Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sparkling Wines Go Head-to-Head

I wish more of my meals looked like this.

Maybe it’s because the Judgment of Paris was such a success. Or maybe it’s because we are all children of the Pepsi Challenge and the long and bloody Cola Wars it sparked in the mid-eighties. Whatever the reason, the wine industry loves the blind taste test. Pitting wines against one another without their labels conveying so much about the wine except for how it tastes can alter one’s perception of what they are drinking and often, once the wines are unveiled, what people really like compared to what they thought they were drinking do not always match up.

Such was the case recently when Schramsberg Vineyards hosted blind sparkling wine tasting at Marcel’s – one of DC’s finest restaurants and pourer of a LOT of sparkling wine. The tasting was blind and put Schramsberg up against Champagne’s heavy-hitters like Perrier-Jouët, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon and Cristal. The results were, according to Schramsberg’s president, similar to the results of other blind tastings held around the country. Schramsberg sparkling wines beat out all of their more expensive and prestigious French counterparts.

True to Form, All the Wines Tasted Were Brown-Bagged Until the End

The Schramsberg sparklers did taste better. They were itoasty and oaky with plenty of lemon zest and pear on them, yet with a body that the others didn’t have. I did notice much more effervescence in the Schramsberg wines than the others, as well as a bit more flavor.

I don’t want to call into question the integrity of blind tastings for marketing purposes, but judging from both the temperature and bubble count in the wines it’s possible that some of the more prestigious French wines were opened the previous night and not chilled as thoroughly as the Schramsbergs. I’m not saying that’s the case, just that it’s possible and even probable. I’ll admit that the flatness and warmness of some of the $100+ bottles raised my skepticism somewhat.

Schramsberg's Sparkling Rose is a Great, Full-Bodied and Dry Wine for the holidays
In any event, Schramsberg came out on top and it wasn’t even close. I have had the prestigious sparkling wine from the noble Champagne houses before and have enjoyed them to varying degrees. I have also had domestic sparkling wine, cava, prosecco and non-Champagne French sparkling wine before and have enjoyed those just as much – without spending the exorbitant prices. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Great Wines for Thanksgiving

The second-largest eating day is upon us. Unlike the largest – the Super Bowl – people tend to agree that Thanksgiving is a meal that is best paired with wine. Unless you have reservations to the French Laundry, it is also the only time of the year that people will make a cross-country trip for the purpose of eating dinner.

Given the traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc., the question really becomes what wine to serve? Pinot Noir has long been popular, and given its versatility, elegance and lighter-body, it is fast becoming the standard for Thanksgiving.

Why Butterball is still the safest bet

Don’t let the fact that this is the most American of holidays deter you from drinking a wine made abroad. New Zealand, Chile and France – Pinot Noir’s home – all make great Pinots that all go extremely well with Thanksgiving. Indeed, wines from these areas range in price, quality and flavor but all can match-up to the turkey and trimmings.

From New Zealand, The Crossings is a very light Pinot Noir. It is easy-drinking with cherries and a nice minerality on the finish. It is a very well-made Pinot Noir, though the tartness of the finish may turn off some people.

If you’re looking for a wine with a little more body and spice, give the Llai Llai from Chile a try. It is a little less expensive than the Crossings and is also a bit more versatile and appealing for crowds.

Speaking of appealing to crowds, we went to Graceland over Thanksgiving last year. Above is Elvis' Jungle Room where The King ate many a turkey leg

That’s not to say that Pinot Noir is the only thing to serve this Thanksgiving. After all, what would a celebration be without bubbles? I find it amusing that sparkling wine producers spend 42 weeks out of the year trying to convince people that sparkling wines are not just for holidays and celebrations. Starting around Halloween, though, the emphasis is on how it isn’t really a celebration or a holiday without sparkling wine.

Marketing aside, sparkling wines make a great addition to any table. Gone are the days when you had to spend a boatload for bubbles. Jaillance produces some of the best sparkling wines that France makes that aren’t from Champagne - though the flavor profiles are very similar. Ranging from toasty, buttery and dry to very sweet, you can find something for every palette for under $15.

If you want to spend even less on something festive, get a few bottles of Cava. These sparklers from Spain offer the best value in sparkling wine – if not wine period – that you can get these days.

Of course, what would this post be without giving a shout-out to Virginia wines? One of the best options to serve something local this year would be Chambourcin. Many of the ones I have tasted recently – from Fabbioli Cellars to Notaviva to Hidden Brook are easy-drinking, medium-bodied and loaded with cherry and cranberry flavors.

Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars with his Chambourcin Vines
Whatever you choose to serve this year, make sure you have plenty on hand, and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!

If you see a lot of drunk French people today, that's because it's the third Thursday of November. Today is the day that the first wines of the 2011 vintage are released.

Go into any store that sells wine today and you will see stacks of Beaujolais nouveau in brightly-colored bottles. A young, light and fruity wine, Beaujolais nouveau is meant to be drunk right away.

And while it's flavor and character is not to everybody's liking - it is damn-near a French white zin - it is an indication of what's to come from the 2011 vintage.

2011 has not been kind to the wine industry in Virginia. Pick up a bottle of Beaujolais nouveau today if for no other reason to see how 2011 is shaping up in France.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Successful Virginia Wine Month

While there is still dismay that Virginia actually makes wine by the vast majority of the wine-drinking public, the industry as a whole is making great strides towards getting the word out. October was Virginia Wine Month and everybody I spoke with from winemakers to wine reps to sommeliers were enthusiastic about being a Virginia wine evangelist for the month. Wineries hosted harvest festivals and live music, and restaurants offered specials on Virginia wine throughout the month. Overall, the push to raise awareness about Virginia wine was seen as a huge success and one more step on the road to winemaking respectability around the world – or at least the country.

One thing that the Virginia wine industry does have is an active and enthusiastic champion in the Governor’s Mansion. Actually, they have two of them as both the Governor and First Lady of the state have made it clear that they fully support Virginia’s wine industry and are working to see it thrive.

Gov. McDonnell Discusses the Importance of Virginia's Wine Industry.
Later He and My Wife Discussed All Things Notre Dame.
Go Irish!
At a recent Virginia Wine Month event held at Lincoln Restaurant in the District, Governor McDonnell sounded more like a wine geek than a public official when he spoke about the Chambourcin that was planted recently on the grounds of the Governor’s mansion. He told the crowd about his travel schedule which would make Bono blush: India, China, London, etc. to be the face and advocate for the industry. Through his efforts, Virginia winemakers know that they have an ally rather than an adversary that is working to see the industry grow.

And why not? Virginia is producing some great wine and the quality is only getting better. As winemaker and vineyard managers continue to take a more sophisticated approach to what grows well in Virginia’s soil, the quality will continue to increase and the potential to blend different varietals will continue to grow. Many of the wines I tasted at the event had a distinctive, almost Old World, quality about them.

Even though it is no longer October, there are still plenty of opportunities to raise a glass of Virginia - particularly Loudoun – wine and spread the word. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

There's an Owl House Over Yonder

For any DC-area wine lover who hasn't been to Red White and Bleu in Falls Church, I highly recommend a visit. It's the type of neighborhood wine and cheese shop where you can really learn a lot about what you are buying, have a personalized shopping experience with their knowledgeable staff and walk away entirely satisfied every time.

They also have weekly wine tastings and jelly bean wine kits. Want to know what you're going to drink before you buy? shell out a couple of bucks for a little packet of jelly beans that replicate the flavors. Believe it or not, it really works. 

I mention Red White and Bleu because drinking local is more than just supporting Virginia wineries. It's also shopping at local wine shops where the owners are also neighbors and really care about the customer experience and the wines they sell. Red White and Bleu is one of those shops, and every wine I have ever purchased from them has been well worth the trip. 

Owl House Red is just the most recent example. A red blend that is on Red White and Bleu's $9.99 rack, it's a dry and complex wine that is a steal at the price and goes just as well with appetizers and junk food as it does with steak or lamb. As a blend of Rhone varietals and Bordeaux varietals, it is also one of those wines that a local shop is happy to carry but a grocery, chain or big box store might not - it just doesn't fit into their classifications and can't be produced in large enough quantities to meet the demand. 

While drinking local and eating local is great - and I really do believe that Virginia wine is making huge gains - it also means supporting local merchants who really care about their community and have a passion for their products. They are also great places to try wines that may be a bit too off the beaten path for the big stores.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

VinItaly 2011: Lots of Arrogance for so Little Remarkable Wine

Possibly the best part of VinItaly was its logo

Here’s everything I knew about Italian wine before going to VinItaly at the Italian Embassy earlier this week:

  1. Italian wine is considered very “food friendly”
  2. Hannibal Lecter enjoys a nice Chianti when feasting on fava beans and human liver
  3. The Italian wine classification system is so screwed up that some of the finest wines being made have to be classified as “table wine” because they don’t fall into the rigidly defined quality wine categories
  4. After the popes returned to Rome from Avignon, they insisted on drinking French rather than Italian wine
  5. There’s a lot the I don’t know about Italian wine
Having attended VinItaly, and been fully immersed into the Italian wine industry, here’s what I now know about Italian wine:

1.  “Food friendly” means wines much more acidity than I am used to, which can be rather acerbic to drink on their own
2.  Because  Hannibal Lecter enjoys a nice Chianti when feasting on fava beans and human liver, Americans are quite familiar with Chianti, though many still associate it with the stuff that came in straw baskets in the 70’s
3.  The Italian wine classification system is so screwed up that some of the finest wines being made have to be classified as “table wine” because they don’t fall into the rigidly defined quality wine categories
4. After the popes returned to Rome from Avignon, they insisted on drinking French rather than Italian wine
5. Italian wine merchants may be, as a whole, the most arrogant and snobby group of people in the wine industry. Given that this is an industry populated by so many people from France and California, this is a dubious honor to say the least
  1. There’s still a lot I don’t know about Italian wine
With respect to #2, the popularity of Chianti has proved to be a double-edged sword for Italian wine. On the one hand, people recognize the name Chianti, and therefore, it can be sold and people will drink it. On the other hand, many people still associate it with the swill that came in baskets that look good with a candle dripping down the side, but is actually pretty terrible wine.

Look! A non-Chianti!
Trying to educate American consumers about higher-quality Chianti, as well as on other wines from Italy, is a challenge that is consuming a lot of the Italian wine industry’s time. Still, they are pressing on.

Soave seems to be the new darling of the industry – and there is a big push to make this rather unremarkable white wine as commonplace in stores and restaurants as Pinot Grigio, which is another fairly unremarkable Italian white wine. In my opinion, Pinot Gris from Oregon blows their Italian counterparts away. I would love to be proven wrong, but it hasn’t happened yet.

There is a big push to reintroduce Soave to the American market. This was the best of the bunch at VinItaly, though it was still rather unremarkable
What I noticed at VinItaly is that the Italian wine industry as a whole would love to take more of the American market, and are unified – or as unified as so many Italians can be on a given topic. They do not, however, have a desire or feel that there is a need to educate American consumers as to why we should care about their wines or why it would be beneficial to learn about Italian wines other than Chianti and Pinot Grigio.

People being all Italian and wine-snobby at VinItaly

I have been to a lot of wine events, but never in my life have I attended one where there was almost a universal disdain for potential consumers, where questions were answered with scorn and the expectation was that either people would like the wines being offered or they were incapable of understanding the nuances and complexities at hand. At one point I asked one of the reps how they planned to make their wines more approachable for Americans. His response: “we don’t need to make our wines more approachable. If Americans like our wine, great. If they don’t, that’s not our problem.” At another booth, asking about their other red wines that weren’t Chianti, I got this response: “[Italy] is not a one-trick pony. [Americans] need to know what they are missing before they judge a whole country.”

Fine. Then explain it to me. Sell it to me. As someone who loves wine, writes about wine and sells wine, I wanted to be wowed. I wanted to understand the passion and justification of why Americans needed to know more about Italian wine. I walked away with my opinions more or less in tact and reinforced – that Italian wine is great with certain foods and aside from that is pretty much crap.

I am still hoping that my mind will be changed. With all the wine Italy produces, not all of it reinforces my bias, and I did taste some good ones at VinItaly.

Unfortunately, most of them do, and it’s a shame that wine reps tasked with selling their country’s wine to an American market left an even worse taste in my mouth than much of the unremarkable wine I tried.   

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Celebrate Virginia Wine Month!

October is Virginia Wine Month. If you're looking for a time to get acquainted or better acquainted with the great wines coming out of the state, this is the month to do it.

True, there's a lot going on in October - what with Halloween, baseball's post-season, college and pro football both well underway, hockey getting underway, Columbus Day, and a certain wine blogger's birthday, but don't ignore your local winemakers.

While there is a lot going on in October, the great thing about wine is it enhances - and improves - just about any situation. So sit back, take in all October has to offer and raise a glass of Virginia wine to celebrate how far the industry has come in a relatively short time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrate Virginia Wine Month with Great Virginia Football Wines!

October is Virginia Wine Month. Make sure to support your local Virginia wineries during the month.

October is also when both college and pro football are in full swing, as is baseball's post-season. So many sports, so little time. And so much watered-down, bad beer...
Until now.
Check out my latest column in the Loudoun Times-Mirror to learn about great Virginia wines to enjoy next time you settle in to watch a game.

The key takeaway is that there are many, many great wines coming out of Virginia that go with football and all its trappings.

Are you brave enough to be seen at your next game-watch sipping wine? You won't be disappointed if you are!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fall Football Wines

At virtually every sporting event an game watch I go to, I withstand a certain amount of ridicule for preferring wine to beer. It is true that we are in the minority when it comes to preferred beverages inside stadiums, and the options can be crap. Why there can be a dozen microbrews available at Wrigley Field and I am stuck choosing between red and white Sutter Home shows what we are up against.

And yet, it is all worth it. Let your friends root around in the ice tub for a beer. If you like wine, drink wine. If you choose correctly, you might even convert some people to the cause.

For football wines, I am a big fan of big, bold Zinfandels, lighter, smokey Bonardas and, of course, Virginia Cabernet Francs. Any of these make watching a game all the more enjoyable.

So, with football season right around the corner, I'm getting ready to yell "go Irish!" on Saturdays, "go Bears!" on Sundays and hope I don't do it around white sofas because there will be a glass of red wine in my hand.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Americans Love Their Wine

For those of you who haven't heard, Americans lover their wine. This trend has been growing for some time, and it was recently reported that the United States now consumes wine than any other country in the world. Good job everyone. Let's keep it up! You know that some countries - I'm looking at you France - are going to double their efforts to regain their prominence as the world's top wine consumers.

The trend towards wine has become so pronounced that even morning news shows are starting to take notice. Recently, CBS' The Early Show aired a segment on American winegrowers and American wine consumption. It is a good piece that discusses the American wine market and new, boutique American winemakers.

One of my favorite Finger Lakes wineries, Heart and Hands, was profiled as one of the new breed of high-quality, boutique American wineries that is meeting the growing demand.

I would suggest you check out the Early Show segment and, more importantly, keep supporting your local wineries. Heart and Hands is just one example of the great quality wine being made in small batches in places like the Finger Lakes and Virginia.

High-quality and local wine consumption is trend that should continue.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Offline Blog... I think they're Called "Newspapers"

The Loudoun Indie, now part of the Loudoun Times-Mirror recently published a piece I wrote a while back about getting the word out on Virginia wines. I tried finding a link of it online to share with everyone, but to no avail. The Indie website hasn't been updated in some time.

In any event, if you are out in Loudoun County, pick up a copy. Sometimes there is still something very satisfying about having an actual newspaper in your hands - preferably with a glass of wine nearby and not in heat-indexed temperatures around 120*.

Since I couldn't find the piece online, the original blog post is reprinted below. Check out the other great Virginia wine bloggers and support your local Virginia wineries!

It's hard to believe, but there was a time before the Internet. In those cold, dark days, people had to learn about wine through their local wine shop, newsletters, and local wine festivals. Basically people had to interact with other people. Luckily, those days are long gone. The problem is you still can’t taste wine online. Hopefully this will change one day in the future - I’m looking at you, Google Labs - but until then, there are plenty of resources available.

Just this week Virginia Wine Trips launched. It is a blog that not only focuses on Virginia wine but also outlines specific itineraries you can follow in different parts of the state. As the blog grows, more itineraries will become available. Virginia Wine Trips is a welcome addition to the Virginia wine blog community. Virginia Wine Trips is from the same team that is responsible for the always-enjoyable Swirl, Sip, Snark blog.

Other Virginia wine blogs worth reading are My Vine Spot,Drink What You Like, Virginia Wine Time and Virginia Wine in My Pocket. These blogs and the myriad others vary in depth, breadth and scope. Each offers a different take on the wines and wineries throughout Virginia. There are many others, but these are a good place to start.

If you want to get out from behind your computer screen to actually taste, rather than just read about, Virginia wine you can still do that, too. There is no better place to start than the Virginia Wine Showcase which is happening this weekend. With close to 40 Virginia wineries, chefs giving cooking demonstrations, wine seminars, a blind wine tasting – “Virginia vs. The World” - and even speed dating, this year’s Wine Showcase is the perfect opportunity to spend a weekend familiarizing yourself with all that Virginia wine has to offer.

Last year’s Virginia Wine Showcase was hampered by Snowmageddon. This year promises to be different. The weather looks like it will cooperate, and I am looking forward to actually attending the Showcase this year. Tickets, a schedule of events and a layout of the Showcase are all available on the website.

As the Virginia wine industry continues to grow, so too will your options for learning about all Virginia wine has to offer. There is still, though, no substitute for visiting a winery and trying their wine firsthand.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Finally Going on a Virginia WInery Tour this Year

It's been a crazy year so far. Caitlin and I thought that we would have more time to relax and explore the area's wineries now that our wedding and all its planning and most of our friends' weddings and all the travel involved are behind us. That hasn't been the case. In fact, we have had very few weekends where we have been free to explore Virginia Wine Country.

Luckily, tomorrow we will correct this injustice of having too much to do and not enough time to do it all. We are visiting three wineries that I am really excited about: Chateau O'Brien, Philip Carter Winery and Hume Vineyards. I have never been to any of these three wineries, but know them all by reputation. I have, of course, tried some of their offerings. Philip Carter's Chardonnay made it to the semifinals in One Classic Wino's and my Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge back in March.

I have tried Hume's Detour Blend and was very impressed with it. They were also planning to make a Rosé this year, which I am really looking forward to trying.

Chateau O'Brien also makes great red and white terroir-driven wines with a really great, earthy and full Petit Verdot. They also feature their dog, Buddy, on their labels. Dog-friendly wineries always get a few extra points in by book. The fact that all three of these wineries have wine that can be fully enjoyed and appreciated my dog's best friend to boot means that tomorrow will be a great day for trying some great Virginia wine at some wineries I have been eager to get to for some time.

If you're planning to be at any of these wineries tomorrow, let me know!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

35 Years After the Judgment of Paris and 2 Months After the Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge

If you haven’t seen the movie Bottle Shock, it is definitely worth watching, preferably with a bottle of wine or two. The movie depicts the organization of the Judgment of Paris wine tasting where California wines beat out their French counterparts through a blind tasting that was comprised of all French judges. The movie is very enjoyable, and not just because Severus Snape is cast as the wine merchant who organized the tasting.

35 years ago today, the Judgment of Paris put the international wine world on notice that terrific wine doesn’t need to come just from France or Italy. The New World is more than capable of creating high quality wines – and is even capable of producing superior wines – than those of the Old World. What constitutes "the New World" of wine keeps growing and expanding.

California is now part of the wine world’s Establishment – with Napa Valley wines rivaling those of France in terms of both reputation and price tag. What was true of the Judgment of Paris, however, is still true today: upstart wine regions are capable of holding their own against more established wine regions. Wines coming out of Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Oregon, New York and Virginia can stand toe-to-toe with wines from France, Italy, Germany, Napa and Sonoma Counties. What’s more, you can find much better values on wines coming from emerging wine regions than you can on wines from more established regions. I have recently had a Chilean Pinot Noir by Anakena, an Argentinean Syrah by Fingerprints, and a Virginia Rosé by Fabbioli Cellars that rival similar offerings from the Old World or California.

Our Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge was held two months ago, with wines from Virginia and Chile taking top honors. I’m not claiming that our tasting will put Virginia on the wine map the way the Judgment of Paris put Napa Valley on the wine map. For one thing this blog is far, far away from being Time Magazine. For another, the fact that great wine is now being produced all over the world isn't all that newsworthy. It seems like there's a hot new wine region emerging every year. As wine consumers, it means that we’re fortunate to be able to have such an abundance of high quality wines readily available to us at great prices. Some are from further away than we could ever have imagined while others are from our own backyard.

Friday, May 6, 2011

For Mother’s Day, Give a Bouquet of Rosés

Every year there’s a spike in flowers in the early part of May for Mother’s Day. And why not? Who doesn’t want to do something special for their mom on Mother’s Day? Flowers, chocolate, maybe a spa treatment… These are all great ideas, but by this point, they’re all tired, too. You’d be better off making her a macaroni picture or gluing some shells to a picture frame.

Or you can get her something she would actually enjoy, use and appreciate. I am talking, of course, about some dry Rosé. Virginia is starting to make more Rosé and what it’s producing is startlingly good. Rosé is also becoming more and more popular in other wine-growing areas - and with good reason. Rosés are light, crisp, refreshing and complex. Often with an abundance of strawberry, raspberry and cherry flavors, Rosés are perfect for the spring and summer, and your mom will likely love them, too.

A few really good Rosés coming out of Virginia are Ingleside Winery’s Rosato di Sangiovese, a 100% Sangiovese Rosé, Fabbioli Cellars’ Rosa Luna, which is also 100% Sangiovese, Bluemont Vineyard’s “The Donkey” Dry Rose which is a blend of Nebbiolo, Viognier and other grapes and Tarara Winery’s Dry Rosé which is a blend of all the red grape varietals that they grow. Hume Vineyards is also expected to release a Rosé later this spring, which I am looking forward to. Hume’s owner and winemaker is from the Loire Valley, which is home to some of my favorite Rosés. One that Caitlin and I have been drinking with some regularity this spring is the Bougrier Rosé D’Anjou, which is primarily Cabernet Franc.

All these Rosés are extremely drinkable and each of them is helping to dispel the myth that pink wines are artificially sweetened fruit juice for grown-ups. What’s more, your mother - as well as everyone else - will love them. Bring your mother some Rosé on Mother’s Day and become her favorite child. The only problem is that roses will last longer than Rosés after people get a chance to taste them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Paradise Springs is All Grown-up

It seems like only yesterday that a new winery in Fairfax was fighting with local authorities to be able to open its doors. Looking back at all the struggles Paradise Springs faced initially, and all of the winery’s subsequent success, the opening of their new facility - and their successful opening weekend - serves as a nice reminder to all Paradise Springs has overcome and accomplished in its brief history thus far. To recap: yes, there are still rural parts of Fairfax County. Yes, Paradise Springs makes good wine. Yes, the new facility will help Paradise Springs take their operation to the next level. The fact that they are just a quick trip from downtown DC – I-66 permitting – is just an added bonus to plan a visit.

Paradise Springs is receiving ample support from both the Virginia wine industry and from local and state officials now that they have established themselves and their Chardonnay has won the Governor’s Cup. Their award-winning Chardonnay was one of the wines served at the Grand Opening. The other was their Cabernet Franc, which readers of this blog may have heard once or twice, is one of the varietals that grows extremely well in Virginia.

Gone are the days when Fairfax County zoning officials tried to claim that the winery was actually a manufacturing plant and not a farm. Even with the new facility, Paradise Springs is very much a farm, a winery, and a welcome addition to the exploding wine industry in the state. Virginia Wine Time has a good run down of all the big wigs, fat cats and honchos who were in attendance as well as lots of pictures of the event.

As for the new facility itself, there are essentially three different areas: a tasting room with bar large enough to accommodate several busloads of guests at a time, a production facility/barrel room and a large patio with a fireplace, tables and wooded views. The new building fits in with the current feel of Paradise Springs. Prior to the new facility opening, tastings were done in an old farmhouse and overflow crowds could taste in the barn as well. There was almost always overflow because, as charming as the old farmhouse is, it wasn’t big enough to accommodate the crowds. The barn and the new facility are adjacent to one another with the new facility mimicking the look and feel of the old barn’s exterior. The inside balances modern with traditional very well. The tasting bar side has a cozy feeling to it, despite being a large, airy space.

A portrait of Thomas Jefferson hangs on the wall, and I’m sure he’d be proud of what Paradise Springs, and Virginia wine in general, has accomplished.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

And the Winner is...

Last month Jessica Milby of One Classic Wino fame and I hosted a March Madness-style wine tasting. It was a great event and a Virginia wine won the whole kit and kaboodle.

Want to know which wine emerged from the field of 16 victorious? Head over to Snooth to find out!

As a reminder, here's how I filled out my bracket:

The final bracket, and a write-up of the tasting, is available at Snooth which is a great wine website - and would be even if I didn't write for them occasionally.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Virginia’s Wine Industry Brain Trust

Next month, Doug Fabbioli will again teach a series of courses on the wine business - running the gamut from general winemaking concepts and vineyard management to tips on starting a winery in Virginia. I was able to attend a few of the sessions and each of them was enlightening, educational and a lot of fun. Doug’s passion for wine certainly came through in the classes and his breadth of knowledge makes him a great instructor to boot.

I would highly recommend anyone that is interested in learning more about the wine business in general or the Virginia-specific wine industry to attend the classes when they start back up again on May 18. It is clear that Doug, as well as others in the industry in the state, love what they do and where they are doing it. The classes also make it very apparent that anyone who wants to get into the wine industry because of a Peter Mayle-ish romantic notion that all it takes is wandering among vineyards and tasting wine to own a winery is sorely mistaken. There is a lot of hard work, stress, and factors – both natural and manmade – that can destroy an entire year’s worth of work.

That reality check is important to get, especially for anyone who seriously considering jumping into Virginia’s wine industry. The classes will give you a much-needed primer on how to go about doing starting a winery if the warnings of hard work and toil don’t dissuade you.

Of the three classes I attended, my favorite had to be the last class, which included a panel discussion with Doug, Stephen Mackey from Notaviva Vineyards and Jordan Harris from Tarara Winery. The three of them are a combined wealth of information about the wine industry and it was fascinating to hear them talk about their approach to winemaking, how that approach had to be modified to Virginia’s climate and where they see the state’s wine industry going.

The general consensus is that Virginia is on path more akin to Oregon than Australia: becoming well-known for making high-quality wines rather than inexpensive and mass-produced wines. It certainly seems like the state is on that path, and these classes demonstrate that there is both the interest and the need to bring more people into a demanding, but highly rewarding industry.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I have a Virginia WIne Winning it All

Yup. There it is. I have Fabbioli Cellars' Cabernet Franc taking the whole enchilada. I'm not saying it's going to be an easy road to victory, but I'm comfortable with my picks. We'll see if I'm right tonight...

Stay tuned, fill out a bracket, come to the event and/or follow the results on Twitter (@BeltwayBacchus, @OneClassicWino).

The Bracket is Set. The Madness is Tonight

I have been impressed by the response the tasting fellow blogger Jessica Milby and I are putting on tonight. After planning, selecting the wines, and setting the bracket, we are finally going to be able to see which wine will win it all. We'll also get to see how Virginia wine stacks up against the heavy hitters from France and California, as well as against more recent wine powerhouses like Australia and Chile. Will one of the classic wine countries win it all? Will a plucky underdog prevail as a feel-good Cinderella story? Only time - and the tasters tonight - will tell. It should be noted that Virginia has produced several underdog success stories in recent years for that other bracketed March tournament...

People are getting excited about the tasting and I have had many people tell me that they are in the process of filling out their brackets, trash-talking wines that other people selected, and generally getting into it. It'll be a great tasting with more competitiveness and less snobbery than many wine tastings have. There are still a couple of slots available, too.

Even if you can't make it, feel free to fill out a bracket and follow the proceedings in real time on Twitter (@BeltwayBacchus, @OneClassicWino).

Game on!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Virginia Wine Week's Bracket Challenge

Virginia Wine Week starts tomorrow. The week is dedicated to raising awareness of Virginia wine by buying it from local grocery and wine stores and asking for it at restaurants you visit. Fireworks Pizza in Courthouse, one of our neighborhood standbys, has a decent selection of Virginia wine. More restaurants in the area are starting to increase the number of their Virginia wine offerings, too. If you want to learn more about Virginia wine glass by glass, tomorrow is a great time to start.

There are many other ways to experience and expand your knowledge of Virginia wine during the week, as well. Not least of these is the Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge. The Challenge is a tasting put on by myself and fellow wine blogger - and private wine-tasting hostess extraordinaire - Jessica Milby. Inspired by a certain basketball tournament that falls during Virginia Wine Week, the Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge pits Virginia wines toe-to-toe against their steepest competition.

Even if you can't make the tasting next Thursday, download a bracket on Facebook and follow us as the results of the night unfold on Twitter - @BeltwayBacchus @OneClassicWino #VAWineBrackets. I'm looking forward to Virginia Wine Week and even more excited to see how Virginia wines stack up against the competition.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ponzi’s Scheme: Fantastic Oregon Pinots

I know that the title of this post is a little predictable and cheesy, but I can’t help it – there was a slow softball pitched to me and I took full advantage of it. And I’m glad I did, because that means that I can relive my recent experience with Ponzi Vineyards, a pioneering family in the Oregon wine industry. Maria Ponzi, one of the daughters of the founders, current Director of Sales and Marketing, and sister of the winemaker, was recently in DC as part of the Capital Wine Festival. The wines were some of the most complex Pinot Noirs I have tasted in a long, long time. The food was delicious – especially the Pinot-braised pork osso bucco that Chef Mark Timms prepared that was paired with Ponzi’s 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir. The event was another success for the Capital Wine Festival and I am glad I got to spend some time sampling Ponzi’s wines and meeting the people behind them.

Ponzi’s history dates back to the start of the Oregon wine industry – the early 70s - when the Ponzis moved from Northern California with the sole purpose of making Burgundian wine in a cooler climate. Listing to Maria retell the story of her family leaving California to start their winery in Oregon, I was shocked by how piecemeal the whole move seemed. They knew that they wanted to move to Oregon, make wine made with Pinot grapes, and that’s basically it. They were basically making wine out of a garage for much of their history. Knowing how much time, energy, effort and money opening a winery nowadays costs, it’s amazing that the Ponzis gambled on starting a winery in what was then a remote hinterland far removed from the center of the American wine industry.

The gamble paid off, and Ponzi has been making fantastic wines ever since. My favorite wine was their 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir that’s complex and elegant with spiced cherries, licorice and a hint of earth throughout that ends in a long, velvety finish. It was one of several Pinot Noirs sampled, along with a crisp and refreshing Pinot Gris and a fuller-bodied Pinot Blanc that had pears, honeysuckle and floral hints on the nose and palate.

Throughout the dinner, I enjoyed speaking to Maria about her family’s history and the wine that they make. While their wine receives rave reviews from the usual suspects – both Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate have scored Ponzi wines highly - they are now one of the deans of Oregon’s wine industry. At their core, though, Ponzi is still very much a family business that is run with a start-up’s mentality.

I also kept thinking about how far the Oregon wine industry has come since the Ponzis first arrived to work with cooler climate grapes. Oregon wasn’t anywhere close to being on the wine map then, and it now has a reputation for making some of the best Pinots in the world. Virginia is in a similar situation now. While the state is making some great wine, it is still seen as a novelty, an offshoot of the locavore movement, or the passion of a few dedicated wine enthusiasts. With the same sort of dedication to producing great wines that the early settlers of the Oregon industry had, and with the patience and desire to see the industry flourish, it is only a matter of time until Virginia is as synonymous with Cabernet Franc and Viognier as Oregon is with Pinot varietals.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Washington Wine Academy’s 1K Wine Walk for the Cure of Boring

The Washington Wine Academy’s 1K Wine Walk was not for any cure, cause or awareness raising of any kind. Unless you count awareness of the Wine Academy itself and different wines from around the world. If you do, then it was quite successful. The event was well-attended, and I hope the inaugural Wine Walk was the kickoff to a new annual event on the DC wine calendar.

One of the things I really liked about the Wine Walk was the diversity of wine that was available for participants. There were wines from all over the world – ranging from well-known to more obscure regions and varietals. Virginia wine was well represented with a Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Norton available to taste at the different stops along the walk. I was a fan of the Cono Sur Pinot Noir from Chile, which was a light-bodied, easy drinking and smooth Pinot that was brimming with cherries, raspberries and just the lightest smack of mulling spice to round it out. Another standout was the Jefferson Vineyards Cabernet Franc. Go figure, I liked a Virginia Cab Franc. This one was a nice full-bodied offering that was loaded with spiced cherries, vanilla, and an earthy, smokiness that yielded to a nice, dry finish. I was glad to see Virginia wines mixed in with wines from other regions and not segregated into a Virginia Stop on the walk.

The 1K wine walk is a new offering from The Academy that I hope becomes an annual event. It was certainly popular enough this year – so popular, in fact, that they had to add a second day. Participants ranged from those decked out in running gear - emphasizing the 1K part - to people in wine-tasting gear - including those ridiculous wine glass-holding necklaces – to people who just came out for a fun afternoon of wine tasting.

There is some room for improvement, though. Next year, I would like to see information on where participants can purchase the wine they are tasting. There was no information available to the walkers regarding where to buy bottles this year, nor was it possible to purchase the wine during the event. I am sure a store like Whole Foods or Total Wine would love the partner with the Washington Wine Academy for this event in order to drive a captive audience into their stores.

Overall, the event was a great success that was put on by a great organization. The Washington Wine Academy does a lot to raise awareness of wine in the DC area. From their Movie Nights at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse to their weekend Virginia Wine Tours to their more rigorous classes on wine appreciation and scholarship, they stand at the forefront of wine education and wine events in the region.

Monday, February 28, 2011

DC International Wine and Food Festival Emphasized Emerging Regions

The DC International Wine and Food Festival lived up to its name. There were wineries from all over the world – not just California, France and Italy. In fact, the representation of those three wine powerhouses was pretty scarce. Perhaps a better name for the Festival would have been the “DC Emerging Wine Regions Festival.” The large contingent of wine from New World regions such as South Africa, New Zealand, Spain and the Finger Lakes far surpassed the representation from more well-known wine-producing areas.

Even Virginia had a pretty good showing with about half a dozen wineries on-site. The Washington Wine Academy was also on-hand pouring local wine – and had good crowds throughout the day. I was impressed that there was such a big showing by Virginia wineries, given that the DC festival was held on the same weekend as the Virginia Wine Showcase.

There was a large turnout, making it difficult to get samples and tastings from some vendors, but that isn’t unusual. Regardless, there was enough to do and see that it was not a major issue except with a few vendors. And seriously, if you are giving out samples of foie gras, there is going to be a wait. Like most festivals of its ilk, there were cooking demonstrations with celebrity chefs, food and wine vendors and myriad other businesses attracted by the demographics of the attendees.

South Africa had the largest presence of any wine region that I saw, with Spain being a close second. I am glad they did, as I am not all that familiar with South African wines and was glad to have the opportunity to try a number of styles of South African wine. Aside from more traditional varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa offered attendees samples of alternative varietals that they do very well: Pinotage (red) and Chenin Blanc (white). I tried both, which were both quite good. The Pinotage had a deep red color with a light-to-medium body and a lot of smoke, oak and blackberries on the nose and finish. The Chenin Blanc had a lot of vanilla and banana throughout.

Spain also had a big presence, too, but there was too much of a cluster for me to spend too much time tasting their wines.

The Finger Lakes also had a large turnout. From the wines on hand, as well as the marketing material about the region, it’s easy to figure out what the Finger Lakes does well: Riesling. Every winery was pouring at least two different styles of Riesling, and the literature quoted the rave reviews that Finger Lakes Riesling has received. Riesling is being embraced as the grape of the region. Sweet, dry, and semi-dry styles were all well-represented at the festival. Many of them were done very well. If you’re not a fan of Riesling, there were several Finger Lakes Pinot Noirs and Gewürztraminers available too - but they were supporting characters to Riesling. Chambourcin also has a lot of potential in the Finger Lakes. I have tried several very good ones, and have been impressed with the versatility and complexity of Finger Lakes Chambourcin.

There was, in fact, so much talk and literature about Finger Lakes Riesling that the region could run the risk of becoming a one-trick pony. The region should embrace what it does well, but it does wines other than Riesling well, too. I wrote about some producers making fantastic reds a while back, but the marketing collateral that the region is using so emphasized Riesling that it might make it difficult for other wines to get the respect and attention that they deserve. Still, Oregon's wine industry certainly hasn't suffered from emphasizing its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

It is interesting to contrast the strategy of the Finger Lakes to that of Virginia. They are both emerging wine regions that are gaining more and more recognition within the industry. But where the Finger Lakes is leaning on one grape varietal hard, the Virginia wine industry emphasizes its history, diversity and innovation. Even though Cabernet Franc and Viognier grow well in Virginia, neither varietal has been highlighted to the extent that Riesling has been by the Finger Lakes industry. It will be interesting to see which strategy is more successful in the long run. I hope that both regions continue to develop and produce great wine that is reflective of their respective climate and geography.