Friday, December 24, 2010

Holidays Call for Good Wine

Merry Christmas to all Virginia wine lovers, Virginia winemakers and anyone and everyone else who may read this.

Whether or not you are looking to serve good wine during the holidays because it is a special occasion, or if you are entertaining relatives and in-laws and need a bit more bang for your buck, there are thousands of choices for both approaches. And Virginia wineries can help in both ways.

For quality Virginia wines to serve for the holidays, I am a fan of Fabbioli Cellars' Cabernet Franc and Paradise Springs' Chardonnay. Both are great wines that will please your wine-loving and wine-phobic guests alike.

Fabbioli Cellars' Cabernet Franc is a nice, medium-bodied red. It has a touch of sweetness reminiscent of raspberries and dark chocolate. It is not, however, a sweet wine. Rather, the sweetness gives way to an interesting complexity of pepper and nutmeg on the finish. The sweetness and spiciness work well together to give this medium-bodied wine a very well-balanced and enjoyable flavor.

I have sung the praises of Virginia Cabernet Franc in the past, and Fabbioli's is one of the best you can find. Plus, at $19, the wine is a great value for the quality.

As for white wine, if you haven't tried Paradise Springs' Chardonnay yet, you should definitely make it a priority. Not only did it win the 2010 Governor's Cup for white wine, but it is a robust, well-made white that would be a great addition to any meal regardless of official accolades. With crisp pear, green apple and brie flavors throughout, this wine would be a perfect accompaniment for appetizers or to serve at a holiday party.

Although I have been more impressed with Virginia Viogniers in the past, Paradise Springs' Chardonnay has convinced me that Chardonnay can do well in the state as well. At $29 the Chardonnay is a bit pricey, especially when compared to other chardonnays at the same price-point, but it is worth trying and sharing with guests.

This past year has been a good one for the Virginia wine industry, despite the sluggish economy. There are many options out there for very good Virginia wines that you can serve during the holidays.
Whatever you drink and serve this holiday season, have a safe and merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

8 Chains North: A New VA Winery that's not yet a 10

If you have ever asked yourself what wine and old refrigerators have in common, your answer can now be 8 Chains North winery in Waterford, VA. What struck me first about one of Virginia’s newer wineries is that it is decorated in two very distinct styles: one could be called “Cost Plus World Market Floor Model” and the other design theme is old refrigerators. The first one I can understand. Who hasn’t walked into a Cost Plus and thought: “I like all of these styles of furniture. I’ll take them all and decorating will be a cinch!” Putting all of them in the same space, unless it is in the store, feels a bit confused and jumbled.

8 Chains North in general is very much like its tasting room. There are a lot of good ideas but the overall execution is a little confused without any real purpose. And seriously, why all the old refrigerators?

I give a tremendous amount of credit to anyone who opens up a winery. The amount of time, effort and money needed to start a winery from the ground up is daunting. Yet the more wineries that open, the more good wine will be produced which will add to Virginia’s reputation as a wine-producing state in general. Like the tasting room, I felt that the wines being produced at 8 Chains North could use a little work.

Of the wines that Caitlin and I tried, their Furnace Mountain Red was the most enjoyable. With a pleasant aroma of blackberries and a hint of vanilla, I was expecting a bigger, heartier red than the light, soft one that it turned out to be. The body is on the thin side and the pleasant aromas give way to oaky hints that lead to an unexpected sourness on the finish. Like the winery itself, I was expecting one thing and got something totally different when I tired this blend.

The other wine worth mentioning is their LoCo Vino white. Like their Furnace Mountain Red, LoCo Vino is a blend, using traminette and vidal blanc grapes. As Virginia whites go, I could see drinking this one again. It had more complexity that I was anticipating, with a floral aroma that opened up nicely into a pleasant, albeit thin, body that accentuated its citrus and grassy flavors. This would be a good wine to take to a BBQ, or a picnic.

With so many things wine, experiences can change from sip to sip or from trip to trip. 8 Chains North does have a great space that could easily be modified to become a more welcoming tasting room. The views are beautiful, and I could tell that the person working the wine bar was very enthusiastic and excited about the winery. Also like wine, with a bit more aging and maturity, I know that 8 Chains North will reach its full potential.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Unbiased Look at Finger Lakes Reds

To recap what I have said in the past about wine from the Finger Lakes: they make some fantastic Rieslings, a few other notable whites, and their reds tend to be on the light, watery and not terribly interesting side. It really wasn’t all that long ago when the difference between a New York white and a New York red may just as well have been a few drops of food coloring. There is a good reason why most people—myself included—are skeptical of reds from the Finger Lakes, namely that for a long time, they haven’t been very good.

As the region’s wine industry continues to evolve, some of the reds produced in the Finger Lakes are starting to hold their own. Heart and Hands Winery, for example, is focused on producing a high-quality pinot noir. They produce two types of non-sparkling wines: Riesling and pinot noir. Pinot is, if not an obsession, certainly, an area of intense focus for this small winery. Their obsession is starting to pay off in the form of a medium-bodied, silky pinot that has both fruity and spicy notes with a great, satisfying finish. As a young winery that is taking an extremely focused approach, Heart and Hands sets a good example for what Finger Lakes reds can be.

Anyela’s Winery is also doing their part for the red wine cause. Like Heart and Hands, Anyela’s is relatively new. And like Heart and Hands, Anyela’s makes very good reds for the region. Heart and Hands has very much of a “work-in-progress” feel to it—from its grounds that under construction to its pinot noir obsession which is nowhere near exhausted. Anyela’s demonstrates what is possible when good wines and beautiful, natural settings come together. No wonder why Caitlin and I held our rehearsal dinner here.

Perched atop Skaneateles Lake, the inside of the winery looks like a grown-up’s clubhouse with big, comfortable chairs, a central fireplace, wine barrel tables and natural wood walls. Panoramic views of the vines and the lake are available from just about everywhere. To top it off, their wine’s good, too. Taking a page out of Heart and Hands’ playbook, Anyela’s produces a pinot noir—and a very good one at that. There is an initial sweet and mellow aroma and fruit-forward taste of raspberry that evolves into a pleasant smoothness and finally finishes with hints of figs and exotic spices.

Another red that Anyela’s offers is their very approachable and drinkable Overlay blend. Comprised of 35% Cabernet Franc, 15% Pinot Noir, 20% Shiraz, and 30% Merlot; this thick, jammy, velvety red could, in a blind test, have people convinced they were drinking something from Napa Valley. I lost track of how many people complimented us on the wine served during our rehearsal dinner, and how impressed they were that it was local.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Goose Watch Winery. They have been around for longer than either Heart and Hands or Anyela’s, but are also contributing to the Finger Lakes red march towards respectability. We served their chambourcin at our wedding. The deep, ruby red color and thick, well-rounded aromas of dark fruit and hints of leather, cherries and oak went perfectly with the steak that was served.

Heart and Hands, Aneyla’s and Goose Watch all serve as the exception, and a good example, for the caliber of reds that the Finger Lakes region can produce. With the influx of new wineries opening up in the area, let’s hope at least some of them put the same amount of care and effort into producing interesting, well-made reds.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Part Two of a Two Part Series: The Hiatus is Over!

It has been a while since I have updated this blog - too long, in fact. There are perfectly good reasons and explanations for the lapse. Living in DC, where status is measured by who returns who’s phone calls and how quickly, I will spare everyone the “I’ve been busy” excuse. We have all, no doubt, used it and have had it used on us. Everyone is busy all of the time, and my delay in getting a new post up is totally on my shoulders. I hope you were all able to get by while drinking some whites, reds, sparkling wine and even roses in my absence.

Instead of saying “Beltway Bacchus has been too busy to write,” I will simply say that life away from the computer was calling. And I answered. And it was calling with great material for future blog posts. A shortlist of what I have been doing since July, when I last posted:

  • Planning a wedding (most of the credit goes to Caitlin and her parents, but I helped, dammit!)
  • Planning a honeymoon (again, with fairly precise instructions from Caitlin, but I had to call and stumble through French and English conversations)
  • Planning a rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner was, of course, at a Finger Lakes winery
  • Getting married
  • Going on a honeymoon
  • Missing being back from the honeymoon
  • Getting caught up on the comings and goings of my non-Beltway Bacchus life
  • Getting out to some of the newer wineries in Virginia

With all that said, all of the aforementioned events involved wine in some way, and will be excellent fodder for good posts – mixed in there with general reviews of what I’m tasting, drinking, and enjoying. I haven’t even written about my and Caitlin’s most recent trip to Napa and Sonoma (congrats, again, Ryan and Jessica).

As much as I love writing about wine I have tried and wine experiences I have enjoyed, I don’t feel all that bad about the lapse in posts. Yes, I love to share what I have tried and talk about the DC area’s wine culture particularly, but when events in the actual, rather than the virtual, world pop up, I will take advantage of them and blog about it later. Virtual viticultural experiences will never replace the real thing – nor should they. Wine is to be shared, enjoyed, and experienced by using all of your senses. I like to think that I can describe the smell, the taste, and the appearance of wine fairly well on this blog. I do have more than 75 readers, after all. But reading about tasting wine is never as good as actually tasting wine.

Feel free to use the above bullets as a Table of Contents for upcoming posts, and remember to check back here often. I promise I will post more.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Hiatus is Over!

The last time I posted, it was July, it was hot in DC and my wedding was fast approaching. Now it is October, it is still hot in DC, the wedding and honeymoon have come and gone and Beltway Bacchus is back to writing!
I apologize for the long absence, and will have more up very, very soon.

There has been a lot going on, and I look forward to sharing with everyone.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Check Out the Washington Wine Academy!

For anyone not familiar with the Washington Wine Academy, I would highly encourage you to check them out. Celebrating 10 years in business this year, WWA offers a host of different wine tasting and education events around the region. Since Washington, DC is among the largest wine markets in the country, WWA provides an invaluable service to a thirsty region.

I first learned about WWA through one of the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse’s Wine Nights some years back where WWA had a wine tasting set up and the Drafthouse had discounts on glasses, carafes, bottles and flagons of wine…Maybe not flagons, but there were certainly some good wine deals. WWA also sponsors wine tours, and has a prensence at many different food and wine events around the area.

I didn’t think much else about WWA until Caitlin recently got us tickets to one of their hour-long wine education courses. The class provided a great overview of enjoying wine for people of all levels - from novices to those who scrutinize the finest of wine lists to regional wine bloggers. There was enough information for everyone to make the course worthwhile and informative, while also making wine much more approachable. The instructor, Tom Finigan of Washburn Wine, did a great job of explaining the characteristics of wine, dispelled some of the common myths and misconceptions about wine, and most importantly, walked us through what to look for during a wine tasting.

The tasting included a Virginia wine: Barboursville Vineyards Octagon IX Edition 2006. The 2006 Octagon is a velvety red wine that has hints of blackberries, currants and oakiness on the nose. Based on the smell alone, it would be easy to think that Barboursville’s Octagon is simply trying to be a Virginia zinfandel, yet when you taste it, and sense the dryness and high tannins with a spicy, thick, fruity finish, then you know that it is not a zin knockoff at all but something else all its own. If you want to splurge on a Virginia red, you could do worse than this one at $40 a bottle.

Now that DC is in the full throes of summer’s heat and humidity, it is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the Washington Wine Academy. It is nearby, well-run and air-conditioned. They do a lot throughout the region and certainly are worth the support of the community.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Notaviva – Music to Virginia Wine

We recently visited Notaviva Vineyards. This is one of those wineries that, for me, is more about atmosphere and ambiance than it is about the wines. If you are in the mood to spend some time listening to good music in beautiful surroundings drinking wine, this is as good a place as any. Notaviva prides itself on its ability to pair wines with music, and the live music that they have on weekends does a nice job of creating the right atmosphere. I like their dedication to adding an aural element to wine. Wine is such a sensual experience – from looking at the glass to smelling it to get a sense of what lays ahead to tasting it to savoring it, wine rewards those who use their senses. Notaviva adds music to this dynamic. I am glad that they have done so. Their staff is extremely friendly and helpful, which also helps with the overall experience. Music, wine and a friendly staff make Notaviva a great place to spend
an afternoon.

As for their wines, the best of their offerings is their 2008 Vincero Viognier. Not to sound too much like a broken record on this blog, but Viognier really likes growing in Virginia, and Virginia wineries can do amazing things with this grape. Notaviva’s Viognier is aged in stainless steel casks, which gives it a light, crisp flavor that accentuates this wine’s mellow pear and kiwi undertones. Try it with grilled shrimp seasoned with Old Bay, or even sautéed rockfish cooked in sage butter. The texture and flavor of either dish will go well with this Viognier’s mellow, sweet flavor.

Notaviva’s 2008 "Celtico" Chambourcin is an interesting, if not entirely impressive red. It has plenty of tannins, with a smokiness that makes this wine a good fit for foods cooked on a grill – from burgers to steak. Basically, this is a red that should go with meat. Grilled meat. Preferably with a spicy dry rub or sauce. Open up a bottle with dinner and finish it off with some dark chocolate for dessert and you will have a well-paired meal. I say it is slightly unimpressive, though, for the fact that for as much smokiness and tannins as it has, that is basically it. There are some whiffs of raspberries, but not many. And with a smokiness that permeates everything from first smell to last sip, there doesn’t seem to be much room for any other flavors to distinguish themselves.

What Notaviva tries to do, and does well, is add a musical dimension to wine. From the names of their wines, to the diverse varieties of music played in their tasting room, to the owner’s own musical backgrounds and the musical paraphernalia that adorns the walls of their winery, it is obvious that Notaviva was opened so that the owners could pursue their two passions: music and wine. They have created a great atmosphere and make some decent wines in the process.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring Visit to Paradise Springs

I have said a lot about Paradise Springs in the past – about their battle with Fairfax County, about finally being able to open, and the quality wines that they produce. From what I was told on my most recent trip, the winery is doing great. They are doing so well,in fact, that they cannot accommodate all the groups that want to pay them a visit, which is a great problem to have. Although they are still new, Paradise Springs can do wine tastings well – they were able to accommodate a group of 50 of us without making us feel crowded, cluttered or rushed. We arrived before they opened, and even after their doors swung open for other people, the personal attention never wavered. In fact, I got the sense that the only reason our group left the winery at all is because we had a lunch and two more wineries to get to during the day. Otherwise, everybody would have been happy to stay put, drinking and buying wine and learning about the winery’s history – both recent (as a winery) and historic (as the land has been in the proprietor’s family for generations).

I have mentioned in the past Paradise Spring’s 2008 Viognier and their 2008 Cabernet Franc. I will add to this their Cabernet Sauvignon. While not as thick, bold and aromatic of Napa cabs, it is good for a Virginia Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a little thin, but still has a nice aroma to it – with hints of blackberries, currants and chocolate – with a nice raspberry taste on the finish. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon that goes down smooth, albeit with less body than I usually like. It is a drinkable wine, though at $32 is a bit overpriced. In terms of white wine, I would stick with their Viogniers and stay away from their Chardonnays, which get into the bad habit of spending too much time fermenting in oak, overpowering any other flavors other than firewood that would be present in the wine. That said, their Vidal Blanc, while not quite as intricate as their Viognier, is a very nice, fruit-filled wine with a sweetness that is well-balanced against spicier, heavier foods.

The first time I went to Paradise Springs, it was cold and snowy. The last time I was there, it was warm, sunny and crowded. It is great to see a winery that fought so hard to open its doors continue to grow its base of fans and supporters, as well as expanding the number of wineries in Virginia that are producing interesting wines.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Springing Back into Virginia’s Wineries

Recently, I have been asking a lot of people about Virginia wines and as I mentioned in a previous post, the reputation of Virginia wines continues to grow. The word has made it out to some California wineries that Virginia is not just making alcohol-laden grape juice anymore. And as this article points out, California is slowly but surely accepting its Eastern cousin as a producer of quality wine. Even the staid, old school publications like Travel and Leisure have sung the praises of Virginia wine country.

But enough of lead-in on how great Virginia wines are. I wouldn’t have started this blog unless I thought Virginia produced some good, albeit underrated, wines. And, of course, Virginia wineries are easy to get to from Washington, DC. Thanks to Caitlin organizing a wine tour for a group she plans a lot of events for, we got to three Virginia wineries recently, got to taste many different offerings and generally had a great time. Each winery will have its own entry – as there were some complaints that the last post on the Charleston Wine and Food Festival was way too long. I agree, so here is an overview, followed by individual posts in the coming days.

We visited three different wineries with a group of about 50 people. Starting with Paradise Springs Winery in Fairfax, VA. I have written about them in the past, and am glad that the winery continues to do well and play host to many people on the weekends. In fact, they are doing so well that they have to turn away some groups. It is well worth it to call in advance and pay them a visit. The land, the history and the wines make the quick trip to this winery well worth it.

Next on our itinerary was Notaviva Vineyards. Their motto is: “Wine Paired with Music. Pour. Listen. Believe.” My PR antennae are not quite sure what it is we are being asked to believe in…wine? I love how they emphasize pairing music with wine. Wine is supposed to be a sensory experience that incorporates sight, smell and taste. Why not add sound to enhance the experience? It helps that the staff is one of the friendliest and enthusiastic around. I got the sense that everybody working at Notaviva really loves what they do, where they do it, and how they do it. Being surrounded all day with friendly people, good wine and great music is not the worst job in the world. It helps that all this wine and music and friendliness is offered up to visitors in a space that was featured on HGTV’s Dream Home series.

The final winery that we visited was Hiddencroft Vineyards. Hiddencroft prides itself on being the “northernmost winery in Virginia.” This was my first time to this winery, and I enjoyed it. The owner was very knowledgeable, and you could tell that she took great pride in the wine that she produced – and got excited telling others about it. The grounds and the winery itself are beautiful. The inside could use a bit of help aesthetically. The best way to describe the inside is “winery dorm room chic.” There was plenty going on, but no real rhyme or reason to it. I like to think it is because they put more of their effort and energy into the wines that they make rather than their surroundings, and that could be the taste after trying some of their wines.

Click here to View Larger Map, and see where the three wineries are located!

But you will have to check back to find out more about Hiddencroft’s wines, as well as those from Notaviva and Paradise Springs. Hopefully this overview will give you some ideas on what to do next time you have a free weekend and the desire to get out to some of the region’s wineries.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Recap: Charleston Wine and Food Festival

I was pleasantly proven wrong, both about my perceptions of the Deep South and of Southern food, especially grits, when Caitlin and I traveled down to Charleston for their annual Wine and Food Festival. Both are worthy of praise, but the festival’s offerings were the main reason for our trip. Neither of the Carolinas have become great wine-growing states yet. North Carolina has a few notable vineyards, like Biltmore Estates, which was at the festival, but I still haven’t had too many Carolina wines that have impressed me.

Although Biltmore had a presence at the festival, this was not just a regional festival in terms of the wines that were available. There were plenty of importers, wineries and regional distributors on hand pouring samples. Many wineries from California made the trip across the country to participate…had I known that there would have been so many good Lodi zins, I probably would have paced myself on the shrimp and grits front…But I didn’t, and I don’t really have any regrets about it.

There were many great wine options to choose from – including some fantastic wines that are usually out of my price range. I can’t tell you how many times I went back to get another sample of the thick, jammy, fruity deliciousness that is Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma-Cutrer’s light, crisp, sweet, pear-heavy chardonnay was a great white wine standout. Same for Kim Crawford’s slate and citrus-laden, almost tart Sauvignon Blanc. Mr. Crawford is one the best winemakers in New Zealand, and I was happy to suggest that everybody I was with try some of his wines, especially the Sauvignon Blanc, which has done so much to put New Zealand wines on the map.

What I did notice was surprisingly absent from the Charleston Wine and Food Festival were wines from Virginia. I tend to look for Virginia wines whenever I am at such an event. I noticed that they were glaringly absent from the moment we entered the tent…Actually, I noticed it after we each were treated to a breakfast brownie as our first food sample of the day. I thought that Virginia wines would want to take full advantage of a major food and wine festival to expand its regional reputation, but I didn’t see any wines, wine organizations, or wineries from the Old Dominion.

While wines from Virginia were themselves noticeably and unfortunately absent, I was happy to talk to some people from other wineries about Virginia wines and was shocked at how strong the state’s wine reputation is becoming. While Caitlin, her brother and his wife were getting their sample of grilled antelope – I am still upset I never got any – I spoke to Andy Wilcox from Lambert Bridge Winery in Dry Creek Valley, CA. After trying Lambert Bridge’s wines, where the peppery zinfandel which had a nice kick, plenty of tannins and a rich, molasses-like body was the standout (I do use “molasses-like” primarily because I was in the South) I asked Andy about Virginia wines. Andy was a good sport when I asked him to say, again, what he thought about Virginia wines when my iPhone camera didn’t record his statement the first time. The key takeaway is that Virginia wines are good, are getting better, and people in California are taking notice.

So often, I compare wines from Virginia and New York – where Caitlin and I do most of our tastings – to wines from more well-known wine-growing regions in California and overseas. Because of that comparison, I tend to find a lot of the wine we try flat and one-dimensional, especially reds (save for some really good Cab Francs from Virginia). So I say with no disrespect or ill will to Lambert Bridge that the Viognier I tried from their winery was less impressive than some of the Viogniers from Virginia I have discussed in the past. Virginia just seems to do Viogniers very well, and the state’s wine reputation continues to grow. Now if only Virginia wines would show up at festivals, such as Charleston’s Wine and Food Festival, even more people could learn about wines from Virginia.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wait, There’s Wine Tasting at NASCAR???

Caitlin and I had a very romantic Valentine’s Day. We went to the Daytona 500. It was my first time at a NASCAR race, and as I am a wine-loving urban-dweller, I had some preconceived notions of what the atmosphere would be like. Namely, I anticipated being surrounded by lots of people with mullets, southern accents, few teeth, huge guts and shirts without sleeves. While there were some of those people floating around, the crowd and the refreshments were much more diverse than I anticipated. Much to my surprise, one of the first booths we passed inside the raceway was for NASCAR-themed wine and wine tasting. That’s right. There’s wine tasting at NASCAR.

It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, considering how the demographics of NASCAR are changing - some of drivers even own their own wineries. Still, old perceptions are hard to change, and many people, myself included, still associate NASCAR with Budweiser tall boys rather than Syrah or Merlot. That being said, you have to love a sport that anticipates the growth of its fan base and accommodates them. Even though the wine booth was fairly empty, it was there, and the business appeared to be steady.

As for Caitlin and I, we opted to bring our own wine into the track…NASCAR lets you bring in your own cooler, so think about that when you are forking over $8.50 for a watery beer or rotgut wine next time you're at a ballgame. The wine we brought were several different varieties of Vendange box wines. After I chose their Chardonnay over Cakebread’s, we decided to try their Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot during the race. The Syrah was the big winner among the three. Although it had neither the richness nor the spiciness that I prefer in my Syrahs, it had much more of a body, with some licorice and blackberry notes, than I was anticipating from a box of wine. While I don’t think it will become our regular table wine, Vendange box wines are portable, inexpensive, and certainly drinkable.

While NASCAR is still not up there with, say, football or baseball for me, any sport that lets you bring in your own wine and has a wine tasting booth set up inside is doing something right.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beltway Bacchus Book Club

Occasionally when we have people over, Caitlin and I will decant a bottle of wine. We have done this with nice bottles that need to breath, and we have done it with cheap bottles that we have been too embarrassed to serve otherwise. Regardless of the price-point of the wine, with the label hidden, our guests have enjoyed both. The reason I bring it up at all is because similar blind taste tests make up concept behind the book The Wine Trials. Very often, if the label is hidden and the wine is judged on taste alone, the less expensive bottles often are favored. I mentioned the book The Wine Trials, along with some of the wines reviewed, in a previous post. I did not, however, dive as deeply into the book as I would have liked. It is, to say the least, a fascinating book that reviews and highlights some great, budget-conscious wines.

One example used by the authors is the comparison of a $13 Domaine Ste. Michelle with a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon. Surprisingly enough, the Domaine Ste. Michelle was favored. Caitlin and I have since tasted the Domaine Ste. Michelle and it has become a regular in our champagne rotation. There were many other examples of inexpensive wines that scored higher than expensive wines in the $50 - $150 range. All of the price-performers are reviewed and indexed in the back of the book, which serves as a great guide to delicious budget red, white and sparkling wines. I would suggest picking up a copy of the book and going through their recommendations. Many of the wines are fantastic values and are more readily available than the exclusive, high-end wines with the exceptional reputations.

Using The Wine Trials as inspiration, Caitlin and I recently performed our own blind taste test.

The high-end wine was a favorite of ours, the Cakebread Cellars’ 2005 Reserve Chardonnay ($55). The budget brand was Vendange California Chardonnay ($4). Needless to say, we split the results. Caitlin liked the Cakebread more – and was able to identify it as such almost immediately. I picked the Vendange, which does have a nice buttery, sweetness to it. If you are looking for a traditional, heavy, California-style Chardonnay, the Vendange does the job nicely. The Cakebread is a light, refreshing and very smooth chardonnay. We chose to stick with the Cakebread throughout dinner, and I am sure that I will be hearing about my unsophisticated palate for a good while to come.

As The Wine Trials confirms, it is beneficial, and fun, to test expensive wines against inexpensive ones. It will help you become more honest about the types of wines that you enjoy, and might help you save money.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Expanding DC’s Wine Country to Include Fairfax

There was considerable attention paid to the controversy surrounding Paradise Springs Winery last year. I wrote about it a couple times, here and here. After months of delays and thousands of dollars in legal fees, Paradise Springs Winery was finally able to open its doors to the general public earlier this month – becoming the first winery to call Fairfax County home.

Caitlin and I visited Virginia’s newest winery during their soft opening several weeks ago. We were both impressed with the beautiful winery grounds that make you forget you are in Fairfax, the restored farmhouse that has been converted into tasting rooms on two levels (avoid the lower one if you are on the tall side), and the barn that features live music and a third tasting station.

As for the wines themselves, Caitlin and I did a full tasting in the farmhouse and each had a full glass in the barn. I was a fan of their 2008 Viognier and their 2008 Cabernet Franc. Considering that these are the white and red varietals, respectively, that work best in Virginia, it is no surprise that these are the two strongest offerings from Paradise Springs. The former was citrusy, mineraly and had a slight hint of slate to it while the Cabernet Franc was a darker, robust and rather jammy wine for a cab franc. With both wines falling within the mid-$20 range as a price-point, you are paying more than the wine is worth. Still, both are decent drinking wines. And if you open either of the bottles on site, the scenery, hospitality, live music and atmosphere will more than make up for it. Light fare such as bread, cheese and salami are available on site.

Overall, I was impressed with what I found at Paradise Springs. I was, of course, hoping that they would win their legal battle and be allowed to open. On another level, I was skeptical that a winery would be able to thrive in the suburban cluster that is Fairfax County, albeit a part of the county that still retains a rural, rustic feel to it. The level of support the winery is receiving from the community I witnessed during our visit was impressive. Paradise Springs was packed, and we were told it had been bustling all day. The wine itself, while a little overpriced, is a welcome - and much belated - addition to DC’s wine country.

Given that our visit was during one of their opening weekends, I was not surprised by the festive atmosphere, and am eager to visit again under more normal circumstances. My congratulations go out to Paradise Springs for their successful opening, and for paving the way for wineries to open in Fairfax County.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Red Wines Reviewed in 2009

Hopefully you have had a chance to take a look, and try, some of the great whites that I reviewed last year. My own personal bias has always been towards reds, but since starting this blog and tasting some great local whites – primarily Virginia Voigner and New York Riesling – white is growing on me.

Still, reds are my preferred wines, and it shows. I reviewed twice as many reds than whites in 2009. Below is the list of reds that I reviewed. Check back soon, as I am now done with lists and can get onto new reviews and content!
  • Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin 2007: The 2007 zin is medium-bodied with a spiciness that worked well to accentuate the tastes of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. I especially enjoyed this wine with the mashed sweet potatoes, where the wine’s kick was nicely balanced by the sweetness and butteriness of the dish, and with the stuffing and gravy - because who doesn’t like stuffing and gravy?
  • Mirassou Pinot Noir: Is another of the recommendations from the Wine Trials. I found that the silkiness and fruitiness of the Mirassou did not go as well with the heavy [Thanksgiving] food, though it is still a fine-drinking red in its own right.
  • Rappahannock Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon: Like chardonnay, Virginia is not known for its cabernet sauvignon. Rappahannock makes a drinkable one, however. It is not, by any means the thick, full-bodied wine that California has become famous for producing, but it serves as a good table wine that is more than suitable to accompany red meats, cheeses and even pasta dishes.
  • Rappahannock Cellars 2007 Cabernet Franc: Perhaps cabernet franc just grows better in Virginia, or maybe I just know what to expect with Virginia cabernet franc, but I enjoyed it more [than the Rappahannock Cab Sav]; likely because the cab franc had the subtle taste of peanut butter and jelly in the finish.
  • Rappahannock Cellars 2007 Red Dessert Wine: The best way I could describe their 2007 Red Dessert Wine is like diluting a jar of jam with water and letting it ferment.
  • Tarara Cabernet Franc: It was a bit darker than most cab francs, and had a nice, full body to it. The nose was lighter than the color, though there was a nice hint of plumbs and a little whiff of chocolate to both the taste and the smell.
  • Dry Mill 2007 Syrah: A little on the thin side, but with much more of a body than many Virginia reds that I have tried. It also had the spicy kick that Syrahs are known for, without being overpowering.
  • Swedish Hill 2006 Cabernet Franc-Lemberger: Smelled like a cabernet sauvignon with a bit of a peppery aftertaste, but was a light and thin wine that could have been greatly improved if it had any more of a body and a deeper complexion.
  • Swedish Hill Meritage: Dry, without almost any nose and too thin for my taste.
  • Summers Estate 2006 Charbono: The 2006 has a full body, and has hints of plumbs, currants and pepper in both smell and taste. A well proportioned wine and, at least in my experience, with the chameleon-like ability to accompany whatever we were eating along with it.
  • Ropiteau Dupuis 1848 Vin de Pays D’Oc 2008 Pinot Noir: A decent, reasonably priced and enjoyable pinot.
  • Rosenblum Cellars Vintner's Cuvée XXXI Zinfandel: It was not an overly-powerful zinfandel, but was rather medium-bodied that balanced fruit and berry flavors with the characteristic spice of a zinfandel well.
  • Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2008: Syrah is the dominant grape of the blend, and the traditional syrah characteristics dominate the taste of the wineit is mostly syrah characteristics that you taste. The Viognier balanced some of the spicier and heavier flavors to make for a more well-rounded wine.
  • 2005 Beringer Napa Valley Vineyards Merlot: Medium body, some fruitiness, hints of cherry and little in the way of the tannins that distinguish merlot from the heavier reds.

There you have the reds. Not a bad haul for the first six or seven months of this blog’s existence. Keep checking back in 2010. I will be reviewing more wine, wine events and goings-ons.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

White Wines Reviewed in 2009

With the official wrap-up of some of the blog posts and stories I covered in 2009, it is time shift attention to the more important list from 2009: the wines that were reviewed.

Below is a list of all the white wines that I mentioned on this blog in 2009. Hopefully you will be able to try – and enjoy – some of these and possibly even visit some of the wineries.

  • Rappahannock Cellars Chardonnay: Chardonnay does not grow well in Virginia, though [Rappahannock Cellars does] devote some acreage to it. From what I tried, I would agree that it is not the best white that they make.
  • Rappahannock Cellars 2008 Noblesse Viognier: Was quite good, with a nice, dry blend of citrus and mineral flavors throughout the body and a rich, golden color.
  • Tarara 2007 Viognier: A very crisp wine with a touch of acidity on the palette that gives the wine an almost, but not quite, sparkling quality. The nose has some fruit to it, but also a bit of a chalky hue. In case you’re wondering, that is actually a good thing for this wine. Don’t ask how I got “chalky.” I did, and it’s not a bad thing.
  • Swedish Hill 2007 Dry Riesling: A light, citrusy Riesling that had a nice body and decent finish. Being a Riesling, even though this was their “dry” variety, there was still a tinge of sweet syrupiness to it, which, given the characteristics of the Riesling grape should be expected.
  • Swedish Hill 2006 Reserve Chardonnay: Unlike many chardonnays I have had from the Finger Lakes, this one was not too oaky. It actually tasted like wine instead of scotch. It did have some light oak undertones, as well as the buttery finish that one expects with a chardonnay. This particular wine also had some hints of pear and apple in it.
  • Swedish Hill Blue Waters Riesling: A sweet, but not too sweet, taste throughout with a fruity, lingering aftertaste of peaches.
  • Dill’s Run Winery Pinot Grigio: It was a little too apricoty for my taste, and a bit more buttery than I would have liked. I tend to like the crisper, whites with a fresher taste.

So there you have the white wines that I reviewed in 2009. Check back soon to see the list of reds that I reviewed in 2009.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Beltway Bacchus 2009 Recap

Even though I have not posted nearly as much as I would have liked towards the end of the year,thank you to everybody who has stopped by Beltway Bacchus during its inaugural year! Actually, this is its half-year mark as I kicked off the blog in June, but as it is now 2010, it is time for the recap of 2009.

I started off the blog with one basic idea in mind: to write about wine and more specifically, the wine culture and wineries in the greater DC area. I strayed early on into the wines of the Finger Lakes and other interesting bottles that Caitlin and I opened.

With that said, and without further adieu, here is a recap of the first year of Beltway Bacchus. I look forward to your comments and hope that everyone has a very healthy, productive, and wine-filled 2010!

  • I kicked off Beltway Bacchus on June 13, 2009 with a welcome to readers. Although it has only been six months, it is fun looking back at what my intentions were, and how far off or on the path I strayed or stayed during the course of the first year.
  • Very early on, like in my second post ever, I strayed away from the DC theme to discuss a nice white from the Finger Lakes. Truth be told, I also discussed rockfish, a local favorite, and the bucket grill, so I don’t feel all that bad about it.
  • I followed-up my bucket-grill love with an open-ended question about why merlot is such a derided varietal.
  • Here we are, four posts in, and I am back to a quintessential DC activity: going to Wolf Trap with a picnic. Yes, it was South African wine, but everything else was DC-centric. And the wine was called Wolf Trap, too. So there. It was also the post that got me my first comment!
  • Later in the summer, Caitlin and I decided to open a bottle we had been saving from our trip to Napa a couple years ago. It was the rare varietal, Charbono, and it was delicious.
  • Following that, Caitlin and I traveled to a relatively new winery in Leesburg, Dry Mill that had better than expected chardonnay and syrah.
  • Tarara Winery celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
  • There was plenty of media attention paid to the controversy over a new winery trying to open in Fairfax County, as well as continuing developments. The latest update is that Paradise Springs is finally set to open, with a grand opening scheduled for January 16. I am looking forward to visiting it in the near future. Congrats!
  • Beltway Bacchus paid close attention to Virginia Wine Month, with additional information available here and here.

There you have it. I did have posts other than those listed, but these make up a pretty good retrospective of 2009. Thanks again to everybody who stopped by in 2009. I look forward to hearing from you in 2010!