VAcation: Losing My Virginia-ty 02/03/12
As my last post oh-so-subtly hinted, this past weekend I made my way down to the great state of Virginia in order to taste their wine before it becomes too popular (and therefore uncool). Those of you in the know are probably familiar with Virginia’s reputation as an up-and-coming wine producing region, but it still hasn’t achieved the level of recognition that would, say, allow me to find a single bottle of Virginia wine anywhere in Pennsylvania.
Even so, Virginia was chosen as the site of the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, which I regret not attending (especially since this year’s is in Colorado and would therefore be rather more expensive to get to). 5.5 million bottles of VA wine were sold last year, and Virginia wine also won 14 medals in 2011’s Decanter World Wine Awards, a feat which is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that Pennsylvania wine – which I know, love and occasionally blog about – took home 0.
And so in light of all this, and in spite of the state’s stubborn refusal to adopt the moniker of East Virginia, as the aesthetics of symmetry clearly dictate it should, Ben and I quickly concurred that it would be the best place for us to visit on our enological excursion. After a somewhat blurry train ride, we arrived in Charlottesville, also known as C-ville, because Charlottesville takes up too many characters on Twitter.
We had chosen Charlottesville mostly on the advice of Dezel Quillen, an excellent blogger (and Tweeter) who really, really knows Virginia wine, and recommended the area highly; but it certainly didn’t hurt that northern Virginia was a shorter trip for both of us than southern Virginia, therefore leaving us with more money to spend on wine – and just as importantly, someone to drive us around as we drank it.
We booked a four hour reservation with Camryn Limousine; they estimated that would give us enough time to visit three wineries, if we planned our route carefully. As it turns out, Ben and I managed to see four wineries, as well as a brewery – and still with time to spare. And here I must apologize to the good people at Camryn Limousine, who may well need to reconfigure their pricing structures in the wake of our terrifying efficiency.
But you came here to read about wine, didn’t you? Or sex, if you’ve been hoodwinked by the SEO fairy. Either way, I won’t come up with a better segue than this, so on to the vineyards!
Our first stop was King Family Vineyards, where I tasted my first ever Virginia wine. Appropriately enough, it was a Viognier, which not only utilizes many of the same letters as Virginia, but is one of my favorite grapes – in part because of Crossing Vineyards’ excellent Pennsylvanian version. I’m not going to write about this one though, because in the interest of space, I’m only discussing two wines per winery. Plus, I actually enjoyed King’s Chardonnay (with laser-focused lemon notes) more than their Viognier, and I’m pretty ashamed of that, so I don’t know why I’m mentioning it at all.
Anyway, my favorite wine from King was the King Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010, selling for $23. Cab Franc has long been one of my favorite grapes, much like Viognier; and this is also, much like Viognier, largely because of Crossing Vineyards. King’s Cabernet Franc was similar in that it contained a lovely range of fruit and vegetable notes, tied together by beautiful balance on the palate.
Notes of pepper, raspberry, strawberry, earth and perhaps an additional vegetal note intermingled impeccably, while sturdy tannins suggest this wine could benefit from a bit of cellaring (but in my opinion, doesn’t need it…though maybe that’s just an excuse to drink the bottle I brought home with me sooner).
I award the King Franc thumbs up.
To keep things from getting redundant, I’ve decided not to write simply about my two favorite wines from each location (in King’s case, their Chardonnay would probably take second); but about my overall favorite, and then the wine I found to be most interesting. Here it was the simply named King Family Vineyards Seven 2009, selling for $30, a wine made in the style of Port but, as the description boasts, “with an American twist.” That twist being bourbon barrels, in which the wine is aged.
This smelled rather strongly of straw and caramel, aromas I generally associate with – you guessed it – bourbon! There was a whiff of banana, and a rumbling of some dark fruits, but I honestly couldn’t get past the fact that this wine I was drinking both smelled and tasted of bourbon. I like bourbon. It’s probably my favorite form of whiskey, and whiskey is my favorite hard liquor. But I’m not sure if I liked Seven, and as I don’t really have any basis for comparison, I won’t give it a score.
Make no mistake though, King Family Vineyards had some great wines, and was a great introduction to Virginian vino. Also, there was scenery. Scenic scenery.
Next up was Pollak Vineyards. Here no wine stood out quite as prominently as the Cabernet Franc at King had, but of the four wineries we visited, I would say that Pollak’s offerings were probably the most consistently strong across the board. My favorite wine was, naturally, the Pollak Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2009, selling for $20 – a bit older than King’s, and therefore softer in the tannin department.
More curiously, though, this Franc was of a seemingly different character altogether than the last. With a nose of redcurrant, raspberry, chocolate and cinnamon, this exuded a sweeter, more festive impression, as though unwilling to accept that Christmas has been over for a while now. And I wasn’t complaining.
I award the Pollak Cabernet Franc thumbs up as well – and I can’t wait to drink this one either.
As for the next most noteworthy wine, here I will point to the Pollak Vineyards Viognier 2010, also $20, which came across as even more similar to Crossing’s PA version than King’s. With strong apricot notes playing the melody, harmonized with a hint of papaya, the wine was well-balanced and wholly representative of why I love Viognier.
I strongly considered getting a bottle of this to take home instead of the Franc, but the former was just a bit more compelling. But I would absolutely love to have a side-by-side tasting of this alongside Crossing Vineyards’ Viognier, because I’m sure there are subtler differences I wasn’t able to recognize from memory alone.
The Viognier earns thumbs up, as well as my respect.
Veritas was the next stop on our tour, and it’s most notable as the winery that didn’t pour us a Cabernet Franc, which was quite disappointing. So would you believe that Veritas was my favorite Virginia winery? No? Well, it was.
The reason? Veritas presented not one, but two wines made entirely from grapes I’d never tried before, and both were wonderful. My favorite was, surprisingly enough, a dessert wine: the Veritas Kenmar 2009, which is produced from Traminette. Traminette is a white grape created by scientists (possibly mad scientists) in the 60s, a spin-off of Gewürztraminer. It’s also the state grape of Indiana, which reminds me of Pawnee, Indiana, the fictional setting of NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
But more importantly, Traminette seems to lend itself quite nicely to icewine production – a style for which vintners wait until the grapes freeze on the vine, concentrating their flavors to a greater, more delicious extent. At $35 for a 375ml half-bottle, it’s technically the most expensive wine I’ve ever paid for, but honestly, it was stunning enough for me not to care. Notes of lychee (a nod to Traminette’s spicy heritage – Gewürztraminer often exhibits lychee flavors) greeted me, shortly followed by mango and flowers. The kicker? I’m fairly sure the flowers were roses – in a white wine. Crazy, I know.
The reason I like icewine, as compared to your run-of-the-mill sweet swill, is that acidity serves to balance out the residual sugar, preventing the wine from becoming overly cloying. Kenmar was no exception. Jew that I am, I didn’t need much convincing to make the splurge. Ben needed only quote the redoubtable Tom Haverford: “Treat yoself,” and lo, it was done. Another bottle I really, truly can’t wait to break into. If you haven’t tried Traminette yet…get! To it, I mean.
It’s been a while since this has happened, but I’m happy to award Kenmar thumbs up.
So what was the second #Bteam grape to which Veritas so graciously introduced me? Petit Manseng. The somewhat uncreatively named Veritas Petit Manseng 2010, selling for $19, was actually the wine we tasted immediately prior to the Kenmar, and I had thought it would be the highlight of the tasting. Another wine with more residual sugar than I usually care for, it too pulled off a great balancing act by means of bright acidity. Notes of coconut, pineapple and mango pervaded my palate, though not as thoroughly as the Kenmar eventually did.
Still a great wine, and it earns thumbs up.
Afton was an unscheduled stop on our introductory Virginia wine tour, which we visited after realizing we had completed our itinerary in about half the time allotted. My favorite wine at Afton was the Afton Mountain Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009 (surprise!), which is also the only bottle of Virginia wine I’ve actually had multiple glasses of, owing to the fact that I bought a bottle and drank it already.
At $26, it was the most expensive of the three Francs I took home with me; but sadly, it was also my least favorite. Not to disparage this one: with notes of black pepper, cherry and redcurrant on the nose, along with just a whiff of graphite, this was more than pleasing. And then I smelled the watermelon.
I smelled it a few times, just to be safe. I waited for it to breathe. I took every single recommended precaution to ensure that I wasn’t crazy – and yet, the melon remained. The palate repeated this puzzling note (which I’d hitherto only encountered in rosé), along with cherry, cedar, and another hint of graphite. To be sure, I had no regrets…but many questions.
Afton’s Cabernet Franc Reserve earns thumbs up.
And what was the most interesting wine I tasted at Afton Mountain Vineyards? That would be the Afton Mountain Tete de Cuvee 2008, a $30 sparkling wine produced in the traditional Champagne method, and from two of the permitted Champagne grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Classily, this didn’t claim to be Champagne, but you can bet it had a hundred times more character than anything you’ll ever find with “California Champagne” on the label.
Aromas of hay and green apple invited me in, and lively, persistent bubbles kept me entertained. On the palate this wine was almost akin to cider (of the alcoholic variety), but showed a bit more complexity, of the bucolically grassy sort.
I award it thumbs up, and had it been less pricy I’m sure I would have brought a bottle home.
So. You’ve heard about the good stuff. What about the rest? Truth be told, there wasn’t much to complain about. My only disappointment, wine-wise, was the Petit Verdot – a grape I’ve never seen in Pennsylvania wine, and which indeed is hard to find at all, in varietal form, but which I’ve heard Virginia does well. Two wineries were pouring Verdot when we visited, and both of them struck me as…well…too raisin-y. They simply didn’t taste as though they’d had sufficient time to cast off the lingering grapeness of their origin. Granted, they were both from 2009, which is undoubtedly young for Petit Verdot, but I do wish I’d had a chance to try some older ones.
I could regale you with the story of our subsequent visit to the Blue Mountain Brewery, but frankly I don’t remember very much about it (I mean, it was our fifth stop…) And now I think it’s time to say goodbye – but first I’d like to thank Dezel Quillen for his help in planning this trip; Jack Hammond of Camryn Limousine for his delightful tour, and assistance in modifying our itinerary; and of course, all of the wineries. For, you know, making the wine.
Good show, Virginia!