Saturday, October 3, 2015

Big Cork Vineyard

Big Cork Vineyards facility
With a name like Big Cork,we were expecting "big" things as we drove into the vineyard and winery during early August 2015. We were not disappointed.  

Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Maryland, is situated about an hour and a half from Baltimore, and worth the drive. The scenery along the route is a pleasant change from the flatness of the Chesapeake Bay area, but better than that, the hospitality and the wine offerings are excellent.

Follow the Signs
We had heard about the winery from friends who had visited and were really impressed and so we decided to head out for the day to visit a previously unknown (to us) winery. 

The facility is first-class with a great restaurant and some of the best Maryland wines that we have experienced. The combination of a well-planned facility with very enjoyable wines with a nice restaurant seems to be the combination that other wineries and vineyards are using for success and it certainly had all come together at Big Cork.

Big Cork Tasting Room
The tasting room is expansive and inviting. There is ample room to enjoy the wines at a very well thought out tasting bar and the room has a pleasantly modern motif. This is what a tasting room should be prepared to do: immerse the visitor into the wines and into the entire operation of the vineyard. The view of the barrel room provides a great backdrop while sampling the vintages. 
Big Cork Barrel Room

We were impressed with the entire range of wines produced. The whites, the roses, and the reds. There were eleven wines on the tasting sheet the day we visited and between both of us we tasted each of them and found solid enjoyable wines that should appeal to a wide variety of wine drinkers and oenophiles. 

The 2013 Viognier was an especially nice drinking wine with a good $24 price point. The aromas of apricot and orange made this an especially enjoyable wine.
Assortment of Big Cork wines

The vineyards' most unique wine was labeled Russian Kiss (2013/$20) and represented a blend of an unnamed Croatian varietal with muscat. It was very floral in nature and enjoyable to experience. We especially enjoy the use of lesser known varietals in wines to help expand understanding that there are more than just a few different grapes used to create wine and that each one has something to offer in the process.

Lunch at the Cafe
The 2012 Cabernet Franc, $22, was, in our estimation, one of the best we have tasted from the entire region. We thoroughly enjoyed it and even ordered some to have with our lunch. The wine was complex and the addition of 7 percent Petite Verdot really enhanced the wine and brought out the peppery and earthy tones. We have placed this wine on our short list for Thanksgiving this year.

Another interesting and enjoyable wine was the 2014 Syrah Rose, $16, which presented raspberries and strawberries and was the embodiment of a light, easy drinking afternoon wine. 

RECOMMENDATION: Put this vineyard on your day trip list. Plan at least an hour and more if you are in the mood for some food. Big Cork is Big!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Maryland: Go West to Charis

Charis Winery
Cumberland, Maryland
We had the opportunity to visit off to Cumberland, Maryland, and were surprised to find a winery at the trail head of the C&O Towpath Bike Trail. 

Being oenophiles, we had to check out Charis Winery before beginning the trek back to the Baltimore area. 
Charis Wines

We were glad that we stopped in and visited. We were met by Chuck, the owner who is proud of his winery which is showcases wines with variety and creativity ranging from crisp dry and sweet whites to uncharacteristically deep red. 

The tasting notes document 15 wines representing a wide variety of tastes and interests. Additionally, we were able to get a barrel tasting of a couple wines yet to be released and one surprise wine--that we highly recommend but will not divulge the secret. It is not for sale but definitely engenders some interesting conversation. The grapes are sourced from Maryland and West Virginia--which is local to Cumberland.

We most enjoyed the Pinot Noir ($19.95). It is a non-vintage offering that has some unique and very enjoyable characteristics. It is very dark and deep--uncharacteristic for a Pinot Noir, officially it would be medium body. It has spice and a definite black cherry nose. The tannins, acidity and mineralogy are all well balanced and there is a silky feeling in the mouth. It is not a Pinot Noir for those who are looking for the perfect representation of the grape, but it is a very drinkable wine worth enjoying. 

The Trinity Dry was a nice blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The wine had nice structure and a very nice nose. 

The selection of white offerings was, as expected, one of the highlights of the visit. The winery offers a white wine for seemingly every palate and taste. From dry to sweet, each offering has something unique to present. 

Two of the whites could easily become everyday wines: Sweet Dreams and Sunset. 

Sweet Dreams is a Moscato with juicy fruit and flavors that are bursting. This wine appeals to the sweeter side of life and is especially good chilled on a hot day around the pool or sipping on the porch. The Sunset is an un-oaked Chardonnay based wine with peach and apricot flavors but none of the buttery taste or feel that characterize many of the wines produced form this grape.

RECOMMENDATION: A must stop to enjoy Maryland Wines. We enjoyed our visit to the winery and recommend it as a reason to visit Cumberland, Maryland, and then you will be in a good position to enjoy many of the other sights and activities in the area. And say hello to Chuck!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, May 31, 2015

WineFest at St. Michael's 2015

Wine Tents at St Michael's
During the last weekend of April, we attended the WineFest at St Michael's, Maryland. It had been a few years since we last visited the beautiful town on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to enjoy a weekend of wine and education. 

We were not disappointed. The WineFest has grown significantly from its prior iteration of two large tents in a park along the harbor into a city-wide event. The growth allows for those attending to be able to enjoy the beauty of the town and the offerings of the local merchants along with a days of wine tasting and education. 

Some observations:

The parking plan works! The bus service is convenient, but the venues are close enough that we walked everywhere. 

The tents, especially at the larger venues, get very busy on Saturday afternoon. If you can, plan to spend the additional day, Sunday, and enjoy smaller crowds.
Chris in a Wine Venue at St Michael's

The smartphone application is good. It could be improved by incorporating an ordering service to avoid having to stand in line and place wine orders in each tent.

A centralized pick-up service for wine would be an improvement. This could be a crime through affair where the wines are pulled and ready when people pull up.

The town is beautiful and definitely worth one or two days to explore and enjoy wines.

Don't miss the Maryland wines!

Take time to talk to the vendors. They have a lot of great information about the wines and the regions they come from. The time spent at the fest should be educational as well as enjoyable. 

RECOMMENDATION: This is a great event to sample a large variety of wines and find a new favorite or expand the palate. It is fun and the great value for the price.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sheldrake Point Winery -- A Gem on Cayuga Lake

From the Back Parking Lot
 of Sheldrake Point Winery
 looking towards Cayuga Lake
We had the opportunity to revisit a favorite winery on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail in the Finger Lakes of New York. We were definitely excited about the current offerings from Sheldrake Point Winery in Ovid, New York. 

Sheldrake Point has been a favorite winery of our for many years. Located on the west shore of Cayuga Lake, it is a short drive from Ithaca and is very scenic. The winery offers a good variety of wines suitable for all situations. The staff is friendly and helpful and the tasting room has a bright, openness to it which matches the character of the wines being produced. 

Our house white wine for a few years now has been the Luckystone White, at $12 has a great price point is fantastic and the wine has a character that pleases many palates. It is a bright blend of Riesling (49%),  Pinot Gris (33%), Chardonnay (12%), and Gew├╝rztraminer (6%). These are all great Central New York grapes and produce bright, full flavors. It gets a score of 84.7 in Cellar Tracker--which is a solid score for a good all around white blend.

The 2014 Dry Rose was another great find at the winery during our recent visit there. We found that at $14, the price point on this wine is very good. The Rose is a Cabernet Franc Rose and the bouquet of the wine is floral with nice firm strawberry flavors. The wine is a pleasant drinking wine and it should go well with a variety of foods and cheeses.

The find of the visit, however, was the newly released 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. I know what you are thinking--but it is New York! Don't be fooled--this is a full bodied CabSav with a great nose and full flavor taste accompanied by supple tannins and a medium finish. I was impressed. The tasting notes read: Plush with aromas of smoke and stewed fruit. Flavors of sweet oak and plum interact with an herbaceous and savory quality through the finish of the wine. At $37, it is not for everyone, but it is very nice drinking right now and I believe that in two or three years this is going to be a very special wine. 

RECOMMENDATION: This is a Finger Lakes winery that is not to be missed. There is something for every palate and the view of the lake is worth the visit even for the designated driver!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Wine Violation -- Cow in the Winery

Wine Violation
Cow in the Tasting Room
Recently, we noticed a wine violation in a tasting room at a winery we were visiting.

It was not a problem with the winery--it was, in fact, a problem with one of the people visiting and tasting the wines being offered.

The violation? A cow!

I guess the bearer of the cow was dreaming of turning milk into wine.

There is a cow purse in the image as well--that technically is not a violation since it is functional.  Bringing a stuffed animal to experience the joys of wine tasting is NOT recommended. It takes up space on the counter which other wine tasters could use and it could lead to a greater wine violation: alcohol abuse, if wine were to be spilled as a result of contact with the cow!

Keep the bovines outside!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, February 9, 2015

Blending Great Wines is Hard Work

In Keswick's Barrel Room
Preparing for the Blending

It happened again this year. We enjoyed a day at one of our favorite Virginia wineries blending wine and having a great time while learning more about how good wines come together. 

This year's edition of the Keswick Vineyards Consensus Blending is now complete. We competed on the next to last day with our friends and attempted to blend a winning wine from raw materials.

The Wines and the Tools
This year the wines being blended were all 2014 vintages of Syrah, Touriga, Chambourcin, and Norton. We were impressed with the depth and color of the Touring, Syrah and Chambourcin. The Norton was definitely a light bodied wine that packed a lot of fruit and acidity. It was a lot like cranberry juice. All in all, my evaluation of the 2014 vintage is pretty good. The wines are generally intense with nice color and a richness rarely seen in Virginia.

One of the greatest benefits of being a member of the Keswick Vineyards Wine Club is having the ability to participate in this annual event and go behind the scenes to learn the hard truth about wine making and wine blending. It is not romantic, but it is hard work and after you taste 18 different blends it is difficult keep them all straight and to keep the tongue cleansed enough to sense the differences between the offerings. Did we mention that the barrel room is cold? Kept in the mid-50's we got cold soaked by the end of the day--but it was all worth it.

After roughly two and a half hours of blending, we had our best blend. It was a wine composed of 39 percent Syrah, 43 percent Touriga, and 18 percent Chambourcin. I kept trying to get a percent or two of Norton in the blend, but it just didn't work. 
Wine Stained Hands after a Day of Blending

The fun part of blending is realizing how even a percent of a particular wine can make a big difference in the flavor, the nose, and the mouth feel of a wine.

Our group of six thought we had a really good wine--and our assessment was confirmed although it came up short against another blend and we came in second for the day. During the blind tasting part of the day, I have to admit that I rated the winning wine as the best of the day and our creation, was tied for second. 

My recommendation? Find a winery with an active wine club and get involved. It will increase you knowledge about wine in ways that you could never imagine.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, January 11, 2015

DeJon Vineyards

It was a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon when we arrived at DeJon Vineyards in Hydes, Maryland. We were definitely not disappointed, however, as the gray and overcast day quickly transformed into a pleasant and enjoyable experience.

This winery is small and friendly. On Saturday afternoons they have a food truck for lunch fare and live music playing in the tasting room both of which combine to create a festive and welcoming atmosphere in which  to sample wine. 

And the wines are definitely worth tasting.  Friendly and knowledgeable people staffed the tasting area and were able to answer all of my questions. As an added benefit, they were bottling in the building next door and allowed us great access to the completely manual operation. This is wine making at its basic level and that makes it all the better.

The tasting fee was a reasonable $5. All of the juice used to create the wines is presently purchased from other wine growing regions, including the Finger Lakes of New York, Maryland, and Chile. 

The price point of the wines is great. The whites are solid wines. The 2011 Chardonnay is unoaked with flavors of apples, pears, and vanilla. The 2012 Vidal Blanc was exceptionally crisp with citrus and bright flavors.

The highlight of the tasting was the Dragonfly 2013. The tasting notes indicate that this full-bodied, Bordeaux styled, Maryland wine offers a luscious blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and chambourcin grapes. At $25, this is a good price point for this wine.

To warm us up on the cold rainy Saturday a mulled version of Festivus 2011 was being served. It was a delicious way to warm the spirits and complimented the ribs I enjoyed for lunch from the on site food truck.
Bottling the 2014 Chambourcin

We are extremely excited about the chambourcin that was being bottled on the day we visited. It was a 2014 sourced from the Finger Lakes region of New York. We sampled the wine shortly after it was bottled and found it enjoyable, but are waiting for about 6 weeks before doing a full review on the wine. 

DeJon Vineyards is very excited about 2015 because they will be bottling a chambourcin from vines grown on the estate. We are excited as well because chambourcin is one of our favorite grapes--it blends well, makes a very fine varietal, and port-style and dessert wines. It is an underrated versatile grape that grows well in this region.

Recommendation: Visit this vineyard and enjoy the wines and the atmosphere. This is a gem of a winery right in Baltimore county!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD