Sunday, October 21, 2012

Virginia Wine Lover: Best Of Voting (2013)

Don't let the Notebook sway your votes, but here's what we selected:

Best Virginia Wine:
Statewide--Virginia Wine--Winery: Fabbioli Cellars
Statewide--Virginia Wine--Wine Name: Chambourcin
Vintage: 2010

Best Chardonnay:
Statewide: Chatham Vineyards
Wine Name: Church Creek Steel Fermented
Vintage: 2010

Best Viognier:
Statewide: Blenheim Vineyards
Wine Name: Viognier
Vintage: 2010

Best Norton:
Statewide: Barrel Oak Winery
Wine Name: Norton
Vintage: 2009

Best Meritage (or Meritage-style):
Statewide: Glen Manor
Wine Name: Hodder Hill
Vintage: 2009

Best Fruit Wine (non-grape):
Statewide: North Gate Vineyard
Wine Name: Apple Wine
Vintage: 2011

Best Wine Bottle Artwork:
Statewide: Flying Fox Vineyards
Wine Name: Fox White
Description of artwork: A cartoon fox in a variety of methods of flight; label changed each year. Past years: Biplane, hot air balloon, shot out of a cannon.

Best Overall Winery:
Old House Vineyards

Best Winemaker:
Nate Walsh (Sunset Hills)

Best Outdoor Space:
Sharp Rock Vineyards

Best Indoor Space:
Pollak Vineyards

Best View:
Stone Mountain Vineyards

Best Winery Dog:
Franc from Unicorn Winery

Best Winery Cat:
Warren from Fabbioli Cellars

Best Tasting Room layout:
Saude Creek Winery

Best Food Offerings:
Fox Meadow Vineyards

Best Special Events:
Breaux Vineyards

Best for Picnics:
Sharp Rock Vineyards

Best "Green" (Sustainable) Winery:
Cooper Vineyards

Best Winery for Weddings:
Notaviva Vineyards

Best Wine Tour:
Philip Carter Winery

Best Mass Producing Winery:
Horton Vineyards

Most Romantic Winery:
Zephaniah Farm Vineyard

Best Virginia Wine List Restaurant:
Magnolia's at the Mill (Purcellville)

Best Gourmet Shop (not a winery) for Virginia Wine:
Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe (Occoquan)

Best Mass Retailer Virginia Wine Selection:
Total Wine

Best Weekend Wine-Themed Getaway Spot:

Best Wine Festival:
Richmond (late February)

Best Wineries by Virginia Region:

Central--Pollak Vineyards
Eastern (Northern Neck)--Ingleside Vineyards
Eastern (Eastern Shore)--Holly Grove Vineyards
Northern--Hiddencroft Vineyards
Shenandoah Valley--North Mountain Vineyard
Southern--LeoGrande Vineyard
Western--West Wind Farm Winery

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Virginia’s Signature Varietals

As Virginia's reputation as a world-class wine region continues to skyrocket, it's worth spotlighting five varietals distinct to the Commonwealth. Other (Old World and New World) winemaking countries offer these varietals, as well as several U.S. states. But Virginia's offerings are standing above and beyond the others: Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Norton, Petit Verdot and Chambourcin. It's interesting to note that although Virginia may be better known (and respected by more discerning wine fans) for its whites, only one white earns a spot on signature list: Viognier.

CABERNET FRANC If you've been to any winery in Virginia, chances are high you've tried Cabernet Franc. One of the major Bordeaux varieties (others include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, another spotlighted varietal), Cab Franc traditionally has been used for blending, especially in California, which has been working with Cab Franc for decades. Paul Giamatti's character Miles from Sideways may not have been a fan of Cab Franc (although he didn't detest it as much as Merlot....), but Virginia has embraced it (the state and probably Giamatti's co-star from the movie, Virginia Madsen). The climate and soil throughout the Commonwealth has proved to be ideal for the grape; if you want to capture the state in a bottle for a relative in another state, Cab Franc would be your best bet for a red. Cab Franc tends to have a peppery, earthy or "mineraly" quality that could be off-putting to those more used to smooth and bold New World style reds from California, Oregon and Washington state. Depending on growing region and style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, black cherry, and sometimes even violets. Where to try it: Nearly every Virginia winery has one. The blogmaster's favorites include Stinson Vineyards, Rockbridge Vineyard, and Rappahannock Cellars.

VIOGNIER Recently named the official state grape of Virginia, the reputation of Viognier is spreading to California - one of the blogmasters entertained a group of scientists not long ago, one of whom owns a vineyard in Napa, and who ordered a Virginia Viognier from the menu during dinner. The Rhone region of France has been crafting wines from Viognier for years, and several higher elevation California wineries offer Viognier. Admittedly, it's not a wine many people love on first taste. It took the blogmasters about a year to get accustomed to the wine. Now we actively seek it out. Viognier can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to mildew. Many states have attempted to create a viognier, only to be invaded by humid and rainy weather that spoil the grapes. In Virginia, despite the humid summers, the grape thrives, probably due to the state's latitude and soil. In fact, some winemakers claim it grows like a weed in the state--several wineries have shunned the wine, mainly due to the fact that the winemaker loathes the taste of the wine, which can run the gamut from butterscotch to almonds to grapefruit to honeysuckle. Where to try it: Our favorite viogniers can be found at Chester Gap Cellars near Front Royal, Delaplane Cellars, and Barboursville Vineyards.

NORTON Born in Virginia (Richmond, to be exact) in the early 19th Century and later perfected in Missouri (where it's the official state grape), Norton is similar to Viognier in its introduction to wineheads familiar with New World offerings from the west coast. A bit of a shock is more like it--it's one of those wines you love, tolerate only once or twice a year (like the blogmasters), or hate. Norton is typically dry, and has an inky appearance, and a bold taste that has been likened to tar and leather. But don't let the description and the blogmaster's hesitation with Norton turn you off. Everyone should try it once. You may find that you adore it. We prefer some of the wineries in the state that blend Norton, such as Lexington Valley Vineyard, which has a stand-alone Norton as well as a rosé Norton. Horton Norton (say it three times) is available at some supermarkets, if you don't get a chance to visit Horton's Gordonsville location; it is our favorite Norton in Virginia. Finally, the king of Norton has to be Chrysalis Vineyards near Middleburg, which has the most acreage of Norton in the world.

PETIT VERDOT Another Bordeaux variety, Petit Verdot is well on its way to further root Virginia as a serious red growing state. Petit Verdot is normally used for blending, especially in Meritage, a blend of five Bordeaux varietals (others are Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot and Malbec). In order to be classified a Meritage, the winery must subscribe to the Meritage Association; some Virginia locations not wanting the additional expense have become creative, adding an "A" in front of the word Meritage. On its own, Petit Verdot is rich and hearty; a real red meat wine, good for aging on the rack for up to 15 years, and especially good in the cold months. Some Virginia wineries have won numerous awards for their stand-along Petit Verdot. The best in the state have to be from Glen Manor Vineyards near Front Royal; Ingleside Vineyards; and Flying Fox Vineyard south of Waynesboro.

CHAMBOURCIN From extremely bold, to a varietal called "the red wine for white wine drinkers." Chambourcin is slowly making a name for itself in the Commonwealth, especially in Northern Virginia, where the terrain and climate must be perfect for the hybrid. The grape has only been available since 1963, and has its origins in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Unlike Viognier, Chambourcin has a good resistance to fungal disease, which makes it well-suited for Virginia's muggy summers. The wine is light and can even be served chilled; many have compared the wine to a Chianti, with its soft notes of strawberry and black olives. Chambourcin contains acidity that is higher than the norm for reds; another white varietal characteristic. The blogmasters have become huge fans of chambourcin. Most of the favorites are in Northern Virginia locations; for some reason, the hybrid has not caught on in the Monticello or Northern Neck sections of the state. Scaling our favorites down to three was not easy, but they are Fabbioli Cellars, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, and Hiddencroft Vineyards, all in Loudoun County.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fauquier County Winery Spotlight: Mountains to Valley

In our ongoing coverage of vineyards and wineries in that "winery unfriendly" county of Fauquier, we turn the spotlight to Cobbler Mountain Cellars and Miracle Valley Vineyards--two wineries about 15 minutes from each other, located off state highway 55 near Delaplane. Cobbler Mountain Cellars, the younger of the two vineyards, gets its name from Cobbler Mountain (actually, mountains--the vineyards are located in the shadows of Big Cobbler Mountain and Little Cobbler Mountain, two foothills of the Blue Ridge). The blogmasters expect big things for this spot - they do nearly everything right. The owners are generous and hospitable. The wines are good to great. The tasting room is located in the cellar of their home. You truly feel that you're part of their family when you visit Cobbler Mountain Cellars. It may sound like a cliché, but there is something magical about this location. The owners are aware of this too, and the theme here is Irish folklore. On one visit, a group of teenagers performed haunting Irish folk songs with ukuleles and mandolins, adding to the "magic in the air" vibe. The home/tasting room lies on a hillside, and benches, chairs and tables adorn the sloping lawn. Or, you can grab a table under one of the apple trees. Which leads us to their offerings. This is a wine blog, but we have to call it like it is. The winner at Cobbler Mountain Cellars is their hard apple cider. This is not to be confused with apple wine. Apple wine is typically made incorporating grapes in the process. Hard apple cider is 100% apple. There is nothing better for a cool fall afternoon in October than hard apple cider. Cobbler Mountain's is incredible - like biting into a juicy golden delicious apple. Try it with brats or burgers. As for the wine, not a sub-par one on the list, and their varietals are impressive, considering how young the winery is: Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Meritage. They have more reds than whites (their sole white grape wine is a very good chardonnay, with notes of buttercream). Of the reds, our favorite was the merlot--peppery but smooth. Cobbler Mountain Cellars is an oasis from civilization - only about 45 minutes from Washington DC, but another world. From the mountains/foothills to the valley....Miracle Valley Vineyard, similar to Cobbler Mountain Cellars in size (that is, not a slick commercial operation). The tasting room is housed in charming old farm house overlooking a pond. The tasting is slow and leisurely paced. Several of their wines are award winners: Their Cab Franc and Cab Sauv are Virginia Gold Medal winners. Their Meritage is a Silver Medal winner at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. They've been making wine here longer than Cobbler Cellars, and have more options on the white side of the scale. Of the whites, the viognier and reserve Chardonnay stood out. The viognier is steel-aged and introduced to Hungarian oak for 30 days, resulting in a dry, spritzer-like wine with notes of grapefruit and pineapple. The reserve chardonnay begins in stainless steel and then is introduced to Hungarian oak for a year. The result is an incredibly complex chardonnay that works perfectly with poultry dishes. As for the reds, our favorite was the award-winning Cab Sauv, with soft tannins and the right amount of spice notes. From the mountains to the valley - visit these fine spots this weekend. Support Fauquier County wineries! Winery URLs: Cobbler Mountain Cellars; Miracle Valley Vineyard