A Friday Afternoon Indulgence and an Odd New Accessory

Ken Forrester Pinotage and the Moltes GewurztraminerThe tasting this week was a study in contrast: the whimsical, airy notions suggested by an Alsatian Gewurztraminer and the dirty, heavy-handed character of a South African Pinotage. The Gewurz, a 2008 from Moltes, is a $15.00 gem from Alsace, the eastern-most region of France that borders north of Switzerland and west of Germany. The Pinotage, a 2009 Ken Forrester wine from the Stellenbosch valley in southwestern South Africa, offers a hybrid grape from a terroir nearly 6000 miles away from the cradle of its ancestors in Languedoc and Burgundy.

The Gewurztraminer came highly recommended by Jen, the manager of the Hillsborough Wine Company, one of my favorite local spots to get my wine. I was initially dazzled by the depth of the wine,  with golds and yellows and greens all swirling about depending on where the light caught. The nose was fairly typical for a Gewurztraminer, with floral, tropical, and very slightly grape-y scents. The flavors, though, were unexpectedly complex. Orange zest, lavender, passion fruit, pineapple, and, again, a light grape make an appearance on the palate, with the pineapple overtaking on the finish.

I’m not a Gewurztraminer fan, but when they’re done right, whoo boy, they don’t disappoint.

The Pinotage was received much more coolly. I can definitely understand the lack of enthusiasm; it was simply too young. We gave it a pass through this Menu decanting system, designed to decant and aerate the wine then pour back into the bottle. Maybe we can’t age it in a hurry, but ideally we can at least let it open up to its potential.

What we got from this wine was a consensus of wrong wine, wrong time. This was a very smoky, very sour, albeit very smooth, experience, with aggressive tannins and a heavy-handed flavor. We found it very savory, making it an ideal pairing for barbecue ribs, something that will take the edge off the smoky flavor and allow the red fruits to shine through. The nose gave us a suggestion of what the flavor could become, with a bright cherry shining through the meatiness. Because I neglected to bring in some food for the tasting, however, the world may never know.

At least the Menu decanter was a rousing success. A good, even cascade, solid seal that held a 750ml bottle firmly in place, and a gasket that didn’t spill a single drop while pouring either into the bottle or out. Though one might question the wisdom of decanting a bottle then refilling it, at least from an aesthetic point, the convenience of pouring from a bottle rather than a decanter cannot be overstated.

What do you think? Is this product’s feature a solid idea or merely a gimmick? Would you rather be serving a decanted wine from a decanter, or is the bottle the preferred vessel for when you’re entertaining?

Exploring an Utter Mystery in the Yadkin Valley

From the first moment that I saw the name of the winery, “Cellar 4201,” on the North Carolina map, I was intrigued. The name reminded me, strangely, of the vaults from Fallout, and I half-expected to come across some sort of bomb-shelteresque hole in the ground a la Vault 101:

Fallout Vault 101 Door

Instead, you’re greeted by an elegant wooden door surrounded by sub-tropical plants and set in a cottage-like tasting room that seems yanked directly from Italy’s Piedmont countryside:

Cellar 4201 Entrance

Words cannot convey how intrigued I was by this winery simply because of the name. Mysterious, entirely non-descriptive, and surrounded geographically by quirky names like Divine Llama and Rag Apple Lassie and old standbys like Shelton Vineyards and Flint Hill, Cellar 4201 provoked every curious bone I had in my body (206 I believe is the current scientific count). Looking at the pictures from their website only made me even more intrigued.

Oh, and by the way, that pour they put in the montage on the home page? That’s actually about the pour you get if you pay for a glass of wine. All their wines are only $5 by the glass, and you get to keep the glass as a souvenir every single glass you buy. They, uh, they take care of their customers.

The owner, Greg, was out straightening up the patio when we arrived; he gave us a friendly welcoming, and we started conversing. He gave us a rundown of the history of the vineyard, about how he and his wife, Donna, developed their passion for wine through traveling and decided to bring their favorite varietals from France and Italy to North Carolina. While they’ve been growing the grapes since 2003, their tasting room has only been open for a year. They took plenty of time to ensure their wines were top quality before they invited the public in. He also explained the name and the label; rather than gussy up the winery’s name, they wanted to quite simply describe what they were, a wine cellar located at 4201 Apperson Road. All their labels feature an arrowhead, an homage to Donna’s Cherokee heritage. The vibrant orange that runs through their label, their logo, and the flora on-site stems from Donna’s affinity for that color.

The expansive lawn of Cellar 4201 (yes that's a cornhole set out there)

While we talked, Greg began to pour a tasting for us. He described the intent behind each wine, each vintage, explaining why things tasted the way they did. Far from a hands-off owner, Greg planted himself firmly in the winemaking, though he defers to the knowledge of Sean McRitchie, a second-generation winemaker from McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, whom he recruited to lead the process.

Halfway through the tasting, Greg had to leave to attend to his other business, but his tasting room partner and best friend Aaron continued the customer service. With a sleeveless shirt, tribal bicep tattoo, and a deep tan, Aaron struck me more as a rugged, outdoorsy type than a tasting room attendant, but he quickly demonstrated his passion for and knowledge of Cellar 4201’s wares as he poured the last wines. Aaron described how, after a long friendship spanning decades (“We’ve never had cross words for each other,” he proudly told us), Greg recruited him to help follow his dream and create the vineyard. They attended classes together, conducted blind tastings, and otherwise educated themselves on the varieties they planted. Now, they harvest the grapes, make the wine, and pour the wines together as a seamless duo.

Gotta stop before I write too much again. How about the wines? None are over $15, and all are absolutely fantastic. Small lots are maintained from 5 total acres of vines, and their wines are 100% estate-grown, meaning all the wine gets plenty of attention throughout the process.

Cellar 4201 is a winery after my girlfriend’s heart. She’s a big red drinker, lover of Bordeaux, and very particular about her white wines. Completely flying in the face of the typical North Carolinian palate, Cellar 4201 offers only two whites (neither of them sweet), and the rest of their wines are classic left-bank Bordeaux reds and an Italian red and off-dry Rosé, both single varietal Sangiovese.

09 Stainless Steel Chardonnay – Offers a bright nose of citrus, primarily pineapple, with a surprisingly full flavor of citrus and tropical notes and a very light perceived sweetness balanced by a superb, soft acidity. Finish is medium-long and tastes like lemons. 7/10

06 Barrel-aged Chardonnay - Spent 9 months in older French and American oak, imparting a very light oak on the nose and flavor. Tropical notes still come through on the nose, and the flavor introduces a slightly buttery characteristic as well as tropical and spices. The wine has a beautiful mouth-soaking texture, incredibly smooth and firm. 7/10

Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

NV Sangiovese – A quick note about the non-vintageness of this wine, straight from Greg: in 2007, frost killed almost all of their Sangiovese, leaving them with just 100 gallons after winemaking. Rather than bottle this as is, Greg decided to barrel-age the whole lot for an additional year, 2 years total, blending it with the 2008 Sangiovese after it had aged for a year.

The result is, in my opinion, the best wine they currently offer. A deep reddish-purple color like the skin of a black cherry, offering a light pepper and smoke that gives way to a rich black cherry flavor. The oak provides an incredibly nuanced, velvety texture while hardly encroaching on the pure flavor of the grapes. The tannins are chalky and delicate, offering a surprisingly smooth red wine that was perfect for sipping out in the sun. 8/10

Also, why Sangiovese? From the about us section: “After traveling to Italy, Donna developed a passion for Sangiovese. While admitting it is difficult to grow, it is currently our signature wine.” Simple.

2006 Merlot - With a nose of brisk cherry and black pepper, the Merlot hardly exhibits the 10 months it spent in French oak. It has a great structure, perhaps a bit lighter than a typical Merlot, but the flavors and texture are simply delightful. 7/10

2006 Reserve Merlot - With their Merlot, they split the vintage, oaking one twice as long as the other. Thus, the Reserve Merlot has all the characteristics of its purer brother, but with a palpable, pleasant oak characteristic. The flavor is fuller, darker, with cherries and pepper just bursting onto the palate. The texture is fuller as well, coating the mouth very nicely. Both styles are equally delicious and affordable, so choosing a Merlot is as simple as figuring out how full you prefer your reds to be. 7/10

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Very smoky nose. Complex flavor of dark fruits, tobacco, and wood with a smoky finish. Beautiful full flavor and texture. 10 months in French oak softened it without masking the flavor. 7/10

2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - With a fuller dark fruit flavor, light oak on the nose and palate, remnants of the smoky and woody character of its lighter brother, and a raisin quality on the finish, the 2006 Reserve Cabernet takes 20 months in French oak in stride. Great texture on this one. 7/10

2006 Sweet Native - The one concession Cellar 4201 has made to the sweet-drinking crowd, the Sweet Native is an off-dry Rosé from 100% Sangiovese with 3% sugar. The flavor is an array of citrus and red fruits, with a pleasantly crisp acidity and a decidedly non-syrupy texture. As Mr. Drink Pink, I approve. 7/10

This post accompanied by a bottle of the Cellar 4201 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I made it almost 4 days without opening it.

No, Seriously, North Carolina Wine Pt. 2: RayLen Vineyards

Though I would love to flesh out a detailed post on RayLen Vineyards this week, I feel like I have a lot more to learn about the winery and its owners. Instead, I’d like to highlight some of the wines that I tasted and hammer home the word of the day: “potential.” This winery is poised for some fantastic things, and it’s only a matter of time before these guys start getting national recognition.

Let’s start with the whites.

Fine, let’s.

2009 Chardonnay (naked): Very good acidity and dry flavors on this wine. Apple, pear, and a bit of tropical fruit make it a fairly conventional but wholly enjoyable Chardonnay that’s well worth its $13 price tag. 6/10

2008 Chardonnay (oaked): Very, very buttery. I underlined buttery, that’s how much butter there is. Absolutely beautiful, clear butterscotch flavor, very smooth. The oak is fairly obvious but not overwhelming. I honestly think winemakers in Virginia and North Carolina understand oak better than California right now. $14 gets you a serious winner. 7/10

2008 SMV Chardonnay (oaked): Grown in a more distant vineyard at an elevation of 1200-1500 feet, this Chardonnay offers a slightly different oak as well. A decent creamy texture, softer than the on-site Chardonnay, accompanies a buttery, toasty flavor. Definitely a different flavor, still very worth it at $15, though I prefer the other barrel Chardonnay. 6/10

2008 Yadkin Gold: A blend of Riesling, Viognier, and Pinot Grigio. A very subdued tropical nose and palate. Slightly sweet at .81% residual sugar, and it drinks beautifully at a bargain-level price tag of $13. 6/10

And now the Reds?

Sure, why not.

2007 Shiraz: Consider this the single biggest surprise of the trip. I did not like it at first, probably because I was a) not expecting much of anything from it and b) it’s not exactly a typical Shiraz. My second taste of it, though, I was convinced. This wine went down very smooth, with a beautiful blackberry flavor accompanied by an interesting mix of spices and herbs. This is definitely a red meat pairing waiting to happen. Oh, and it’s only $14. 7/10

2007 Cabernet Franc: From what I can tell, 2007 was a good year in a lot of places, both New World and Old (there’s a breaking statement for you). The difference between the 2006 and 2007 Cab Franc at RayLen is staggering… the 2007 is much, much smoother, with a beautiful coffee and black cherry flavor and a fantastic structure. For $14, this is a serious bargain. 7/10

2007 Category 5: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this wine packs a serious punch. Though the structure is just a tad harsh, the oak is just enough to tame the wine while not overwhelming a very good, bright cherry flavor. It’s $18, which is a bit more than their other basic reds, but still very reasonable. 6/10

NV Pale Red: A blush wine blended with about 2% Concord to give it a slightly sweet, grape-y flavor on top of the bright red fruits the rest of the blend provides. 2.78% residual sugar makes for a very interesting and not at all overwhelming off-dry red wine, and it’s only $10. 6/10

2006 Eagle’s Select: This wine, right here, is the mother of all reds at RayLen. A Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, with 18 months in oak, this takes all the best aspects of their various grapes and really showcases the winemaker’s skill. Black cherry, mint, and spice all provide a beautiful flavor accompanied by incredibly nuanced tannins. This wine is ready to drink now, but it could lay down for years, and I’d really be interested to see what it would do. Best of all, this finely crafted wine is only $25. 8/10

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Remember when I said the word of the day is “potential”? That’s exactly the case with this wine. While it is a delicious specimen now, with red fruits, cherry, slight spice, and a hint of tobacco, I feel like laying it down for 5 to 10 years would soften it into a truly sublime drinking experience. This wine is actually a pretty good metaphor for the rest of the winery… they’re on the cusp of great things. This might turn out to be a serious bargain down the road if purchased now, as it’s only $16. 6/10

And the sparkling?

Right, right.

NV Sparkling Wine: So, funny story… RayLen isn’t actually equipped to create sparkling wines. They have to send their product to Biltmore Estate in the far west of North Carolina for secondary fermentation. It’s definitely a worthy enterprise, though, because this actually surprised me. It’s very dry and crisp, with apple and lemon flavors. Though the flavor is fairly plain, it’s not at all disappointing. I would go so far as to say it’s almost worth the $24 price tag. Actually, considering the dreck that you would get charged $10 to $15 for at Food Lion , I’d say this is comparatively worth the cost. 6/10

No, Seriously, North Carolina Wine Pt.1: Westbend Vineyards

I just realized that it has been almost a month since I’ve focused a piece on North Carolina wine. That is entirely unacceptable. Luckily, I went on a wine tour this weekend, hitting two of the hottest vineyards in the state, and I’ve got the pictures and tasting notes to prove it.

I might have the tasting notes, but they've got the medals

You might remember the Westbend Vineyards Riesling from an earlier review on my blog (you can check it here). There, I quote a mini-raving by Robert Parker about Westbend’s wines:

One of the South’s best kept wine secrets is Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville, North Carolina. Westbend produces two excellent Chardonnay cuvées; a tasty, rich Seyval, a good Sauvignon, and a surprisingly spicy, herbal, cassis and chocolate scented and flavored Cabernet Sauvignon. As fine as these wines are, I am surprised they are not better known outside of North Carolina.

Well, I finally got to try the rest of their wines. Want to know what I thought of them? First, a bit more about the vineyard.

Westbend Vineyards began its life as a hobbyist’s farm back in 1972. Originally designating his land a weekend getaway for experimenting with new crops, Jack Kroustalis decided to go against the grain and plant vinifera. He started with the standard French varietals and French/American hybrids, found some early success, and rolled with it from there.

Oh, and the original 150 year-old homestead still stands on one of the vineyards, and they’re currently restoring it to use for events. You’ll recognize it immediately from their labels, which have featured artwork of the homestead pretty much every year since their first official vintage back in 1988.

Recently, they’ve been revamping the vineyard, which was a sprawling mix of various varietals. Old growths of vines that had fallen out of favor were torn out and replaced to homogenize the sections of the vineyard. You can see the results in the picture below, with thick, old vines sharing space with grow tubes.

old and new growth side by side, a sign of changing for the better

The vineyard overall has been growing steadily ever since that first vintage. They’re now up to 300 oak barrels, a mix of American, French, and Hungarian, in addition to their sizable stainless-steel fermentation tanks, recently retrofitted with cooling jackets. They also brought in a winemaker from Long Island, Mark Terry, to take the winery in a new direction. I have to say, based on what I tasted today, that was one savvy business decision.

We got to chat with Mark for awhile, discussing some of his experiments, future plans, and past decisions. I especially liked learning his thought process behind ideas such as fermenting Chambourcin in all three kinds of oak and blending them together. He’s got a bit of a mad scientist kind of mentality about his wines, which is big help when you’re trying to make your winery stand out.

But about those wines…

note: all vintages are what were poured in the tasting room as of June 19th

Let’s start with the reds, and begin with my least favorite wine of theirs, which is something like being the least warm spot on the sun.

Pinot Noir: Yes, a Pinot Noir, that finicky, cruel, flighty varietal, grown in North Carolina. And you know what? It’s on par with many Pinot Noirs I’ve had. Chocolate, coffee, and nutty aromas and flavors lead to a medium chalky finish accompanied by espresso. The mouthfeel is a bit thin, the acidity maybe a tad high but the tannins are pleasantly chalky. 5/10

Chambourcin: One of the most blueberry-heavy wines I’ve experienced in awhile, this is yet another great example of how well Chambourcin does in North Carolina. A dusty, earthy flavor accompanies blackfruits and blackberries on a decent finish. 7/10

Cabernet Sauvignon (’06): Beautiful nose of coffee, slight chocolate flavor, bright cherries, and the oak is nuanced and surprisingly tasty. Bordeaux varietals do very, very well in the Yadkin Valley, and this one is no exception. 7/10

Cabernet Franc: A blend of 85% Cab Franc, 10% Chambourcin, and 5% Merlot. Tobacco on the nose, which is light enough to not overwhelm my senses. Black fruits, raspberry, and heavy cinnamon flavors, and a medium finish with a very stark black pepper flavor, which I actually enjoyed. Beautifully full mouth feel. 7/10

Vintner’s Signature: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot. A very interesting aroma of raisins, mocha, and cedar. An equally interesting array of flavors: woody, cloves, red fruits, leather… with a velvety mouth feel and a good finish. All I can say is this wine is unusual, and I rather like it. 7/10

“Les Soeurs” Cabernet Sauvignon (’07): A pungent, woody nose of smoke, sawdust, and cigar box. Flavors of espresso, cedar, and ripe black cherry combine with extremely fine, powdery tannins to create a beautifully complex experience. The finish is long and woody. 8/10

So what about the whites?

Viognier: Nose of hot house strawberries, oddly enough. Flavor is pear and minerals. Rather simple, but very pleasant, with a brilliant acidity. 7/10

Barrel Fermented Chardonnay: Heavy nose and flavor of oak, though it pairs fairly well with the coconut flavor. A little overdone, but still enjoyable and smooth. 6/10

Chardonnay: I scribbled in the margins “surprisingly full-bodied.” That it was… that it was. Citrusy and tropical, with pineapple really standing out on the nose. Bright flavor of lemon-lime that matches a crisp acidity and perceived sweetness rather well. 6/10

Watching Chardonnay ferment: more or less exciting than watching paint dry?

Sauvignon Blanc: Rather acidic, with a flavor that’s more nuanced than aggressive. Notes of lemon-lime and melon really match the acidity well, and there’s an herbal overtone that feels right at home with the Sauv Blanc experience. 7/10

First in Flight (NV): Based on the blend, 68% Seyval Blanc, 30% Chardonnay, and 2% Riesling, and the lack of vintage, my initial reaction was lacking in anticipation. Boy, was I wrong. Beautiful pear on the nose, with lemon-lime (seeing a pattern in the whites yet?) matching a light sweetness and strong acidity, and a beautifully clear tart granny smith apple on the finish. 7/10

Do they have good dessert wines?

Hell yes, they do.

Lilly B: A citrusy, floral nose with orange peel and marmalade accompanying a honeyed scent. Very pleasantly sweet, not at all syrupy, with apricot and honey really standing out in the flavors and an explosively active acidity providing a serious backbone to a deliciously pungent wine. 7/10

Lillmark Blanc de Noir: Sparkling wine with a beautiful peach-orange color and a very active carbonation. Absolutely dazzling flavor of sour apple candy. I’ve rarely tasted a flavor as pure and aggressive as this one. We tried it on a whim, and 5 minutes later I was spending $35 on a bottle. Totally, completely worth every penny. 8/10

note:: you can purchase all of these wines at their current vintage on their website at http://www.westbendvineyards.com/

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.

My Brother’s Graduation Gift: His Very Own Blog Post

I bear no responsibility for the contents of this post. For my brother’s graduation gift, I’m giving him a wine tasting, and we’re going to transcribe the tasting. Since he HAS to make me play the straight man to his shenanigans, be prepared for an… unusual tasting.

Cast of Characters:

Josh – Heroic host of Wine(Explored). Self-Proclaimed Huguenot (whatever that is).

Zac – Recent graduate. Antagonist to Josh. Master of the French Horn.

Peanut Gallery – (S)He Who Shall Not Be Named

Peanut Gallery 2 – (S)He Who Shall Not Be Named 2

ACT I

Josh: We’re going to kick things off with a mystery glass.

Zac: *sniff* Well, for starters, it smells like wine.

Josh: …

Zac: *sips exaggeratedly from the glass, pinky in the air, winces* That’s rough.

Josh: That’s because it’s a $12 dollar box of wine. Now finish it off. We got good stuff to get to.

Zac: *finishes the tasting glass* Grimace. It tastes like something I tasted before. I can’t remember what it is, but it’s not good.

Segura Viudas Brut ReservaJosh: First up for the real tasting: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava.

Zac: Talk about the classiness of the screw cap.

Josh: Well actually, you bring up a good point. Winemakers are moving towards using screw caps instead of regular corks because the seal is more dependable, and they’re not prone to becoming corked, which is where tainted corks infect the wine with a chemical contaminant.

Zac: Bottom-line. Screw cap? Classy.

Josh: Cheers to your graduation, good sir.

*clink*

Zac: *sips* I liked it, then I hated it, then I liked it again.

Peanut Gallery: Sounds like your last relationship.

Zac: Zing!

Peanut Gallery 2: Am I peanut gallery, too?

(editor’s note: nuff said)

Zac: *smells* It smells nicer than the last one.

Josh: If I asked you if you detected more orchard fruits, tropical fruits, or citrus fruits… what would you say?

Zac: I know I’m wrong, but I’m going with citrus.

Josh: You’re actually not wrong.

Zac: W’hell yeah.

Josh: Welcome back from Alabama, by the way. I got grapefruit and pineapple, though there’s some apple and vanilla as well.

Zac: *takes a big gulp* You know what would make this extra classy? Strawberries and s***.

Josh: Dear god. Moving on. What about the acidity?

Zac: Oh, it’s very acidic. It’s what lingers.

Josh: That’s the bitterness on the finish. You’re detecting the flavors of the acid after the fruit flavors fade away. Myself, since we do ratings on this blog, I’m going to say that it’s a very well balanced wine with a lingering finish. The flavors are simple but effective. For a $10 to $13 Cava, I’m giving it a 6 out of 10.

Zac: I’m giving it a 7 out of 10. Your 6 is bunk.

ACT II

Chateau Megyer Tokaji

Josh: All right, next up is the reason we’re all here. We’re opening a Tokaji. Specifically, Chateau Megyer’s 2003 Tokaji Aszu, 3 puttonyos.

Zac: What? That’s a lot of words.

Josh: Tokaji is a product of Hungary.

Zac: So it’s not Japanese?

Josh: No.

Zac: Clarify that it’s my college graduation. I don’t want police showing up at the door.

Josh: I think we’re okay here. Anyway, Tokaji is a heavily concentrated dessert wine. The number of puttonyos represents how sweet it is, as in how much botrytized grape juice has been fermented in it.

Peanut Gallery 2: (interrupts) Pour the wine! *pantomimes pouring something into a glass* Iocane powder!

Josh: Well played. Let’s hope someone gets that reference.

Peanut Gallery: Looks like a trucker bomb.

Zac: Looks like plum wine. I’ve had that, you know.

Peanut Gallery 2: For once, Zac is the classy one. *sniffs* smells like pineapple and patchouli.

Zac: *swirls glass* I’m swirling the glass. I’ve seen that on TV. *sips* I don’t like it.

Peanut Gallery: Give it a couple sips.

Zac: I was expecting it to be more cloying. That’s a real word, you know.

Josh: I know. The acidity is too high for it to be cloying, but yes, that is an issue that sweet wines often have. The flavors are very different compared to the typical wines.

Zac: It still sounds Japanese to me. *tastes again* The fumes linger in the mouth.

Peanut Gallery 2: It reminds me of an apple pie.

Josh: Allspice? It would because it has a basically orchard-fruit and allspice and a syrupy sweet flavor. That’s actually a very good way to put it.

Zac: I’m not a huge fan. I would not spend my money on it.

Peanut Gallery: It’s a very dessert-y wine.

Josh: I’m a big fan of it. It’s very complex and active, even though it’s got such a high sugar content. It has a very countryside kind of flavor to it, floral and fruity, and the alcohol and acidity are potent enough to keep it from collapsing on itself. I’d give a 6 out of 10.

Zac: Stingy.

Josh: For the price tag attached, $30, I think that’s pretty fair.

Zac: But you were just talking about how big of a fan you were, and how floral it was and whatnot, and then you give it a 6? Bunk! *pounds fist on table*

Josh: Fair enough. I’ll give it a 7 out of 10.

Zac: Yes SIR. I’ll give it a 5. I have to give it a grade too.

ACT III

Moscato D'Asti

Josh: Next up is the Sant’Evasio 2008 Moscato D’Asti.

Peanut Gallery 2: *sniffs* It smells like Sweden. What? I relate smells to places.

Zac: *sniffs* How the heck does it smell like Sweden? It doesn’t smell like socialism!

Josh: Actually, that’s pretty accurate descriptor. It has the aroma of evergreen and baking spices. It has some kind of a candy kind of smell as well…

Peanut Gallery 2: It smells like Christmas candy.

Josh: Yep, that’s it.

Zac: Still smells like wine, dude.

Josh: Allright… well, have a taste. Wait, Fruity Pebbles! That’s what it smells like.

Zac and Peanut Gallery 2: It does!

Zac: *sips* That doesn’t even taste like wine! That tastes like juice. This is what you think wine tastes like when you’re a child.

Josh: No, you’re absolutely right. It’s unusual for wine, but it has a very grape-y attack.

Peanut Gallery 2: Heh heh, grape-y attack.

Josh: Attack is what you call the first flavors that present themselves in a wine.

Zac: This is my favorite wine I’ve ever had. This is getting 10s, buddy. Wait, we’re not there yet.

Josh: There’s something a little bacterial about the flavor, and mixed with the potent fruit notes and incredible sweetness, it tastes like peach yogurt to me.

Peanut Gallery 2: But I don’t like peach yogurt. Maybe blueberry yogurt? *sips* …it DOES taste like peach yogurt!

Zac: I get the yogurty flavor because it tastes fermented but gently. It tastes like there was care with how that fermented flavor was introduced.

Josh: The acidity is great, especially compared to the considerable sweetness. It carries along on a long peach finish. With the great fruity, bready flavors and nose and fantastic balance, at $20 per bottle, I’m giving it a 7 out of 10.

Zac: 9. Out of 10. And the only reason I’m not giving it a 10 is I want to leave something better to search for.

ACT IV

Josh: Last up is the Shargren NV Sparkling Shiraz. After the two dessert wines and sparkling white, this might be a little jarring.

Zac: *sniffs* I smell red wine, which I’m never a fan of.

Josh: I think you might actually be surprised at the flavor you get from it. I’m smelling a very distinct lingonberry here.

Zac: *sip* Nope! Not a fan.

Peanut Gallery 2: It’s really bland. It smells and tastes like meat.

Josh: I can see where you’d get that. Some Shiraz has a tendency to exhibit a meaty-like aroma. It also has a spicy red wine marinade kind of quality to it. Acidity is a bit high, and it’s got a heavy red-fruit flavor. I actually kind of like it. Real quick. Snap rating?

Zac: For a red? 6… as far as how much I liked it and how much I’d drink it again? 2.

Josh: I’d probably give it a 5 out of 10. It’s fairly bland, I agree, and there’s not too much to the flavor, but for how bad a $10 Shiraz CAN go, it’s got some good character to it. Zac?

–END OF TRANSMISSION– (Zac wandered off, distracted by strawberry pie and Chelsea Hightower on Dancing with the Stars)

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