Washington DC International Wine and Food Festival

On Sunday we attended the DC 7th annual International Wine and Food Festival. Where do I begin? A four hour window was provided to indulge oneself in over 1200 wines from all over the globe, a wide variety of foods and an array of wine related products. Hallelujah!

First stop of the day was New Zealand. Several months ago I purchased a Pinot Noir from the Canterbury region and after having a glass, found myself disappointed with a watery Pinot lacking ripeness. I was quite surprised when I sampled the Marlborough region 2004/2005 vintages of Pinot Noir. I ‘m already a fan of the Marlborough region for their Sauvignon Blanc, but the ripe black cherry, firm tannins and earthy characteristics of the Pinot really impressed me. The Pinot was quite consistent with all producers from Marlborough. The temperate maritime climate and ideal soil conditions must have something to do with this region's success.

New Zealand hostess awaiting eager patrons

Second Stop of the day was California. I could not resist sampling the high-octane jammy fruit bombs. The Californian big sexy and elegant Zinfandels did not disappoint one bit.

Third Stop of the day was VIRGINIA. Great seeing Tarara, Kluge, Oasis and Williamsburg wineries representing Virginia. The Cabernet Franc was on showcase for all to enjoy. There was also another booth pouring various Virginia wines. The Virginia booth received a great deal of attention and of course we enjoy Virginia wine ourselves.

Fourth Stop of the day was Uruguay. This little known South American country is doing something special with the tannat grape. These wines are lush, fruity, and spicy with firm tannins and a lingering finish. The berry fruit and the solid tannins stand out here; perfect red meat accompaniment.

Fifth stop of the day was South Africa. Red berry fruits, spice, sweet oak to full oak flavoring, slight notes of papaya: Got your attention yet? It is confirmed, you like Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. These wines are usually good values, nice on the palate and to the pocket.

Tasting and talking to the friendly staff

Final stop of the day was Argentina’s exceptional Mendoza region that has adopted the Malbec grape. Deep red colors, juicy dark red fruit and supple tannins would describe this a ‘good value’. For the record, Virginia also produces Malbec; you can find this varietal at Pearmund and Waterford, amongst others. The Mendoza region is worth giving some consideration however for this varietal.

We also stopped and conversed with the NY Finger Lake wineries; we will be there June 28 through July 3rd and assured them that we would be visiting their wineries in a matter of days to sample what the Finger Lakes is famous for, you guessed it Riesling.

In closing, the DC International Food and Wine Festival was a great experience, and readers who have not attended should strongly consider attending next year. Tasting ended for me 2 hours in; it’s just so much you can taste in a day. The remaining 2 hours were spent sampling delicious foods, engaging in good conversation and browsing the various wine related booths.

Tomorrow we are off to the Finger Lakes region, to try some of their terroir and make sure they are aware of the good things going on here in Virginia.

Happy Sipping!


Piedmont Vineyards

On Saturday after visiting and having a nice time at Chrysalis I received a call from my sister who was visiting from Georgia. She truly enjoyed Loudoun County the last time she visited so I invited her to meet us at Piedmont Vineyards, which is technically in Fauquier County, but minutes away from Chrysalis.

Piedmont has a very nice outdoor deck, a separate picnic area, and attractive landscaping complimented by a calming pond. On the inside you well find a very spacious tasting room with comfortable chairs, tables, as well a sofa and a fireplace for the cooler months. Piedmont also serves light fare, and has a nice variety of wine gifts, oils (for the warm bread they serve) and spreads for sale, amongst other things.

We have visited Piedmont before, but this would be my sister’s initial visit to the winery. Wines to note at Piedmont would be their elegant Chardonnay’s and the 2004 Merlot. Current offerings are the 2002 Native Yeast Chardonnay aged 10 months in 100% French oak, 2002 Chardonnay aged 22 months in %100 French oak, and lastly my favorite the 2001 Special Reserve Chardonnay aged 12 months in you guessed it, 100% French oak. The 2004 Merlot is full bodied and has flavors of spice and dark berry. Piedmont also produces several fun and fruity wines that are great for warm summer days.

My sister and friends arrived and did a tasting and were lured to the aforementioned fun and fruity selections. Dezel decided on the 2001 Special Reserve Chardonnay. The 2001 Special Reserve has flavors of apple, highlighted by toasty oak aging, and was well received. The rest of the pack arrived back at the table with a bottle of Piedmont’s Little River Red. This is a very popular summer wine made from red raspberries. We purchased a platter of cheese and crackers and enjoyed conversation for a few hours while enjoying our wine.

If it were not for the rain, we would have been sitting outdoors enjoying the deck and nice view. Piedmont is a very nice place to take a picnic basket to, sit by the pond, and soak it all in with your favorite glass of wine.

The day was wrapped up with a stop at Middleburg’s Hidden Horse Tavern for an appetizing seafood dinner delight. In closing, we really had a great time in the small quaint town of Middleburg on Saturday.

Happy Sipping!


Chrysalis Vineyards

On Saturday we decided to take a trip to Middleburg and visit Chrysalis Vineyards. I had purposely forgot my 2006 Loudoun Wine Trail book last time we visited, thus it was a good opportunity to get my book stamped and enjoy some of their great wine.

On weekends, wine tastings are held outdoors to accommodate the weekend crowds. There were four tasting areas set up outdoors, and we quickly moved into position for our tasting. We opted for the Reserve tasting which includes the Estate and Reserve wines, totaling 11 wines. Our tasting associate was Melissa, and she was fun to converse with. She provided us with lots of information about the vineyard, and the wines produced there.

The Estate wines to note were the 2004 Viognier and 2003 Chardonnay, both of which we enjoyed. Niki’s favorite, the Viognier was refreshing and fruity, and the French Oak aging gives it those elegant qualities that rounds it out nicely on the palate. The Chardonnay was crisp and clean with flavors of apple, and would be a great sipper for these warm summer days.

Going down the tasting list, it is apparent that Norton is the chief grape here. This indigenous grape is one of a rare few North American grape varieties that can produce quality and complex red wines, making what Chrysalis does with it highly especial to say the least. Norton grapes produce full bodied, rich and flavorful wines. I will leave some mystery here, in hopes you will venture out and taste Virginia’s own; Chrysalis currently offers a 2002 Estate Norton, 2002 Norton Reserve, and a 2004 Norton Barrel Select. Other Reserve wines to note are the Albarino, a white full bodied, rare find in Virginia that is certainly worth a visit, and their 2003 Petit Verdot, big, bold, flavors of dark cherry and would work best when paired with food.
Last but not least is the 2004 Petit Manseng, unequivocally an agreeable and pleasing dessert wine, with intense tropical flavors and aromas to match.

Beautiful Views at Chrysalis

We decided to have lunch on their outdoor deck, and take in some of the surrounding picturesque views. Always my favorite, is wine selection time after a full tasting. Niki decided to go with the 2004 Viognier, and Dezel’s selection was the 2004 Norton Barrel Select. The Norton had a nice dark color, red fruit on the nose, full mouth feel, and finished nicely.

Our lunch and the wine selections were very nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit at Chrysalis, as we did last time. Check their web site for events, or just pack a picnic basket and make a day out of it. They also have 2 IronWork gas grills for public use, and beautiful grounds to boast for your pleasure; that paired with some of their pleasing wines are recipe for delight. Put them on your calendar, and as always, Happy Sipping!


So what are legs ?

So what are the legs of a wine? This was another term I heard several times at the Vintage Virginia Festival, and jotted it down to later address here.

In my opinion the legs of a wine are just as subjective as taste. Some people taste peach, others apricot, and in the same wine another might not pick up any of these flavors.

So first we begin with the swirl to get the nose of the wine. This exposes the wine to oxygen and releases the aromas within the wine for you and I to smell. This is the part where if you have not perfected the art of swirling, you may end up with red wine on your shirt, or even worse, your friend’s shirt.

Legs are a matter of physical science, and in my humble opinion the details involved supercedes what one can surmise about the quality of a wine based upon the legs. At any rate, the composition of wine is 86% water, 11.2% alcohol, 2.8% other compounds that influence flavor. These compounds are multitudinous, and are what gives the winemaker the ability to create something unique for you and I to enjoy.

The alcohol and water are key to the legs streaking down the sides of your glass. It is based on the fact that alcohol evaporates quicker than water. The alcohol goes up the side of the glass as it evaporates. Shortly after, the watery wine lessened in the alcohol starts to (form a rim) bead. Afterwards, it is only a matter of time until you start to see the tears, or legs run down the sides of your glass.

So what can these tears or legs tell us? Many new to wine, as myself, fall into the myth that this is the telltale sign to the quality of a wine. I don't think one could uncover the quality of wine by peering at the legs, but the legs do hold some information for those interested. Legs can tell us something about the alcohol content of a wine, the more legs, the more alcohol. It is also said that the thicker the legs, the fuller the body, and vice versa.

More importantly if you study legs, it helps determine the cleanliness of your wine glass.

Happy Sipping


Fun in the sun at Manassas Wine & Jazz Festival

On Sunday we attended the 2nd Annual Manassas Wine and Jazz festival located in historic downtown Manassas. Although the weather was very warm, it was still quite nice, and like any appetizing food paired with a fine wine, the combination of live music, Virginia wine, friends, people alike and delicious food made for a wonderful Sunday spent.

On hand were twelve Virginia wineries ready to pour and tell you all about their great wines. There was a generous amount of delectable and decadent treats to sample, try, and buy if you so desired. The bands that performed all had great sounds, and were the perfect compliment to a well-planned and organized event.

After a round of sampling, we had lunch and selected two wines appropriate for the event: Waterford’s newly 2005 Seyval Blanc and Pearmund’s 2005 Riesling released April 2006. There were many other great selections, but these were great sippers given the warm day, and everyone enjoyed them thoroughly during the tasting round.

Niki, Karen, Pete (on the phone ordering wine)

Pete and Dezel

One of the 5 live bands performing

While basting in the fun, I had a chance to converse with Gordon Murchie of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association. I have heard him speak at several festivals and events in the past. He is a great resource on Virginia Wine and wine in general, and it was a pleasure chatting with him. Gordon mentioned that he would be speaking at the 31st Annual Virginia Wine Festival 2006 in Leesburg, an event in September that I look forward to attending.

Other things to note from the event:

  • Opera House Gourmet, located in downtown Manassas offers a weekly tasting of select Virginia wines every Friday. They also stock select Virginia wines and many gourmet food items to pair.

  • Gray Ghost dessert wine, 2005 Adieu won everyone’s palate over in the group; with intense and lingering flavors of apricot, we were committed to taking some home.

  • Keep Waterford Vineyards in scope; everyone truly enjoyed their newly released 2005 Seyval Blanc. They are producing some quality wines and have plans for an upcoming Malbec to add to their list of fine reds, and a new tasting room to boast. Check their web page for updates.

  • Pearmund’s new joint effort, Winery at La Grange in Prince William County will open doors August 2006. From what I gather a lot of work has gone into this effort and I expect only good things to come. For teasers they will offer a Reserve Brut, Petit Verdot Port, Meritage, and several other varietals. Check their web page for updates and the picture link to get an idea of some of the work that went into the development of this winery.

  • Look out for Tarara’s summer concert series beginning July 1st from 6p-9: 30p. We attended at least 7 shows last year and it makes for a nice Saturday evening.

In closing, even though the Manassas festival is on a smaller scale than most Virginia wine festivals, its becoming one of our favorites to attend.


Alexandria Red Cross Waterfront Festival

On Saturday evening we attended the 25th Annual Red Cross Alexandria Waterfront Festival. We were actually just walking around Old Town to work off the ‘sweet ending’ mentioned below, and noticed this festival going on, which was not ending until 11pm. It was about 8pm so we entered and enjoyed the live music and a delicious crab cake sandwich from a local vendor. The turn out was huge, as I have never seen so many people at Oronoco Bay Park before, and the Potomac highlighted the evening of music, lights, and might I say Virginia Wine.

The Washington Wine Academy was on hand pouring select Virginia wines for a fee. There were select wines from Jefferson, Prince Michel, Pearmund, Rappahannock, and Linden Vineyards. Since it was a tad warm, and we were enjoying the live music, we were looking for a good sipping wine. Niki opted for the Jefferson 2004 Johannisberg Riesling, which was refreshing, but on the sweet side. I selected the 2005 Linden Sauvignon Blanc, which had New Zealand written all over it. It was refreshing and zesty, and I really enjoyed it and will visit the winery sometime soon.

It has been a very nice weekend, with more Virginia wine to look forward to tomorrow at the 2nd Annual Manassas Wine Festival.

2004 Rappahannock Claret

On Friday, yet another bottle was to leave the wine rack and be put on ‘wine row’. Dinner selection for the evening was pork loin with rhubarb chutney, spiced string beans and wild rice pilaf. For the wine, I selected a 2004 Rappahannock Claret. The claret is a Bordeaux styled blend containing 27% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah and a 9% Norton. The Claret boasted dark cherry aromas, a very smooth mouth feel, and displayed pleasing flavors of fruit and spice. It had a medium garnet color, and paired nicely with the meal; the jalapeno jelly glaze on the pork loin really enhanced the flavors as well.

The sweet ending to the delicious meal followed with a slice of toasted almond cream cake and a glass of 2004 Madame Fleur Sauternes from Bordeaux. Simply delicious, delectable, and all of the above comes to mind, and I will certainly look for more of the ‘noble rot’ styled wines from the Bordeaux region in the future.

These two wines paired quite nicely with our food selections, and as a newbie, it is becoming quite apparent to me that good wines peak when paired correctly with delicious foods.


June 18th 11a-6p - Manassas Wine and Jazz Festival

On Sunday, June 18th the city of Manassas will host their 2nd Annual Wine and Jazz Festival at Harris Pavilion. The tickets are $20 dollars for tasters and $15 for non-tasters. The fee includes a souvenir glass to use for wine tasting, and live jazz music to listen to while enjoying some great Virginia wines.

We attended the opening event last year and really enjoyed this festival. There were about 12 Virginia wineries in attendance, several local food and craft vendors, and some delicious complimentary cheeses, desserts and breads to compliment the event. What we enjoyed most about the event was its more relaxed and intimate setting compared to the majority of wine festivals we have attended in the past. It is smaller in size, but sprinkled with distinction and class, and you do not feel rushed or pressured; you can simple enjoy a day of jazz, great foods and wine tasting. CLICK HERE if interested and enjoy!

Happy Fathers Day dads, enjoy your day!


Revisiting Loudoun County

On Saturday we took some friends out to Loudoun County for a day of fun and wine tasting. This would be our friends' initial visit to Loudoun wineries, and the weather couldn't have been better for a day of wine hopping. We also took the opportunity to collect stickers from two wineries for our 2006 Loudoun Wine Trail book as well our Passport to Virginia Wineries 2006 book; our goal is to get as many stickers as we can this year, which means visiting many more wineries.

Our first stop landed us at Village Winery in Waterford. Kent Marrs, the owner and winemaker, greeted us with a warm hello and provided us a brief history of the winery. This is Loudoun’s newest winery, having opened last fall. We tasted their Merlot, Merlot/Cab blend, Cabernet Franc, Elderberry, and Apple wine all from their 2004 vintage. The Elderberry was an interesting wine, a North American fruit, producing rich and fruity, full bodied red wine. Kent is very optimistic about their 2005 vintage, and we look forward to coming back with a picnic basket and trying it. Everyone had a good time here, and Kent was very informative and friendly.

Village Winery

Our second stop took us to Waterford Winery , located in Waterford, which is not too far from Village Winery. We visited Waterford last year, and I really enjoyed their Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc. We tasted their Viognier, Barrel Select Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, and their newly released 2005 Seyval Blanc. The Seyval Blanc was refreshing and sweet, but not overly sweet (4% residual sugar), with bright citrus flavors. This wine would serve its purpose on a picnic or as a nice patio sipper. Additionally, we were treated to a preview of their unreleased Malbec. This will be a new addition to their reds, and was delicious, with dark fruit flavors and ripe tannins. Just as we were finishing our tasting, a Reston bus showed up with about 10 people, I left with a bottle of Seyval and Cab Franc and let the new comers assume their tasting positions. We were now two stickers closer to fulfilling our goal.


It was getting close to lunchtime and we had packed a picnic basket with smoked turkey sandwiches, various cheeses, crackers, tapenade, fig spread, and fresh fruit. We, nay me, decided on Hillsborough Vineyards for lunch, as I knew our friends would love the ambience there. We purchased a bottle of their 2004 Opal, a refreshing Viognier and Chardonnay blend, slightly oaked to enjoy there. The weather was nice and we enjoyed our lunch, wine, friendly conversation and beautiful Loudoun Valley views.

At Hillsborough

It was nearing time to return to reality (home), but no one felt like leaving just yet. One more stop ! We decided to stop by Windham Winery since it wasn't too late and it was on our way home. After our friends completed their tasting, they made the suggestion that we go sit by the pond and all enjoy a bottle of Hope's Raspberry Merlot. An hour later we were sipping and talking while out by the pond and the weather was still as nice as it was when we began this sojourn through Loudoun wine country.

Below is a picture of Niki and our friends at Windham; I think they will be visiting more Virginia wineries.

Outdoors @ Windham


So what is a hybrid ?

Vidal Blanc

While at the festival over the weekend, I made a mental note of frequently asked questions I heard while tasting. Over the next few weeks I will be presenting those questions and providing some basic answers. Please feel free to comment, correct or add if you like.

A hybrid in simple form is a grape or vine created by breeding two varieties from different species. Vitis vinifera is a very popular European species and is responsible for most (99%) of the wine produced around the world today. Popular examples, among the endless Vitis vinifera varieties include Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

Also to note is the lesser known, North American species Vitis labrusca, whose most popular varieties are the Concord and Catawba.

So why produce a hybrid you ask? The simple answer is to take the strong and/or desired characteristics of each parent and pass them to the child so to speak. In fact many hybrids were produced in response to the phylloxera outbreak in Europe in the late 19th century, as well to stand up to other sorts of adversity (environment, disease, weather, etc).

Virginia plants several hybrids, but I will only note the 2 that I tasted at the festival. Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc are French-American hybrid varieties made respectively from Vitis vinifera and Vitis labrusca, which have European taste characteristics, but American vine hardiness.

Seyval Blanc
Seyval Blanc is a crisp and refreshing, light to medium wine, usually with grapefruit and other citrus flavors. Vidal Blanc, due to its high sugar levels, makes some very good Late Harvest and ‘Ice styled’ wines here in Virginia. Vidal Blanc can also be equally dry to semi-sweet with fruit and floral characteristics.

With the warm weeks ahead, now is a great time to enjoy some Virginia Seyval or Vidal Blanc.


2006 Vintage Virginia Wine Festival

(Oooops, I missed the airplane !)

On Sunday we attended the 2006 Vintage Virginia Wine Festival at Bull Run Park in Centerville. The new location was spacious and easy to get in and out of . Thankfully, Mother Nature kept the weather cool, and held back the rainfall.

I enjoy attending these type of events because I always seem to discover a new wine and winery that I had not paid a visit to, and whose wine is not available in local wine stores nearby. It was great to see the huge turn out, as well some familiar faces. It was nice to be recognized by some of the wineries we had previously visited (what great memories they must have). Upon arriving I spoke to all the shops I knew, but limited tasting to those that were foreign to me. We enjoyed some really good local North Carolina style BBQ by a vendor out of Winchester, and snapped our fingers to some of the local artists. To my chagrin, the homemade ice cream booth was not present this year so we settled for some delicious cinnamon glazed pecans instead.

There were a lot of good wines there, but you could only taste so much and remain vertical. Needless to say I think there were several people who made it a point to taste it all, and were literally carried out (really). There were some very good Merlots, Cab Francs, Virginia’s own Norton, and Chardonnay’s that struck my fancy.

I really enjoyed wines from the following places, which we plan to visit: (I only listed the places we have not visited yet; the list would be much longer if I added some of the old favorites)

Cardinal Point: 2005 Cab Franc
Cooper: 2004 Norton (new release)
Rockbridge: 2005 Merlot
Rockbridge: 2005 RSV Chardonnay
James River Cellars: 2005 Vidal Blanc
Amrhein: Viognier

From talking to the wineries that were present, the 2006 festival was a big success. I was told it was nearly double the people on Saturday, and Sunday was definitely packed. We managed to find a few new Virginia wines, and wineries we were not familiar with. The forward plan is to visit those wineries for an official tasting; these festivals are just primers. Keep your eye on the 2006 wine guide; there are numerous events and/or festivals almost every weekend. Get out and enjoy some Virginia wine folks !

NY Finger Lake Wine Country recommendations

We are thinking about a 3-4 day trip to New York late this month or next, to explore the Finger Lake wine country. Anyone with first-hand knowledge, who can recommend lodging near the wineries, places to visit, or some sort of agenda, I would greatly appreciate. From looking at the map, Seneca Lake appears to have the most action. Would we be able to cover most of this area in 3 days, or is 4 more realistic ? Please contact me via email.

Thank You


Tarara's 2003 Merlot

On Saturday evening I was up to it again, planning a meal and finding a Virginia wine to be the perfect accompaniment. The meal consisted of broiled cajun marinated steak, sautéed string beans and stuffed potato shells. So who would be the next bottle to leave the rack and be put on ‘wine row’? The wine selected was Tarara’s 2003 Merlot, we also have a bottle of the Reserve from the same vintage, but I opted to let it stay on the rack for another year or so.

The 2003 Merlot was elegant, with dark fruit flavors and desirable oak overtones. The wine paired rather well with our meal. The kid is 2 for 2, with no strikes yet, and will be up to bat again soon.


Jefferson Chardonnay Reserve

Last week I was looking through my small collection of wines, to find a nice dry white to pair with a meal I was preparing. A little dusted, and in the very rear was a 2003 Jefferson Chardonnay Reserve. I am still uncertain how it got there, because I do not recall buying it, but it was part of the family and fair game to be consumed. Food pairing is somewhat of a new thing to me, so after the positive nod that this would pair well with my meal, Jefferson said goodbye to the other bottles on ‘wine row’.

I prepared grilled salmon, marinated in ginger and soy, baked asparagus with a Mediterranean olive oil drizzle, and garlic roasted potatoes. For a rookie, I was impressed with the finished product, and the wine paired nicely with the meal.

The 2003 Jefferson Chardonnay Reserve was a bit light and lacking on the fruit, but still satisfactory. This prompted me to check my notes on the 2005, since I had visited Jefferson about 2 months ago. The 2005 I noted had aromas of apple, a fruity nose, and spice and fruit throughout. The 2005 Chardonnay was fermented 6 months in neutral French oak barrels, giving it a nice texture without the overt oak taste.

The big difference in the 2 vintages was directly related to the weather. In 2003 the lack of fruit was due to too much rain, yet it was still a passable wine. The 2005 had favorable conditions, which explains the full fruit flavors, and an overall much better wine.

Nevertheless, this paring worked, so off to my ‘Cuisine at Home’ magazines that have been sitting in the corner for the past year.

Below is a picture of the local winery dog, as you can see he has the best job there.

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