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.

West Wind Farm: Tasting Notes

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

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

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

Now, onto the wines:

West Wind Farm white wine

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

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

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

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

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

West Wind Red Wine Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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