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 CuvĂ©e 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!