The Best Boxed Wine You’ll Ever Buy (No, Seriously!)

The Back Story:

The first time I’d ever heard of Yellow + Blue Wines was at an organic wine tasting at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough. I usually taste the wines first, then ask about the ones that intrigue me rather than learning about the wines’ varietals, regions, producers, etc. first. I like to think that somehow makes me impartial. Of course, not having encyclopedic knowledge of wine varietals and regions also makes me impartial through ignorance, but I digress. In this case, I was intrigued before I even put the plastic sipper full of wine to my lips because the stalwart bartender was pouring this wine from a carton.

yellow and blue torrontes carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes Carton (from http://www.thedailygreen.com)

For all the talk about organic this and green that, most (I would estimate 98% of) wineries still ship their wine in bulky, heavy, decidedly non-environmentally-friendly glass bottles. Not only does creating these bottles use many more resources than necessary, but the added weight increases the fuel consumption required to ship the wine. Those extra few pounds per case add up on a cross-country or cross-ocean excursion for a container full of inefficient bottles. Some wineries are experimenting with lighter, thinner-walled glass, which is a fantastic and applaudable step in the right direction, but most wineries are too rooted in tradition to consider alternative packaging.

Come to think of it, all those boxed-wine companies might be on to something… hmm…

Regardless, the philosophy at Yellow + Blue is based entirely on good will. They truly respect the earth and, recognizing that embracing new, greener technology is actually cost-effective, are passing the benefits on to their consumers. Each carton of wine holds one full liter, one-third more than the standard wine bottle, and they still charge a very reasonable price for their wines ($12.99 for all the varietals at Weaver Street). They currently offer four wines: two from Argentina and one each from Chile and Spain. They keep the grapes for each varietal from a single vineyard, preserving the integrity of the wine while sampling as much of the world as possible. Their only allegiance is to the consumer and the environment.

I’m getting sidetracked again… back to the wine.

The Yellow + Blue Torrontes comes from the Cafayate valley in the Salta province of northern Argentina. The high elevation (around 5,500 feet) leads to a lack of humidity and precipitation and extreme day-to-night temperature swings, two oddly desirable climate traits that prevent mold or other parasites and preserve acidity. All this means adhering to organic practices is remarkably simple, resulting in one of the purest wines available on the market.

yellow and blue torrontes glass and carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes in a glass (from http://www.astorwines.com)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine suggested a good wine character: the wine had a deep yellow hue, with a slight green tint, and the swirl suggested a very pleasant, creamy texture.

The nose of the wine was immediately floral, though not overwhelming, with a pleasant, not-too-heavy rose scent. Green apple also presented itself along with a honeyed bouquet that lended the wine a much sweeter nose than the taste would warrant.

The mouthfeel of the wine was magnificent, with a good, thick texture and a tart bite. The two words that best describe it are smooth and pleasant.

The flavor of the wine was rather dry, crisp and very suggestive of apple. Despite the dominance of this flavor, the taste was surprisingly complex: a hint of citrus, sort of a hybrid of lemon and lime, came forward, and there was a fantastic mineral finish, combining with the long apple and citrus to leave a few seconds of very sweet tonic water on the palate. As the wine warmed in my glass, it began to release a fantastic floral taste, coming forward even over the apple. This was a very multi-faceted wine. At 13%, the wine suggested not a single hint of alcohol flavor, even when it warmed.

I paired the Torrontes with creole flounder stuffed with crab, shrimp, and peppers, and the combination was immaculate. Even with the wine fully chilled right out of the bottle — er — carton, the fish brought out the floral characteristics and pushed the apple back to the finish, and the dryness and texture countered and cooled the spicyness perfectly. I was thoroughly impressed with the synergy.

An interesting note, as I sampled the wine, All in the Family came on TV. An apparently sweet-smelling wine disguising an aggressive and complex flavor was an interesting counter to Archie Bunker, an aggressive and complex character who hides his sweet side. At least, I thought so anyway.

For the Casual Drinker:

If you’re looking for an easy-drinking wine, this is definitely it. It goes down smooth with a fairly tame acidity, meaning you’re not risking heartburn. Despite how it smells, it’s not going to be a sweet wine, so be prepared. Expect a drier, fruity wine, but not too fruity. I would call it crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to serve it with a meal, try it with lighter meals and avoid pairing it with red meats or tomato-based soups and pastas. The compact carton makes storage simple, and you’re getting one-third more than a normal bottle of wine that fits less overall space.

Even if you’re not into the complexities of wine-tasting, I still think you would enjoy this wine.

The Conclusion:

Considering everything I liked about this wine, the absolute lack of complaints I had about it, the environmentally-friendly nature, and the bang for your buck, I’m tempted to give this wine my highest rating so far, and I will. The 2008 Yellow + Blue Torrontes Cafayate gets a 9/10.

One last note, you can follow Yellow + Blue wines on Twitter @ybwines. He’s one of the growing number of winemakers who actively engage their followers, and he’s a very friendly guy besides. You can also learn more about their wines at www.ybwines.com.

This post was written entirely to Jakon Dylan’s Seeing Things album. Good, chill blog-writing music.

Louis Latour: The Lighter-Bodied Side of Burgundy

Louis Latour 2006 Pinot Noir
Louis Latour Pinot Noir Bottle

Louis Latour Pinot Noir (from http://www.bennettswine.co.uk)

Louis Latour is a family-run winery located in the Burgundy region of France. They’ve been in the business since the 17th Century, and though they have 125 acres of land, they themselves only grow two grape varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery is noted for reaching outside Burgundy to many different regions and grapes, experimenting with varietals from Gamay to Viognier, depending on what other villages are producing at that time.

The first time I tasted this wine was a couple years ago at Boudreaux’s, a cajun restaurant in Blacksburg, VA.  We were in a group of 6, and the three of us most experienced in wine were selecting the bottles. I had selected a Cabernet Sauvignon for the first bottle, and the guy who had the second pick selected a Pinot Noir to follow a very, unexpectedly full-bodied wine. The Pinot Noir ended up being sandwiched between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon, which should have doomed it to obscurity on our palates and in our minds.

What surprised me about Louis Latour’s offering was that even after a wine as powerful as the Cab Sauv, the flavor managed to hold its own. The wine was fairly light-bodied, yet I could still detect a strong berry flavor, slightly tart, and smoky overtones. It was rather on the sweet side, too. The flavor wasn’t complex by any means; this is a robust, yet easy-drinking wine, and it serves its purpose well. The nose was a bit weak, though, slightly floral, offering mostly a bouquet of strawberry, blackberry, and possibly some other subdued red-fruit. The texture wasn’t anything all that spectacular, either. I wouldn’t call it flat by any means, but the acidity and tannins were not ideal. This is definitely a wine that would benefit from aging. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to sample an older vintage.

The wine also coincidentally arrived with our dessert, a milk-chocolate-based fudge lava & whipped cream cake, and the flavors matched pretty well. It would probably go better with a lighter chocolate dessert. As far as other food pairings, I’ve had luck with more flavorful or heavily spiced chicken dishes such as chicken marsala or rotisserie-style chickens, hens, whatever. Due to the crisp taste and lack of dryness, I might also pair it with seafood.

Any other drawbacks? Well, I’ve heard some say that the wine is a little too smoky for their taste, but I didn’t think so. It doesn’t keep well, so once you’ve opened it, you’ve only got about 24-48 hours before it’s rendered undrinkable. Unlike most reds, it doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of benefit from aeration.

I’ve also seen some people online complain about the price, being closer to 20 dollars than 10. Even now, in early 2010, I can find a bottle of the 2007 vintage at CostCo for just over 10 dollars. It’s probably not worth 20, but if you find it under 15, I recommend getting it.

I’m not as enamored with this wine as I was when I first had it, mostly because I’ve learned a lot more since then. It’s certainly no world-beater, but if you can find it on the cheaper side, and you know what to expect from a Pinot Noir, I’d recommend giving it a shot. 6/10

Your Irreverent Weekend Reader: Valentine’s Day Edition

The weekend reader wraps up the week’s best blog posts and news stories and suggests relevant articles and stories for coming events.

DrinkNectar – “The Dude’s Guide to Wine” – Guys, Valentine’s day is almost upon us, and chances are you haven’t finished planning. Wine can be an intimidating subject, especially when you’re trying to impress your date. This classic, steamy series combines wine sensibility with sex appeal to educate men on shopping for and tasting wine as well as ordering it in a restaurant.
Part 1: three reasons guys should know wine (rated PG)
http://drinknectar.com/2009/12/21/the-dudes-guide-to-wine-part-1-of-4/
Part 2: wine basics, characteristics of grapes (rated PG-13)
http://drinknectar.com/2009/12/28/the-dudes-guide-part-2-of-4-got-grapes/
Part 3: tasting wines (rated R)
http://drinknectar.com/2010/01/06/the-dudes-guide-part-3-snort-suck-swish/
Part 4: ordering and buying wine (rated R)
http://drinknectar.com/2010/01/19/the-dudes-guide-pt-4-ordering-and-buying-wine/

Vintuba – “Puttin’ the dubya back in wine! Texas style, y’all…” – A guest post on Vintuba by Ben Simons of Vinotology, this story gives an incredibly informative insider perspective on the issues facing wine-makers in Texas.
http://blog.vintuba.com/2010/02/11/puttin-the-dubya-back-in-wine-texas-style-yall/

Drinks Are On Me – “Drinking Alone on Valentine’s Day” An article by Dale Cruse countering the couple-centric wine posts on Valentine’s Day celebrations. Why not enjoy yourself regardless of whether or not you have someone for this corporate holiday?
http://drinksareonme.net/post/387424605/drinking-alone-on-valentines-day

And in case you need a laugh…

Notes from the Cellar – “Oh, For The Love of Bacchus…” Steve Paulo at Notes from the Cellar takes one for the team when he samples boxed wine from a big-box store. Thanks for that, Steve!
http://notesfromthecellar.com/2010/02/oh-for-the-love-of-bacchus/#disqus_thread

All these articles pair well with domestic, non-vintage, fortified, boxed sparkling wine, available at Costco for $7.99 a gallon. Happy reading, everyone!

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West Wind Farm: Tasting Notes

Part two of my profile on West Wind Farm. You can find part one here

As I mentioned before, the best part of my tour of West Wind Farm was the wine-tasting. Although, to be honest, if you do decide to visit a vineyard, the wine should always be the focus of the trip. If the wine is mediocre, but the tasting room is an exercise in lavishness and indulgence, the winery probably has their priorities in an unfortunate order. Luckily, flying into this winery’s offerings entirely blind, I stumbled upon a consistently well-made collection of vintages.

I’m not going to give a full review of each one as I wanted to get only the overall impression of their wines. I’m hesitant to even assign a rating to them because I could very well have a different opinion once I get more than just a sip. Consider the ratings tentative, merely an indication of a positive or negative impression.

Now, onto the wines:

West Wind Farm white wine

West Wind Farm white wine (from http://www.westwindwine.com)

2007 Galena Creek White
The Galena Creek White is 100% Vidal Blanc and fermented one-third in Minnesota oak. West Wind considers it to be their Chardonnay-alternative, which I would take to mean a relatively light, easy-drinking, agreeable white wine. At that level, I would certainly agree, though the wine itself doesn’t exactly exhibit the aromas and flavors characteristic of a New World Chardonnay. I found it to be crisp and relatively dry, with a very fruity aroma. The flavor was relatively simple, predominantly apple with just the right level of tartness. Jason mentioned a melon finish, and after he said that, I did get that, though I probably wouldn’t have been able to pin it down without that suggestion. Overall impression? Good, not a world-beater, but definitely a solid buy at $15. 6/10

2008 Pinot Gris
The Pinot Gris was the first of its kind I’d had in Virginia. As such, I didn’t really have a similar wine to compare it to as I tasted. Three things I noticed about the bouquet: it was very tropical, it was surprisingly hot, and it was lacking in floral characteristics. This isn’t necessarily a detriment; I was merely expecting a lighter-bodied, tamer wine like the California variety. It had a decent sweetness and acidity. The flavor also exhibited tropical undertones, though I first detected a distinct orange. A decent wine though, at $17, a little pricey. 5/10

2008 Riesling
Surprisingly, given my affinity for this grape, it was my least favorite of the whites. The nose was an interesting blend of floral and tropical notes and had a strong, sugary scent, combining into an aroma that smelled almost exactly like bubble gum. Given this, the flavor was drier than I expected, and was both light-bodied and simple. Pear, and lots of it. It wasn’t bad, though at $17, I would hope for a bit more. 4/10

2008 Rosé
This wine took me entirely by surprise. It was a fairly light Rosé, maybe a tinge of red, but mostly a pure, rich pink, and the nose, though noticeably dry and pungent, did not suggest how potent this Rosé would be. If I had asked before I tasted, I would have known it was 100% Merlot, with almost a full day’s worth of skin contact. The dryness was shocking to say the least. After that, though, the flavors of the wine really came together. Red fruit forward, rather full-bodied, with a strong, ripe strawberry finish. Again, unexpected, but an altogether pleasant wine, and at $14, it’s their cheapest grape offering. 8/10

West Wind Red Wine Glass

West Wind Farm red wine (from http://www.westwindwine.com)

2008 Galena Creek Red
Their only grape blend, the Galena Creek Red combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chambourcin, resulting in a very fruit-forward, very dry offering. The nose suggested red-fruits, mostly raspberry and strawberry, while the flavor was an incredibly brisk, tart cherry. Very good acidity, decently balanced, and full-bodied. At $16, it’s a very good base for their red wines. 7/10

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
After multiple attempts to detect the aromas in this wine, I could only reach one conclusion: eggnog. It was extremely pungent, spicy, with a little red-fruit, maybe a hint of vanilla, possibly cinnamon or mint, and very hot. The scent was almost jarring. The taste was much more palatable, with strong red berry flavors and a spicy finish. It wasn’t too potent, with a surprisingly low acidity and a medium body, and after the initial shock wore off, I found it pleasantly drinkable. It seems like a wine that would benefit from a few years in the bottle; it might still have been a little young. $18 is a little much, I think, but it’s a unique experience that might be worth the price for those unfamiliar with east-coast Cab Sauvs. 6/10

2006 Heritage Reserve
The flagship wine of West Wind Farm, the Heritage Reserve is the premium barrels of their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon harvest. It spent 30 months aging in French oak, such a rarity for them that only 45 cases were ever produced. I noticed first and foremost the exquisite mouthfeel, extremely silky and fine. The aging in oak significantly toned down the jarring scent I experienced in the younger Cab Sauv, resulting in a softer, more balanced red-fruit flavor that even exhibited hints of tobacco. At $29, it’s a little pricey, generally out of my comfort range, but the scarcity and improvements over the regular Cab Sauv definitely make it worth a try. 6/10

Non-Vintage Galena Creek Blackberry
One of the two Galena Creek fruit blends, this one combines Blackberry wine with Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruits never co-mingled during fermentation, resulting in an interesting dichotomy in the bottle. The sweet, overpowering blackberry flavors meet the tannic spiciness of the wine and never quite come together, though the low residual sugar (4%) lessens the impact. For a fruit wine, though, it wasn’t half bad. It was relatively well-balanced with a very appropriate acidity. I might consider pairing it with some sort of milk-chocolate-based dessert, something light that would complement the blackberry flavor. For $13, it makes an interesting and not-too-pricey alternative for those looking for a fruitier wine experience. 5/10

Non-Vintage Galena Creek Peach
The other fruit wine, however, did not fare as well. I didn’t feel there was enough balance between the peach wine and the Vidal Blanc. The flavor was helped by the low residual sugar (again, 4%), but the flavors just didn’t pair up for me. I wouldn’t say it’s undrinkable by any means; the taste was pleasant enough. The peach flavors simply overpower the delicate balance of the grape and make it a little too sweet, a little too tart, and a little too simple. That might be your thing, and if you’re willing to pay the $13 admission fee, I’d say give it a shot. 4/10

Overall, their selection is pretty fantastic, especially considering how young the winery is. And if you’ve had the opportunity to run across a West Wind Wine, I’d love for you to share your experience with me. Let me know what you had and what you thought of it. As of yet, I haven’t met anyone else who’s had one.

West Wind Wines: A Taste of Blue Ridge Culture

Part one of my profile on West Wind Farm. You can find part two here

The aristocratic tradition of wine has ingrained certain romantic images in our minds: a stately manor, both decadent and rustic in its decor; vineyards surrounded by lush, rolling hills and finely cropped meadows; an isolated, seemingly infinite stretch of verdant grapevines embedded in soil so rich it resembles a powdered ebony; nothing but dirt roads and classic cars ambling down them at a leisurely pace.  Compared to these heightened expectations, the four-lane highway that approaches the West Wind Farm Vineyard is hardly suggestive of a bastion of fine wine. The stretch of I-77 leading up to its exit from the south is wedged between a barren, rocky mountain slope on one side and a sudden, yawning expanse of pastoral yet relatively uncultivated farmland on the other. It felt like any other stretch of mountainous road between big cities, basically a connecting drive where the best you can hope for is not running out of gas or losing your cell phone signal.

I’m kidding. Let’s backtrack. Growing up in a family that thrived in the slopes of Catawba Valley, I learned, and will maintain, that the rural valleys of Virginia are hardly an empty, forgettable green blur outside of your car’s windows. A vibrant, close-knit culture and community has grown in this oft-overlooked region in Virginia, far from the urbanites and city lights of D.C., Virginia Beach, and Richmond. In my youth in the valley, I learned how to play the jaw harp and the guitar and drums; I learned how to catch and gut fish and to cook gourmet; I learned how to hunt and survive in the wilderness and pursued the highest reaches of academia. Thanks to West Wind Farm, I’ve now learned more about wine. Yes, The Blue Ridge Mountains are a bastion of fine wine.

West Wind Farm House

A relic from West Wind Farm's past life

West Wind Farm began in the 19th century as Mount Zephyr, named so because of the gentle wind that often blows through the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a quick mythology lesson, Zephyr was the Greek god of the west wind, by legend considered the the most pleasant wind and a good omen. The Humphrey family took over the farm in 1914 and Anglicized the name to its current state. The farm still belongs to the family, now husband and wife Paul and Brenda Humphrey and their nephews Jason and David Manley.  As soon as they took over the farm, in 2003, they broke ground for their first grape vines, eager to strike out on their own after running a very successful garden nursery in Greensboro, and the wine-making process began soon after with their first vintage in 2005. In just a few years, they’ve already become a fixture in the wine culture of Southwest Virginia which, for a family so new to the wine business, is a rather impressive feat.

I explored the facilities and vineyard with Jason, master of the tasting room and wine shop. When I told him about my mission, exploring Virginia wine, he gave me an enormous, unfoldable Virginia Winery Guide, recommending several of the wineries on the map. It was a simple gesture, but it was just one of many personal touches around the shop that demonstrated they were involved in more than just making and selling wine. While Paul made a brief appearance, singing praises of the growing interest in wine in the area and lamenting the lack of Hokies in the wine business (he sported the cap of my alma mater), sadly, the off-months of viticulture required his attention in other areas besides the vineyard. He apologized for the sudden departure, mentioning that during the growing season, he (or anyone at the vineyard) would gladly step away from tending to their vines to talk your ear off. My kind of people.

tasting room at West Wind Farm

Jason proudly displaying his wines and awards

My tour of the facility began with the best part: tasting wine. An interesting mix of swing, classical, and modern blues played in the tasting room as I went about the shop, snapping photos and firing off questions. To be honest, as it was my first interview, winery visit, and future blog post all in one, the experience was rather nerve-wracking. Jason was so helpful and candid, though, that any apprehension I had at messing up my story quickly melted way. Jason gave me the rundown on all of their current vintages, taking pride in the many awards they had won in a relatively short period of time. I tasted the gamut of their wines, and I’d be lying if I said I spat instead of swallowing; it was that good. I thoroughly enjoyed each of their grape wines, though their fruit blends weren’t exactly my favorite. I won’t get on too much of a tangent, though; full tasting notes will be posted tomorrow. Unfortunately, they had sold out completely of their Chambourcin, so I missed out on one of their local specialties. Their tasting prices are very reasonable: you can taste up to three wines free, and anything after that is a three-dollar charge. For five dollars, you can taste all of their wines and keep your tasting glass.

From there, we toured their wine-making facility. I got to see everything from the vines to the crush pad to the oak barrels in which they age their Galena Creek White. The winery is still small enough that the Humphreys and Manleys can attend to almost all of their winemaking  personally. No conveyor belts, no assembly line production, only four people and their hands prompting fine wines from stubborn fruit. Their involvement is so deep, in fact, that they even bottle and label their wine themselves. “If you get the bottle home and [the label] is a little crooked, you’ll know why,” Jason joked as we moved through the bottling area. For over 1300 cases produced per year, the amount of attention they personally give each bottle is almost staggering. I can understand why they take so much pride in their work.

The dining and event room at West Wind Farm

The stately room where West Wind Farm hosts many of their functions

Second only to their wine, West Wind Farm’s involvement with the community is a principal source of pride. As we walked through the facilities, Jason recounted the numerous events the winery hosts, accommodating anywhere from a few dozen to a couple hundred people. In addition to the usual parties, class reunions, and weddings (which David Manley is licensed to perform, by the way), West Wind Farm also relishes its role in the local music scene. They host a wide range of music acts, from classically styled rock to Motown, from bluegrass to blues. One of their feature events is the Wine & Swine Festival, an all-day indulgence in barbecue and live music. Even in the dead of January, they were booking events for the summer, hopefully a sign that the wine industry may be a little more recession-proof than other venues.

Unfortunately for the vast majority of the country, West Wind Farm only distributes their wine personally through Southwest Virginia. In fact, the furthest away I’ve seen their wine was at Vintage Cellar, about an hour and a half away in Blacksburg, Virginia. However, if you’re looking to try West Wind Farm’s wines, and you don’t live in Southwest Virginia, you’re not out of luck. They’ll gladly take orders via email and phone, even though they don’t have an online shop. If you’re interested in their wines, they absolutely want to make sure that you can experience them.

If you’re looking to book West Wind Farm for an event or just want to order some wine, you can contact them through the following:

Phone: 276-699-2020
Email: info@westwindwine.com

Or you can visit their website at http://www.westwindwine.com for more information.

Tomorrow, I will post my tasting notes from all of their wines as part two of my profile of West Wind Farm.

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