Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sparkling Wines for the Season: Bin 201

Yesterday was one of those Saturdays which are common during the holiday season characterized by the the word--busy. There was the obligatory shopping for holiday gifts with its associated too-ing and fro-ing. But there was a nice timeout during the middle of the afternoon to sample and enjoy sparkling wines from around the world.
Bin 201 Sparkling Wine Selection

What a great respite from the insanity. We attended a tasting and class on Sparkling Wines sponsored by Bin 201 in Annapolis Town Center.

The course was called Binology 103: Sparkling Wines, and featured wines from France, Italy, Spain, and Oregon. Oregon? Yup. They make sparkling wines, too. There is also a good sparkling wine maker in New Mexico that I enjoy but whose offerings were not included in the course. The course reviewed the history of modern sparkling wines,  how they developed, the main ways that they are created, and highlighted the more important regions where they are produced.

Here is probably the most important thing I relearned: Champagne is a region (in France) not a type of wine. Champagne is also a process for making, in my opinion, the best sparkling wine. Hence the confusion. Many great sparkling wines are made using the champagne method.  Important safety tip--not all French sparkling wines are Champagne!

The drinking, sampling, is always the best part of the courses. These wines all drank very well with generally very fine bubbles and refined flavors. The differences were subtle--even between the rose and the whites. But the finest of the wines were very good--and I confess a couple of bottles made their way home in expectation of Christmas and New Years Eve celebrations.

I heartily recommend the courses at Bin 201 as a way to increase wine knowledge and develop a deeper appreciation for wine. More importantly, I am looking forward to enjoying these wines in just a few short weeks.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, September 2, 2012

On the NY Wine Trail - September 2012

What a great afternoon--checking out a couple of the wineries on the
Cayuga Wine Trail.

We visited Americana, Sheldrake Point, Thirsty Owl, and Goose Watch.
A whirlwind afternoon in Central NY with a lot of other wine lovers. There were a lot of other people out enjoying an idyllic afternoon doing the same thing.

All of these wineries have stunning views of the lake and provide nice interpretation of white wine, which are really the best varietals grown in the region. The Rieslings were generally great. Every attempt at a red wine resulted in a thin interpretation which left me wanting something more.

Americana has a large selection of wines which they do generally well. We continue to buy many of their whites to enjoy with our friends. I enjoy their tasting room and the ambiance of the winery done in a barn. Their new selection of Rieslings are especially good and come in a variety for every palette from dry, to semi-dry, to semi-sweet. They all had a vibrant character which made them very enjoyable.

Sheldrake Point does dry wines and has a really enjoyable white blend called Luckystone White. We make a special trip to the winery for this wine. And it was on a great sale, too. Sheldrake Point was designated as the NY Winery of the Year, so the place, located right on the shore of Cayuga Lake is really worth the visit and the dry wines re especially good.

Thirsty Owl, another winery with a great view, is dabbling in the reds in addition to the whites and provided a nice red wine using the Chancellor grape. But, their white wines are why people visit the winery.

The final stop of the day was Goose Watch, another winery with another great view and a nicely done tasting room. They provided some very nice whites, but I felt their offerings this year were not as desirable as some of the other wineries we visited. They are good wines--don't get me wrong, but just a bit above average. Nice drinking but not spectacular.

All in all it was a great afternoon. My parents were real troopers to dare to head out onto the wine trail with us--and it was nice to ave them along for the afternoon drive along the west shore of Cayuga Lake.

-- Bob Doan, writing from Ithaca, NY

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tasting Tuscany Wines--Bin 201

Yesterday, I sojourned to Annapolis to a wine store named Bin 201 for a tasting of wines selected from Italy and more specifically, Tuscany and some of the nearby regions.

I enjoy attending these tastings because they are more than just tasting wine--they are about understanding the grapes and conditions in the region.

Bin 201 Being Prepared for Tasting
Although Tuscany was the principle region for yesterday's tasting, I was also treated to a sampling of wines from Umbria, Marche, and Abruzzo.  But the wines of the day truly were from Tuscany: Chianti, Chianti Classico, Super Tuscan.

I admit, one of the wines did not have a pleasant nose--it smelled like a cat box, but most of them were very nice and enjoyed. The tasting was complete with a plate of cheese, salami, prosciutto, and of course some palate cleansing bread.

The Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello de Montalcino 2000 Tuscany was clearly the wine of the day. But it was $87.99 and I just don't buy wine that expensive because I never want to drink it--so the enjoyment is never fully realized because it just stays on the wine rack.

The best buy was Ornellia "Le Volte" 2009, Bolgheri, Tuscany for $29.99. This was a Super Tuscan, being a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. It gets a solid average 88 rating on Cellar Tracker and I think it will be awesome with pasta.

I love expanding my wine knowledge and my tastes, and yesterday was no exception as I also tastes a few whites--but nothing spectacular.

While the Bin 201 tastings are not free, they are not expensive--less than tastings for more in Napa. And, we tasted 10 wines coupled with history and a small intimate group of 14 people. It makes for a nice Saturday afternoon activity. I highly recommend these events.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, August 3, 2012

Prince Michel Vineyard - Review

Wine on the Vine at Prince Michel
Although not actually placed on one of the Monticello Wine Trails, Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery sits at the northern gateway to the region right astride Route 29, the main north-south road into Charlottesville. I always find that as I am traveling into the wine region that this winery is definitely worth a stop--if not just to get into the mood for the day's activities.

The winery is well marked--I believe the first sign is about 8 miles form the entrance, but it comes up very quickly. Don't panic though if you miss the first driveway, there is a second on just past the building and at the bottom of a small road.

As always, check the website for current hours, but one advantage for this winery is that it opens at 10 am on Saturdays and Sundays, making it one of the early openers in the area. This means that driving from the Baltimore area, I am usually driving by the winery right as it opens.

The self guided tour of the wine making process is well planned and allows a nice behind the scenes view of the process. The wine tasting area is large and also contains a large assortment of wine related items which can be purchased.

The wines are good. I found the whites to be the best. Especially noteworthy was the 2009 Chardonnay, which I thought was an especially good value.

Enjoy Prince Michel. Stop and get a day of wine tasting started.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, August 2, 2012

White Hall Vineyard - Review

Along the Monticello Wine Trail, one of the vineyards we visited was White Hall Vineyard. The winery is on the Northern Monticello Trail and a bit of a drive (OK, maybe 15 minutes) to get there but we were rewarded with some very drinkable wines and a generally good time at a very nice facility.
White Hall Vineyard Tasting Room

The whites are very nice, I especially enjoyed the German-style wines like Gew├╝rztraminer, Petit Manseng, and Chardonnay. They also had a nice Bordeaux blend, Cuvee de Champs, which was very enjoyable. I found the remainder of their extensive red wine offerings to be somewhat light and thin. I found the 2010 Pinot Gris and the 2010 Viognier to be good, but not exceptional as compared to other wineries in the region.

The facility is really enjoyable and on the Saturday we visited there was live music to accompany the tasting the wines.

The wine tasting area in in the middle of a large, nicely sized, modern building which serves create an enjoyable atmosphere for wine tasting. The server was knowledgeable of the wines and the grapes form which they were made or blended.

The overall experience was pleasant and I recommend this winery as a stop on a Monticello Wine Trail tasting day.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Charlottesville Vineyards - An Overview

I reviewed the activities of this past weekend and noted that I visited seven vineyards and Monticello between 7:30AM Saturday morning and 1PM Sunday afternoon.

I had no ideas that we had fulfilled such an aggressive schedule.
Grapes Ripening at Prince Michel Vineyards

The wineries were:

Prince Michel
King Family
White Hall

Drinkable wines were found at each of the vineyards and were I especially impressed by my first ever visit to White Hall Vineyard. Stinson Vineyard was another winery I visited for the first time as well.

Wine is a great hobby. And it is a hobby that is easily enjoyed with friends and family. It can be contagious and there is something for everyone.

I still have this irrational idea that I want to write a guide to the vineyards of the Monticello wine making region. I seem to visit a lot of the wineries and enjoy meeting the owners and wine makers and discussing the grapes and the wines.

Do I have my favorites? Certainly. But my favorites can vary significantly from someone else. I prefer nice, complex red wines--but many of the vineyards are producing exceptional white wines, which I also appreciate.

The 30 wineries and vineyards which comprise the Monticello Appellation of Virginia are divided into trails. Prince Michel is considered to be one of the Northern Gateway vineyards. King Family, White Hall, and Stinson are part of the Northern Trail along with a few other wineries. Keswick and Barboursville are part of the Eastern Trail while Jefferson is part of the Southern Trail. In my mind, it is possible to comfortable visit all of the wineries on one trail in a day.

I never seem to do anything the easy way however. I like to jump around during the limited time that I have to ensure that I visit my favorites--which of course are not all on the same trail.

It it just fun to get out and see the "wine on the vine" and realize that the vineyards are not just growing grapes--they are in the business of producing wines. And tasting the end result of the growing and the wine making is often like experiencing a piece of art.

Each winemaker places their own personal stamp on the wines and that is the great fun of visiting multiple wineries--to find winemakers who produce wines that I enjoy.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, March 30, 2012

Arcadian 2005 Syrah Westerly Vineyard

I haven't written much about individual wines lately. I have been recording my likes and dislikes and recommendations in CellarTracker, an application which allows me to manage my wine and do research. But, I have found a wine which is one of those very special wines that plays well above its weight.

The wine is Arcadian 2005 Syrah Westerly Vineyard form the Santa Ynez Valley in California.

I was introduced to this wine through an email offering form a respected wine agency and bought two bottles, sight unseen or tasted. I read the description an believed that if the wine was half as good as the write up it would be worth the price.

Turns out, it is far better than that. It is a great wine that one person I served it to remarked that it was equal to $100 bottle wines he had been served. Now I don't know who can afford $100 per bottle wines, but it is nice to know that I have one that is in good company with them.

One reviewer wrote: "Darn nice wine made even more impressive by the price. Rich but lively so it's not heavy at all with smoke, blackberry, earth and black pepper. There seems to be just a hint of brett (I could be wrong but myself and winemaker friend thought there was a bit) which added to the complexity without overwhelming. Good acidity and a nice medium length finish. Wish I bought more of this."

Another reviewer wrote: "Bright medium red. Red and dark berries, smoked meat and Christmas spices on the nose. Midweight raspberry and bitter cherry flavors are complicated by beef jerky and floral pastille qualities. This strikes me as a blend of pinot noir and syrah, with the former variety's finesse and sweetness and the latter's game and earth character. Finishes crisp and long, leaving a peppery note behind."

Recommendation: This is a great wine and I highly recommend it. At $26 per bottle it is a bit more expensive than many of wines I buy--but worth the extra cost.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, March 16, 2012

Consensus Blending -- 2012

It was hard to believe that over a year had passed since Chris and I had the great experience of being part of the team that blended the award winning 2009 Consensus wine for Keswick Vineyards in Virginia.

But it had been. We were part of that team during early December 2010 and last weekend we headed back to the winery to defend our title, so to speak.

Truly, defending was a long shot. We were unable to attend on the same weekend as the rest of our team mates from last year, and history says that the winners of the previous year usually come in last. In fact, we had heard that the other members of last year's team had done just that on the day they attended.

The day though is not about winning, although I will tell you that winning is nice, but it is about time at the winery with the winemaker, Stephen, and the owners, and other members of the wine club devoted to blending a good wine.

This year was no different.

We worked through the morning trying to blend the 2011 Consensus. There was no 2010 release. The wines all had very different character. The wines this year were Norton, Merlot, Touriga, and Syrah. By noon we had gone through 12 different blends before settling on our final blend.

After lunch and a break we reconvened to judge the ten blends of the day. The judging was tense and we felt really good when we found out that our wine made the top four blends f the day--and then the top four. But, alas, our wine was judged only fourth best of the day. We of course felt that it was better--but the wine that won was a good wine too, in fact we had judged it better than ours. That winner is competing against the other three "day" winners to be crowned the 2011 Consensus wine. That decision should be announced soon.

So what is the day about at the winery?

Getting together with newly made friends to enjoy wine and learn more about what it takes to make wine. That, in the end increases our enjoyment of the final product that we select from the shelves of the stores and wineries where we buy them.

Thanks again to the great people at Keswick for allowing us to disrupt the flow life at the winery and spend some quality time with them.

-- Bob Doan, Denver, CO

Monday, March 12, 2012

Veritas Vineyards and Winery -- A Review

Located in the western portion of the Monticello Wine Trail, Veritas seems to have developed a cult following. We visited on a beautiful, sunny, early-March afternoon to find the winery full of visitors. We actually had to stand in line for 15 minutes before we were able to be accommodated for a tasting. But that was not a problem. The room is visually stimulating and worth the extra time to enjoy.

Veritas presents itself beautifully. The large tasting room has a very different feel than traditional tasting rooms.The sofas and tables around the room provide for a personalized wine tasting experience. The picture is of the larger than life sculpture on the bar.

At $5 for tasting seven wines, the cost seems average and we did get to keep our glasses at the end of the tasting.

The grounds are very nicely maintained and the large building housing the tasting room provides a larger than life introduction to the wines.

Once we finally made our way to the bar for the tasting, unfortunately we didn't manage to get into one of the sofa groupings, we began to experience the wines. I was disappointed by the wines--they are very young and need time to develop. The wines lacked depth and complexity. Although the tasting notes provide an introduction to the wines, for the most part the wines failed to live up to the excitement generated by the notes.

The best wine of the day was the 2011 Viognier. The most disappointing was the Merlot. The Merlot was more akin to a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Franc.

The winery shows a lot of promise and as the vines mature, the depth and quality of the wines should improve.

Recommendation: Visit and enjoy the beauty of the winery, but don't expect too much from the wines. Travel note--my GPS did not plot the position of the winery correctly, so be sure to follow the signs over following GPS directions.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD