Can the “first colony” impress the mother country with its wine? That was the question last Monday, when nine wine experts met at White Hall Vineyards west of Charlottesville to taste 100 Virginia wines and select some to present this Spring in London as part of the Jamestown 400 anniversary celebration.
Virginia styles itself “First in Wine,” since the original Jamestown settlers made wine from native grapes in 1608. Male colonists were required by law to plant grape vines as part of their crops. Today, winemakers are hoping their European-styled wines can impress a potentially skeptical British wine trade that equates “American” wine with “Californian.”
The judges, including three winemakers, three retailers, a restaurant wine buyer, a distributor and one wine writer (yours truly), evaluated the wines for the quality of winemaking and whether they would show Virginia in a favorable light as a wine region.
“Our goal is to select and showcase the finest Virginia wines on the world stage in London,” said Richard Leahy, an editor with Vineyard and Winery Management magazine and the organizer of Monday’s tasting.
Virginia’s wine industry has experienced dramatic growth over the past decade, with more than 120 wineries now in operation. The organizers of the London tasting – to be held for media and trade at the Vinopolis wine expo center on May 2 – are not so much looking to crack the British market as to generate publicity and added buzz about Virginia wines back here at home – especially in the DC market.
The Virginia Wine Experience in London was sponsored by six wineries – White Hall, Veritas, Kluge Estate, Williamsburg Winery, Pearmund Cellars and Keswick – and underwritten by Farm Credit of Virginia. More than 30 wineries submitted the nearly 100 wines for consideration.
Sixty-five wines were selected to present at the London tasting. The list if available at http://vawineinlondon.com. From my personal observations, the Meritage category showed strongest. These red wines, blended from the Bordeaux grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, were consistently strong. (Vintages ranged from 2002 through 2005, though very few 2003’s were submitted as that was an extremely rainy and difficult vintage in Virginia. A few wines from older vintages were also entered, including a 1999 Chardonnay from Linden Vineyards, a 1993 Gabriel Archer Reserve Meritage from Williamsburg Winery and a 1988 rosé sparkling wine from Oasis Vineyards, which was remarkably fresh for its age. All three received a thumbs-up from the tasting panel.)
The quality of these wines shows Virginia’s progress in making top-quality wines. A few of the wines eliminated showed the old Virginia style – aromas of rubber hose, asphalt and vinegar, with flavors of stewed tomatoes. “That’s what we were making ten years ago,” in the words of Bruce Zoecklin, Virginia Tech’s enologist, who assisted at the tasting. But these winners should help establish Virginia’s reputation as a quality wine producing region.
(This post appeared in nearly identical form on Washingtonian.com.)
Buon Giorno, amici!
I’ve just returned from Italy, where I was lucky enough to visit Montalcino in Tuscany for the annual Benvenuto Brunello event celebrating the new vintages – the last harvest plus the new releases of Brunello di Montalcino (2002) and Riserva Brunello (2001), and Rosso di Montalcino (2005).
I plan to report in more detail later, but here’s the skinny: Winemakers in the Brunello DOCG are celebrating a string of strong vintages, with the 2006 earning five stars, or top marks for an “outstanding” vintage from the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group that represents all 200-plus producers of Brunello. This follows four-star (excellent) vintages in 2005 and 2003, with another outstanding rating for 2004. The rating for 2006, announced Saturday, was commemorated with a plaque designed by Adam Tihany installed on the town square.
The bad news for these producers was that the new release of Brunello comes from the merely “fair” two-star 2002 vintage. (By law, Brunello must be aged at least four years, two years of which must be in cask or barrel, and at least four months in bottle. Riservas are aged five years from the vintage.) Heavy rains hit Tuscany at harvest time that year, resulting in an uneven vintage. Many producers decided not to make a Brunello that year, pouring all their wine into their Rosso instead.
Even so, in my tastings I found several producers that managed to reduce yields and preserve enough good fruit to make very appealing wines. My favorites included Argiano, Banfi, Barbi, Castello Romitorio, Talenti, La Fiorita, Tenuta Caparzo, Tenute Silvio Nardi, Tenuta Oliveto, and San Filippo.
The 2005 Rossos were exceptionally strong as a category. These wines should do well on restaurant wine lists and be a favorite of home consumers, too. Look for these mini-Brunellos on your retail shelves soon.
After I came back, I read that wine is not the only attraction these days at Castello Banfi. It seems workers there discovered the intact skeleton of a prehistoric whale. Now that’s terroir!
(The photos show fog shrouding vineyards around Montalcino, as seen from a parapet of the hill town's fortezza, and a sommelier presenting wines for tasting at the annual Benvenuto Brunello event.)
The Washington, D.C., suburbs continue to offer some exciting new dining opportunities. In Silver Spring, Md., across the street from the newly restored Silver Theater (home to the American Film Institute) is Ray's the Classics, which strikes a cinematic note with its black-and-white decor, champagne and cocktails, and classic steak and seafood dishes.
In Old Town Alexandria, Va., D.C.'s Iron Chef Morou Outtara has opened Farrah Olivia, where he is challenging diners with sophisticated cuisine based on flavors of his native West Africa, France and the Middle East.
I hope you'll enjoy my reviews from DC magazine.
And if you happen to find yourself in Arlington, Va., near Fort Myer, stop by EatBar for some great bar snacks such as roast olives, mini burgers, or bacon-wrapped figs. There's a great selection of wines by the glass, beers, and cocktails. If you want a more formal dinner, dine at Tallula next door.
It’s always fun to compare wines of the same grape but from different countries or regions. Tonight for dinner (smoked pork chops from the Amish market, sautéed with onions and mushrooms) we opened two Rieslings, just for fun. We probably drank them in the wrong order, but oh well.
First up was Lemelson Vineyards Adria Vineyard Dry Riesling 2003, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a producer better known for its rich, fleshy Pinot Noir. We’d tasted this wine two years ago when it was young and crisp; now the acid has softened and the stone-fruit flavors have broadened – fattened even, in a good way. There was delicious peach, apricot, papaya and still a hint of tropical mango, with good minerality – not the “petrol” character of Riesling so much, but wet stones after a cleansing spring rain. Lovely wine.
We followed this with Craggy Range Fletcher Family Vineyard 2005 from Marlborough in New Zealand. A year-and-a-half younger than the Lemelson, this still had its bracing, refreshing acidity that dominated but could not conceal a core of apricot and citrus flavors. Tight, focused, mineral and young. That’s four words (not counting the conjunction). In a single word, delicious. (Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York, NY.)
Now, if I’d been less lazy about washing wine glasses, I’d have tasted them side-by-side and had even more fun comparing. But I’m still going to sleep happily tonight.
No matter how cold it is outside (and tonight is bitterly cold here in DC), I just love Riesling …
Chilean Ambassador Mariano Fernández hosted a “Chilean Farm Market” at his residence recently, showcasing meats, cheeses, produce and wine from his country. Chilean fruits and vegetables are no strangers in these parts, of course, having been winter staples for years. But I hope we begin seeing some of these meats – chewy, rich beef tenderloin that bore little resemblance to the corn-fed beef we’re used to, and dense rack of lamb that tasted of the grasslands of the Andes foothills. (Here’s my new food fantasy: Icelandic lamb from September through November, then Chilean lamb from February through April. Why can’t meat be seasonal?)
he wines on display featured two producers, Montes and Haras, with whom I was familiar, but also some others that were new to this market. Here are some wines to look for:
Ventisquero, a winery in the Casablanca Valley northwest of Santiago, had two wines for tasting – a Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2006 with nice mango and red currant flavors and crisp acidity; and a Pinot Noir Reserve 2005, light and aromatic with lovely strawberry fruit. Both should retail for about $13 and represent good values, especially the Pinot Noir. As Pinot Noir is rare in Chile, this was a personal favorite in the tasting.
Casas del Bosque, also in Casablanca Valley, poured a nice 2005 Chardonnay and a 2004 Merlot Reserve that was Bordelais in character, with a hint of green flavors and the familiar Chilean flint. There was a little too much oak for my taste, but I suspect that will integrate in another year.
Falernia, from Elqui Valley, a small wine region south of Casablanca. The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc was soft and fleshy, looking more to California as a model than New Zealand. The 2004 Syrah Reserva was big, with smoky Northern Rhone flavors of bacon and blueberry matched with California body and ripe sweetness.True Rhone snobs might find it a bit cloying, but if you like the California style, look for this one.
Echererria, in the Central Valley, offered a 2003 Limited Edition blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Carmenère. It was well-balanced, with good acidity and fruit.
Haras, from Maipo Valley just south of Santiago, was pouring a 2005 Chardonnay that at the $10 level represents a nice value. The 2002 Elegance Cabernet Sauvignon, at $35, was big, rich and soft in the new international style. It was a bit cloying for my taste.
Montes offered its Leyda Vineyard 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, which was crisp, lean, refreshing and bracing, with grapefruit and mango flavors, and, at $12, a bargain if you can find it. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Apalta, from the winery’s premier vineyard in the Colchagua Valley, is also a terrific bargain at $20, rich, with soft, spicy mocha and blackberry fruit.
For more on Chilean wines, click here.
The photo shows the Apalta vineyard and the Montes winery in the distance at the right, in March 2005.