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 drinking...um, I mean research...um, 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!

The Napa Valley Trip, Part 1

Years later, I can now appreciate the charm of growing up in a small town. Part of that charm includes the relationships formed with friends from childhood. Attending grade school through high school with the same people enviably brings you lifelong friends. I was thrilled when my long time friend Charity invited me on a last minute trip to Napa, CA. I was just as excited about the opportunity to catch up with her as I was the chance to see California wine country.

It had been years since we had spent time together, but we managed to pick up right where we left off. (top photo: high school prom where one can never have enough hairspray. right photo: one of our many Gretna adventures. A story perhaps for another blog entry)

Charity had been invited to a small wedding in Napa and since her husband had to work, I stepped in as eager travel companion. This was a brief excursion, so I did minimal research on places to go and things to see. Upon landing in San Francisco we decided to take the driving route that would allow us to see a few top tourist attractions. Our only method of navigation was a GPS application on a BlackBerry and text messaging friends. Who needs plans or research when you have a BlackBerry?!

After a few hours of touring Fishermen's Wharf, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to wine country. Hits from the 90's set the tone for our weekend as we drove north in our red Ford Focus rental. Our first glance at Napa Valley was at sunset which
couldn't have been more beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised to see the area has remained rather rural despite the fact this is a world renowned travel destination. The landscape is a bit rugged at times, yet still beautiful in its western glory. We finished our first evening in Napa with drinks and sushi from Morimoto. I kept it local with a glass of California wine, Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon Crazy Creek Vineyard 2007. Charity had a shiso mojito: interesting and tasty cocktail of rain vodka, micro shiso, lemon cucumber, japanese sugar syrup. We limited our drinks to one each since our internal east coast clocks were catching up to us. We had to get some sleep for tomorrow's wine country tour. Stay tune for my next entry to learn about the four small family wineries we visited on Day 2 of our Napa Valley trip.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Virginia Wine Tasting Room Pourers,

This weekend I had an interesting experience during a wine tasting. The tasting room was packed due to the holiday weekend. Fortunately, I am known for my patience and understanding in such matters. A group of only two, it was clear that we would be joining the nice people who had just entered as well. No problem, we like meeting new people. The pourer shuffled us to a nice spot and indicated that he usually doesn’t work in the tasting room but decided to help out since they were so busy. Which begged the question, “What do you do for the winery?” Some sort of marketing/desk job guy. Humm…this could be interesting learning about the wine and the business side of things. Unfortunately, this guy was terrible. First of all, he was trying to work two other large groups at the same time. With this level of multitasking, he provided very little information about the wine beyond what was already on the tasting notes. He left us unattended for longer periods of time since we were chatting amongst ourselves so well. And thank goodness for our new friends, they had been to the winery many times and were avid wine drinkers. They were really fun and interesting folks which made the experience actually quite positive despite how I seem to be complaining about the whole thing.

Then Marketing Guy did what I hate the most...Wine Snobbery. I can live with the lack of attention, I can handle the wait between pours, but I absolutely cannot handle Wine Snobbery. I have seen this happen when someone asks a novice question about wine, and the response is a petentious look of disdain. In these two separate incidents, at two separate wineries, my tasting buddy merely asked a question about the grapes used in the wine. While granted even I knew the answer to these questions, it is only because I have recently made an effort in learning about wine.

Let’s try a math analogy. If you are on the beginning level of arithmetic and working your way up to calculus, you can’t be expected to know much if anything about calculus. And if you decide that you want and need more calculus in your life, then you might begin to study and surround yourself with others who know and love calculus too.

Today, I call out to the Virginia Wine Industry to put a stop to Wine Snobbery. This practice is such a disservice to your industry. If a guest to your tasting room enters on a beginner level, this should be welcomed as an opportunity to educate and spread the word about terrific wine located in Virginia. This is not only about educating others and promoting Virginia Wine, but remember this is also a business. If a beginner has a great experience and happens learns more about YOUR WINE at YOUR WINERY, they might BUY YOUR WINE and they might tell others about YOUR GREAT WINE. To me this concept is not, high level calculus.

In these two separate incidents, I did not buy wine (that day) from these wineries merely on principle. Your wine was great, but there is other interesting Virginia Wine to be bought just a few miles down the road.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Simple Indulgence

It seems that our darling four year old has found a new game called "Pushing Mommy's Buttons". After two straight days of "Pushing Mommy's Buttons", it became apparent to my husband that he may need to step in and provide some relief. I spent several hours browsing the local shops for bargains in the clearance section: an unpretentious luxury not allowed in the company of a small child. I prepared a delicious dinner sans a rugrat under my feet, while grooving to the best hits of the 80's.

I knew it would have to be a red wine to soothe my weary soul and stand up to our ribeyes searing on the grill. As the sole wine drinker of the evening, I didn't want to open something that I thought would be better served with guests or shared with friends. I wanted to open something that if terrible, I could walk away without feeling a sense of loss. I selected Hunting Creek's Indulgence which I purchased this summer on the Southern Virginia Wine Trail excursion.

Gee, I sound insulting, but in fact I recalled liking this wine very much. I was only skeptical because the top of the foil had randomly fallen offer shortly after purchase. The cork appeared a little too far down into the bottle and there was some slight leakage on the cork. I knew it would be a total bummer to find it ruined, but if bad I could throw it out and try another.

This blend of 75% merlot and 25% petit verdot, was exactly what I needed to finish the day. It was incredibly smooth tasting and easy to drink. I enjoyed the first glass on our screened porch during a brief summer rain shower . You will not find this wine in your local shop. This Virginia vineyard is a small family operation that only attends a few select wine festivals. With the rarity of finding their wine, I feel like I have uncovered a little Virginia wine secret. And I didn't feel the least bit guilty for having it all to myself. It was a perfect day of simple indulgence.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Virginia Wine of the Month Club – The Gift that Keeps on Giving!

Perhaps one of the best gifts I’ve received has been from my husband and sister. This Christmas they purchased me a year-long membership to the Virginia Wine of the Month Club. Seven months into the club, and I still get excited about my wine in the mail! The week before its arrival I usually begin to wonder what type of wine from which great Virginia winery will be selected for me. Roughly every third Tuesday of the month, the brown UPS truck pays our house a visit with two bottles of Virginia Wine: one red and one white.

In order to verify that the club member is 21 years of age or older, you must be present to sign for your package when the UPS guy arrives. One month, I knew I would be out of town and I did manage to reroute my package. But was denied the second time I tried to reroute my wine. Perhaps it seemed a little bit sketchy to UPS and the Virginia Wine of the Month Club. But are teenagers really that industrious enough to attempt fooling the Virginia Wine of the Month Club for alcohol? However, I certainly understand they must abide by the rules and thus to my great disappointment I have missed several shipments and forced to wait the next day or even the day AFTER next. Once after coming home to find the “sorry we missed you” sticker on my door, I drove around the neighborhood in hopes that I would spot the brown truck. On another such occasion, I spotted an UPS truck delivering a package to a nearby auto parts store. I quickly made a left hand turn, went into the store, found the UPS guy and asked him if he had my wine by chance. He did not. I bet that UPS is as equally annoyed with me that I am not home to sign, not to mention the fact that my crazy dog shows his teeth and begins to foam at the mouth at the mere sight of his truck.

The selections have been from wineries that I have not yet had a chance to visit or even taste. I love reading the included newsletter which has interesting details about the wine and vineyard. I keep my newsletters and make notes on how I felt about the wine. They never send bad wine, but occasionally I’ve run across something that didn’t quite excite my palate. Conversely, I’ve discovered a few wines I would buy again and again. July’s selection, 2009 Charval, from Tarara Winery is one such discovery. This is a really light, easy to drink white wine for everyone to enjoy. The type of wine you want to have on hand for any occasion. I highly recommend that if you love wine and want to learn more about Virginia Wine consider a membership or give the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Spit or Not to Spit

After an intense four weeks of orienting new freshmen and transfer students, I knew it was would be time for another great winery excursion. I was again joined by two motivated research assistants; my sister and her best friend. We drove to the western side of Charlottesville to visit King Family Vineyards, Pollak Vineyards, and Veritas Vineyard & Winery. We packed a delicious picnic filled with fresh summer vegetables, accompanied by a box of fried chicken purchased from Wayside Takeout. I learned about this legendary dive from Garden and Gun magazine. Since we vicariously view ourselves as writers for a great southern magazine, we knew it was a must. They are conveniently located and didn’t disappoint us with their fried goodness.

After a brief unintended tour of downtown Charlottesville and a quick jaunt on I-64, we arrived to the beautiful grounds and charming tasting room of King Family Vineyards. Their wine selection offers something for everybody! I thought I was wowed last summer by Barboursville, but I must say King Family Vineyards impressed me as much if not perhaps more. I really enjoyed all of their wine including their dessert wine, Loreley 2008. We all agreed the Cabernet Franc 2009 was a favorite among the reds. For our picnic, we picked a perfect pairing with their Brut 2007 (not part of the tasting) and Crose 2009, their rosé with a cute play on words using Crozet, VA. A very close runner up was Roseland, a Chardonnay/Viognier Blend. I had a limited budget for this trip, so I did not buy as much as I would have liked, but I knew I had to have the Cabernet Franc and made great mental notes for future purchases. It was hard to leave without more wine in hand. Fortunately, my research assistants helped contribute to the local economy with their purchases.

Just down the way, you’ll find Pollak Vineyards. We really had a lot of fun at Pollak Vineyard. In this very cool tasting room, our pourer made us feel really comfortable and at ease. We took the opportunity to ask questions about how to better taste our wine. We held the wine in our mouths and attempted to slurp without looking ridiculous. We still need more practice. I really enjoyed their 2008 Petit Verdot and purchased a bottle of their 2009 Pinot Gris.

Our final destination was Veritas Vineyard and Winery. Another beautiful location! By the time we arrived, I was feeling the heat from our humid summer day and feeling the wine. I remember very little and embarrassed to say that I had to bow out of the tasting at some point. I guess this why professionals opt to spit. I’ve never understood spitting until now. I know I would lack grace in this area, but then again I’m not sure I appeared so graceful when I bowed out of the tasting either. You can choose your tasting by white wine flight, red wine flight or showcase tasting. I bet they have some really nice wine. I noticed this weekend that our local wine shop carries several of their varieties. I'm excited that I can try some of their wine...again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interesting Things Happening in Wine

Now that I have made wine a hobby and passion of mine, I often run across interesting articles or my pal Count Dakkar sends me links to new gadgets in wine. Most notably has been the recent location announcement of the 2011 American Wine Bloggers Conference. Who knew the wine bloggers had their own conference?!? Next July, Charlottesville will play host to hundreds of wine bloggers, industry types and hacks like me for an event that is sure to include a major wine hangover. The conference cost is fairly reasonable, so perhaps I will attend and start taking my little blog to the next level. The agenda and program content might have you signing up to attend as well.

This summer Virginia Wine has hit mainstream media. The word is getting out folks, so if you live in Virginia, but haven’t taken much interest in the great wines offered, you need to do so!
Wine Spectator Article of Virginia Viogniers:

Virginia Wine makes the Today show!
Jefferson Vineyards

Kluge Cru and Sparkling Wine
(Warning: This one is a little more painful as you have to sit through Kathy Lee and Hoda gabbing.)

Totally random and in French...
How to open a wine bottle with a shoe video clip.

There is so much to say about this article! I didn’t realize buying alcohol was so difficult in Pennsylvania. And I thought Virginia took their liquor laws seriously!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Wine Trail Less Traveled By…

Armed with a Virginia Wine Map and our dad’s GPS, my sister and I set out for another winery adventure. This time we decided to hit a few locations on the Southern Virginia Wine Trail. Despite having lived in Pittsylvania Country nearly 18 years of my life, I had not crossed the county line to explore much of Halifax County, Virginia. On our recent travels we learned that Halifax Co. remains mostly rural farm land.

Our first stop was Bright Meadows Farm Vineyard and Winery. We actually thought the GPS was programmed for another vineyard, but we knew we had reached an important destination because the small 117 year old restored barn had brightly colored flags and signage to alert you of their presence. After ringing the old cast iron farm bell, we were greeted by a sweaty, shirtless farmhand who quickly ran off to retrieve one of the owners, Ms. Archer. We explored the surrounding landscaping which was creatively mulched with wine corks. The tasting room is very small, but certainly allows for a more personal tasting. We very much enjoyed learning about their wine making process. They try to avoid using pesticides and strive to live a natural organic lifestyle. Using their wine corks as mulch is just one way they try to do their part with recycling efforts.

They offer ten different wines for tasting. I was pleasantly surprised by their wine. These wines are simple and easy to drink. They offer several fruit wines such as Blackberry or Apple. Normally I would shy away from these, but I must admit these were lovely. They do not add any additional flavorings, so they are very pure and not too sweet. I purchased the Blackberry as well as BAG which is a blend of blackberry, apple and concord grapes. There is nothing too complex about these wines, but they are fun to drink on a summer afternoon. I also purchased their Burley Red, a full-bodied red made from Chambourcin grapes. These wines are very reasonably prices from $9-14 dollars per bottle.

En route to our next stop we discovered Halifax County is home to a small Amish community. Who would have thought it?? I must admit this took us by surprise, but not nearly as much as the Historic Noland Village. We had no idea what were viewing when we stumbled upon the restored village, but later discovered it was a re-creation of a small community in the mid-1800’s. Again, who knew? They hold a popular country fair day in the spring. Just around the bend from Noland Village, you’ll find our next stop, Hunting Creek Vineyards.

We traveled down a dirt road, and began wonder if we were going in the right direction. Then we spotted the vines and noticed a nice gentlemen working in the crops alongside several friendly dogs. Hunting Creek Vineyards is another small family owned operation. The tasting room is still a work in progress (see photo) decorated with great local artwork.
We tasted five wines: four red and one white. Again these wines are simple, but perhaps a bit more complex than Bright Meadows. Again, we had the opportunity to really chat with the owner and learn about their process. The owners are creative in all respects of their business. Notables include: Decadence, a mix of Petit Verdot, Viognier skins and 5% Viognier wine, also Repentance made from 80% Cabernet Fran and 20% Cranberry. I purchased their Viognier and Inguldence a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Petit Verdot, at $15.00 per bottle.

At both wineries, our hosts had to do a quick check of their opened tasting bottles to make sure the wine hadn’t gone bad. You can imagine our concerns. Wineries with high visitor traffic, such as Barboursville, really never have that problem, but it turns out that doesn’t mean these smaller operations make bad wine. We had great discussions with the owners on how winemaking in Southside Virginia has great economic potential for the area. With the down trodden tobacco industry that once flourished in Halifax Co., I hope the wine making industry can recognize the great agricultural and agritourism potential of Southside Virginia. We ended our day in town at a great local restaurant, Molasses Grill. Since these wineries, along with their area counterparts are very small, call or e-mail ahead for appointments prior to your visit.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cupcake & Wine Pairings - Try It!!

A dear friend just recently decided to turn her passion for baking into a small business opportunity. Fortunately, her baking passion happens to be one of my favorite desserts - cupcakes. I've always preferred the small cake delights to the customary birthday/wedding cakes.

This weekend I placed my first order with Kind Kupcakes for one dozen red velvet. After a fabulous Sunday brunch hosted by hokiehale, I devoured my first cake. It was all I had truly hoped it would be. I opted to save my second for an after dinner treat. I paired my red velvet all natural cupcake with DelFosse 2007 Cabernet Fran. This wine selection was sent to me in April as part of the Virginia Wine of the Month Club. I've been so excited to try it, I didn't really think about how it might actually go with a red velvet cupcake. As I sipped my wine and savored my cupcake, I glanced at my VA Wine Club Newsletter. They suggest pairing this wine with hearty roast. Odd..no mention of red velvet cupcakes.

I know very little if anything about wine pairing. Generally, I just go with a feeling when I select wine. "I feel red" "I feel white" "I feel crazy, let's hit the sparkling wines" While this pairing could be criticized by more experienced wine drinkers, I say to them don't knock until you try it! This red velvet cupcake was not sickeningly sweet or overly rich. It was incredibly light and full of flavor. Despite the lack of thought put into my pairing, I found it to match rather nicely with a heavy Cab Franc. Or maybe it was just the fact that I really like cupcakes and I really like red wine, so how could I go wrong!

I've thought of a few other cupcake wine pairings I'd like to try using Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc. I think this would make for a really fun cocktail party!! Kind Kupcakes makes a heck of a cupcake, so checkout their website to see if you can think of your own unique ways to pair wine with cupcakes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cheers To All The Moms!

Mother's Day is approaching and what better way to recharge your batteries than enjoying a bottle of Virgina Wine along with a free pass to an isolated location; preferably one with room service and spa treatments. It is upon this Mother's Day that I reflect about my own life as a mother. I believe this is undoubtedly the hardest job in the world. I don't care if it sounds cliche and it has been said many times before...but it is TRUE! Whether you are a stay at home mommy or a working mom such as myself, what you really want from time to time is to be left alone. That doesn't necessarily mean a night away from the family in five star hotel. These days I'd settle for a quiet day at home with the knowledge that I will NOT be responsible for anything pertaining to 'caregiving'. If you are afforded such a luxury, I'd recommend you treat yourself to a full bottle of sparking wine or rose. Something easy-going that you can drink in its entirety without passing out or feeling guilty about your sudden loss of control.

I recently discovered Villa Appalaccia's Rose. It is incredibly light and not overly sweet. Villa Appalaccia is a small family establishment off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd. I've always felt this vineyard has been overshadowed by the more prominent neighboring winery, Chateau Morrisette. In a recent visit, they basically explained to me that they prefer their small size. They also have no intentions of expanding into the social networking arena beyond their basic website. If you are in the Floyd area, make plans to visit both vineyards, but check the hours of operation beforehand. They also attend many of the wine festivals so stop by for taste. I left with a box full of reds, one Pinot Grigio Reserve and of course, two bottles of their Rose. Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Love by the Glass – Virginia Wine Week March 22-28th

Kudos to the Virginia wine industry for campaigning across the state to create the first ever Virginia Wine Week, Love by the Glass. The intention is not just to promote Virginia wineries, but encouraging restaurants and wine shops throughout the Commonwealth to serve Virginia wine. As I explore and discover more about great wine offered by our state, I began to wonder why these great wines are not easily found in restaurants and retailers. I had assumed this was mostly due to the fact our wineries are smaller operations with limited staff to dedicate to the larger sales and marketing aspects of their business. While that might somewhat be true, it turns out to be more of a political issue than I realized.

Our state legislature has had a long history of regulating alcohol to its taxpayers. Upon the repeal of prohibition, Virginia adopted a three-tier distribution system: 1) producer 2) distributor 3) retailer. In the 80’s, Virginia recognized that wine was not so scary, perhaps even profitable, and thus allowed wineries to self-distribute their wine directly to retailers. And over the course of two decades, the wine industry really began to flourish in Virginia. But from what I can gather, some out-of-state wineries (I would bet North Carolina) filed suit in federal court because they felt Virginia was violating its own alcohol distribution laws. But let’s face it, these out-of-state folks were really just pissed that they didn’t get to distribute their wine directly to retailers within our state. In 2006, wineries were prohibited to self-distribute their own wine forcing the use of a distributor. With the encouragement of wine lobbyists, (now that’s an issue I can get behind), our General Assembly has attempted to assist the distribution problem for small wineries with the creation of Virginia Winery Distribution Company (VWDC). This is non-profit entity assists in the legal distribution of wine. From what I understand, this system is far from perfect at this time, but sounds like a step in the right direction considering the legal/political issues involved. (If you care to understand more, check out my two primary sources)

So what does any of this have to do with Virginia Wine Week? If you are a restaurant owner, retailer or just a wine lover, then serve/sell/drink Virginia wine!!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Does Dave Matthews Drink His Own Wine?

I love Dave Matthews and I love wine, but I don’t love Dave Matthew’s wine. But the jaunt to Blenheim Vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail is still recommended. The tasting room is unique and designed by Dave Matthews. You can enjoy tastings while taking in the gorgeous views from their huge picture window. Interestingly enough, the vines in the foreground of this mountainous view are actually from the nearby Kluge Estate Vineyard, not Blenheim. (Blenheim’s vines are a bit to the left.) I very much enjoyed learning about their property, winery and process. Not to mention their Seven Oaks Wines have really cool labels. (Visit their website to learn more)

Now to be fair, this wine is not terrible or anything, it just seems a little young as if it is still coming into its own. I would like to see reviews on the wines from Dave Matthews himself. Personal tidbits like which his favorite, which does he prefer to give as gifts, serve at dinner parties, etc. Let’s face it, they’re called Blenhiem, but how many DMB questions do they have to field each day from visitors. I was refraining from asking any questions myself for fear I would look like the girl who wears the t-shirt of the band she’s going to see! The wine is fairly inexpensive for VA wine, so I picked up a few bottles. I recently opened Blenheim Farm Chardonnay 2006 and Seven Oaks Merlot 2008. The Chardonnay was tasty, but gave me a heck of a headache the next day. As for the Merlot…I did not like it. And yes, I had tasted it and then proceeded to buy an entire bottle of it (as my husband pointed out). But I think sometimes you just need to re-examine a wine subsequent to ‘tasting day buzz’. Or maybe this is just a peril of having an equally young palate. Visit this winery if you get the chance and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wine Preservation System

There is nothing like getting a new gadget to encourage more wine drinking. Too often I shy away from opening a bottle of wine since my husband does not drink wine at all. I have no issues about drinking alone, but the waste factor disheartens me. It seems this psychological issue dates back to high school/college days when the waste of alcohol was abhorred and condemned by all. Even now as a thirty-something adult with a job, I cringe and look away when pouring wine (even bad wine) down the drain. This new thingamabob claims to keep wine for up to nine days and even has a day counter! I think nine days is a bit much to ask of any wine, but thank goodness for the day counter because I would never remember if it has been five days or nine days. Stay tuned for a review.

Preservation Update:
So I’ve tested the gadget and can report…it works! It sucks the air out of the bottle like a vacuum to slow the oxidation process. You insert the rubber stopper and set the counter.
Much to my surprise it kept the wine fresh for up to five days. Just for fun, I kept a bottle for nine days. The wine was flat, but not disgustingly so.