Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Virginia Wine is Well Hung!

When I learned that my professional association was holding a regional conference in Charlottesville, I did my research on local wine shops that might carry Well Hung Vineyard (WHV) wines. Work hard, play hard, right? After a long day of conferencing, I headed down to Barracks Road to the The Virginia Shop. The staff couldn't have been more friendly and had high praise for the bottle I purchased, 2009 Well Hung Everyday Chardonnay.

Slightly disappointed in finding only a bottle of white, I continued on to several other wine shops in search of red to no avail. On way out of town, I randomly stopped at South River Restaurant and Paddock Wine Shop in Waynesboro, Virginia. I knew nothing about the place, other than spotting a small ad which sparked my curiosity. As soon as I walked in the door I spotted Well Hung Cabernet Franc - and only one bottle left. I picked up the bottle for purchase before I was even seated! In addition to a great menu, they have an impressive Virginia wine by the glass selection! This always makes me very happy.

Upon my return home, I shared my bottle of Well Hung Everyday with friends while enjoying a seafood extravaganza of crab legs and steamed shrimp. This was a clean crisp white that I could see enjoying...everyday with anything. I really loved it and wished it easier to find bottles for purchase. If you are a real wine snob, you might hope for more complexity. I found it to be a real easy-going wine with slight hints of fruit. Later in the week, I open the Cabernet Franc. This certainly provides more complexity, but not so self-involved for a novice like me. It has the right level of dry with berry flavor. However, I have to say, overall I preferred the white over the red.

Initially, it's label grabs your attention. And why wouldn't it? It's clever, witty, and well designed. Long before I ever tasted their wine, I had decided I liked this vineyard. The label, of course, made me laugh and it's owned by three clever women. Their story showcases collaboration at its best: design meets science meets business meets WINE. I am so fortunate to work with great visual and performing artists everyday in my job. My role is more administrative, but simply being in the environment is inspiring. I find myself increasingly looking at the influence of art and design in everyday life. You might be reading this very post from your newly purchased i-pad, which has a similar and very effective collaboration of science, design, and business. To me the most fascinating aspect of wine is this infusion of art/science/business. This is a great article on how Well Hung Vineyard's label design was featured in an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. If you are looking for inspiring wine, check out Well Hung Vineyard.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Alta Vista wine is WINNING!!!

Ever heard of Grit, Virginia? It's a small blip on the map located in Pittsylvania County, minutes from the glitzy town of Altavista. Grit is home to among other things 1) country singer, Ricky Van Shelton 2) my high school sweetheart 3) the popular Riverside Minute Market 4) and impressive back roads we loved to explore in our youth.

It was with slight trepidation that I decided to trek out to Grit for a taste of the recently discovered Alta Vista Vineyards and Winery. Maybe I was apprehensive because of the somewhat random location or perhaps I simply feared this would be too fruity for my taste buds. Either way, I was glad to have along several experienced research assistants for the adventure.

It's important to drink responsibly, so my not quite 21-year old niece dropped us off for the afternoon. We were greeted by one of the owners and his rescued puppy, a blue tick heeler mix . An instant point in the WIN column for us. As we entered, my sister/assistant said, "They are not too busy today". To which I replied, "Did you really think they would be?" But to my surprise, folks entered steadily throughout the afternoon.

We tasted five wines from 2009: Viognier, Chardonnay, Vista Blanca, Cabernet Franc and Meritage. Among the whites, the Viognier was my top pick and the Chardonnay showed great promise with a somewhat buttery flavor. The Vista Blanca, a sweet blend of white grapes, was my least favorite. I found the reds to be slightly superior to the whites with their hearty Cabernet Franc and impressive Meritage. The Meritage, a blend of petit verdot, cab franc, and cab sauvignon, just won the silver medal at the 2011 Governor's Cup. I think this red wine is well deserving of the honor and in great company with other silver Meritage winners from the likes of Barboursville, Pollak and Keswick. I am excited about their 2010 offerings which will likely be available this fall.

Their facility is really more like a house with a small tasting area. This actually worked well and created a nice cozy atmosphere. We purchased a bottle of the Meritage and relaxed on their comfortable leather sofas.

My guess is one of their biggest challenges will be location. Word of mouth is more valuable than advice from marketing consultants, so they'll do well if they tap into the local and surrounding area niche of wine drinkers. I know will be recommending this winery to friends and plan to make a return trip summer to enjoy their spacious deck with wonderful views. I hope others also find their Alta Vista Vineyards experience to be a winner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Drinking Goals for 2011

After a brief hiatus of wine blogging, its time to return to my adventures in wine. Don't worry, I've still been drinking lots of wine, just not blogging about it. It's important to have goals in life, so I've decided to outline a few of my drinking goals for this year. There are few Virginia Wines on my radar screen that I would at least like to taste or better yet, visit their winery for further research. I'm also expanding into local spirits as well.

1) Altavista Vineyard
This new vineyard is located near my hometown, Gretna, so I am curious to see what they have to offer. I also happen to know that I will be visiting soon, so I am listing it as a goal mainly to say I met at least one of my drinking goals this year!

2) Well Hung Vineyard
This wine has been on my radar screen for quite awhile. I love the name and I love the label, so I am very excited about trying the wine. This small operation is not open for tours. But it gives me a great excuse to check out the nearest retailer, Roanoke's Tinnell's Finer Foods. I can't believe I didn't know this specialty grocery store existed until now. I can't wait to see what types of wine and cheese selections they carry.

3) Annefield Vineyards
I had hope to visit this winery on last year's SoVa Wine Trail trip, but the day just got away from us. This is a definite excursion for the spring or summer. I am hearing great things about their wine, but I am equally excited to see the renovation of their historic property.

4) Explore Virginia Whiskey
My sister is an avid fan of single malt scotch. I think this is the summer we plan our trip to a Copper Fox Distillery which produces Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky located in Sperryville. Perhaps we can fit in a few others that have been popping up over the state in recent years as well.

5) And lastly...Avoid hangovers, or at least find a decent hangover remedy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving: The Always Overshadowed Holiday

In recent years, Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. This is partly because we have started a new Thanksgiving tradition. As avid Hokie fans, during the years Virginia Tech plays University of Virginia, we stay home to host friends and family throughout the holiday weekend. On the years, VT play in C'ville, we travel to the beautiful Outer Banks for the week. Last year, we rented a wonderful home facing the sound. The sunsets were so amazing. So much so, my brother-in-law proposed to his fiance. This year the Hokies will be home in Blacksburg, so we will enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner, the madness of black Friday shopping and the battle for the Commonwealth Cup on Saturday.

More than our new tradition, I have found that Thanksgiving is a relaxing holiday for me. There is no pressure about finding and buying the right gifts for others. The only pressure is to have a great meal and take a moment to reflect on what you are thankful for in life. In an effort to help us take that moment, I have also added a craft project for the kids and adults. This year we are turning a small terracotta pot in a turkey. Each feather must represent something we are thankful for this year. I’m not crafty, but admittedly, this is kinda fun. It seems I always have to start this craft project from scratch since the retail industry maintains only a small section of Thanksgiving related items, barely to be found between the massive Halloween and already present Christmas décor. This week, I’ve rummage around the stores trying to find anything Thanksgiving-ish to add to our table setting to no avail. If that wasn’t bad enough, the neighbors have already ripped harvest wreaths down to put up their Christmas decorations. We look like the Jehovah Witness house and it’s not even December yet! I have great memories of watching the Macy’s day parade with my grandmother anticipating the arrival of the real Santa Claus to START the holiday season. But, I kinda like the reduced societal pressure of Thanksgiving. The real showcase is the meal. As a child, I remember that in addition to Turkey, Thanksgiving dinner is the time mom served every great side dish all in one meal. And don’t get me started with the day after turkey sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise! Its then you realize that that deli meat turkey just doesn’t cut it!

I can remember as a college student, we were always excited about the ‘turkey meal’ served in the dining hall, sure it wasn’t like home, but it was a nice warm-up event. I guess, you could say we paired ours with Natty Light. This year I am excited about serving Virginia wine with our meal. I'm sad to say we'll start with a California sparkling wine, but if I didn't already have this on hand, I would definitely serve a Virginia Sparkling Wine. For our white fans, we'll have Pollak 2009 Pinot Gris. Our red fans, King Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2009. I can't wait to open this one! Tonight while we cooked and prepped for tomorrow we enjoyed Willowcroft 2009 Chardonnay. Terrific. So even if the turkey flops, we'll still have great wine and maybe even a few natty lights on hand to enjoy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yes, Virginia Wine Country can compete!

I returned from Napa with a renewed excitement about my wine hobby. This hobby can be challenging and takes a lot of practice! I'm still not discerning tastes and smells very well. If I glance at tasting notes or just reading the bottle label, I might pick up on something, but I'm afraid it is more of a subliminal thing than me actually smelling and tasting the hints of plum and cherry. Sans tasting notes, I find myself at a loss of words to describe the taste. While this has been a bit frustrating, I feel like I need to remain patience and most importantly keep drinking. Secondly, this hobby will never get old because there is always something new to taste and new regions to explore!

Prior to Napa, the specific grape growing regions (American Viticulture Area AVA) was concept that I understood theoretically, but I think Napa allowed me to wrap my brain around the importance of different regions. Our free visitor center's map clearly showed the appellations and with everything being in such a small concentrated area, we managed to travel and taste something made from many of their appellations. Virginia's AVA is more spread out and perhaps because of this I ignored the importance of how this might assist me in learning more about wine, taste variances, and personal preferences. Wine blogger, Dezel Quillen, recently discussed Virginia's AVA regions in what I found to be an informative post. He does a much better job breaking this stuff down for you than I could.

Many of the factoids I discovered about the Napa Valley region were fascinating and I can bore you to tears with them next time we share a glass of wine together. Napa is...well Napa...and it's hard to think of anything new to say about this beautiful part of our country. But what I know for sure is that Virginia can absolutely compete with Napa's Wine Country!
We have so much to offer in terms of great wine and inspiring tourism. You can visit great wineries in a beautiful countryside setting, taste some terrific wine, and have a great dinner in a local restaurant. Sounds like Napa right? But, Virginia has such rich history to share throughout the Commonwealth. Virginia's historical sites both large and small are such an added bonus along the way to winery excursions. Obviously, there are the well-known sites such as Monticello, but sometimes just taking the time to read the roadside historical markers along the way can be an interesting way to remind us of the importance our Commonwealth played in shaping our nation. If you are not sold on by my argument, then get out to one of the Virginia Wine Trails and experience it yourself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sparkling Wine Day in Napa!

Our wedding hosts (as you'll recall, the whole reason we were in Napa)were so thoughtful and gracious to schedule a tour at Domaine Chandon for their invited guests. The morning quickly slipped away from us, so we rushed out the hotel, hopped in the red Ford Focus and drove north to the Town of Yountville for more, I mean, I mean pre-wedding festivities. There was no time for our usual morning Starbucks let alone any local pastries. We lost faith in our GPS BlackBerry and I was left to navigate with our free visitor center map. Weekend traffic and one wrong turn, we barely made it to our tour! But we were relaxed in no time with the beauty of Napa and the promise of sparkling wine.

Domaine Chandon is owned by the French company, Moët et Chandon which also owns Dom Pérignon entirely owned by LVMH - Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton. Recognize any names?? This is one big operation in mass production wine making! The grounds of this winery are absolutely beautiful with grand landscaping, intriguing art work, and interesting architecture. If you want to see one of the big wineries, I recommend you consider scheduling the tour at Domaine Chandon. Our guide was very knowledgeable and I learned so much more than if we had just done the tasting.

The ultra-modern tasting room was designed with a scalloped roof-line to represent the shape of wine barrels. Their enormous wine tanks were placed on their side instead of upright so the roof line could remain low creating less distraction to the natural environment. Our tour guide also mentioned that Domaine Chandon incorporates eco-friendly techniques such limiting the use of pesticides in the vineyards they own throughout Napa and Sonoma.

As our tour guide described their winemaker of 20 years, Tom Tiburzi, I couldn't help but wonder about the job of a winemaker. It's such a unique collaboration of agriculture, science and art. It must be difficult to discern all the various tastes to create one incredible blend. Chandon has a vast reserve collection of wine which allows them to create consistent tastes in their popular non-vintage wines. Very curious to know, and regret not asking, just how many years does their reserve collection span?? Chandon is most known for their sparkling wine, but they do make several still wines.

As our tour ended, we were led through the tasting room to the outdoor patio where several wines awaited us: Brut Classic, Chandon Rose, Carneros Chardonnay 2008, Carneros Pinot Noir 2007, and Carneros Pinot Meunier 2008. I settled on the Chandon Rose sparkling wine. We sipped wine and soaked in the California sunshine while chatting about politics, food and of course wine.
Speaking of food...we didn't eat any all day and I failed to hydrate
properly! Needless to say, the bubbles went straight to my head and my stomach was angry. As we left, we stopped by the retail store for purchases. I purchased two sparkling wines: Brut Classic and Chandon Rose. This seemed like a good idea at the time despite shipping costs and the fact that I can purchase both at my local Kroger anytime. I also purchased a still wine, Carneros Pinot Meunier, 2008 which was well received by everyone in our group and not available at my local Kroger.

I must mention a little bit about the wedding. The ceremony was a small lovely affair held on an outdoor terrace of the ultra modern and environmentally friendly Bardessono Hotel. From what I could tell, this hotel lives up to its nearly five star rating. Also, if have any interest in sustainable construction, take a moment to review their environmental initiatives which I found interesting. Their nightly rate is a little more than I usually pay, so if you are like us, and plan to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, take the time to drive up to the hotel to visit the lobby bathrooms. Trust me, the bells and whistles on those toilets are worth the valet parking!

After the ceremony, a shuttle bus transported us to HALL Rutherford Winery for the reception. By far the most breathtaking views in Napa can be seen on their
outdoor verandas. We were greeted with passed hors d'oeuvres and...more wine! For dinner, we were escorted by the winery's sommelier to one of their wine caves. She provided us with a brief history of the winery and showed us their unusual looking wine tanks. We were led down a long hallway filled with wine barrels to what I can only describe as THE most impressive room I have ever seen! The dining room was stunning and decorated so beautifully for the wedding.
Our dinner was appropriately paired with wine and our sommelier introduced each wine with our food pairing. Unfortunately, I can't speak directly about their wine. I only sipped a bit as I was completely done with wine for the day.

And by done, I mean, stick a fork in me.

So just as quickly as we rode into the sunset of Napa Valley grooving to the sounds of the 90's, it was time return our Ford Focus and catch the red-eye flight back east. Our quick whirl-wind trip provided me with some great memories, a chance to reconnect with a dear friend, and completely worth the exhaustion experienced days later.

Still to come: The recap - What I learned on my trip to Napa Valley, CA.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Napa Valley Trip, Part II

Wine Country Tour

Armed with our GPS Blackberry and Starbucks, we headed into the Town of Napa for our day long tour of wine country. With over 400 wineries in Napa Valley, how would you ever decide on which ones to visit? We selected Platypus Tours because they limit their group size to around 10 people and visit only smaller wineries in the area. Our tour guide, Valerie, had only two rules on the bus 1) have a good time 2) no cell phones. I can live by these rules! Time to turn off the Blackberry. Valerie was a fun, easy-going guide. She provided excellent information about the region and the wineries. I highly recommend Platypus Tours to anyone planning a trip to Napa.

First Stop: Jessup Cellars Tasting Room

Our first stop was such as terrific way to begin our tour. Valerie had arranged for a semi-private tasting. We were seated at a large dining room table equipped with various sized crystal wine glasses. Our red wine glass was deceivingly huge. Christine, our host, explained that it could hold an entire bottle of wine! If you are pouring the whole bottle in one glass, save your money and just drink from bottle! Jessup Cellars produces some really wonderful wine from area vineyards. We tasted five wines and one port-style wine: 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Napa Valley Merlot, 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 2006 Louer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 Napa Valley "Table for Four" and 2007 Napa Valley Zinfandel Port.

The clear favorite was also the most expensive, "Table for Four" at $79.00 per bottle. They recommend buying two; one to drink now, and one to age for about four years. Perhaps I will buy one bottle after I financially recover from the trip. It was exceptional. The only wine I did not care for was the Sauvignon Blanc. (see Jessup's tasting notes if want to know what the experts think)

Second Stop: Rutherford Grove Winery and Vineyards

Something about this small, 5000-7000 case per year, rustic winery reminded me of a charming Virginia winery. The tasting room was unassuming and the wine was great. This family operated winery owns roughly 50 acres of vineyards in various regions of the valley. They have a great picnic area on the grounds where we enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by Platypus.
Before lunch we tasted seven different wines: the highly rated 2008 Pestoni Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 Quackenbush Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel, 2003 Merlot, 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Estate Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Spring Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah, and 2007 Late Harvest Quackenbush Mountain Zinfandel. I purchased their Petite Sirah and the 2006 Quackenbush Zinfandel.

I am super excited about opening the Petite Sirah when it arrives via UPS truck soon. As our pourer described, this is a dark wine with hints of olallieberry. This is a wine I hope to share with friends during a terrific meal. I preferred their Sauvignon Blanc to Jessup's, but didn't love it. In reviewing my tasting notes, it seems I least liked their Merlot. (Rutherford Grove's Tasting Notes)

Third Stop: Baldacci Vineyards

This was perhaps the most picturesque of all the wineries we visited that day. They have a cute patio area, a delightful Labrador named Libby and a beautiful view of the mountains. Our host at Baldacci chatted with us on the crush pad, then showed us around their wine cave which was really cool. Afterwards, we plucked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes waiting patiently to be crushed from a nearby crate. Such an explosive taste from such a tiny little grape. I really enjoyed my experience at Baldacci, but i wasn't overly wowed by their wines.

We tasted four: 2008 Elizabeth Pinot Noir Carneros, 2007 IV Sons Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, 2008 Harmony Zinfandel Stags Leap District, 2006 Black Label Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. I most enjoyed the Black Label Cab, but found the Zinfandel noteworthy because the Baldacci's allowed their tasting room staff to create this wine and proceeds goes to the non-profit Nashville in Napa event.

Fourth Stop: Andretti Winery

Yes, the race car driver Mario meets Italian wine meets Napa. We were running a little late arriving to our final winery. Their last pour is at 4:30pm. While the experience felt slightly rushed, the wine was among some of the best from the day. They have many wines for tasting, so with their $15.00 tasting fee you choose five. My five: 2008 Pinot Grigio, 2008 North Coast Pinot Noir, 2009 Barbera, 2007 Napa Valley Sangiovese, and 2007 Napa Valley Syrah. Top three for me were Barbera, Syrah, then Sangiovese. I must admit Barbera was a grape I had never heard of despite the fact it is the third most planted grape in Italy. Hmmm...sounds like more research is needed. Trip to Italy anyone?

The tasting notes for their 2007 Napa Valley Syrah intrigued me immediately. "The nose exhibits aromas of plum, dried cherry, hints of bacon and a nice balance of oak." Bacon! I talked everyone around me into trying this wine. I think Virginia Wine Girl needs to explore bacon and wine pairings next.

Our tour ended, but we extended our Napa experience by visiting a local culinary delight, Mustards Grill . Cindy Pawlcyn is the owner of three popular restaurants in Napa: Mustards Grill, Go Fish, and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. We did not see Cindy in the restaurant that night, but the general manager and wine director checked in on us which I thought was a nice touch. (Too bad this guy didn't stop by that night.) No reservations and crowded for a Friday night, we were happy to be seated at the bar. The bartender was friendly and the food was tasty. I was a little wine-o-ed out, so moved to a semi-local brew, Anchor Liberty Ale.

Bellies full and a little tired, but 90's music still pumping, we returned to the hotel for the evening. It's important to eat, stay hydrated, and rest while doing blog research. Next entry: Sparkling Wine Day!