#VAWineChat with Stone Tower Winery

In late September 2017, shortly before the Northern California wildfires threw my life into a bit of a tailspin, only to be topped by an unexpected career curveball, I had the opportunity to participate in #VAWineChat with Stone Tower Winery and facilitated by Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like.

Situated on 75 acres in the rolling hills of Hogback Mountain in Loudoun County, Virginia, Stone Tower grows and produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, as well as Bordeaux-style black grapes such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot. They also produce very small amounts of grenache blanc, malbec, marssanne, nebbiolo, pinot noir, and roussanne. During this tasting, we had the opportunity to sample three wines. Unfortunately, during my life upheaval, I lost my notes for the viognier, but below are my reviews of the other two wines, the sauvignon blanc and the Wind Swept Hill red blend. As always, your palate may vary.

Sauvignon Blanc

2016 Stone Tower Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Loudoun County, Virginia, $40 (sample)
Don’t let the delicate gold color in the glass fool you. This is a chardonnay lover’s sauvignon blanc. Although the blend is 90% sauvignon blanc and 10% sémillion, the sémillion influence is notable, with its pleasantly bitter fruit characteristics. However, the sauvignon blanc component dominates the palate with lush, rich tropical fruit flavors and spiciness from French and American oak aging. On its website, the winery compares this sauvignon blanc to those of California, but living here in the Napa Valley, I haven’t experienced a sauvignon blanc quite as voluptuous as this one yet.

Wind Swept Hill

2014 Stone Tower Winery Wind Swept Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia $65 (sample)
A magenta-brick red color in the glass, this Bordeaux-style blend of 31% merlot, 28% cabernet franc, 28% cabernet Sauvignon and 13% petit verdot, is already showing some age on the palate. Restrained cranberry and plum flavors are accompanied by meatiness, mint, a bite of French and American oak spiciness, and a distinct minerality, so much so that I feel like I am tasting the vineyard soils of Hogback Mountain, and I mean that in a good way.

Both of these wines are still available for sale directly from the winery via their website at this link, and they also ship.


Villa Maria Estate: The Beth’s Smart Sip Trifecta!

Villa Maria
On Wednesday November 15, 2017, I helped facilitate the latest Twitter tasting with Villa Maria Estate, and I could not be more pleased with the selections that the winery sent to me to taste and review. Time and time again, Villa Maria fulfills at a price point that all wine lovers can enjoy. Thus, I am declaring these three wines Beth’s Smart Sips, wines that over deliver with regard to quality versus price. Below are my thoughts. As always, your palate may vary.

2017 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $14 (sample)
It is always exciting to taste this flagship offering from Villa Maria and this year’s vintage is no exception. Herbal notes lead to an abundance of citrus and tropical fruits on the palate. Mouthwatering acidity makes this the perfect aperitif wine. Pair this with light appetizers, salads, shellfish, and cheeses like chèvre, fromage blanc, and gruyère.

2016 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Chardonnay, East Coast, $15 (sample)
My first taste of Villa Maria Chardonnay did not disappoint. Its balance of citrus and stone fruits and a kiss of toasty oak are gently cradled on the palate by a medium-bodied, luscious mouthfeel. For white wine lovers, this is the go-to wine for brie, charcuterie, salmon, poultry, and pork.

2016 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Pinot Noir, Marlborough, $18 (sample)
Can you say cherry, spice, and everything nice? This Pinot Noir is oh, so approachable with its bright, red berry fruits and delicate tannins. This wine has it all: drinkability, softness, and food-friendly acidity that will be the ideal red wine accompaniment to casseroles, coq au vin, duck, roasted pork or turkey, and sausage stuffing.

Find your favorite Villa Maria wines at this link and stock up!

Happy Holidays!

Beth’s Smart Sip: 2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand


It has been a while since I published what I would call a Beth’s Smart Sip, a wine whose quality exceeds its price point, but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to taste the 2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (SRP $12.95, sample provided by Nonni Strategic Marketing, LLC), and share my thoughts with readers over at Snooth. Grab this wine by the case before summer is over.


2014 Zoetic Wines Grazioso Sauvignon Blanc

2014 Zoetic Wines Grazioso Sauvignon Blanc (photo by Cellar Angels and Zoetic Wines)

In 2013, Zoetic Wines‘ owner and winemaker Kim Vance guest posted here about following her passion of winemaking. Now, four years later, I taste one of Kim’s wines, the 2014 Zoetic Wines Grazioso Sauvignon Blanc, for my first tasting note contribution to Cellar Angels, where wine and charitable giving come together as one.


Two Months, Twelve Tastes

It’s been nearly two months since I published a set of wine reviews on my blog. As regular readers know, I am transitioning my writing to focus more on experiences, although it can be said that tasting a fantastic wine in the perfect moment – with food and friends – is also an experience worth sharing. In light of this revelation, I have compiled a list of my favorite wines enjoyed these past couple of months, along with tasting notes. As always, your palate may vary. Enjoy!

2012 Schug Pinot Noir

2012 Schug Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($25, gift from a friend)
I have had this wine for a couple of years and decided to open and give it a try. This pinot noir is quite spicy, with cherry and cranberry fruit flavors and tangy acidity, showcasing beautiful fruit from vineyards in Carneros and Petaluma Gap.

2009 Materra Merlot

2009 Materra Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley ($40, purchased)
In my glass, the enduring 2009 Materra Merlot, crafted with estate fruit from the Oak Knoll District in the Napa Valley, source of some of Napa’s best merlot. It is still showing floral aromatics and delicious black and red fruits, dusty cocoa, and spice on the palate. The QPR of this wine is outstanding.

2010 Jean Edwards Cellars Seventy Four-Forty One Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Jean Edwards Cellars Seventy Four-Forty One Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($68, birthday gift from Jean Edwards Cellars)

I enjoyed this cabernet sauvignon crafted by boutique producer, Jean Edwards Cellars Wines, paired with filet mignon Oscar at Cibo 7 in Roseville, California. Still very youthful, this wine will continue to shine for many years or after a long decant, with its rich, dark fruit and firm tannin.

2014 Penns Woods Grüner Veltliner

2014 Penns Woods Grüner Veltliner, Pennsylvania ($26, purchased)
Sporting an elegant new label design, this Pennsylvania grüner veltliner is a mouthwatering sipper produced in stainless steel, with aromas and flavors of tart apple, lemon, lime, lively acidity and a hint of warm pepper on the finish.

2014 Anthony Road Rosé of Cabernet Franc

2014 Anthony Road Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes ($20, tasted with friends)
I love when I taste a wine and its bright berry flavors, structure, and cool-climate acidity reveal such a strong sense of place that you cannot shake it. You sip and savor Finger Lakes Wine terroir and return to that very spot, Anthony Road Winery, and recall memories of years gone by.

2012 Freemark Abbey Merlot Bosché

2012 Freemark Abbey Merlot Bosché, Rutherford, Napa Valley ($60, gift from a friend)
This is no wimpy merlot. It’s dark, dense, and dusty, strutting its stuff with warm climate black fruit, bitter chocolate overtones, baking spices, Rutherford dust terroir, and a lingering finish. This merlot really wants to be its big brother, the Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché.

2013 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa Valley ($28, employee sample)
A few months ago while changing fulfillment centers, we discovered a few remaining cases of the 2013 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc. The cool thing about our wines is that they are made so well, they last longer than perhaps expected. This Sancerre-style sauvignon blanc is simply stunning two vintages later, with mouthwatering fruit, a textured palate, and lively acid. I need to hold back a bottle or two of 2015, it seems. Fantastic.

2015 Cellers Unió Clos Dalian Garnacha Blanca

2015 Cellers Unió Clos Dalian Garnacha Blanca, Terra Alta DO ($10, media sample)
This is a whole lot of wine for its $10 price point. Lush and weighty on the palate, yet also clean and crisp, it showcases a broad spectrum of white fruits, like pear, white peach, white nectarine, and lychee.

2015 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha

2015 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha, Cariñena DO ($10, media sample)
A vivid, red-magenta color in the glass, this value-priced wine is easy to drink, with bright cherry-berry flavors and soft tannins. Pair this with charcuterie, cheese, and autumn celebrations. A November 2016 Wine Enthusiast Best Buy.

2015 Keswick Vineyards Hommage à Geneviève Les Vents d'Anges Viognier

2015 Keswick Vineyards Hommage à Geneviève Les Vents d’Anges Viognier, Monticello, Virginia ($25, media sample)
One of the things I miss about Virginia: viognier. This one from Keswick Vineyards is made with my palate in mind: fermented and aged in stainless steel for six months, delectable fruit, nice mouthfeel, and lovely acidity. Oh, yes.

2014 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve

2014 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve, Monticello, Virginia ($65, media sample)
Definitely Virginia Cabernet Franc! The 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup Winner, this wine demonstrates a beautiful balance of black fruit and peppery spice on the nose and palate, plus it is oh so smoky and silky. Yum.

2010 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

2010 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley ($45, gift from a friend)
It has been a while since I had an Oregon pinot noir, so I decided to open this to reacquaint myself. Not at all shy or subtle, this is one sultry and spicy pinot noir, intensely flavored with tart fruits like cranberry and plum, and a peppery finish.

Michael David Winery

Bare Ranch, my home for five days
Bare Ranch, my home for five days

I’m taking a wine marketing class this fall and on the first night of class, my instructor reminded me of something very important: only 20% of the United States population purchases wine and those customers are often drawn to wine brands based on an emotional connection or experience with the wine. Perhaps it was a dinner with friends or family, a visit to a winery made special by the tasting host, or a friend’s recommendation. Generally, most wine consumers don’t want to know what the percentages of blends are, how the wine is fermented and aged, or the vineyard management details. They want what tastes good and brings back memories of a great experience. When we meet someone, we don’t want to know their genetics or their chemical composition, we want a human connection. When I heard this, it hit me that maybe I am doing an injustice to the wines and wineries I review by sharing technical details that only wine geeks want to read. In light of this revelation, I am making a conscious change to the way I write. It should be fairly easy since this is who I am. I crave emotional connections to people, places, and things. I want to feel something inside after winery visit or a wine dinner. I want to feel inspired. Therefore, I’m bringing back storytelling, fun, passion, and emotion.

Three weeks ago, I arrived in Lodi, California, for the Wine Bloggers Conference. Unlike many of my peers, I had just visited Lodi in June and had already fallen in love with the wines and the people. Before that June visit, I harbored no preconceived notions about Lodi. If there’s anything I’ve learned after five years of wine and travel writing, it’s to visit wine regions with open mind, heart, and eyes, without reservation or hesitation.

A beautiful evening at Bare Ranch
A beautiful evening at Bare Ranch

I was especially lucky this fifth conference that my friend, Jeff Kralik (The Drunken Cyclist), had included me as one of the wine writers who would be staying at Michael David Winery’s Bare Ranch as a guest of the Phillips family. The first night I was there, I had the opportunity to share wine and dinner with David Phillips. Like my earlier trip to Lodi, I was taken aback by the kindness of David and his family to share their event property with a few crazy writers. Thank you again, David and Jeff, for including me in the Bare Ranch experience. I spent five nights there and it was at Bare Ranch that I had the lengthiest exposure to Lodi wine during the conference. The ranch was well supplied with Michael David wines and I had the opportunity to taste a few of them.

2012 Bare Ranch Sparkling
2012 Bare Ranch Sparkling

One of my favorites was the 2012 Bare Ranch Sparkling ($35), which is a small-production, traditional method sparkling wine crafted from Bare Ranch estate chardonnay (and a little pinot noir), located just over the fence from where I stayed, in honor of and especially for Bare Ranch guests and events. Its fresh and fruity fizziness with just a touch of yeast was the perfect accompaniment to starry Lodi nights by the pool, unspoken shenanigans, camaraderie, and lots of laughter. I am certain that I am not the only one who loved it, as somehow, over the course of five nights, a case of it mysteriously disappeared.

2013 Inkblot Cabernet Franc
2013 Inkblot Cabernet Franc

The second day in Lodi, Alison Marriott (Bon Vivant DC) and I visited Michael David’s tasting room and café. I knew I wasn’t in the Napa Valley any more when the freshly made burgers we ate were fewer than $10 each with the most AMAZING fries I’ve ever eaten. Since we were stocked up on wines at the ranch (understatement!), we decided to have a glass of the 2013 Inkblot Cabernet Franc ($35). The polar opposite of the delicate sparkling wine, this bold cabernet franc comes from a single, nine-acre vineyard near the winery. If a wine could be described as tall, dark, and handsome, this would be it. Opulent and juicy, spicy and smoky, this cabernet franc is seductive, the wine I wanted to take home with me after frolicking at the pool with the Bare Ranch Sparkling (wink, wink).

2014 Ancient Vine Cinsault
2014 Ancient Vine Cinsault (photo credit: Jon Bjork)

Not to be outdone by the sparkling or the cabernet franc, the 2014 Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25), sourced from the famed, 130-year-old Bechthold Vineyard, found its way into my heart one evening. More of a refined gentleman, this wine was indeed a smooth operator, with delectable red berry fruit flavors and tannins that gently caressed my palate. I had discovered a holy grail of Lodi wine.

2015 Sauvignon Blanc
2015 Sauvignon Blanc

Last, but certainly not least, was the comfortable, uncomplicated wine, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($16). The first wine I shared with David Phillips and Jeff Kralik by the pool, it’s easy to drink, clean, and crisp, with loads of zingy citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Like a good friend, this is the reliable, go-to wine for hot, summer days in Lodi or wherever your travels might take you. It’s possible we may have consumed a case of this wine, too, but I’ll never tell. After all, what happens at Bare Ranch stays at Bare Ranch.