Celebrating #VAWineChat 50 and Founder Frank Morgan

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Photo courtesy of Frank Morgan and #VAWineChat

Those of you who have been following my writing for the past seven years know that I am relatively new to the wine industry and wine writing world. My first “wine moment” was in 2008. A couple of years later, I visited my first Virginia winery, and in 2011, I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference held in Charlotteville, Virginia. It was at that conference that I truly discovered Virginia wine. In late 2013, #VAWineChat founder, Frank Morgan, invited me to participate in my first #VAWineChat. Here we are, five years and 50 episodes later. For this momentous occasion, Frank inteviewed Kirsty Harmon, winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards, Ampelographer Lucie Morton, winemaker Katie DeSouza of Casanel Vineyards and Winery, and Maya Hood White, Viticulturist and Assistant Winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards. Those of us who participated tasted the following wines.

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2016 Chatham Vineyards Steel Fermented Chardonnay, Church Creek, Eastern Shore, SRP $20 (sample)
Although I lived in Virginia for over two decades, regretfully, I never had the chance to visit the Eastern Shore. This steel-fermented chardonnay was an ideal choice for my inaugural wine from this area. The boldness and ripeness of the fruit was surprising. I did not expect the palate to have what I call warm climate characteristics. What a clean, crisp, tropical delight.

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2017 Veritas Rosé, Monticello, SRP, $20 (sample)
A blend of cabernet franc, merlot, and touriga nacionale, this is a bone-dry rosé, a little weightier than some due to some neutral oak fermentation and aging. It is replete with red fruit flavors like strawberry and watermelon, but especially juicy, raspberry deliciousness, which popped on the nose and palate. This should be your go-to Virginia rosé this summer.

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2016 Blenheim Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Virginia, SRP $22 (sample)

Cabernet franc is one of my favorite varietal wines and especially when it hails from Virginia. I love the tart cherry, earthiness, and lower alcohol. What a delicate, lovely, and elegant wine. I am also a big fan of the screw cap closure. Only $22? Holy moly. I’ll take a case or three. Thank you, Blenheim, for the overdue, Virginia cabernet franc fix I was craving.

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2015 Casanel Vineyards and Winery Petit Verdot, Middlesburg, SRP $42 (sample)
Petit verdot is my other varietal wine sweetheart. I love it much more than cabernet sauvignon. (Don’t tell anyone here in Napa.) Flavors like blackberries, blueberries, and bitter chocolate dominate the palate. It is dark and delicious, but lower in alcohol than the West Coast versions, a veritable balance of depth and restraint. This is how petit verdot should be. Be still, my heart.

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Photo courtesy of Frank Morgan and #VAWineChat

Shortly after the event, I virtually sat down with Frank via email, who has become a great friend and supporter, to learn why he began #VAWineChat and what it really takes to pull off these tastings. Details about all 50 chats can be found at this link.

1. Congratulations on 50 episodes of #VAWineChat! Share with us the “#VAWineChat” history and story: when and how it began and why you created it.

Thank you!  I very much appreciate you (and everyone) who has participated and helped make Virginia Wine Chat successful. Although the first official Virginia Wine Chat episode was in early 2013, the idea for a monthly virtual tasting series focused on the wines and winemakers of Virginia came a couple years prior.  In 2011, I helped the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office organize several Twitter tastings to help raise awareness of local wines leading up to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville in July of that year. Those three or four Twitter tastings in early 2011 were more popular than I expected. I received a lot of positive feedback about the wines and requests for similar tastings focusing on Virginian wines. I started Virginia Wine Chat in early 2013 as a way to connect notable Virginia winemakers with online wine influencers (a group many local winemakers would not have connected with otherwise).

2. What has inspired you to continue producing episodes?

Good question. I continue with Virginia Wine Chat because I appreciate the time these tastings provide with local winemakers, learning more about their backgrounds, philosophies, and of course their wines. And, I like connecting them with wine folks who are curious and enthusiastic about Virginian wine. This is a labor of love for sure; I do not charge for organizing and hosting the ‘chats. With the cost of camera and mic and the time spent traveling to the wineries plus hotel if I stay over, my wine income statement is always in the red. 🙂 At some point, I would love to find a way to at least cover the cost of Virginia Wine Chat.  Perhaps one day…

3. Take us behind the scenes of #VAWineChat from start to finish, to give us an idea of the logistics involved in bringing together the producers, the wines, and the participants.

Thankfully there’s no shortage of local winemakers interested in connecting with curious and engaged wine folks online via Virginia Wine Chat. Logistics of scheduling a monthly Virginia Wine Chat — oy! Selecting a date that fits in to the winemaker’s schedule and my work travel schedule may be the biggest challenge.  Once a date is set, I reach out to a few regulars and a few new folks that have asked to participate. Confirming 10 — 12 online participants (and then re-re-reconfirming) on the given evening is time consuming. If the ‘chat includes a live winemaker interview (streamed live via the Va Wine Chat Ustream channel or via Twitch), I have to drive to the winery.  Since most wineries are located about 2 ½ hours from my home, I usually have to arrange a place to stay if I don’t drive back that late evening. Staying in the Charlottesville area, or points west, on Sunday evening means a 4am wake up call on Monday morning to drive home and to work by 8am.

4. What makes #VAWineChat different from other virtual tastings?

Virginia Wine Chat is the only virtual tasting series (that I know of) focused on the wines and winemakers of Virginia.  It’s one of the few online virtual tastings that is focused on a small, emerging region. With 50 monthly episodes complete, I believe Virginia Wine Chat is one of the the longest continually running virtual tastings in the wine world.

5. Any idea how many Virginia wineries have participated since the inception?

In total, we’ve had about 65 Virginia wineries and five cideries participate since 2013.  Some months we feature three to five different wineries or cideries.

6. Do you measure the success or impact of the chats? If so, how? Quantitatively and/or qualitatively?

Success is measured in several ways.  The first measure is logistics success: did all participants receive the wines on time; did I make it to the winery on time; did the winemaker I’m interviewing show up on time; is the internet connection at the winery strong enough for video feed? Positive comments from participants about the wines and engagement from the winemaker following the chats are a measure of success, though hard to quantify.  Articles written about the wines are another measure of success. Though the total number of tweets is not a measure of success, it is cool to see the #VaWineChat hashtag trending #1 or #2 on Twitter ahead of big events like football games or the latest political scandal.

7. Which chat(s) have been the most popular?

In terms of overall number of tweets, online engagement, and in-person attendees, the 50th episode featuring the Women of Virginia Wine was by far the most popular. A close second was the November 2017 ‘chat featuring Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider (where she announced Foggy Ridge would no longer produce cider under the Foggy Ridge Label).  The January 2017 ‘chat featuring Virginia cider was very popular as well.

8. Have any of the chats been controversial?

Not really.  Because the #VaWineChat hashtag usually trends on Twitter, we do get some interesting spam during the chats. Occasionally there is an attention-seeker in need of a fix but otherwise, no controversy.

9. Are the chats saved for later viewing?

I have recorded most of the 50 Virginia Wine Chat episodes.  I have posted a few for viewing but am saving them to use as part of a larger project that’s been a few years in the making.  Stay tuned…

10. What is the future of #VAWineChat?

As Virginia Wine Chat has grown in popularity, I’ve received interest from wineries in other regions especially those in the eastern U.S.  Beginning last month, I expanded Virginia Wine Chat to include other notable eastern regions — like Maryland, New York, Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania.  I’ve named this series East Coast Wine Chat (#ECWineChat). The eastern U.S. as a ‘region’ is exciting and overlooked by most wine media.  I believe East Coast Wine Chat will bring (at least a little) much-needed attention to the many deserving winemakers growing world class wines the eastern U.S.  I have some really cool East Coast Wine Chats planned — like a focused discussion of east coast Cabernet Franc, Pet-Nats, and ciders — that I hope will foster some collaboration between winemakers in the the eastern U.S.


#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.


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.

In My Glass: East Coast and West Coast in the House

Playing in Napa Valley's February mustard!
Playing in Napa Valley’s February mustard!

My life as I know it is about to change for one month. I am preparing to process the largest wine club I have ever managed. It means long hours and long work weeks. I am putting my personal life on hold for at least two to four weeks to see this through successfully, so if I am unable to post next month that is why. Wish me luck!

Below are some wines – both East Coast and West Coast – that have been in my glass these past few weeks (and months) that merit a mention before February ends. As always, your palate may vary.

2013 Williamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
2013 Williamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

I tasted the 2013 Williamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir ($30) a couple of months ago and shared my review on Delectable, but forgot to share it here. Light ruby-garnet in color and medium bodied, this wine is fruit forward, exhibiting aromas and flavors of cherry, cranberry, and plum. The finish is cinnamon spicy with tangy acidity. Drink now and for the next four or five years. (sample)

2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc
2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc

Here’s another wine that I reviewed on Delectable, but failed to post on my blog. The 2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc ($60), hand crafted from 100% organic, 100% estate fruit, is OMG amazing right now: super drinkable with blackberry, black cherry, black currant fruit, spice, and it’s oh-so-mouthwateringly juicy on the palate. The 2013 vintage will be released next week. There might still be some 2012 left, but not much. This was a tasting room sample that I brought home with me one day after work.

2011 Coquerel Wines Tempranillo
2011 Coquerel Wines Tempranillo

Tempranillo in Calistoga? Who’d a thunk it? The 2011 Coquerel Wines Tempranillo ($42) is like a taste of old school Napa Valley before it became the Cabernet Sauvignon darling of the world. If I were to pair this with a song, it would be Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry, because that’s what you’ll get: a floral, funky nose with earthy, spicy, wild cherry and brambly raspberry on the palate. Its playful acid makes it delightfully easy to drink. Lay down the boogie and play that funky music till you die. (sample)

2013 Hudson-Chatham Field Stone Baco Noir Old Stones & Old Vines
2013 Hudson-Chatham Field Stone Baco Noir Old Stones & Old Vines

I was in a New York state of mind one evening and decided to open one of my favorite low-alcohol wines (12% ABV) crafted by Hudson-Chatham Winery, the 2013 Field Stone Baco Noir Old Stones & Old Vines, Masson Place Vineyards, Pulteney Farm. I also reviewed this one back in August 2015. It remains outstanding, an exceptional example of Baco Noir which expresses its Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail area roots, literally, with aromas and flavors of tart cherry and plum accompanied by crushed rock and earthy minerality, lingering spice, and juicy, mouthwatering acidity. Pair this with nearly any food and music, such as Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind or Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind. I purchased this bottle from the winery for $29.95.

2014 Horton Vineyards Viognier
2014 Horton Vineyards Viognier

I participated in #VAWineChat with Horton Vineyards and Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like recently. I rarely cook, but that night, I made spicy stir fry chicken accompanied by wasabi green peas. The pairing: 2014 Horton Vineyards Viognier, which is 5% petit mansang, a match with its floral aromatics and mouth-coating melon and tropical fruits. This wine was more voluptuous the second day, with intense fruit flavors running the gamut from citrus to stone to tropical and fantastic honeysuckle aromatics. That bit of petit mansang also goes a long way. This is great example of Virginia viognier, a top-notch wine for $20. (sample)

2014 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc
2014 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Another intriguing wine from Horton Vineyards, the 2014 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc is crafted from 79% cabernet franc, 14% tannat, and 7% merlot, giving it multiple personalities, if you will, that are still integrating. This wine is young and vibrant, showcasing a mélange of red and black fruit, firm tannins, spice, and pretty floral aromatics, all at a quaffable 13% alcohol. What a nice, everyday wine for only $15. This will improve with age and air, which will soften the youthful edges. If drinking now, please decant. (sample)

While March is going to be a challenging month, I am looking forward to some exciting spring and summer destinations: Seattle, Santa Ynez Valley (California), Vermont, and Lodi (California) twice. I will also continue to contribute to americanwineryguide.com and Snooth, whose links I will also share on this website.


Welcome Home: #VAWineChat with Early Mountain Vineyards!

Ready for #VAWineChat with Early Mountain Vineyards
Ready for #VAWineChat with Early Mountain Vineyards

Virginia is the state I call my second home. I spent 24 years there, most of them without knowing about Virginia wine. It was around 2010 when I became aware of it, when I first visited my closest winery, Abingdon Vineyard & Winery. When I would travel around the state for conferences, I would try to find Virginia wine or beer to taste. In 2011, I began this website, partially because I wanted to attend the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, and learn more about Virginia wine.

Earlier this month, Virginia wine advocate and writer, Frank Morgan, reached out to me to ask if I wanted to participate in #VAWineChat, a Twitter/Ustream virtual tasting which features wines from Virginia wineries. Without hesitation, I said yes. On June 25, 2015, I virtually returned to my Virginia roots with wines from Early Mountain Vineyards.

Early Mountain is not only an outstanding winery in its own right, but is also a proponent of Virginia wine through its Best of Virginia experience, where one can explore a plethora of wines from across the Commonwealth. It also sets an example with its biodynamic, ecosystemic, and sustainable farming practices. Early Mountain crafts wines that exemplify Virginia terroir and are drinkable now, yet have the potential for ageability. I am pleased to share three Early Mountain wines with you as part of my virtual Virginia homecoming.

Early Mountain Vineyards Foothills, Pinot Gris, and Rosé
Early Mountain Vineyards Foothills, Pinot Gris, and Rosé

2014 Early Vineyards Rosé, $22, only 640 cases produced, Stelvin closure (sample)
This rosé is comprised of 75% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Syrah. Most of the grapes for this wine are produced specifically for making this rosé, with only a 15% coming from saignée. The color is eye-catching, a gorgeous pale orange-salmon. The mouthfeel is light and crisp, yet textured. On the nose and palate, layers of stone fruits, tree fruits, melon, and red berries intertwine with spice, herbs, and tangy acidity.

2014 Early Vineyards Pinot Gris, $24, only 500 cases produced, Stelvin closure (sample)
Pinot Gris is not typically my go-to grape, but the uniqueness of this one makes me think I should revisit Pinot Gris. The grapes for this wine come from two vineyards: block 1, fermented in stainless steel with wild (native) yeast, and block 9, fermented with yeast 58W3 to enhance spice. Throw in a some wild-yeast, neutral barrel-fermented juice and partial malolactic fermentation and you have a complex, food-friendly wine with a rich mouthfeel , good minerality and acid, and juicy fruit flavors such as green apple, pear, and sweet lemon (Citrus limetta).

2013 Early Vineyards Foothills, $27, only 428 cases produced, choice of cork or Stelvin closure (sample)
My immediate reaction to this wine is what a beautiful example of a Virginia-made, Bordeaux-style, Right Bank blend. While made from 64% Merlot, and 36% Cabernet Franc, it is the Cabernet Franc which shines, offering dark berry, pepper, and spice. The Merlot completes the blend with red berry acidity and fine, soft tannins. The judicious use of barrel aging (35% new French oak) for 12 months adds a slight cedar quality and a lush, silky mouthfeel.

You, my readers, have no idea how much joy this tasting brought to my soul and my palate. I truly felt like I had been reconnected with my past. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to be there in person. Thank you, Early Mountain Vineyards, and Frank Morgan, for welcoming me back into the #VAWineChat fold.


A Trio of Reds for Virginia Wine Month and Beyond

Virginia Wine Month logo, http://www.virginia.org/winemonth/
Virginia Wine Month logo, http://www.virginia.org/winemonth/

This month, Virginia celebrates the 25th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month. Since 2010, sales of Virginia wine are up 23 percent. In 2012, Wine Enthusiast recognized Virginia as one of the 10 best wine travel destinations. This year alone, Virginia has sold more than a half of a million cases of wines. Virginia wine has never tasted better.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in #VAWineChat, a virtual tasting hosted by Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like and Boxwood Estate located in Middleburg, Virginia. Although I live in Virginia, I do not often have access to premium Virginia wines, so I was honored and thrilled when Frank asked me to participate. Half-bottle samples were graciously provided by Boxwood.

Topiary and Boxwood Samples
Topiary and Boxwood Samples

Boxwood currently produces red wines in three Bordeaux styles. During the tasting, I had the opportunity to taste the 2011 Topiary, produced in the Saint Émilion style, a blend of Cabernet Franc (68%) and Merlot (32%), and the 2010 Boxwood, produced in the Médoc style, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (43%), and Petit Verdot (7%).

Both wines were fantastic. The Topiary ($25.00 at the winery) is the lighter, refined, more feminine blend, if you will, a dark, clear red wine with aromas and flavors of red berries and violets and a sweet tannin, herbal finish. On the other end of the spectrum is the Boxwood ($25.00 at the winery), the more masculine blend, a full-bodied, dark red to purple wine, with aromas and flavors of blackberry and plum, and a long, velvety finish.

2011 Stinson Vineyard Meritage
2011 Stinson Vineyard Meritage

Last night and today, I tasted another Virginia wine, this one from Stinson Vineyards. Stinson is a sustainable, family-run boutique winery located in a repurposed garage in White Hall, Virginia, although the official address is Crozet, Virginia. The winery has planted five acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. The first harvest is this year, 2013, and grapes from previous harvests have been sourced from local growers.

The wine I tasted is the 2011 Meritage ($25.99 at the winery), a red blend consisting of Merlot (35%), Petit Verdot (25%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), and Cabernet Franc (20%). This wine is floral and feminine, with aromas and flavors of red and dark berries and a spicy tannin finish. I found it opened up quite nicely from last night to today. This wine was a sample provided by the winery through Folsom + Associates.

Virginia Wine Month runs through the end of October. If you will be in Virginia, I suggest planning a trip to one of Virginia’s more than 230 wineries. For event information around the state, please visit this link.

Northern Virginia Wine Tasting

View from Barrel Oak Winery
View from Barrel Oak Winery

Yesterday I had the honor and pleasure to taste some Northern Virginia wines with winemaker extraordinaire and dear friend, Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio Wines. Regardless of our wine preferences, it was an eye-opening learning experience. I learned how far I have come in my pursuit of wine knowledge when I found myself able to truly discuss wines with Cynthia. We had some great discussions in the wineries as well as in the car. What we discussed in the car, stays in the car, because that’s how we roll. <wink>

Our Host, Harrison, at Barrel Oak Winery
Our Host, Harrison, at Barrel Oak Winery

Secondly, I learned that although nature is a powerful determining factor in a vintage’s resulting grapes, the winemaker can make choices that can push a weak vintage’s grapes into a better end product than nature itself originally offered. I learned this as we tasted through the 2011 vintage wine offerings from multiple wineries. The 2011 vintage was very wet, which diluted some of the color of the red wines made from black-skinned grapes. From winery to winery, we saw how each winemaker’s touch rendered the red wines from this vintage. There were some astounding differences in color, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel.

Outside Tasting Bar at Barrel Oak Winery

Two of the wineries we visited were very different with regard to their business models. The first winery we visited was Barrel Oak Winery. The tasting bar attendant turned out to be a friend of mine who used to pour at Inari Wines. Small world, yes? We tasted through 16 wines, from sweet to dry, whites, a rosé, and reds made of native, hybrid, and vinifera grapes. The atmosphere of the winery is lively. It’s both family- and pet-friendly, and allows you to bring your own food, so there were lots of families having picnics accompanied by Barrel Oak’s wines. There’s a tasting room and a tasting bar outside, along with a large patio. I noticed most of the younger adults were drinking wines by the glass, also for sale, at the outside bar. The owner, Brian Roeder, told us the winery is open late on weekends and that they see around 1000 visitors per day during peak summer weekends. Barrel Oak is a nice place to spend a day socializing, eating, and drinking with family, friends, and your four-legged family members.

The View at Delaplane Cellars
The View at Delaplane Cellars

Another winery we visited was Delaplane Cellars, which is a small production, boutique winery that focuses on creating fine wine in Virginia. As per their website,

Because we are a small boutique winery that focuses on creating great wines and a positive customer experience, we cannot accommodate groups over six, buses or limousines at any time. In addition, although we do allow picnics on the winery grounds we do not allow outside food in the tasting room. This is a smoke free farm and we ask that if you must smoke please do so in the designated area at the top of the hill behind the winery. We also ask that animals do not enter the tasting room or terrace and remain on a leash at all times.

Black Walnut Door and White Oak Floors at Delaplane Cellars
Black Walnut Door and White Oak Floors at Delaplane Cellars

Inside the tasting room, there was a musician playing music in the background while small parties of two to four enjoyed quiet conversation over wine tastings or wine by the glass. The décor was elegant and refined, the view spectacular. I was particularly impressed with the black walnut tasting bar and doors, as well as the white oak floors. Our tasting with Carol was very enjoyable. We shared our stories of how we progressed from our former careers to our current wine careers. It was the quintessential girlfriend tasting experience. We tasted six wines at Delaplane: a Chardonnay, a Rosé, a Merlot, and three Bordeaux-style red blends. (Delaplane also makes a 100% Cabernet Franc, which was sold out already.) I purchased a bottle of the Cinq³ (a blend of five reds, third vintage), as I was particularly intrigued by the addition of the estate-grown Tannat to the blend. I plan to taste this wine more carefully at a later date.

The Red Wines at Delaplane Cellars
The Red Wines at Delaplane Cellars

In spite of the overcast skies and occasional rain as our day came to a close, visiting Northern Virginia wineries was an excellent way to spend a Saturday. There’s nothing more fun and inspiring to a wine geek like me than tasting and discussing wine with a winemaker of Cynthia’s knowledge and passion.