Getting my Summer Addiction Fix: More Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

The Back Story:

I like to think I’ve had a decent amount of wines in my day. I’ve had wine from 5 continents, almost 50 varietals, and I have in stock several wines from regions and varietals I haven’t tried before. So why, why WHY the hell do I keep drinking Sauvignon Blancs? Not just any Sauvignon Blanc, either, but New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Not just New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.

To feed my addiction, I had my local wine shop, Hillsborough Wine Company, special order me the rest of the Sauvignon Blancs produced by Barker’s Marque, the producers of which have been fairly dedicated to seeking out mentions of their product online. Thus, earlier this week, I picked up the Barker’s Marque 2009 Arona and 3 Brooms. I’ve already blogged twice about the ranga.ranga, so I didn’t need to order that one.

You’ve had a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, so you know what to expect, right? If not, the ranga.ranga post can serve as a reminder. Basically, grapefruit, puckering acidity, citrus, crisp flavor, clear color, a touch of herbs and grassiness. Residual sugar is typically 2 to 4 grams per liter, strictly in the dry, dry, DRY range. That combined with an acidity somewhere around the 3.30 pH mark makes it really feel like biting into a grapefruit.

The 2009 Barker’s Marque Arona adds 6% Riesling to a base of 94% Sauvignon Blanc to shoot all sorts of holes in that perception. I can honestly say I’ve never had a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough that tasted quite like this. Quite like what? Well…

The Results:

Arona Sauvignon Blanc pouredThe appearance of the wine is a very pale straw. It’s not quite as clear as the ranga.ranga was but it’s definitely got the Sauvignon Blanc clarity.

The nose of the wine couples citrusy and tropical notes with a very cool alcohol scent. Lime, sage, and passion-fruit leap forward from the glass, pungent and ripe.

The mouth feel of the wine is fantastically smooth. The alcohol (13%) gives it a very light, delicate feel, which combines with the crisp acidity (3.30 pH) for a very active, tangy sensation. It just feels alive.

The flavor of the wine is where things get interesting. You know that typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc flavor? Yeah, forget about it. This wine has a hint of that citrusy grapefruit and grass, but the real show here is some soft, sweet, ripe tropical goodness. Rich flavors of nectarine and passionfruit dominate the palate, aided by a comparably potent sweetness (5.3 g/l residual sugar). The flavor is wonderfully juicy, like tropical fruit nectar. The finish brings us back to the terroir, with lime and sage lasting and lingering.

As the wine develops in the glass, coming closer to room temperature, the tropical fruits open up on the nose and become even more pungent on the palate. This is a very, very active wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

For those of you turned off by the aggressiveness of Sauvignon Blancs, especially New Zealand’s, you’ll want to give this guy a try. It’s remarkably tame compared to its local compatriots, though it still has a decent zing to it. The flavors are much less overwhelmingly acidic, providing a soft tropical base and a pleasant sweetness. Because the sweetness has increased, the pairing options differ from the typical exotic fare that a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc would match. You could handle a white meat or seafood entrée with a bit of spice, though the structure isn’t quite there for Asian cuisine.

The Conclusion:

There are many, many Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs out there. Most of them are very, very similar to each other. If you want to try something different, the Arona is a good place to start. It’s only $13, and it’s a bargain at that price. 8/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: Arona

Producer: Barker’s Marque

Varietal(s): 94% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Riesling

Vintage: 2009

Residual Sugar: 5.3 g/l

Alcohol: 13%

pH: 3.30

note:: After I initially failed to list the vital stats on the wine I reviewed on Monday (i.e. what the wine was actually called), I revised my format to add this final section. Inspiration hails from Drink Nectar and Vinotology. This section will also keep me from being lazy about researching my wines. This stuff’s important, y’know?

Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings, Large Bodies of Water Edition

I’ve had a thing for unnecessarily long titles lately. You’ll have to forgive me on that front. This week, and I promise I had no hand in this, the two indie songs that came up on shuffle were Sparta’s “While Oceana Sleeps” and Jeniferever’s “From Across the Sea.” Hmm, Ocean… Sea… sounds like a parallel to me. Rest assured, however, that what I plan on pairing with these will be at least a bit more palatable than a glass full of brackish ocean water.

Sparta – While Oceana Sleeps

Sparta is a band with an interesting history. Way back in the day (read:: late 1990s) there was a band called At the Drive-In. They played ridiculously complex music, adding weirdly metaphoric and abstract vocals to off-rhythm drumming and an odd combination of punk and progressive guitar-work. However, there were two members, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the vocalist and guitarist, who were unsatisfied with their mainstream recognition as simply a punk band. They decided to start their own project, The Mars Volta, to pursue some ridiculously outlandish progressive orchestrations. The remainder of the band, Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar, took their sound in an entirely different direction, towards a classic indie rock sound. Thus, Sparta was born. The band has split once again, with Jim Ward forming an alt-country band called Sleepercar with some guest musicians from previous Sparta releases as well as his father on bass. Go figure.

Sparta’s sound began with that dark passion leftover from At The Drive-In. Ward would play furious guitar riffs and shout-sing his vocals, employing direct lyrics that actively engaged the audience (“How can you sleep at night?”) on matters both personal and political. By the time they released the album Porcelain, however, their sound had seriously softened, employing a slower tempo and more melodic guitarwork. Ward began really exercising his vocal chops, returning to a more poetic, metaphorical lyric style.

If I were to match this band, both in history and content, I would pair them with a Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc, an on-vine mutation from the genetically unstable Pinot Noir, produces brilliantly-colored white grapes side-by-side with Pinot Noir’s dark berries. The flavors are suitable for either a dry, acidic style or a sweeter, tamer one, though that largely depends on terroir. As Sparta suddenly split from a darker, more intense parent, so does Pinot Blanc.

As far as the substance? You’re not going to get a world-class cellar-worthy wine from Pinot Blanc, but you will get a fairly safe, palatable wine just about every time. Sparta? Sparta may have a large following, but they’ve yet to release a hit single. Their music is pleasant, with a bit of variety, but still, you always know what to expect in a Sparta song. They’ll give you just a hint of stadium rock, a bit of punk, and a slice or two of indie, all delivered with earnest emotion. It’s certainly enjoyable, but by no means is it life-changing.

Jeniferever – From Across The Sea

Jeniferever is a band that I simply cannot hype enough. They’ve taken in a variety of 21st century-style influences: the vast, distorted soundscapes of post-rock bands like Sigur Ros, the staggeringly complex drumbeats of modern progressive bands like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, the saturated, pedal-aided hum of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine; these are all very mature, orchestrated bands.

However… This band doesn’t reach that same level of maturity. The name, Jeniferever (Jennifer Forever… yes…) sounds like a band that has 15000 friends on Myspace with an average age of 14.77. This can partially be blamed on the fact that they’re from Sweden; English is not their first language. And to be fair to them, they’ve carved out a sizable fanbase in the indie/shoegaze scene. If I had to personify the nature of their style, their vocals and lyrics, it would look something like this:

Jeniferever is childlike in their innocence, endearing in their romanticized notions of life and relationships, attempting to put on the big-boy emotions with a pre-teen’s heart. While many modern bands intone that honesty must be brutal and ugly, Jeniferever approaches hard truth from an almost resigned perspective: if it’s unpleasant, why worry about it? A running theme in their music is the inability to accept loss, and the loss is so vague it could be anything: childhood, love, home, a friend, life. When they do get specific, such as the song “Avlik,” the dedication to youth and inexperience really shines through:

He held his breath to hold your hand,
To hear the words to the picture he’d seen.
Watched how you reached for your things to leave,
To walk a block to the car that would take you home
To where you belong.
These hours just made it worse,
For now you’re far from here.
But oh, it was worth it;
‘Cause you’ll always be close to his heart.
You’ll always be close to his heart.

Sappy, straight-forward, Jenifever calls for a Gewürztraminer. If Jeniferever is the aural equivalent of a candy-smeared child handing you a bouquet of flowers, a Gewürz is that in wine. Some people think it’s the greatest thing ever; others are utterly put off by the experience. If you’re someone who can absorb a mouthful of overwhelmingly saccharine indulgence, you’ll get along fine with either of these offerings.

Virginia Wine Tour: Chateau O’Brien

Day two of my Virginia wine tour took me to Chateau O’Brien, in western Fauquier County. Picture’s worth a thousand words, right?

Entryway to Chateau O'Brien

Entryway to Chateau O'Brien

They set the stage right… The walk up to the entrance of the tasting room is lined with planted, tended grape vines. Like Breaux Vineyards, the overall feel of the facility is that of a home, with the Cellar Collection tasting room attached to an open kitchen, the Classic Collection tasting room in a 2-tiered sitting room, and an enclosed deck designed for intimacy.

Debbie and Howard O’Brien were an absolute delight to interact with, each in a different way. Both exhibited a remarkable passion for their wines, though Debbie was much more personal and intimate in her discussion while Howard was much more authoritative and instructional as each conducted their respective tastings. Debbie deftly handled the Classic Collection, their more everyday wines, while Howard presided over the Cellar Collection, their specialties and cellar-worthy wines.

Fireplace Room at Chateau O'Brien

Fireplace Room at Chateau O'Brien

Again, before I get too long-winded about the aesthetics, let’s get into their wines.

Classic Collection

2007 Northpoint Rosé – Tastes like a sorbet, off-dry, with delightfully crisp lemon and peach flavors and strawberry candy on the finish. Color is a very light red with a peach tint at the edge. It has a very active, pleasant acidity that practically dances in the mouth. It’s relatively full-bodied with a subdued lemon drop nose. $20.00 is a very fair asking price. 8/10

(to interrupt, I purchased a bottle of the Rosé in addition to a bottle of the Late Harvest Tannat, and it barely lasted 24 hours at home. I had to pop the cork on it with a grilled meal of Caribbean-style salmon, garlic-potato-stuffed yellow bell peppers, and marinated asparagus. It was one of the best wine pairings I’d had in awhile. This wine really brought out the foodie in me. Look at that color!)

Meal pairing with the Northpoint Rosé

2008 Northpoint White – 80% Pinot Grigio, 12% Viognier, 8% Petit Manseng. Fermented in stainless steel, this wine exhibits massive citrus on the attack with a healthy acidity to match. Crisp minerality and tropical flavors also present themselves, and there’s a very distinct honey on the finish. The nose is very subtle as it exhibits these notes. A good entry into their whites at $20.00. 7/10

2006 Virginia Chardonnay – An oaky Chardonnay that manages to please. The flavors from the oak are subtle, and the wine exhibits a very light nose of toast and butter. The toasty, buttercream flavor also matches the smooth, full texture very well. 6/10

2008 Buddy’s Bistro Red – A very light reddish-purple in the glass, it exhibits a strong raspberry nose and flavor. The finish is peppery but not unpleasantly so. The flavor is overall a bit light, a bit simple, and a bit hot. For $20.00, it’s a solid 6/10.

2006 Northpoint Red – A deep red with a purplish tint at the edge, the wine exhibits a beautifully bold dark fruit nose. The flavors are all dark fruit, blackberries and dark cherries, and the long finish has a rich, ripe plum characteristic. The last three words I wrote in my tasting notes? Fantastic. Well-structured. Clean. About as good as you can get for $24.00. 8/10

2008 VA Apple Wine – Made from apples hand-picked from nearby orchards, the apple wine is very smooth and crisp, with a pure, ripe apple flavor. Not sweet like apple juice and not dry like apple cider, it has a great balance for a dessert fruit wine. A bit pricey for a fruit wine at $20.00, but it’s worth it. 7/10

Buddy, the Official Mascot of Chateau O'Brien

Buddy, the Official Mascot of Chateau O'Brien

Cellar Collection

2005 Virginia Chardonnay – Has a sweet tropical nose and flavor with notes of banana and butterscotch candy, a result of 9 months in American oak. Excellent alcohol structure against a full, beautiful flavor. A phenomenal example of the proper way to oak a Chardonnay, and a fairly inexpensive lesson in those regards at $24.00. 8/10

2006 Reserve Chardonnay – Another school of thought in oak with 14 months in French oak. A good balance of butter, toast, and vanilla. Very light and creamy, slightly nutty, with a beautiful sweet cream on a long finish. $29.00 nets you a solid white wine. 7/10

2006 Northpoint Red Cellar Collection – 41% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 14% Malbec. Round dark fruit flavors, amazing complexity on the finish, very smooth and velvety, an absolute delight at $39.00. 7/10

2006 Limited Reserve Tannat – Very dark, deep reddish-purple, with a bright, ripe blackberry nose. Flavor is huge, aggressive, with a flavor of fresh dark fruits. Very well balanced. My words? “Chalky, velvety, sublime.” As Howard said, Virginia is built for Tannat. Definitely an investment at $69, but it’s one of the best wines I’ve had in the United States, let alone Virginia. 8/10

2007 Late Harvest Tannat – Exploding with dark fruits, rich, ripe blackberry and raspberry. It’s airy, not syrupy, with 4% residual sugar and 18% alcohol. Let’s go to the winery’s website for the details:

No wine language can so eloquently express the powerful elegance of this wine. The result of superb viticulture, patience, and discipline for harvest timing and sound winemaking, this subtly sweet Tannat blatantly expresses the underestimated potential of red wine in Virginia. Natural sugar accumulation, during ripening, reaches a level beyond the capacity of a natural yeast fermentation, resulting in a wine with 18% alcohol and a slightly perceptible sweetness.

Yeah, that sounds about right. It’s $69 for a 750ml bottle and worth every penny, especially for such a rarity in the wine world. 7/10

Hey, tasting through this line-up, I was in love. They haven’t been on the map for very long either (first vintage in 2005), so their wines should only improve. Word is spreading about this winery… the tasting rooms were busy, not crowded, but busy, for the majority of the time I spent there (about 4 hours).

If you ever find yourself in the area, make sure you stop by Chateau O’Brien. They’re another great example of the potential for wine in Virginia.

Virginia Wine Tour: Breaux Vineyards

It’s not often that a place I’ve never been to before makes me homesick.

Breaux Vineyard

The Vineyards at Breaux

Not that I’m homesick for Northern Virginia, but for Virginia in general. I spent pretty much my entire life (other than a few months in Northern Europe) in the state, and I left rather abruptly last year in the name of my career, leaving behind all of my life-long friendships and my comfort zone for a brand new area. It was a passing sensation, missing where I used to live, but the fact that it even happened, considering the amazing circle of friends I’ve already developed in North Carolina, speaks volumes.

More than anything that I want to drive home with this post is that these wineries made me feel like I was home. I never felt like I was sitting on the deck of a business. I felt like I was sitting in someone’s home, someone’s life, somewhere that I had been invited.

Every winery I visited this week was both beautiful and hospitable. It was the perfect combination of gorgeous landscapes, friendly people, and fine wine. I’ve got tasting notes from three of the vineyards, and accompanying each one will be photos and a little bit of background. I don’t need to rehash the history of each one… I can link to their website, and each winery can tell it better in their own words than I. I simply want to give you my experience as a first-time visitor to the wineries, to explain what makes this area the next big thing in wine.

Today’s post is on my first stop on my trip: Breaux Vineyards.

Breaux Vineyards tasting room and winery

At the Entrance to Breaux Vineyards

I actually attended Breaux on two separate trips with fellow wine Tweeters/bloggers, once with @TLColson (of Southern Wine Trails) and the other with @SuzieLin (Running Wine Girl).

The first time was a late afternoon visit, merely an opportunity to taste their wines for the first time. We showed up after most of the crowd had left, waiting for a spot to open up at the tasting counter. I lucked out on this trip because @TLColson and I had been tweeting with Jen, the Tasting Room Manager and social media mind behind @BreauxVineyards, so when we arrived she came out to the tasting room to meet us. This was a fantastic opportunity to chat with her about the wines, about the winery, the history, everything that I would have wanted to know about the facilities.

In fact, before she closed up, I got a brief tour of the winery as well some great info about current and future wines and events. Jen’s one-of-a-kind when it comes to customer service; she thrives in the social role, inviting people to follow her on Twitter and Facebook so she can keep up with them after they leave the winery.

Breaux barrel room

Inside the Winery at Breaux Vineyards

The second time I visited, with @SuzieLin, was for a Face to Facebook event hosted in the outdoor pavilion. It was a much less official visit marked mostly by just sipping a Reserve Cab, conversing, and taking in the atmosphere. Later in the afternoon we met a friendly couple from D.C. who offered to share a picnic and some wine with us. I meant to head out by 4 for another event, but I think we ended up heading out sometime around 7:30. It’s easy to lose track of time there.

Before I get too long-winded, let’s do a rundown of their wine, shall we?

White / Rosé

2007 Jolie Blond – Made from Seyval Blanc. It’s citrusy, with a high acidity, dry, slightly hot on the alcohol. Stark flavor of grapefruit. For $14.00, it’s a good entry-level Virginia white. 6/10.

2008 Viognier – Very ripe, exotic tropical nose. My tasting notes say “fantastically dry,” to the point but perfectly accurate. Flavors of passionfruit and honey with a beautiful sweet pineapple finish and a lush, full mouthfeel. At $23.00, this easily rates an 8/10.

2009 Madeleines Chardonnay – An unoaked Chard is a way to my heart. It has a very unusual dark floral nose and flavors as well as tangerine, and the finish has a very clean kiwi flavor. Great balance. For $19.00, I’d say it’s a 7/10.

2008 Syrah Rosé – Strong nose and palate of cranberry with a strawberry candy finish. A little bit thin, but the finish is great and clean. 6/10

Dessert

2008 Jen’s Jambalaya – Ripe tropical nose and flavors, hints of honeysuckle and peach. It’s fairly sweet, and it honestly reminds me of a Moscato. It’s a blend of 7 grapes that I neglected to write down. Sorry about that. I wasn’t crazy about it in the tasting room when I first had it, but the second time I was around, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For $18.00, it rates a 7/10.

2007 Chère Marie – Created from Vidal Blanc, the Chére Marie is a simple, sweet, basic tropical wine. Fairly non-descript, but there’s nothing wrong with it. For $12.00, it’s a 5/10.

2008 Nebbbiolo Ice – Color me surprised. This wine has ridiculously clean flavors of pineapple, banana, and orange. I wrote “lush fruit,” and every positive thing that can mean should be implied here. It’s only the slightest bit syrupy, at 10% sugar, but damn if it isn’t satisfying. $24.00 for a half bottle, and I’m giving it an 8/10.

Breaux wine line-up

The victims of the evening's after-hours wine consumption

Red

NV Equation – Thin but sharp tannins, a medium finish of spice and redfruits. Notes of blackberry and plum. A very good under $20 Merlot. 6/10

2005 Marquis De Lafayette – I had more than my fair share of this that first night. 100% Cabernet Franc, which is my regional guilty pleasure. Plummy and peppery, a fairly light structure with pleasant, subdued tannins. A fantastic summer red, especially at $19.00. 7/10

2006 Meritage – Blend of 38% Merlot, 24% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Aggressively tannic, with flavors of coffee, red fruit, and dark chocolate. Very luxurious, with a long chocolate finish. You better believe I brought a bottle of this back with me. At $28.00, it’s a good bargain that could cellar for a decade. 8/10

2004 Merlot – Flavors of tart cherry and baking spices, with a ripe plum on the finish. Fairly simple, medium-bodied, not terribly tannic. Like the Meritage, a great value at $28.00. 7/10

2005 Nebbiolo – A very light red in the glass, Strong tobacco and smoke. I personally have a problem getting past strong tobacco and smoke in any wine, so I can’t give a good estimate of this wine’s flavor components beyond red fruits and floral. The balance, texture, mouthfeel, everything was well rounded. It was a fantastic wine to sip on in the sun. Well worth it at $48.00. (no rating)

2007 Double Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – A rare treat that I got to sample, it has a fantastic balance. Deep ruby color. Very complex with red fruits, spices, tobacco, and a bit of smoke. Long black cherry finish. 7/10

Essentially, this is one of the best all-around line-ups I’ve ever been able to taste through. If you ever find yourself in Virginia northwest of D.C., you owe it to yourself to make the detour out to this countryside winery. Even if they’ve got a crowd (and they often do), you’ll have a phenomenal time.

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