In my last post, I highlighted my favorite tank or barrel samples of the infant 2018 vintage. As Maryland vintner and friend Mike Fiore would say, “Not so bad!” Vintners may have lost up to half of their potential crop, but from what I’ve seen they did a great job with what they had. The first rule is not to try to make what nature hands you into something it really can’t be with credibility. As Elton John says, that’s like “tryin’ to find gold in a silver mine.” And so, 2018 wines are off to a better start than I expected

2017: A “Perfect” Vintage?

As I may have explained, 2017 gave the kind of growing season we’d like to see a lot more of, in contrast to 2018, which we hope we’ve seen the last of. May was wet and some crop was lost to Phomopsis (a fungal disease), but the summer dried out, with even rains and moderate temperatures. In August, as you may remember, it felt like September; it was dry and even cool at night. This led to well-balanced white wines harvested in early September.

In mid to late September, we had a sustained heat spike, but it was still dry. This led to perfect conditions for well-ripened and clean red grapes, even the late ripening varieties. Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards has compared the 2017 vintage to that of 2009, both of which he calls “classic” vintages. The 2010 vintage was exciting for tannin-heads, but some of the red wines were unbalanced due to the rapid ripening that left many wines with high pH levels, high alcohols and low acidity.

Favorite 2017 Wines from Six Wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail

To recap, ten days ago I visited six wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail: Veritas, Stinson, King Family, Early Mountain, Glass House and Chisolm (nee Adventure Farm). This is not to say that I would not also have visited others if time had allowed, but it didn’t. Some of the ’17 wines were bottled (whites, roses and even some reds), others were still in barrel, but a mighty fine showing they made.

VERITAS VINEYARDS (winemaker Emily Pelton)

**Reserve Cabernet Franc (barrel sample). Color: impressive dark ruby. Nose: gently spicy dark cherry fruit. Palate: the texture has great finesse, what Thomas Jefferson called “silky”. Flavors of spices and dried cherries, great integration.

**Petit Verdot (barrel sample). Color: dark violet! Nose: closed, but hints of boysenberry and mocha; promising! Palate: wow! Purple velvet, violets, plush, smooth tannins. Will be a winner! Alcohol moderate at 14.1%

STINSON VINEYARDS (winemaker Rachel Vrooman)

**Sauvignon Blanc (bottled). Nose: spicy, musqué-clone (New Zealand)-like, with passion fruit and grapefruit rind. Palate: lively, great fruit/acid balance, very lively passion fruit and grapefruit flavors, with dancing acidity. In contrast to the NZ style, which usually pushes 14% alcohol, this is a delicate 12.8%. This could be Stinson’s best Sauvignon yet!

**Tannat Rosé (bottled). Nose: Wow! Total fresh strawberry! I imagine I can sense the tiny hairs on the fruit it’s so fresh and pure! Palate: more color, body and flavor than in the Provençal style, with original and boldly fruity style, dry with firm acidity.

*Cabernet Franc (bottled). Nose: Wow! Scented black cherries; lovely. Palate: very juicy, ripe, higher than usual alcohol, smooth, with ripe tannins. Young, but promising! Silky smooth velvet finish.

KING FAMILY VINEYARDS (winemaker Matthieu Finot)

Roseland (bottled; blend of Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay). The bright, fruity nose reminds me of the Caymus “Conundrum”, a proprietary white blend from Napa Valley. Hints of new oak and ripe tropical fruit. Palate: ripe and round, with bright acidity on the finish. Stylish and original, needs some time.

**Meritage (barrel sample). Color: deeply vibrant ruby. Nose: Wow! For a barrel sample, lots of integrated spice with red and black fruits. Palate: bright red/black fruits, loads of spice then finishing with fresh acidity. Finot has an established reputation for consistently producing some of the top meritage wines in the state, and I expect this will live up to expectations.

**Petit Verdot (barrel sample). Nose: Wow! Tastes richly ripe of bramblefruits, with smooth, long, rich tannins. Juicy, will be great.

***Meritage Whole Cluster (barrel sample). (Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) Color: dark ruby. Nose: dried garden herbs, then red and black fruits. Palate: forward flavors of boysenberries! Higher than usual alcohol, wild brambleberry fruits. Yes!

EARLY MOUNTAIN (Ben Jordan winemaker. All samples here were bottled.)

The talented Ben Jordan has made strides at Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison Co. since moving there a couple of years ago from Michael Shaps Wineworks.

*Rose (bottled) A Merlot base with some Syrah. Nose: bright pink, fresh red cherries! Palate: zesty, bright, some viscosity, red cherry flavors dancing with vibrant acidity on the finish. Very stylish!

*Chardonnay (Madison Co. vineyards blend, native yeast ferment, partial malolactic fermentation, barrel fermented.) Nose: toast and cream but no “microwave popcorn.” You hear me. Palate: richly layered but fresh, w. apple/pear flavors. Creamy, well-integrated, not oakey, rich yet fresh. Elegant.

*Petit Manseng Nose: fruity, tropical but also round and subtle hints of pineapple and mango. Palate: round, well-integrated, firm acidity: tight fruit on finish. This is 14% alcohol, was aged on the lees for 17 months, which mellowed the alcohol and acidity. Spicy but complex, well-balanced.

*Blaufränkisch Pet Nat (ancient, now-trendy sparkling wine without fining/filtration or second fermentation, bottled in October during first fermentation). Nose: grapey with classic boysenberry and spice! Palate: juicy, dry, fruity, gluggable! The most fun and forward pet nat I’ve had.

**Five Forks (proprietary white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, and Viognier. This year, the ratio was 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Petit Manseng, and 10% Viognier). Nose: lovely aromatics, graceful like riesling; the S. Blanc keeps the aggressive Petit Manseng in the background. Palate: S. Blanc is forward, with Petit Manseng & Vio in the background. Elegantly balanced, fresh S. Blanc then aromatic/tropical notes, fresh finish. I’m told this will be widely available and is reasonably price; a fun, original and balanced version of a white Virginia meritage (without the Bordeaux grape requirement).

Early Mountain’s Cabernet Franc Project

Ben told me that Early Mountain has made a commitment to varietal cabernet franc, and may have between two and four individual labels of this Virginia favorite in any vintage. In the great 2017 vintage, they will have four labels. They take the Burgundian approach, where they will have county or AVA-wide bottlings, then on a higher tier, individual vineyard labelings. Following the Old World model and other forward-thinking East Coast winemakers, Ben uses large oak, in this case 500 liter barrels instead of the usual 225 liters, for his Cabernet Franc.

* Cabernet Franc, Shenandoah Valley blend. Nose: classic pencil lead, black cherry. Palate: HUGE spice, black cherry and black pepper, fresh lively texture, long flinty finish.

** Cabernet Franc, Madison Co. blend.  This wine was not racked. Nose: fresh! Lovely scented black cherry. Palate: fresh and bright, great fruit/acid balance, quaffable and pure cherry fruit!


 *Chardonnay (bottled; stainless ferment, only partial malolactic fermentation). Nose: nice clean apple and subtle cream from some MLF. Palate: juicy, fruity apple; bright and fresh, with a crisp lively lemony finish. Stylish.

*Viognier (bottled). Very consistent and one of my favorites from vintage to vintage; subtle, fresh white flowers, white peach on the nose. Palate: lively and fresh, still closed but fine fruit/acid balance.

*Dry Signorella (75% Traminette, 25% Petit Manseng). I’m pleased to let you know that owner Jeff Sanders has consented to bottle a small amount of his very popular Signorella dry, before sweetening it (to about 20 g/l or 2%). To encourage him in this effort, I bought a bottle. Nose: huge lychee notes, as with Gewürztraminer (one of Traminette’s parents). Palate: juicy, the Petit Manseng comes forward with lots of tropical fruit! Dry, but with loads of fruit and zesty acidity not blurred by too much sugar.

**Barbera (barrel sample). 17 mos. in neutral oak. Nose: lovely, fresh roses and cherries, spice. Palate: lovely, fresh scented red cherries, some smoke, long clean fresh finish. All the ’17 Barbera is being aged in neutral oak; great choice!

**Cabernet Franc (free-run juice, barrel sample). Nose: subtle scented cherries. Palate: rich, viscous, plush, velvety tannins.

***Tannat (Honah-Lee Vineyard). Color: black hole red! Nose: fresh clean graphite, black fruits. Palate: HUGE tannins, ripe, plush, will age for years.

Chisolm Vineyards (formerly Adventure Farm)

Founded in 1950 as a family farm by Morris Chisolm (still operating and operating frozen cuts of its grass-fed cattle at the tasting room), his young bride Gigi has now become a great-grandmother, and her granddaughter Andrea Mattheson is now farm manager. Photographic subjects on the labels are all vintage photos from the early years of the farm (there’s a delicious Chambourcin/Cabernet Franc blend called “Gigi’s Blend.”) Formerly made by Michael Shaps, wines from 2018 on will be made by Ben Jordan at Early Mountain Vineyards.

Viognier Nose: honeysuckle. Palate: juicy, dry, nice apricot/peach and bright fresh finish.

 Rose (Chambourcin). Color: boldly dark pink. Bright clean red cherries on the nose. Palate: lively red cherries; dry and fresh!

Besides these two 2017 wines, Chisolm has a number of other current releases from past vintages which I will highlight in a following post.

Next: My Top Favorites of 2018

Rating Scale: * = very good; ** = exceptional; *** = outstanding