Sunday, February 24, 2013

Governor's Cup Winners Announced

Earlier in the week, the Governor's Cup winners were awarded to to Virginia's outstanding wines. Governor McDonnell bestowed the top honor, again, on Barboursville's Octagon. Octagon continues its march as Virginia's most recognized and awarded wine, and Barboursville continues to follow the Robert Mondavi model of winemaking and education - serving as an ambassador for the Virginia wine industry as a whole while also improving their own reputation.

While I have been critical of some aspects of Barboursville's approach and philosophy in the past, Octagon deserves the honor it has just received and any and all accolades in its future. The entire team at Barboursville strives to get Virginia wine a bit more respect, and who can argue with that?

Rather than try to say what has already been said about this year's Governor's Cup competition and winners, I encourage you to check out what Drink What You Like has said about it - particularly the lack of Viogniers included in this year's Gold Metal winners.

It's also worth reading Jordan Harris' comments for an insider's perspective on the recent lack of love for Virginia Viognier.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What a 90-Point Virginia Wine Tastes Like

One of the Virginia wines that recently received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast was the Tarara 2010 Cabernet Franc. WIth so much of the wine press focused on the wineries of the Charlottesville area, I was glad to see Linden and Tarara - both Northern Virginia wineries - do so well in the recent issue of the Enthusiast.

So what does a 90 point wine produced less than two hours from Washington, DC taste like? In the case of Tarara's 2010 Cabernet Franc, it tastes like a big wine, finishes like a big wine and makes no apologies about being a big wine.

I first noticed that the color was almost exactly the same as the ruby sacrificial ring in the movie HELP! Am I using this post to reiterate my not-quite latent Beatlemania? Perhaps, but there are worse ways to spend an evening watching the Beatles and drinking Virginia wine...

Tarara's Cabernet Franc is a BIG wine in every way - big dried fruit, leather and cedar aromas, big flavors of plumb, currant, tobacco with a peaty bite, big alcohol and a big finish. It continues to be a big wine though it does open up over time.

The wine is so big that I tried it over a couple of days and on the second day, it was still big though the tannins did soften a little. This is certainly a wine that could become friends with your decanter. If you don't have one, open it at the beginning of the night and serve it second if you're entertaining.

More to the point, Cabernet Franc does really well in Virginia and Tarara's demonstrates what the grape can accomplish when given the right soil, climate and winemaker. This wine is a great example of what happens when all three come together, and the national wine press is starting to take notice.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Admit Your Prejudices

Since my last post on Wine Enthusiast's recent issue where several Virginia wines received 90 point ratings, people have been saying things to me like, "Virginia wine? I've never tried it," or "Virginia wine? I hear it's not very good."

Like any sort of prejudice, wine prejudices die hard - making it difficult for up and coming wine regions and varietals get the attention and recognition they deserve. I have often admitted my own prejudices against Italian wine. In fact, I downright don't like it. True, I could say that I have some very good friends who enjoy Italian wines, but that doesn't change the fact that any time an Italian wine is put in front of me, I anticipate the worst - a bland, highly acidic and terribly unbalanced wine that does nothing for me on any level. That, or a Chianti that tastes like Cherry Coke. Neither are my preferred wine choices, and frankly there is too much wine available that I do like to waste my time with the stuff.

I say this because as much as I try to avoid Italian wines, I know better. Italy is one of the largest wine-producing countries in the world, and not all their wines can be the garbage I associate as coming from there. And indeed, the best way for prejudices to die is by routinely breaking down the misconceptions someone has. Truth be told, it's slowly starting to work for me with wines from Italy. I still think it is almost impossible to get a decent bottle of Italian wine for under $15, and I don't think the significantly higher prices for the barolos, amaronies and the like are worth it. Some of the Super Tuscans I have tried recently are starting to make me change my mind, however. So perhaps I'm not a regional wine snob after all and am rather a varietal wine snob. At least I have admitted the problem and now the healing can begin...

More to the point, given my own reservations about Italian wine, I sympathize with people who feel the same way about Virginia wine. One bad experience - or one mediocre wine - can turn people off and cloud their judgement for years to come. So when I hear people talk about the benefits and merits of Italian wine, I remain weary - even though I have had some good Italian wines and remain open to alleviating my discriminatory mindset.

With Virginia wine, people's minds are also slow to change. I hope that people will try more Virginia wine, understand that the quality continues to improve, and recognize that the major publications are starting to take note as well.

If people will accept the general idea that Virginia wine is worth trying and try some, I will begrudgingly continue to educate myself about Italian wine.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Enthusiastic About Virginia WIne

If you haven't seen the March issue of Wine Enthusiast, it is worth the $5.99 newsstand investment. Not only does it offer their monthly buying guide, but they have a cover story on the rise of Virginia wine that highlights the different wine-growing regions, AVAs and varietals that do best in the Old Dominion.

Unfortunately the Blogger app for iPad does not allow hyperlinks, so here's the link in long-form:

As for Wine Enthusiast's March Buyer's Guide, there is a noticeable increase in the number of Virginia wines in the guide. Six Virginia wines received a 90 point rating:

1. Linden 2009 Hardscrabble Chardonnay
2. Tarara 2010 Cabernet Franc
3. Barboursville 2009 Octagon
4. Linden 2008 Hardscrabble Red
5. Tarara 2010 Tranquility Cabernet Sauvignon-Tannat
6. Linden 2008 Late Harvest Petit Manseng

Many more Virginia wines also received scores in the high-80's.

What is interesting about the 90 point Virginia wines is that five of the six are from two wineries in Northern Virginia - Linden and Tarara.

This speaks volumes not only about what other wine bloggers and myself have been saying about the potential for wine in Northern Virginia for some time now, but also to the skills and winemaking talent that the region is attracting - with Jim Law and Linden and Jordan Harris at Tarara fast becoming part of the region's winemaking brain trust.

I was also shocked to see that there wasn't a singe Viognier that received a 90 point score. Viognier grows so well in the state - in fact a lot of wineries have hitched their success with white wines to that varietal - yet it hasn't done as well as Chardonnay. At least by the palates of the Wine Enthusiast editors.

Still, having such a prominent story on Virginia wine, and seeing an increase in the number of Virginia wines in their Buying Guide is a good thing for the Virginia wine industry as a whole. I get the feeling that Virginia wine is the little secret that is about to become known to a lot more people.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Wine Indiana Jones would Love

The label description reads like a plot line to one of the title character's eponymous movies:

"Located in the Calchaqui Valleys of Salta in Northwest Argentina...The estates range in altitude from 1700m - 2700m above sea level, which makes them among the highest vineyards in the world."

Rugged, inky and leathery. This is not  the typical fruit-bomb Malbec

The label does such a good job of describing the remote, high-altitude growing region where the Colome Estate Malbec comes from that it doesn't even mention that the wine is made with fruit grown on pre-phyllexora vines that are over a 150 years old.

So yes, Indiana Jones, if he were a wine drinker, would enjoy the Colome 2010 Estate Malbec - and not only because it would be an adventure just to get to the winery. It is also one of those very masculine wines that if full-bodied, earthy and heavy that's perfect after a long day of treasure hunting and Nazi fighting.

"Here, Dad. Try this Malbec. It'll make you feel better" 

I was intrigued when I read a description of Colome because of both its growing altitude and that it comes from vines that are over a century old. Since I am usually an inexpensive Malbec drinker - one who rarely spends more than $10 for a bottle and usually select it for its versatility and crowd appeal - I was expecting a wine of similar, but more complex, flavors.

What I discovered when I tried the Colome was quite the opposite. While there was some dark fruit present, the flavors were way more hearty and the fruit more subtle. "Inky," "leathery" and "earthy" were my first impressions. The wine does open up in the glass, and given that this is a big and bold wine, it is also incredibly well-balanced after opening up a bit.

Not only that, but the Colome is another of a rare breed of wines that shows what a good Argentine Malbec can be if you are willing to spend a little bit more on the bottle. The other one in this rarefied club is the Serrera Malbec, which I have written about previously. Both show the full potential of the Malbec grape, though is totally unexpected when compared to most people's idea of what a Malbec "should" taste like.

Colome Estate Malbec is a great conversation wine. It has a great story, an exotic growing location, and most importantly, is an interesting and enjoyable wine to drink.

Special thanks goes to Jim Caudill at The Hess Collection - the owners of Colome - for providing me with such an enjoyable sample!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Super Bowl of Wine

It looks like the chicken wing crisis has been averted and America's drinking and snacking will continue unabated tomorrow during the Super Bowl. While that crisis has not come to pass, the crisis of faith - whether or not to show up to a party with wine or not - will continue. Given that there are now breweries spending millions of dollars convincing beer drinkers that they are using a "chalice" rather than a "glass," now is the time for wine drinkers to enjoy the game as full participants. 

This year, more than previous Super Bowls, is the perfect opportunity to show up at a party with a bottle of wine or offer it to your own guests. San Francisco is the home team for some of the best winemaking regions in the world. Baltimore is Robert Parker's home team. Given that this year's game pits brother against brother a la the House of Mondavi and this year is the perfect opportunity for wine lovers to show all those chalice-sippers that wine is as good - if not better - than beer when combined with game day foods. 

And speaking of wine, what kind of wine should you bring or serve? Zinfandel is always a crowd pleaser and works great with BBQ and spicier foods. Considering that you can get a decent bottle for $10 or under and a really good bottle for $15 or other, you really can't go wrong. 

Other options are Shiraz, Cotes du Rhone or Chilean Merlot, all of which will appeal to a wide array of people and all of which cost you about $9 for an enjoyable bottle. Chilean Merlot has been my go-to wine recently, and given its cost-to-value ratio, unique flavor profile and wide appeal, is a great option for anyone who wants to enjoy the game and a glass of wine at the same time. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Big Pippin

View from the Porch at Pippin Hill

Recently I was cleaning out some of the junk in our garage to make room for more baby gear and I came across an empty bottle of Pippin Hill's Summer Farm Rose. I had meant to write about the wine and the winery back in rose season, and clearly I haven't. Seeing the bottle reminded me of how much we enjoyed our time at Pippin Hill winery over the summer. Although a newer winery, Pippin Hill is fast becoming a popular destination in its own right. And why shouldn't it? It has some of the most spectacular views of any winery in the Commonwealth - as captured both by my amateur hand as well as the professionals they had populate their website with beautiful photos. 

Of course, being such a scenic location can have its drawbacks. Too often the quality of the product suffers when the location can't be beat. Luckily, that is not the case with Pippin Hill. Their wines are quite good - with the rose, Cabernet Franc and Merlot Reserve being the key standouts. I particularly liked the Merlot Reserve with its abundance of dark fruit, oak and cedar flavors, it gave me a new appreciation for Virginia Merlot. 

After a long day of tastings, I go for an artsy shot
Of course, the drawback of making wine in a beautiful setting is that the place can get packed on the weekend. Couple this with the fact that Pippin Hill pushes its wedding packages heavily and you may find yourself in a situation where you aren't able to sit and enjoy the wines and the scenery. Not to bemoan Pippin Hill's success. They are popular because they deserve to be popular given their atmosphere and the quality of their wines that continues to improve. 

Bachelorette parties and weekend throngs aside, Pippin Hill is well worth a trip, and they still are committed to producing good wines. True, there is a link to booking a wedding on their front page, but they're also are water and soil nerds - hyping Pippin Hill's unique terrior and sustainable winemaking practices. Why else would they have one of the most unromantic paragraphs possible on their website: 

"Pippin Hill Farm is underlain by a granitic pre-Cambrian formation that provides a stable foundation. Water is sourced from a sustainable aquifer groundwater. Our soils are comprised of six distinct soil series with an abundance of rich texture: two ancient and four alluvial fans."

I'm glad I found that empty bottle in the garage and hope to get back to Pippin Hill sometime in the future.