the just-bottled Mariposa 2017,  an eclectic and original blend of Tannat, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, and a touch of Norton done in the rosé style. It was aptly described as “a refreshing, fruity, and slightly sweet wine that is very food-friendly.” I’d have preferred the same blend drier, but the off-dry Mariposa has been a big hit at Chrysalis for years, and always has some norton. This is the best version I’ve tasted.

Chrysalis was the first Virginia winery to produce an albarino, the classic white grape of northwest Spain. Now, they also offer a “vinho verde” version, lighter, fresher and lower in alcohol. The Chrysalis 2017 Albarino Verde has the classic varietal nose of lemon/citrus and crushed stone. On the palate, lemon/lime and lively, dancing citrus acidity makes this a brilliant choice for summertime, either as an aperitif or matching with fresh shellfish (oysters!) I actually prefer this to the 2015 varietal (regular) Albarino.

Down the road from Chrysalis near Middleburg is Greenhill Vineyards (formerly Swedenburg Vineyards to those whose Virginia wine memory goes back to the 1990s). The tasting room has been expanded and includes a porch veranda, with a seating area below with ample tables with umbrellas. On Mother’s Day weekend, the place was pretty packed, with (very) loud parties of (young mothers on a day off?) filling up the tasting room; I was graciously shown to the veranda and given a detailed and well-informed tasting. Sebastian Marquet, a French native who has been making wine in Virginia for over a decade, showed a consistently high level of quality across a diverse product line, ranging from sparkling blanc de blancs (chardonnay) in the methode champenoise process, to red and white port style wines. It was hard to pick out favorites; pretty much everything was very good and elegant for the category. A good place to enjoy a glass of fine wine on a sunny summer day (while in the shade), but the pricing is pretty exquisite ($40 for a half bottle of port-style wine, but then it’s Middleburg).

Oyster Fest at Cardinal Point Vineyard

Cardinal Point Vineyard, just over the county line from Albemarle in Nelson Co., has held a very popular Oyster Fest in the fall for pretty much 8 years or more. This year, they decided to have one in May. Although it rained in the late afternoon (as on pretty much any day in the second half of that month), co-owner Sarah Gorman reported that the turnout exceeded her expectations. As usual, Rappahannock Oyster Company served up oysters in several formats. I felt like a VIP being allowed to pay for the oysters without standing in a line for a half-hour as has been the case with the festival in the fall.

Also, I”m pleased to report that the Cardinal Point wines continue to impress and improve by the year. The A-6 2017 is another hit, a skillful and elegant balance of steel fermented chardonnay and (neutral) barrel fermented viognier (usually the styles are reversed). I love the ripe, rich fruitiness of the riesling-based Quattro 2017 (riesling, gewurztraminer, traminette and viognier), which still has enough acidity to balance the forward fruit.

Speaking of riesling, the Cardinal Point Riesling 2017 is the best they’ve done yet, largely because they were able to harvest later and riper in the dry 2017 vintage than previously, getting nice peachy/red apple character in the juice, but also because the fermentation stopped at 9% alcohol, making a true German Kabinett style with some residual sugar, but still ripe and juicy, with perfect fruit/acid balance. It should be officially released sometime soon; riesling fans should grab it and be glad!

Another fun discover at the Cardinal Point oyster fest was their new label Frai Rose, 100% cabernet franc. “The winemaker arrest fermentation on this wine just short of dry to make this stunningly fruit forward Rosé with just the right amount of sweetness (less than 10 g/l). You will love this expression of Cabernet Franc.” I complimented winemaker Tim Gorman on the darker color than typical in Virginia roses, and also more juicy and full-bodied than the average. The sweetness only balances the big body and fresh acidity. Great with food or on a humid summer afternoon…