Good Buys : New Zealand

Well it’s not Virginia, but New Zealand is on my personal list of good buys. I define good buys, as wine that is pleasing to the palate, as well the pocket. Some fine examples of Sauvignon Blanc are being produced in New Zealand, gaining much deserved global respect and attention. Two regions that have struck gold with my palate are Hawkes Bay, located on North Island, and Marlborough, located in the northeastern region of South Island.

These New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs have distinct herbal and fruity aromas, and crisp citrus and tropical fruit on the palate. Most range in price from $10 to $13, and are well worth the small investment.

I know for $12, one could invest in a case of the high volume seller ‘Two Buck Chuck’, but I urge you to look to Marlborough if you have not done so already. I also warn you to not be discouraged by the screw cap. New Zealand has forfeited image, and it should be understood that these puppies are meant to be drunk young.

Also, try a South African Sauvignon Blanc, and note the earthy, mineral flavors balanced by the fruit. This varietal takes on the characteristics of the soil type quite well, and a variety of styles can be found among places like Loire Valley, California and Washington State.

Invest with ease !


Vintage Virginia Wine Festival

How would you like to sample the Virginia wine region all in one day ? Sounds impossible right ? Not so, Vintage Virginia Wine festival unlocks the door to make it all possible. With over 50 of Virginia's top wineries, numerous local food and craft vendors, and great live music, for me the Vintage Virginia Wine Festival is a must attend event.

When we attended last year, there was so much to this event that you're tempted to go both days to ingest it all. There were informational seminars, crafts, art, massage specialist, unique gifts, all sorts of local food vendors, things to keep the kids busy, things to keep the parents busy, and it really gives you a chance to sample Virginia in a way you would not have otherwise experienced it. One warning for you ice cream lovers, look for the food booth that sells old fashioned homemade ice cream; the taste will blow you away ! Be sure to get it while it lasts, because it is delicious and will likely sell out fast if history repeats. The name escapes me, but the something CRUNCH flavor was awesome.

The Vintage Virginia Wine Festival is June 3rd and 4th from 11am to 6pm, at Bull Run Park in Centerville, Virginia.

With over 50 wineries do not feel shy about using the spit bucket, safety and responsibility should be practiced. Have a great time, in getting to know your local wine producers.

Linganore Caribbean Wine Festival

On Saturday we visited Linganore Winecellars to celebrate their Caribbean Wine Festival. Linganore is in Mt Airy, MD, about one hour and some change from the DC metro area. Although it is not Virginia wine, it gives me an opportunity to get out and encourage the Maryland folks to come across the bridge and try some Virginia wine.

Linganore has a charming new tasting room and store to boast, and a nice patio area to have lunch. For the festival, there was three areas set up for tasting, which greatly sped up the tasting process, given the large crowd in attendance. The weather for the festival was ideal, and people were literally pouring in all day long (as well pouring …lol), enjoying the spirits of wine, good food, music and friends.

After doing a tasting of their wines and visiting the craft booths, we decided to lay the blanket down and grab lunch and enjoy the Calypso bands. After talking about the wines we tasted, we decided to buy a bottle of the barrel fermented Chardonnay, which has a distinct pear flavor and aroma, and is mildly oaky. Most of the wines produced at Linganore, are blissful, sweet, fruity, unpretentious styled wines that compliment these sort of outdoor summer events.

Linganore does a great job, in preparation for the big crowds, and minimizing your time spent in line. Many, who attended however, will attest to the need for more food vendors, but you can bring your own picnic basket if you wish. Below is a picture of the ElectroPull professional uncorking machine. This neat device can uncork up to 500 corks per hour if need be, and was the sales clerk’s best friend over the weekend.

Linganore has four more (Blues, Reggae, Bayou and Jazz) wine festivals scheduled this year. So be sure to check their web site for event dates and times.

Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday, and take a moment to give praise and thanks in honoring those men and women who have served their country well.


Mother’s Birthday weekend in Virginia

My mother's birthday was this past weekend, and her one gift request was for her husband to bring her to Virginia to celebrate her birthday with her ‘great’ son and visit some Virginia wineries. They arrived at Dulles, from Georgia Friday morning, and after a quick stop at IHOP we were on our way to jump on the Loudoun County wine trail.

Breaux Vineyards was our first stop of the day, and my mom really enjoyed their 2002 barrel fermented Chardonnay. This Chardonnay was smooth with hints of vanilla and spice, not overly oaky, and what you would expect of a well made barrel fermented Chardonnay. In unison, we all concurred with two thumbs up on the 2001 Nebbiolo. The 2001 vintage was smooth, with supple tannins and flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. After some conversation with the tasting associate about the 2001 vintage, I tasted the 2003 vintage, which was not listed to differentiate between the two. Needless to say, the 2003 is quite a vigorous character that will require a little more time in the bottle. I do however, look forward to seeing him again in a few years.

Breaux Vineyards

After our visit to Breaux, we stopped by Windham so my mom could try their Raspberry Merlot I had been boasting about. After a full tasting her husband took a liking to the 2004 Cabernet Franc, needless to say we both purchased a bottle to enjoy with dinner later. The 2004 Cab Franc has moderate tannins, aromas of dark fruit and raspberry, and flavors of berry fruit on the palette. After some conversation with the tasting associate and other tasters, we opted for a tour down stairs. Below is a picture of the fermenting raspberries, which is half of the delicious Raspberry Merlot dessert wine made at Windham.

We also visited Lost Creek, but they were sold out of most of their reds, so we did a partial tasting and chatted with the tasting associate, and had a really nice time there. Lost Creek has made some nice outdoor additions, and is worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.

Group picture at Lost Creek

We kicked off the next day by visiting Loudoun Valley. They make a pretty wide range of wines, and we enjoyed their two Merlot vintages (2001, 2003), as well the 2003 Vinifera White, a blend of barrel fermented Chardonnay and Riesling.

I promised stunning views and some great blends, so our next visit took us to Hillsborough. Both of the red blends, the 2004 Garnet and the 2003 Ruby were winners amongst us all. We lounged at Hillsborough for a while, had a sip, and enjoyed some of the beautiful views Hillsborough has to offer.

We rounded out the day by attending Tarara’s Wine and Wind festival. We had a great time there, enjoying the food and wine pairing seminars, craft and food vendors, a hayride through the vineyard, and last but not least the wine tasting. I opted for the Reserve tasting that was offered for an additional $5, and was impressed with the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Given the variety is difficult to ripen in Virginia, this wine had all the key characteristics of a well made Cab (compliments to the winemaker).

My mother and her husband Greg really enjoyed their short stay here in Northern Virginia, and the Loudoun wine experience. Next year we look forward to taking them to the Charlottesville area for more wine tasting and fun!

Mom and John Boy


Festival watch this weekend

Spring is in the air and there are several Festivals to note this weekend. Enjoy some good Virginia wine, local musicians, food vendors, crafts and all sorts of fun activities. Below are just a few events going on in the Northern Virginia area:

May 19-21 Mount Vernon Spring Wine Festival and Sunset Tour.
($30 at gate, 6p –9p) Click HERE for details.

May 20-21 Winds and Wine Festival at Tarara.
($12 Adults, $8 under 21, kids free, 11a-6p)

Celebrated in historic downtown Front Royal, Virginia.
($10 Tasters, $2 General Admission, 10p-6p) Click HERE for details.

You may also check HERE for other Virginia wine events near you. Have a wonderful and sunny weekend.


Wine and your Health

The GrapeVine noted the following regarding American wine consumption:

For the first time since 1976, Americans are expected to consume more red wine, than white according to the 2005 edition of the U.S. Wine Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast.

I decided to write an article regarding this subject after leaving Total Wine last week. While sampling a few white varietals from Sonoma, a lady made the comment that she drinks a glass of white wine everyday for the health benefits and because it taste good. I thought to myself, what benefits, other than the great flavors and aromas we have come to expect and appreciate out of a delectable glass of white wine, would she be getting ?

When I hear about health benefits, linked to wine consumption in moderation, red wines always come to mind first. Not your Rose, Blush, or your more sensual, smooth and soft reds, but the big tannic bad boys, that are usually better accompanied with food. I am neither an expert on the subject, or in the health care field, but the benefits are all in the skins. The grape skins are what makes a red wine red, and the lack of, a white wine white.

American consumers who are readily gaining more wine knowledge than ever before are looking to the big reds, as the French, in hopes of long term health benefits as proven by studies and statistics over years.

So what does this Tannin thing have to do with it all ? Tannins are mainly present in grape skins and to a lesser extent in oak barrels. The skins impart the big tannic taste and are where the health benefits are derived. The skins contain phenolic substances and molecules, which studies have shown are associated with reduced levels of coronary heart disease. Tannins also have antioxidant properties that studies have shown to do the body good by fighting free radicals, increasing mental alertness, and improving cardiovascular health to name a few. You do see Grape Seed extract for sale in stores like G.N.C. right ? Remember, moderation and big reds are key here, too much alcohol can have adverse affects.

As always, keep tasting, trying and learning new things : )


Burnley 2004 Zinfandel

When visiting Horton and Barboursville a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a small, hospitable, family run winery named Burnley . We were staying in Orange so visiting one more winery was not out of the picture. We were greeted upon entering by Lee and his wife Dawn in the tasting area, and decided to go down the list (such a tough decision). To my surprise, we were in for a treat because Lee is the winemaker, and does just about everything related to on the grounds. He gave us a brief history of the business and we exchanged some friendly conversation and had a really nice time talking with the couple. There was also a friendly German Shepherd named Cooper, who came out shortly after tasting and greeted us in friendly Shepherd fashion. We enjoyed the 2003 Riesling, which is a medium dry wine, full of fruit and great for those warm weekend deck or patio days. Another, which I just opened, and currently enjoying is the 2004 Zinfandel. The preeminent grape of California has made its way to few Virginia winemakers. I always enjoy a good Zinfandel, as they have the natural ability to be made in a wide range of styles. The Burnley 2004 is a fruit bomb with flavors of plum, blackberry and slight hints of spice. It’s not big like some Californian Zins, and won’t rival a milder Cab, but it’s a good wine made right here in your backyard. I suggest the 2003 Riesling at $10 dollars per bottle (good value), and the 2004 Zinfandel at $20, or if that is to steep enjoy a glass at the winery with a cheese platter. Also be sure to check their site for special events and festivals.


Tasting at Hillsborough

On Sunday we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weekend weather and visit Hillsborough Cellars for a Barrel Tasting. Hillsborough is known for their perfection in the fine art of blending, and we would be tasting several of their wines prior to being put in the next release of blends.

We were given a brief history of the winery by winemaker Kerem Baki (son of owner Baka) and then led off for the tasting. There we were served a nice cheese and craker platter and given a brief lecture on blending and the family’s philosophy on wine making. We were a group of about 10, and everyone was very friendly, eager to learn, sip, have a good time and sip some more.

Hillsborough currently has four blends: Opal (Chardonnay and Viognier), Garnet (Bordeaux style blend), Ruby(Tannat, Petite Verdot and Touriga Nacional blend), and Moonstone (Viognier, Chardonnay blended dessert wine). We were to be treated to a new release for late 2006 titled ‘Bloodstone’, which is a blend of Fer Servadou, Cab Sauvignon and Tannat. Fer Servadou is a varietal from the Southwest region of France that is very similar to an Argentinean styled Malbec. The group really enjoyed this smooth, low tanic Malbec twin and thought it could do very well on its own here in Virginia. The Cabernet Sauvignon was medium to full bodied, supple in tannins with flavors of black berry, spice and oak. The Tannat was big and bold and by adding a mere 5% still has the ability to make its presence known. This was my first Tannat experience and this youthful puppy had a big bite, big tannins and would definitely need some aging if not blended with something to round it out. Afterwards Karem blended the three and gave us a sneak peek at what to expect from the long awaited Bloodstone blend. It was full, quite tasty and will be a food wine, and given some time in the bottle I expect wonderful things to come in it’s initial year. The upcoming Ruby will be consistent with the 2003 vintage so I really look forward to its release next year. This tasting was not only fun, but packed with lots of information and helped me better understand why some varietals are better off blended, even though Argentina does a really good job with a mellow, softer Malbec on its own.

Having only four wines to their collection, with Bloodstone soon being the fifth, some fellow tasters wondered why so few. The answer at Hillsborough lies in quality and not quantity and I can appreciate the slow grow process to success. Kerem did share with us his future vision to make a Port and/or Sparkling wine in the near and dear future. Also to my surprise they are growing newly Petite Manseng and plan on using this in a future blend or perhaps another new wine (??). I appreciate this varietal on it’s own, so I eagerly await the finished product be it alone or blended.

After the fun, we sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful views, had lunch, a glass of Opal 2004 and could not believe how many people had arrived since we had been away. I made friends with a wonderful little chihuahua who appreciated the aromatic qualities of her owner’s 2004 glass of Opal. While the weather is still nice I encourage you to pack a picnic basket, and give this place a try. The views of the Blueridge, streaming koi ponds and rolling hills will wow you : )

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