Sunday, November 20, 2011

Virginia Varietal Spotlight: Take III


Chambourcin is gaining popularity in Virginia - this is a red varietal that can be as smooth as a Pinot Noir or as complex as a Cab Sauv or Norton. Wikipedia doesn't even mention Virginia as a Chambourcin-heavy state in the Mid-Atlantic. Pennsylvania, however, is mentioned, and with good reason. Pennsylvania wineries, particularly those around York and Lancaster, have been working with Chambourcin for about ten years. But the first wineries to experiment with this mysterious varietal are in the Finger Lakes region. If this red sounds unfamiliar, give it some time. The blogmasters predict it will catch up with Cabernet Franc as the signature Virginia red.

Where to try it:

If you want to give Virginia Chambourcin a shot, we're here to help. Our favorite Chambourcins can be found at (ranked in order of favorite):

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard
Fabbioli Cellars
North Mountain Vineyard
Hiddencroft Vineyards
Old House Vineyards
Corcoran Vineyards
Narmada Winery

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Virginia Varietal Spotlight: Take II


Viognier is Virginia. This is the official white varietal of the Commonwealth, and many wineries are doing incredible things with it. Like Norton, there is some adjustment time for this wine. It tends to have more bite to it than chardonnay or pinot gris. But now the word has gotten out. The popularity of Viognier has grown expontentially with the number of new wineries in the state over the past ten years. Horton even makes a special Viognier just for Total Wine (on Horton's Tower label). Recently, one of the blogmasters had dinner with a new vineyard owner from California, visiting Virginia for a business trip. We tasked him to order the wine for the table, and he picked a Viognier. This is a quirky, moody wine, and is perfect for the unpredictable growing atmosphere that is Virginia.

Viognier can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to mildew. It has low and unpredictable yields. Other states have attempted to create a perfect Viognier, including California. Results have been average to poor. About 15 years ago, Horton discovered that the varietal grows "like a weed" in Virginia. Some Commonweath wineries shun it - in fact, a few grimace at the very mention of Viognier (must be that "weed" designation). Others like Horton have embraced it.

Not all Viogniers are created equally. The unpredictable nature of this grape results in uneven wines. Keswick Vineyards had an Award-winner a few years ago - the smoothest Viognier we've ever had (with effervescent bubbles to boot). But their later versions were in the middle of the Mediocre-to-Excellent scale (still not bad but no match for that Award winner).

Since so many wineries in the state now offer a Viognier (even Fox Meadow, which several years ago swore they wouldn't make one), we'll just list a few of our favorites. What are yours?

Blenheim Vineyards
Chester Gap Cellars
Notavva Vineyards
Pollak Vineyards
Sunset Hills Vineyards
Veritas Vineyard

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fredericksburg: Wine About History

There are plenty of reasons to visit Fredericksburg, especially in the fall, when the downtown streets are covered in orange, amber and red leaves: Visiting old (and haunted) shops, dining along the Rappahannock River, touring battlefields in town and outside of town, and an interesting cluster of wineries stretching north, west and southwest of town.

Your biggest challenge would be getting to "Fred" (as locals call it). It's not as easy for folks in Northern Virginia to trek down to Fredericksburg as it was twenty, or even ten, years ago. The traffic-clogged exurbs now extend to Fred, and beyond, so I-95 and U.S. Route 1 are likely to be slow-moving, or even stop and go, unless you leave very late Friday night and drop anchor at one of the many motels (basic to luxurious) dotting the interchanges around Fred. If you live anywhere west of DC, we suggest taking the Warrenton route - follow U.S. 17 or state highway 3 near Culpeper over to Fred.

Should you decide to take the Warrenton/Culpeper route, there are a few wineries along the way as you cut eastward to Fred. The first stop is one of our very favorites in the state, Rogers Ford Farm Winery, an absolutely charming, family-owned and operated boutique winery located on the banks of the Rappahannock (it's much narrower west of Fredericksburg), and on the edge of a wildlife preserve. Rogers Ford offers an intimate tasting experience and a peaceful deck overlooking their vineyards and the expansive property. Their reds are bold and delicious, and their whites tend to be on the slightly sweet side. In the end, they offer something for everyone. Our favorite reds: Virginia Red Select (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat) and Chloe Cabernet (several wines are named after children in the family of the owners). Whites range from the nearly off-dry Jacob Christopher Chardonnay to the sweet First Frost Vidal. Their rosé is a bit sweeter than other Virginia rosés we've had, and would fare better chilled in warmer weather.

Continuing on U.S. highway 17 eastbound, as the traffic lights around Fred begin to increase, make the left turn to Hartwood Winery. Like Rogers Ford, Hartwood is modest in size but big on variety and quality. They're one of the original Virginia wineries and offer great selection at good prices. The tasting room is typical Virginia - quaint but bustling. Rappahannock Red is their "fun" wine; aged in steel and a great everyday table wine. On the more mature end of the spectrum, they offer a classic Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as whites from semi-sweet to bone dry.

The south/southwest of Fredericksburg, approaching Lake Anna, offers two unique wineries that are staples at festivals held throughout the year: Lake Anna Winery and Mattaponi Winery. Lake Anna is the older of the two, like Hartwood and Rogers Ford Winery, one of the Commonwealth's originals. Located about three miles from Lake Anna itself, this winery has a pleasant tasting room and ample spots for a picnic. This is also one of the few Virginia wineries with an online ordering section of their website. Like Hartwood, Laka Anna has a wine for nearly every palate. Their Merlot was our favorite red and their barrel select chardonnay was the white that we took home. They also have several sweet wines, and a special label wine that emphasize the Civil War battlefield and Fredericksburg proximity of this winery.

Mattaponi Winery is the epitome of rustic. Named after the Virginia river (which in turn was named after an Indian tribe), the tasting room is located in an irresistible cabin, and Indian motifs are in spades. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon stood out as their excellent full-bodied reds. They have several sweeter wines as well, and are probably the only winery in Virginia working with both Concord and Niagara grapes. Also three non grape wines worth noting: Blueberry, blackberry and chocolate strawberry (not a misprint!)

After a night in Fredericksburg, relax the next day at Potomac Point Vineyard, one of the largest and most elaborate locations in Virginia. Located north of Fred in Stafford County, the Potomac River is not in eyeshot of the winery, but you'll be too engrossed in this location to notice. Think Italian villa. The winery is about as big as an entire villa. They double as a bistro, so expect a crowd. However there are several rooms (with fireplaces) to drink away the fall and winter blues, as well as a courtyard patio for warmer days. Their wine list is impressive. Norton, Merlot, and Petit Verdot stood out among the reds. The chardonnay was our favorite white. This location is quite unlike the others on this list - Potomac Point is bustling and commercial. But not without its own charms.

Pick your battlefield (Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg) and pick your winery (or wineries), and wine about history this weekend!

Rogers Ford Winery
Hartwood Winery
Lake Anna Winery
Mattaponi Winery
Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery