Friday, April 15, 2016

Saving the Grapes

Keswick Vineyards Preparing for the Cold
During our recent early April weekend to the Charlottesville, Virginia, area; home to the Monticello AVA, we discovered the extreme measures to which vineyards resort in an effort to save the vines in advance of freezing temperatures.
Fire Breathing Machine

All too often, we as wine drinkers forget that wine making is agriculture and as such the growers are subjected to the extremes of the environment and the weather. When adverse weather arrives, without intervention, the crop might be lost. That would be catastrophic for many wineries. In that case, desperate measures are adopted. 

Propane Windmill
Helo over Keswick Preparing for Nightfall
As oenophiles become more knowledgeable about the difficulties facing grape growers, we can appreciate the final product more and understand that great wine is neither an assured outcome nor an accident.

On the Battle Lines Combatting the Freeze
We want to thank Keswick Vineyards for giving us the insight into the hard work that it takes to try to protect the vines from frost damage. The owners and staff pulled a number of "all-nighters" as did the owners and staffs of many other wineries in the region to save the wines. 

We found it interesting that just 90 miles north, bud break had not occurred and the vineyards were not particularly worried about the cold weather. What a difference a few miles can make.

Hopefully the too cold weather is over and we will be able to enjoy some very nice 2016 vintage Monticello AVA wines in the future.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Finding Consensus

Cindy Schornberg Holding the
Virginia Governor's Cup for the Best Wine in Virginia for 2016
The time for the annual trek to Keswick Vineyards to compete in the 2015 Consensus blending event arrived last weekend. Our intrepid team gathered at the vineyard during Saturday's late morning hours to blend an award winning wine. You may be wondering why it is the 2015 Consensus blending event and not the 2016? Because the wine will be a 2015 vintage.

Steven Barnard the Winemaker
Helping the Teams

Blending wines from raw material is both a fun and sometimes frustrating experience. This year's selections were all 2015 wines from Keswick and consisted of Merlot, Chambourcin, Touriga, and Norton. There were limits, however, the final blend could contain no more than 20 percent Chambourcin and 25 percent Norton. The Merlot and Touriga were unlimited.

There were 11 teams competing on the last day of the six days of competition. The winning wine of the day will compete against the other five daily winners to become Keswick Vineyards 2015 Consensus Wine.
Our Team

Of course, the first requirement of blending is to taste and describe the raw ingredients. Each of the wines were tasted and our team assessed its strengths and weaknesses. As a group, all of the wines this year had good color--and obtaining a nice, deep color was not a problem as it had been in other years.
The Formula Sheet

The next decision was what to use for the base. Our team decided upon the Merlot and based upon the flavors we decided to use Chambourcin to help improve the Merlot. These wines together were a bit acidic and we added Touriga for balance and some Norton at the end to increase the whole mouth experience. The team's final blend, after only two hours of blending was 77% Merlot, 15% Chambourcin, 6% Touriga, and 2% Norton. I know the image would suggest that a different blend was the final winner, but that was a final check before deciding to go with an earlier blend.

The team took a slight detour and worked with a Touriga base for a couple of blends, but decided that the Merlot based wine was a better approach.

Our Team in the Barrel Room
Our final blend was very nice. It was a medium-bodied wine with a light fruity nose showing hints of summer berries and contrasted by some smokiness and cherries on the tongue. It had a persistent finish and a well balanced full-mouth feel. It was bit acidic but there were some mild tannins supporting the experience. This was not a wine to be cellared for many years, but to be enjoyed tomorrow, although a year or two in the bottle would have certainly helped it all blend together. We liked it.

Suffice it to say, our wine did not win the competition as we had hoped. A Touriga-based wine was the winner of the blind competition. The winner was very dark and full-bodied with the ability to be cellared for a few years. Interestingly, the winner was our teams lowest rated wine.

On this Saturday, our team was reminded that creating a wine that we like is no assurance that others will appreciate it.

While we did not win the day, we had a lot of fun being together and continuing to expand our knowledge of wine making.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Cross post from A Bob's Life

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fauquier County Wine Tasting & Competition

We attended the 2nd Annual Fauquier County Wine Tasting and Competition at the end of February 2016. 

Program and Tasting Notes
February 27, 2016
The tasting and competition was hosted in the beautiful estate Airlie in Warrenton, Virginia.  All of the wines represented were from within Fauquier County, Virginia. The drive from the Baltimore area was pleasant and fast for a late Winter's Saturday morning. The estate grounds were beautiful even though Spring had not yet arrived. 

Pearmund Display and Munchies
Once we arrived and joined our friends who were already there, we enjoyed wines from 15 vineyards--one of which had not yet opened for business. We were impressed at the number of winemakers and owners who where there to discuss their wines and philosophy about winemaking. We especially enjoy talking to the wine makers about the wines and the challenges they overcame to create the finished product. Wine making is so much more than growing and picking grapes and putting juice in a bottle. Too many people forget the elements involved include the wildcard in all of it--the weather.

And the winner? Virginia wines were the winners. These wines represent some of the finest wines in all of Virginia and more than one wine had won a medal in the Virginia Governor's Cup competition

The tasting was a simple format--walk around and taste the offerings from the vineyards and vote for the best red and best white. 

The offerings were great. Each table offered at least two and often three or four wines to sample. The crowd control, with timed entry made the tasting manageable and Airlie provided ample and sumptuous munchies which paired with the wines.

The wineries and vineyards that were represented at the tasting and competition this year were:

Barrel Oak Winery
Blue Valley Vineyards
Cobbler Mountain Cellars
Desert Rose Ranch & Winery
Naked Mountain Vineyard
Fox Meadow Winery
Granite Heights Winery
Grey Horse Vineyards
Molon Lave Vineyards
Morais Vineyards

Effingham Manor Winery (Opening Spring 2016)
Narmada Winery
Pearmund Cellars
Philip Carter Winery
Vint Hill Craft Winery

Why did we list the wineries? Because they provide easy access from the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area and spending a day or two visiting them is definitely worthwhile. As always, check the websites in advance for times and instructions.

Enjoy visiting Virginia wineries and vineyards!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Chateau St. Jean 2004 Reserve Merlot

Valentine's Day Dinner
It was Valentine's Day!  We celebrated at home because, to be honest with you, I hate fighting crowds and waiting forever for a table only to be rushed out to make way for another couple.
We have been celebrating at home for four years now and the highlight of every meal is picking a very special wine from the wine cellar.

The selection we chose this year was just that, VERY SPECIAL!!

Bob and I were in Sonoma several years ago on our first real wine vacation and found Chateau St. Jean to be one of our favorite stops.
The winery is beautiful and the wine is delicious.  We tasted this Merlot and knew immediately it would stand the test of time.  So we did what many do and purchased this wine for $75.  It was and still is one of the most expensive wines we have purchased.  

We brought it home and determined that we would save it for a special occasion.  The problem then becomes, when is special, special enough for such an exceptional wine?  Well, we keep track of all our wines through Cellar Tracker.  One of the features of Cellar Tracker is that it lets you know when a wine is at it's peak. This one came up as a drink now and that's what we did.

This Merlot is fantastic!  Merlot is my favorite varietal, which makes me a bit old school.  The wine has a wonderful color with a great nose and a taste that lingers reminding you that sometimes you just have to spend the extra money because, well, you are worth it.  It is smooth with hints of dark cherries, a hint of vanilla and mature tannins.   If you like reds and are looking for a special wine this is one I would definitely recommend.

-- Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pollak 2010 Meritage

Well, it is the last day of January and the snow is melting nicely.  It is also the last day of our snow vacation.  So that being said when Bob asked me what I would like for a wine this evening my reply was "something nice! " So up from the cellar came a 2010 Meritage from Pollak Vineyards in Greenwood Virginia. 

This 2010 Meritage  won a Bronze Metal at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The wine is a blend consisting of 41% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Franc and 18% Petit Verdot. It is a typical Virginia wine as the smokey flavor comes though as you sip.  Don't be put off by the smokiness, this wine is rich with flavors of cherry and currant and a slight hint of vanilla. It is a complex wine with very few tannins that complements the cheddar cheese and crackers we are having as an appetizer very nicely. I love a rich red wine that excites the pallet and soothes the soul on a cold winter night. This wine fits the bill.

At $35 dollars you may ask yourself if it is worth it. As I sit here writing, the wine is opening up showing me that it is worthy of  the price point. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  

Happy Sipping!

-- Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, December 12, 2015

December Evening

Keswick Vineyards 2009
Cabernet Sauvignon
Estate Reserve
Mid-December in Maryland is supposed to be cold, frosty, and a hint of snow.

December 2015 has been markedly different. The temperatures have been very warm--almost balmy!

Chris and I  pulled a nice Keswick Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve and sat on the back deck to enjoy the evening. Yes, enjoy the evening in Maryland on the deck during December. I wrote that. If I had been in Key West or somewhere south of the equator, this would not be much of a story--but I was in the Northeastern United States.

We had a fire roaring in the fire table, but we didn't need it. It was warm and the wine was fantastic! This particular wine is complex and enjoyable from the first sip to the last. The vanilla added a nice rounding to the flavors.

There is something really that makes almost any wine better when it is enjoyed in an unexpected setting. Sitting on the deck, during December when it is supposed to be too cold to do almost anything outside would be that unexpected setting. 

It was a perfect evening and the wine made everything that much better.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, November 9, 2015

Heron Hill Winery

Located conveniently along Route 14 on the west side of Seneca Lake, we discovered a tasting room for one of our new favorite Finger Lakes region wineries. Heron Hill is the real deal. It provides wines crafted for differing tastes. We found the wines complex and enjoyable and we also were pleased to find a very enjoyable red wine.
While the winery is located near Keuka Lake, the Seneca Lake tasting room, located in Himrod, NY,  is spacious and offers a pleasant place to stop and enjoy the wines of the region.

Susie was our server on the afternoon that we visited and she did a great job guiding us through the wine tasting. She was knowledgeable and fun to work with and helped us understand the history of the winery and the wines that we were tasting.

Heron Hill sources its wines from around the finger lakes with an emphasis on grapes grown near Keuka, Canandaigua, and Seneca Lakes. The winery focuses its efforts on the strength of the Finger Lakes—which is Riesling in many forms, but they also offer some excellent reds especially their selection of Cabernet Franc and the Eclipse. 

Adjacent to the Tasting Room
I enjoyed a flight of three Cabernet Francs and was very surprised at the depth and quality of the wines. The 2012 reserve ($35) was easily the best of the group—but the Classic ($17) was a great choice for the budget minded oenophile. The wines were medium bodied with a great nose and complex flavors. Each of the three presented a distinct interpretation of the varietal.

The other highlights of the tasting were the Eclipse red 2013, ($17) and the classic semi-dry Riesling 2013 ($11 on sale).

The Eclipse is Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot blend. The wine is medium body with a great nose and nice complexity. It was one of the highlights of our entire trip to the Finger Lakes and we purchased more than a few bottles to share with our friends.

The gift shop boasts a number of interesting wine related items. It is large and spacious. 

RECOMMENDATION: This is one of the must visit wineries along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD