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.

How Virginia Does It: Viognier from the Piedmont

The Back Story:

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a Virginia wine. Through no fault of my own, I’ve recently turned my attentions east, towards the Tokajis, Grüner Vetliners, and Gewürztraminers of the world. It wasn’t too long, though, before my attention wandered back to local fare. Thus, I picked up a Virginia wine on one of my recent wine shopping trips: The Horton Vineyards 2008 Tower Series Viognier.

Because what actually happened was rather dull, allow me to utilize the age-old writer’s device known as creative embellishment, and to point out that the unnamed wine shop villainized as such below is decidedly not evil in real life:

*cue the string quartet*

Scene: Caroline of the North Empire’s Wine Fortress. Year unknown.

Our hero, the wine explorer, nameless, approaches the imposing storefront. Glowing, blood-red letters embellished with a cluster of insidious grapes materialize in the air before the building, swelling a lump in his throat and beating him down to his knees. Give in, give in. The unreadable glyphs pierce his mind, forcing him to gaze into them one by one, each one sapping more of his energy.

He wrenches free of their hold, rolling to his feet as a terrible shriek cuts through the air around him. He sprints towards the only entryway, two glass portals framed by bars of pulsing obsidian. As he nears them, he throws his hands forward and snaps them apart, splitting the doors and sliding them in either direction as he tumbles through the doorway. Just before a sentry turns his way, the explorer rolls behind a stand of wine, the bottles rattling as he brushes by them.

Peeking around the corner, our intrepid hero spies multiple sentries throughout the area. He studies them carefully, seeking any kind of weakness that he can exploit. He notices several denizens unlike them, lacking uniforms, shambling throughout the aisles, collecting various corked bottles stored on racks on the walls. The sentries indicate which bottles are acceptable to remove, and if a denizen selects incorrectly, the sentry uses an overwhelming aura, what they call “snobbery,” to break their spirit and mold them into proper servants. All the hero has to do, he thinks, is shamble forth and submit to the sentries when spotted. So long as he didn’t let on his true target, the 3-liter casks of wine strategically placed far, far away from the Châteauneuf du Pape, he should be able to complete his quest.

Mere seconds after he rises from his crouch, he is approached by a sentry.

“Why have you entered our domain?” The sentry begins to emanate his oppressive aura, prepared to batter the explorer’s intelligence and willpower with a sickly wave of snobbery. Unprepared for such an encounter, the explorer grasps at the first diversion he can find.

“I seek the ambrosia of Greek Moschofilero.” The explorer hopes the obscurity of such a treasure would satisfy the sentry’s inclinations and suppositions. The sentry begins to tremble with anger, and the explorer worries he may have overreached in his estimation of the varietal. As the explorer considers his escape and steels his mind for a painful onslaught of magic hidden in thinly-disguised invective, the sentry slumps, the wave of snobbery all but vanishing around him.

“We have failed to procure most of such treasure, though the meager stores we have exist to the far west, there.” The sentry points towards one corner of the room and then hurries away, warming up his aura to exact his anger upon an unsuspecting denizen in the zone of Italian reds. As our explorer watches, horrified, the sentry grabs the denizen and flings her across the room where she lands in a wooden chair bolted to the floor. The sentry straps her legs and arms and turns on the TV in front of her. Sideways is on loop.

The explorer dashes in the direction the sentry had pointed, rounding the corner and swiping a bottle of the ambrosia as cover. Just around the corner, he senses, are the casks, his true goal, also stuffed in this forgotten corner. He approaches the wall of casks with caution, ensuring no sentries are in sight as he begins his cautious approach towards the musty shelves of casks. There are so many! He stands in awe of the vast array of casks, trying to discern which the most potent of them all. He only has room for two, and he had not expected such a selection. He wonders briefly why creatures such as these sentries, who reviled these casks so, would continue to stockpile them in such great quantities, but his musings are cut short as one rounded the corner. In his haste, he stuffs two casks that seemed most likely to hold the liquid he sought into his satchel and moves onward to the next zone. He finds himself face to face with shelves of wine from his homeland, Virginia.

A compunction to liberate one overwhelms his senses, and just before the sentry can approach him, he swipes a golden bottle from the shelf and sinks softly into the shadows. In his search for a single legendary cask of wine, he had collected four different containers, each one glowing brightly with the promise of invaluable treasure. He is amazed at how easily and quickly he had gotten them. Escape, he thought glumly, will be a whole other matter. What will it cost to get these home?

Fin

The Results:

Horton Vineyards Viognier in glass and bottleThe appearance of the wine is an extremely light straw. When I say light, I mean the wine is almost clear. The color in that glass is almost entirely from the light in the oven behind it. The swirl suggests a creamy texture and a very high viscosity.

The nose of the wine is pungent and palatable. Floral and tropical notes combine for a very exotic, perfume-y scent. There are hints of mango and banana that jump out, and a honeyed, slightly musty odor lingers on the nose.

The mouth feel of the wine is as the swirl suggested. It was very creamy, with an extremely active acidity and effervescence that gave it a tingly, tangy consistency similar to a Frizzante.

The flavor of the wine was rather unlike a typical Viognier. It was very dry and extremely complex, full-bodied and refreshing. The attack was both floral and citrusy with a toasty undertone, followed by strong mineral and honey flavors. The finish was rather long with subtle mango and peach flavors coming through the minerality. at 13.8% alc, there was no suggestion of the alcohol in the flavor. It was an all-around harmonious wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a fantastic summer sipper. It’s aggressive, full-bodied, and refreshing. There’s some sugar in this wine, but the acidity and alcohol are so high that it manages to be crisp even though it has a thick texture. This is one of those wines that you want to experience on its own: take a sip, close your eyes, and enjoy the flavors and sensations as they wash over your tongue. If you had to pair it, I would suggest a lighter seafood or pasta meal. This wine would not handle tomatoes, spiciness, or red meat well at all.

Conclusion:

Though I wasn’t expecting this style of wine at all from this region and this grape, I was thoroughly impressed by it. It’s well worth the $20 price tag. And seriously, are you gonna turn down a bottle that beautiful? 7/10

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit Part 4: Eye on the Future

Looking for the rest of our series? You can find it here:
Part 1: The Dawn of Cooperation – opening arguments of Texas vs. Virginia on Vinotology
Part 2: The Great Tasting – the Texas / Virginia wine swap on Wine(Explored)
Part 3: Independent Research – Texas hyping up Virginia and vice-versa on Vinotology

Chairman: Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached the finale of the 2010 Texas / Virginia Wine Summit. So far we’ve made cases for each on the basis of history, provided wines, and independent research. Today, we ask our participants to make a case for the futures of their respective states’ wine industries. We’ll begin with the gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Joshua Sweeney of Wine(Explored).

Josh: Thank you, Chairman. I would like to begin my statement with a few eye-opening stats. First, I would like to highlight the rapid growth of wineries in Virginia. We had only 64 registered wineries in 2000. As of this year, there are over 160 wineries, and they’re opening at an average of two a month. We currently have 260 independent vineyards farming over 2400 acres of land dedicated to growing the grape.

Virginia Wine Is for Lovers

Second, if I asked you to estimate where Virginia fell in terms of total volume of wine produced in the US, what would you guess? 5th, 6th? As much noise as Virginia is making in the wine scene, in 2008, we were merely the 9th highest producer of wine with 3.7 million liters, or a little under 1 million gallons, crushed from Virginia grapes. Surprisingly enough, Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Florida produced more wine, while North Carolina was narrowly edged out at 3.5 million liters. Virginia is making noise in the industry while producing .17% as much wine as California, 3.46% as much as New York, 4.84% as much Washington state, and 23.72% as much as Oregon.

Also, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Virginia has approximately 8.5 million acres of farmable land. Viticulture currently occupies roughly .028% of Virginia’s farmable land. To put it another way, for every acre of vines planted, there are 7000 acres of other farmable land. Industry saturation is not an issue in Virginia.

These facts point to a few important conclusions in my mind: The lack of total production combined with a growing reputation in the country suggests an overall high quality of wines being grown, and wine-makers are quickly figuring this out. And it’s not some specialized grape that’s found its niche here; traditional varietals are making an appearance. Our top four varietals produced in 2009 were Chardonnay (18.4% of total volume), Cabernet Franc (13.2%), Merlot (11.8%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (7.5%).

Other white varietals that vintners are having success with in Virginia include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Viognier, Vidal Blanc and Petit Manseng. Red varietals becoming popular in the area include Norton, Petit Verdot, and Chambourcin. Petit Manseng and Chambourcin especially are developing into regional specialties.

Because of the popularity of our most commonly produced varietals and the development of a few marketable specialties, our growth potential, and the rate of new wineries opening in the state, we could very well see our output beginning to match our reputation and triple by 2020. While I don’t currently foresee us taking over Oregon by then, at the very least we should be able to close the gap in total production by at least half. At the very least, the future is looking very bright for the wine industry in my state.

Chairman: Thank you, Virginia. We will now hear from the honorable gentleman of Texas, Ben Simons of Vinotology.

Texas Wine Resources

Handy resources at gotexanwine.org

Ben: Thank you Mr. Chairman.  It has been a pleasure to be able to participate in this event and to represent my state before you all.  Both of the great states represented in this event have demonstrated that they deserve to be thought of as of quality wine regions.  We have tasted some great wines, and have learned much about each state.  Today I would like to talk about the Texas wine industry, past, present, and future.

Like my colleague’s home state of Virginia, Texas also has experienced rapid growth in the number of wineries around the state.  As recently as 2003 there were only 54 wineries in the state, but that number has ballooned to over 160 wineries today.  There are roughly 3600 acres of wine grapes planted in Texas right now, which is not nearly enough acreage to produce the grapes for the wineries operating in the state.  This is both a curse and an opportunity.  The fact that Texas is producing an ever increasing amount of wine, while still having to import so much fruit, seems to indicate that there is a good deal of growth potential in both the quantity and quality of Texas wines.  Currently Texas is producing roughly 2 million gallons of wine a year, but less than 500,000 gallons are made from Texas fruit.

For most of the history of the Texas wine industry, French Bordeaux varieties have dominated the wine production in Texas, with Cabernet Sauvignon making up nearly 25% of the grape production, followed by Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Merlot.  In recent years there has been a growth in the production of more Mediterranean varieties, such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Rhone varieties like Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier.  The challenges of the Texas growing season have lead many growers to seek out varieties more amenable to our conditions.  The result is a Texas wine industry that shows the potential to differentiate itself with some unique varieties.

Much of the wine being produced in Texas is also being consumed in Texas.  Texas consumers seem to be increasingly interested in the new varieties that are becoming more common in the state.  With the shortages in grape production that Texas faces, the likelihood of Texas wine being distributed out of state is very slim.  The single factor that will most impact Texas’ ability to become recognized as a premier wine producing region is probably grape production.  Unless more acreage is planted in grapes, thereby leading to more genuine Texas wines, Texas will not be able to develop a reputation on a national stage.  Given the wines that I have presented, I feel confident in saying that an increase in production could easily send Texas into the list of elite wine producing states.  Texas has only been seriously producing wine for the last 30 years, and the industry has come a long way in that time.  One thing seems to be clear, the best days of the Texas wine industry are still ahead of us.  Thank you.

Chairman: We’ve now reached the end of our summit. I would like to thank both participants for taking much time in the recent weeks to advocate for their respective states. It has been grueling, taxing, even bloody. Incidentally, we hope that the stenographer recovers from his nasty fall. But I digress. The chamber has reached a verdict. In my humble opinion, the state that has secured the right to be come the next big wine region is…

—END TRANSCRIPT—

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit Part 3: Independent Research

No post local today, but you can catch part 3 of the collaboration between me and Vinotology on his blog here: The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit Part 3: Independent Research. Have at it!

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 2: The Great Tasting

Looking for part 1 of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit? You can find the Dawn of Cooperation here on Vinotology.

Chairman: Welcome to the second session of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit. Our participants are Joshua Sweeney, Virginia born-and-bred and host of today’s venue, Wine(Explored), and Ben Simons, native son of Texas and the man behind Vinotology. In our first session, we laid the groundwork evidence for Virginia’s and Texas’s credentials as major wine-producing regions. Today, we will accept one wine from each state as physical evidence. Virginia, please present your wine to the chamber for review.

Chairman of the wine summit

Josh: As evidence of Virginia’s worth as a major wine-producing region, I submit for review the 2008 West Wind Farm Rosé. I have selected this wine because it showcases both the abilities of Virginia wine growers as well as the creativity inherent in Virginia wine culture. When you think of a Rosé, what wine characteristics come to mind? What would you consider to be the typical Rosé? *pause for dramatic effect*

Close behind the argument of red wine drinkers versus white wine drinkers is red AND white wine drinkers versus Rosé. Bastard child of the red wine, white wine wearing the makeup of an incorrigible trollop, a blush wine for people who can’t handle their tannins, Rosés have suffered many slights in the minds of drinkers with a wine superiority complex. In actuality, a pink wine is an art unto itself, a beautiful, shape-shifting creature that can embody the crispness and sweet nature of a white or the aggressive acidity and tannic bite of a mature red. The trick is, as with any wine, in the respect and dedication of the wine maker.

When I first tasted this wine, I had no idea what I was getting into. The color was rich but light for a Rosé, a pure pink that betrayed only the slightest hint of red. The nose was dry and pungent, fruit-forward but rather tame. I was ready for the standard pink experience. Fool me once… The thing is, Merlot grapes aren’t the standard grape for a Rosé, and if I had bothered to read the tasting notes, I would have known the wine, 100% Merlot, was allowed a little under a day’s worth of skin contact to get that deep pink color.

Putting that first sip on my tongue was like dropping a bomb of dryness on my palate. After I figured out that no, I hadn’t utterly lost my mind, I was absolutely in awe of the characteristics of that wine. So crisp, so dry, balanced so well, and with a beautiful red fruit flavor that faded to a ripe strawberry finish, I was duly impressed. Unusual innovation like that is one of the benefits of living in an “up and coming” wine region, as there are no traditions to buck or expectations to meet. An additional benefit of the lesser-known region is the lower price point on these wines. The Rosé sells directly from the winery for $14.

I’ll now yield the floor to my colleague from Texas before I encroach upon his rebuttal. Your thoughts on this wine, Mr. Simons?

West Wind Farm emblem

Ben: Josh, I have to say that I admire the courage of choosing something unconventional like a Rosé.  I admit that I was intrigued when I heard that you would be presenting this wine.  As a resident of a state that is making some interesting wines from some unusual varieties, I can appreciate the creativity shown with this wine.

I really like the color of this wine, most definitely somewhat lighter than you generally see, but an interesting pinkish hue. * sniff- Hmm, the dryness of this wine is surprisingly evident even on the nose.  I do smell a bit of red fruit, but I wouldn’t say that the nose is overly fruity.  I also wouldn’t call the nose overly friendly or inviting, but it is interesting.

*sip – Wow, very interesting flavors. Surprisingly dry, and surprisingly big on the palate. The flavors of crisp cherry and citrus stand out. This wine feels like a walking contradiction. I’m getting citrus, but not a ton of acidity. I get something that seems slightly like cherry candy, but the wine is by no means sweet. The lingering flavor of strawberries and a touch of apple finish are like a nice hug goodbye.

Chairman: Thank you, Texas. The chamber now calls on you to present your wine for review.

Ben: Mr. Chairman, as evidence for the quality of Texas as a wine region, I submit the 2006 Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir. I selected this wine for a number of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that Pinot Noir is a grape that most people would assume cannot be grown successfully in Texas. In fact, I have even been told by a Texas winemaker that Pinot Noir can’t be grown here. This wine shows the amazing versatility of Texas viticulture.

This wine was produced in the High Plains of Texas, in my hometown of Lubbock. The winery operates under a philosophy of minimal intervention, trying to do their best to let the grapes speak for themselves. The High Plains is probably the only place in the state where Pinot Noir could be grown, as the nights get cool enough to support these thin skinned grapes. Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grown, and an even more difficult one to do well, but I think this winery has done an excellent job.  There were only 70 cases of this wine produced.

The color of this wine is what you want a Pinot Noir to be, not dark and inky, but a somewhat light shade of garnet red. There is no doubt that this is a true Pinot Noir. The nose has beautiful red fruit notes of strawberry and cherry, with just a touch of earthiness. When I sip on this wine, I love the acidity that leaps out, with tangy fruits like sour cherry and cranberries standing out. This wine practically screams for a pork tenderloin to pair with it, which we just happen to have to serve the Chairman and each of the panelists after the evidence presentation is complete.  One final note, this wine costs only $15, which is a remarkably low price for a Pinot Noir, especially one made from a small production winery.

I now yield to the gentleman from the state of Virginia, Mr. Sweeney…

Pheasant Ridge logo

Josh: Thank you, Ben. Like that misinformed winemaker, I had never considered that Pinot Noir could be grown in a state so far south as Texas. Consider me enlightened. It would seem that Texas, like Virginia, has an interesting array of growing areas. I had known about how Texas was well suited for Mediterranean varietals such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese, but Pinot Noir? It will be very interesting to see how this pans out.

I can see what you mean about the color of this wine. That is a very rich red, though still light enough for a quality Pinot Noir. *sniff – Those red fruits really jump out at you. The cherry smell dominates for me, but I still get that undertone of earthiness that seems to me an appropriate expression of the terroir. It’s a little bit spicy and floral, but just enough to accent the red fruit, nothing overpowering. Its aroma is powerful, too. I can smell it from across the table.

*sip – Oh my. That is an incredibly harmonious wine. Fantastic acidity, and it’s well-balanced, off-dry. A very easy drinker. Again, massive red-fruits on the palate, raspberry, cherry, and, yes, cranberry. The mouth feel is velvety with a pleasant bite. I’m even getting something a little like cinnamon and pepper on the mid-palate, which transitions nicely to a long, dry, cherry finish. I probably would not have placed this as a New World wine in a blind tasting. It’s only 15 dollars, you say? I would have pegged this wine for at least $20. Chairman?

Chairman: We will now take a recess. I would like to thank our participants, Mr. Ben Simons representing Texas and Mr. Joshua Sweeney representing Virginia. We will pass preliminary deliberations onto you, the panelists. Pass the pork tenderloin, please.

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

Check out this collaboration between me and Ben Simons of Vinotology on his blog. We present the cases for Virginia vs. Texas wine as taking the next step towards becoming major North American wine regions. Part 2 will be up tomorrow morning right here on Wine(Explored)!

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

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