Tuesday, November 30, 2010

8 Chains North--Part 1

It may be cold outside, but welcome to 8 Chains North Vineyards in Loudoun County, open for one week when this video was taken in August 2010..............

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taste Test--VA Vino style!

The blogmasters recently hosted a tasting featuring three distinct Virginia varietals, matched with three samples from various wineries. The results were not what we expected.

As we've found with wine in general, a high price doesn't always mean a better wine. And that was just one of several take-aways we had from this tasting party.

Three varietals that are becoming synonymous with Virginia were chosen: Viognier, Norton and Chambourcin. No Cab Franc. No Chardonnay. Those varietals are well established in Virginia. The wines we selected are bursting out to become signature Virginia wines (the First Lady of Virginia and Governor would surely agree). Another red used in the past for blending--Petit Verdot--is also putting Virginia on the map with California and even French wine snobs. But pure Petit Verdots are a bit harder to find.

The three wines for each varietal were put in brown paper bags, and a color-coded dot was placed under each glass to correspond with the same color dot affixed to the paper bag that contained that particular winery's product.

Representative samples: Chester Gap Cellars, Keswick Vineyards, Gadino Cellars

Viognier has been described as "a vine that grows like a weed in Virginia." Some Virginia wineries want nothing to do with Viognier and leave any unwanted vines and grapes (usually left over from a prior vineyard owner, or mysteriously growing on their own) to the deer, or sell them to other wineries. Viognier is an acquired taste--admittedly, both blogmasters were not big fans of this varietal on first tastes. But as our palates became more accustomed to Virginia wine, we started to tolerate Viognier. And now we actively seek out Viognier in wine stores, and are perplexed when we can only find California Viogniers.

Brief rundowns on each wine from our notes:

Chester Gap Cellars Reserve Viognier--too easy to drink. Dangerous! Subdued oak with a smooth butterscotch finish.

Keswick's Les Vents d'Anges Viognier--are those bubbles I see? Smooth like a great off-dry sparkling wine. Mellow but with floral tones. In a word, delicious.

Gadino Cellars Viognier--a strong oak finish. Notes of citrus and strangely enough, coconut custard pie.

The winner: Keswick Les Vents d'Anges. Off dry is how Viognier should be. Aged in steel. Chester Gap makes great Viognier, and you can't go wrong with any of their choices. Gadino Cellars makes good wine all around, and perhaps their next vintage will edge the other two out. Note to winemakers: Steel, steel, steel!

Representative samples: Chrysalis Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Barrel Oak Winery

Every Virginia winery we've been to who has a Norton loves to tell the story: Virginia's first "official" grape, a true native grape to the United States; outlawed during Prohibition; shipped to Missouri; allowed to be served during Sunday church services; making a comeback to Virginia. This varietal has less fans than other Virginia reds, and admittedly the wine can be harsh if not done properly. We picked three wineries that boasted fine Nortons, and subjected them to the Pepsi challenge.....


Chrysalis Barrel Select Norton--Take a ride ride ride on heavy Norton. Leathery texture, a charcoal nose, and would pair perfectly with prime rib.

Horton Norton--It's fun to say, and goes down easy. On the other side of the spectrum from Chrysalis. Plum and cherry Twizzler (exact quote from a taster) aromas.

Barrel Oak Norton--Elderberry wine? No, it's Norton. But we'll presume it has the same health benefits of elderberry. A "mineraly" texture but well-rounded and great by itself or with an Omaha steak.

The winner: Barrel Oak Norton. Beating the "masters" at Chrysalis and Horton. We have to call as we taste it. Perhaps that steel tank aging is working for the reds as it is for the whites....

Representative samples: Hiddencroft Vineyards, Fabbioli Cellars, North Mountain Vineyards

Chambourcin is a European hybrid that resembles Chianti. Over the past few years, some wineries have discovered that Virginia soil and climate is perfect for this wine. It comes packaged as "the red wine for white wine drinkers," and works well with lighter foods like cheeses and salami. And it can be chilled - but this is no rosé (not that rosé is a bad thing--more on that subject in a later blog).


Hiddencroft Chambourcin Vintner's Reserve--Smooth operator. Notes of cranberry and almond. If only Mary Poppins had this to serve to those kids.

Fabbioli Chambourcin--Billy Joel beckons..."bottle of red." A pasta wine, and perfect for chilling.

North Mountain Chambourcin--North Mountain has been perfecting this wine since 2004, and they have the Virginia's Governor Cup Silver Medal to show for it. Think cherry pie.

The winner: Hiddencroft. If this red is good enough to convert a diehard Italian red drinker into a fan of Chambourcin ("that MUST be a chianti---it must be!"), it's good enough for the blogmasters.

We invite you to visit the victors of this crude taste test today--do it virtually or visit the spots this weekend.




Saturday, November 6, 2010

The 8 Greatest Views in Virginia Wine Country

Virginia is a beautiful state. From the seashore to the mountaintops, with charming towns, rolling foothills, forests, bays and rivers and lakes in between, the Commonwealth has a way of lowering your blood pressure the minute you get off one of the congested Interstates. So it's only natural that the wineries of Virginia take advantage of the Old Dominion's one-of-a-kind diversity.

Selecting just five Virginia wineries with spectacular views was too much of a daunting task, so we upped it to eight. The wines at these locations range from good to excellent, but for the first time, the blogmasters will concentrate on the settings and views, versus the winery and the wines. In all honesty, most people will find at least one wine they like (or love) at every Virginia winery.

We tried to span the state to offer the best views in different settings, but we gravitated towards the mountains. That's not to ignore the wineries in the central, north-central, "Northern Neck" and Eastern Shore of Virginia; looking over the past reviews in the Notebook, it seems these spots have been getting the shaft. That will be remedied soon.

The Best Views in VAVINOLAND (ranked from #8 to #1):

(8) CHESTER GAP CELLARS (outside Front Royal)

The slogan of Chester Gap should be a twist on that old Bell Telephone jingle: "Reach out and touch some mountains." Chester Gap itself is a village and a mountain gap directly off U.S. highway 522, between Front Royal and the Washington/Sperryville, VA, area. The tasting room overlooks the gap itself, and is a Facebook photographer's dream (the blogmasters have posted group shots with the gap in the background and have received many compliments to stroke our amateur photographer egos). Down the hill from the winery is a general store stuck in 1949, that probably still sells RC Colas, moonpies and Sinclair gasoline.


The "Chesapeake Wine Trail" is not to be overlooked when surveying trails in the Commonwealth. One of the more unique spots is Belle Mount, probably the only winery in the state located on a family campground (complete with swimming pool and cabins). The tasting room looks more like the rec room you remember from summer camp days, and that Coke machine outside will only cement that memory. But the view from the porch outside the tasting room is wonderful---sloping vineyards and then Cat Point Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock River. If he's not busy, owner and winemaker Ray Petrie will lead you through a nicely paced tasting, including the historical background of Belle Mount Plantation and the campground.

(6) WOLF GAP VINEYARD AND WINERY (near Edinburg, VA; Shenandoah Valley)

Wolf Gap is a relatively new winery and boasts views of not one but two mountain chains--the Blue Ridge to the east, and the Alleghenies to the west. The Wolf Gap itself is on the VA/WV line, and this area of the Shenandoah Valley is farm country. The only noise you'll hear at Wolf Gap (that is, if there is no live band playing...) are the cows and horses in the distance. Blood pressures will drop instantly.


Only one winery in northern Virginia was selected for this list, to give other, more distant wineries their due. It was a tough call---Bluemont, Fox Meadow, Naked Mountain, Sunset Hills, Hillsborough and Breaux all boast incredible views, and you're in for a treat if you visit any of these places. We selected Willowcroft because the place is simply irresistable, and that view - wow! Who knew Loudoun County was so beautiful? If you have a strong pair of binoculars, you can make out Bluemont Vineyards on the other side of the valley. Willowcroft is a rustic charmer, the oldest winery in the county, and is producing some top notch vintages.

(4) AFTON MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS (near Waynesboro)

"Grapes don't grow in ugly places" is the declaration of Afton Mountain Vineyards. With the opening of their new tasting room, with unspoiled views of the rugged mountains around the Blue Ridge Parkway, their slogan is 100% accurate. This area of the Commonwealth had so many contenders: King Family, Flying Fox, Pollak, First Colony, Blenheim. But the sense of Zen the blogmasters felt at Afton Mountain was unsurpassed. Maybe it was their incredible (and unexpected) Pinot Noir. Or maybe it was their view....

(3) BLUE RIDGE VINEYARD (west of Roanoke)

With a name like Blue Ridge Vineyard, you know the view is going to be something special. This is probably the most rustic place we've visited - the tasting room is inside a barn that resembles an antique store. Outside, mountain vistas in every direction. And a gazebo smack in the middle of the rolling fields. This is a winery every Virginia fan should visit at least once.

(2) LEO GRANDE VINEYARD (Bedford, VA area)

The photograph on Virginia Wine Notebook's home page, with the Adirondack chairs, was taken at Leo Grande. It is one of our favorites. The foothills of the Blue Ridge are in the distance, the winery (like Blue Ridge Vineyard) is far far away from busy highways, and the mood is laid back and rejuvenating.

(1) STONE MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS (between Madison and Charlottesville)

"Taste the altitude." Another fitting slogan. Stone Mountain Vineyards is perched up, way up, on a mountainside overlooking the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge. The road leading up to Stone Mountain is one-of-a-kind (a bear cub crossed in front of us on one trip). If you suffer from vertigo, take some precautions, but you are rewarded with some fine vintages, an airy, uncluttered and beautiful tasting room, and the best view in the state. Even if you don't drink wine, you're advised to trek up "that road" and visit. Chris, the owner and winemaker, is a presence at state-wide festivals and will even take you on an intimate tour of the cellar (which includes a storage cave--and it really is a cave). Up on the deck overlooking the vineyards, it's only you and the falcons and eagles. Do I hear John Denver playing in the background?

And after visiting these wonderful spots, if you're yearning for more good wine and vistas, we recommend these "runner ups"):

Blenheim Vineyards: http://www.blenheimvineyards.com/

Bluemont Vineyard: http://www.bluemontvineyard.com/

Breaux Vineyards: http://www.breauxvineyards.com/

DuCard Vineyards: http://www.ducardvineyards.com/

First Colony Winery: http://www.firstcolonywinery.com/

Flying Fox Vineyard: http://www.flyingfoxvineyard.com/

Fox Meadow Vineyards: http://www.foxmeadowwinery.com/

King Family Vineyards: http://www.kingfamilyvineyards.com/ourfamily.php

Pollak Vineyards: http://www.pollakvineyards.com/

Wintergreen Winery: http://www.wintergreenwinery.com/