Regular readers may remember I did a marathon tasting tour of the Finger Lakes of New York last June. Since the region has about 200 wineries, I couldn’t get to each one. In mid-October, I returned and visited places I had missed on the previous trip, and I’m pleased to share my notes with you.

The Finger Lakes are some eight hours north of Charlottesville, VA so I made some stops along the way, and am glad that I did. Here are highlights from tastings in Virginia and Maryland.

** Pippin Hill Vyrds. Viognier 2017. Monticello, VA: One of the best Virginia viogniers I’ve ever had. Rich and concentrated but not flat or flabby. Nose: bright orange citrus fruits, and ripe apricot, much like a late harvest riesling. Palate: Lush and layered, but concentrated ripe peach and apricot flavors, then bright acidity and peach/apricot flavors on the finish. Skillful balance of ripe fruit and acidity. If petit manseng was added, for natural acidity and bright tropical fruit flavors, then more people should be doing that with Virginia viognier.

Bozzos Family Vineyards, in far northwestern Loudoun Co., VA (on Rt. 9 or Charles Town Pike), only just opened their tasting room this year, but even before then, had burst onto the Virginia wine scene in a big way, by winning a gold medal for their “Second Act” meritage blend 2016. I was glad for the chance to stop and taste the whole product line. Bozzos is definitely a place to put on your northern Loudoun winery tour list. Highlights:

  • Carolyn Chardonnay 2017: aged in new French oak for six months. It shows a bit of color from the barrel. Nose: definite up-front French oak, but well-integrated. Palate: rich and round, with full, integrated acidity on the finish, flavors of pear, apple and almond with a hint of butterscotch. A New World interpretation of Puligny-Montrachet. Good value ($25).


  • Edward Cabernet Sauvignon 2017: Due to rain just before harvest, color is a bit light for cabernet. Nose: fruity, faint, red cherry and some strawberry but clean and no veggies. Palate: bright cherry and red cassis, a bit tart but fresh, no veggies, firm long tannins on the finish. Will be yummy in a year for a spring/fall kind of fresh cabernet. ($25)


  • La Famiglia 2017: a 2:1 blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 mos. In French oak. Nose: lovely clean aromas of black fruits and violets, with toasty oak and spice. Palate: wonderfully silky and smooth mid-palate of black fruits, then full-bodied ripe tannins on the finish. Fresh and young, needs at least a year ($30).


  • ** Second Act 2016: A Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant meritage blend with Petit Verdot and Merlot, this debut wine won a gold medal in the 2018 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition. Dark color. Nose: rich, aromatic blend of ripe black fruits, spicy oak, coffee and licorice. Palate: wonderful ripe tannins, a rich and plush texture but firm acidity and long tannins on the finish with mocha and coffee notes. Could enjoy now with decanting but no fruit flavors mid-palate; needs 2 years + to reach its potential but worth the wait. Try finding a wine this elegant and poised in either Napa or Bordeaux for this price ($35).


 Steve Bozzos and his wife showcasing their 2016 “Second Act” at the 2018 Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup awards ceremony in February.

Next, across the Potomac and on to Maryland. Northeast of Frederick are a whole new cluster of wineries near the Pennsylvania state line. Catoctin Breeze is one, and their handling of the Piedmontese grape Barbera shows the potential for that grape in Maryland.


  • Catoctin Breeze “Oratorio” Barbera 2015 (MD): Classic varietal character, and poised and elegant just like a Handel oratorio. Nose: roses, truffles, overturned black earth, crushed gravel and English tobacco, with oak respectfully in the background. Palate: same elements and style, firm acidity, fruit-driven flavors of petals and dried red and black fruits, well-blended oak, fruit, spice and smoke. Lively but layered, complex but forward. Very stylish.

Also in Thurmont, Links Bridge is a small family winery tucked in the rolling hills of northern Maryland. Proprietors Joan Cartier and Robert Thompson planted Cabernet Franc vines in 2008, and used to sell them to Old Westminster winery; I was incredulous at their first vintage (home-made) 2010 Cabernet Franc for how true to the grape it tasted. I was glad to visit their new tasting room, which is very relaxed and welcoming with half a dozen dining tables and chairs where guests can sit away from the bar and enjoy their tasting, along with a hand-drawn map of the vineyard and its surroundings.


  • Dry Vidal Blanc 2015: (Eastern Shore). At three years, this vibrant, dry vidal has a lot going on. Despite a gold color, it’s still fresh and lively, with rich, ripe pear, apple and peach on the nose. Palate: juicy, dry, full-bodied but fruity, great varietal character and balance. Ideal for pork, ham or Asian food. ($18)
  • Dry Vidal Blanc 2017: (Eastern Shore). Nose: approachable fruit, classic apple and pear, flavors on the palate as well. Fine Loire Valley-like minerality, firm acid on the finish, a classy dry vidal. ($18)
  • ***Cabernet Franc 2015 (estate). Soils: silty clay above the Monocacy River, native yeast, aged 18 months in French oak. Nose: classic fresh Loire-style; red cherry, clean clay/earth notes, subtle without obvious oak. Palate: loads of black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom spice over red cherry; texture is full-volume with no oak flavors. Fantastic explosion of flavor, density and length, all without noticeable oak. The Real Cab Franc Deal! ($28)
  • *Cabernet Franc 2014 (estate). Deep garnet color. Nose: classic pencil lead/graphite notes plus leafy herbal hints but no veggies. Palate: not very fruity, lots of minerality; pencil lead, firm ripe tannins on the finish, hints of black cherry mid-palate. In French oak for 18 months, needs to be decanted to open up and get the full spectrum. ($28)
  • *Albariῆo 2017: Nose – Wow! Lovely white grapefruit rind and lemon flowers; stylish! Palate: fine citrus, lemon/lime, grapefruit with like vibrant acidity. Will be killer with shellfish, crab cakes, etc. Drink with food! ($25)

Key: * = Very good; ** = exceptional, *** = outstanding;  

Next: Finger Lakes Tasting Tour #2: The Light, Lovely Wines of the 2017