Leaving on a

jet plane train boat, er, car that is. This year’s Wine Blogger Conference is actually in my backyard, in Charlottesville, VA, so I can take my own wheels! Does wonders for the cost of attending considering the last 3 years have found the bloggers migrating to the west coast. Which for me involves planes and car rentals and airport parking…

I’ll be trying to do a bit of a mix this year with some live reporting on the spot and take home posts as well. I’m hoping that the conference will help to show the wide world of wine bloggers what VA has to offer! With this heat though, bring on the Viognier!

Drinking Local (Once Again)

With the 2011 Wine Blogger Conference just around the corner, and it being in my own back yard, I thought it high time I bring out some of the VA wines that I have in my cellar and get you all excited for what you have to look forward to out here on the East Coast! One of my favorite VA wineries is Rappahannock Cellars. They are doing excellent things with both Cabernet Franc and Viognier, two of the wines that VA does best in my humble opinion. Tonight we opened up the 2007 Rappahannock Cellars Cabernet Franc, a wine I purchased in Sept. 09 on my last visit out there. It clocked in at 13.8% alcohol by volume, had a real cork closure, and I can’t recall what I paid, but it retailed for around $25 I believe.

On the nose I found strawberry, raspberry, earth, forest, chocolate, chocolate syrup notes, herbs, and spice. Yum. The nose certainly made me look forward to tasting the wine.  In the mouth I got raspberry, fresh strawberry, earth, and a good herbal note. The wine had great structure and acidity and is an excellent example of what VA can do with this grape.

Virginia Viognier

Last fall Matt and I had a chance to go out to VA wine country and visit Rappahannock Cellars. While there, we of course had to buy some of our favorite wines to enjoy later. What kind of winos would we be if we didn’t?? One of my favorite wines that I’m seeing coming from Virgina is Viognier. VA wineries are doing really great things with the grape and I continue to be impressed with what I’m tasting. Tonight we pulled out the 2008 Rappahannock Cellars Viognier that we purchased at the vineyard. It had a Diam closure, clocked in at 13.6% alcohol by volume, and cost me about $22.

On the nose I found honeysuckle, flowers, tropical fruits, pineapple, candied pineapple, pear, and a hint of cream. The aromatic nose drew me in. I love the nose on Viognier. In the mouth I got tons of pineapple, including candied pineapple and pineapple jello. I also found pear, spice, flowers, and tropical notes. The Rappahannock Viognier is by far one of my favorites that I’ve tasted from the state. I highly suggest you check out what VA is doing with Viognier, it would be well worth your time and effort.

WBW #61 At the Source

Oh yes folks, it’s that time of the month again: Wine Blogging Wednesday! I’m trying my best to participate in as many this year as I can, I’ve done a fairly decent job since I started the blog, though some months just get away from me or I can’t find a suitable bottle for the topic.  This month, our fearless leader Lenn has taken back the reins for the 61st edition of WBW. Ever the champion of local wines from the New York area, he has set us to the task titled “At the Source.” By this, he asked us to go taste wine at a vineyard local to us and write about the experience.  I almost didn’t think I could make this happen.  While the vineyards aren’t TOO far from  my house in VA, it’s still a 45 minute -1 hour drive each way to the closest ones depending on traffic. And yes Virginia, your traffic is still miserable on the weekends.  So I really have to plan to be able to get out there..plus, I have to cajole the husband into going, and he seems to think that the several trips I/we take to CA each year should satisfy my vineyard visiting desire…silly man.

Fate intervened and the heavens smiled down and I had the happy circumstance of connecting with Rappahanock Cellars on Twitter (though I had visited in the past), my brother in law(BIL) and sister in law (SIL) visiting, and a husband who didn’t mind driving us that day. Rappahannock is about an hour and half from where we live, so a bit of a hike. But all in the name of wine and WBW, right? Turns out, the voice behind Rappahannock Cellars on Twitter is actually Allan Delmare, one of the 13 12(yes, 13 12) children of the Delmare family, the owners of Rappahannock Cellars.  We arrived promptly at 11:30am on Sunday morning, found Allan and were whisked down to the cellar. Very exciting and different for my BIL/SIL who had never been in a winery cellar before nor had a winery tour! Allan had set up a table in the cellars with 3 glasses each, water bottles, and what looked like a case or more of wine.

While we tasted through the wines, I peppered Allan with questions (poor guy) and he did a fabulous job of explaining the operation especially to my BIL/SIL who weren’t so familiar with winemaking and cellaring and all the goes into the production of wine.  The Delmare family hails from Santa Cruz where they owned a vineyard before moving to VA in 1998 and purchasing the property in Rappahannock County.  They built the vineyard from the ground up and released the first vintage in 2000 with purchased fruit. I learned that about80% of the fruit Rappahannock uses comes from either Estate vineyards or vineyards they leased, planted, and manage from other folks.  They have 30 acres of vineyards and produce between 6,000-8,000 cases of wine a year.

Now, the wines. Overall, Rappahannock Cellars is producing an extremely solid line up of wines. They seem to have really figured out what works in VA and what isn’t so hot. Our climate here is a little tough on most vinifera grapes, though folks persistently grow them, with mixed results overall. Rappahannock seems to even have that down, refusing to produce a wine when the fruit isn’t perfect. For example, the 2007 vintage is the first Cabernet Sauvignon they have produced since 2000! (I know, you’re thinking, Cab Sauv from VA? But I promise, it was actually a very good effort.)

2008 Seyval Blanc: $17. Orange blossom, orange, lemon, citrus, crisp, dry, light, refreshing. A great picnic wine.  VA does really well with hybrid white grapes.

2008 Viognier: $22. Floral, apricots, honeysuckle, crisp, citurs, orange, grassy. I’m extremely pleased to see so many VA wineries getting serious about Viognier. They produce some fantastic examples of the grape…I’d say it should be the flagship wine from VA, though I know everyone seems to think that’s Cabernet Franc. We purchased two, and the BIL/SIL bought a chilled one for us to drink over lunch.

2007 Chardonnay: $22. Grass, pear, apple, flowers, butter, creamy on the finish, mid palate shows crisp apple.

2007 Headwaters Vidal Blanc: $16.50. Sweet on the nose, honey, candied orange, lemon, a little sweet. This has a touch of residual sugar, but isn’t overwhelming n any way.

2008 Noblesse Viognier: Another wine with some residual sugar. Candied sugar, apricot, candied honey, honeysuckle.

2007 Claret: $20. Raspberry, spice, pepper, strawberry jam, very light, red fruit.

2007 Cabernet Franc: $24. Raspberry, pepper, oak, cedar, roses, tight, raspberry, tannins, spice, peppery. We bought 1 bottle.

2006 Meritage: $29. Pepper, smoky, dusty, blackberry, black cherry, juicy, spice. BIL/SIL purchased one of these.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: Honestly surprised by this one. I didn’t expect much, but really, well done.  Vanilla, cream, smoke, spice, mulberry, juicy, raspberry, nice acidity and structure. Certainly not a monster Cab Sauv, a totally different style.

2008 Chapellet Charlemagne Chardonnay: Pineapple, tropical notes, pears, orange, orange zest, lemon. I liked this best of the two Chards, this one was done all in stainless steel.

2007 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon: From what I understand, a family member owns a vineyard out in Mendocino and sends fruit back East for this wine. It’s 97% Cab Sauv, 3% VA Cab Franc. Spice, pepper, blackberry, cedar, spice, big nose, herbs, red fruit, tannins to spare.

2008 Norton: Chocolate, spice, mint, juicy, tannic, big fruit.

2008 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc: $18.50 375 mL. Pear, pineapple, apricot, honey, peach, pineapple, tropical fruit.

2007 Port Style Wine: $39. Raisin, sweet, chocolate, blackberry, Welches grape juice. You’d have to taste this to believe it. We bought a bottle for my dad.

Solera: $32 375mL. Quite possible the oddest wine I have ever tasted. This is made by placing barrels of wine on the roof of the building and letting them bake in the summer sun. Then all the barrels are mixed together and one full barrel is pulled out to be put into next year’s wine…that way there’s always a continuation of vintages. Toffee, maple, nutty, almonds, caramel, pecan pie, peanuts. Goodness, not my thing at all, I hate nuts, but it sure lingered in your mouth and nose.

After we finished up our tasting, Allan toured us around the facility where we saw barrels, lots of cases of wine, a destemmer, and lots of other fun wine related things.  We made our way up to the tasting room to make some purchases and headed outside to one of the many tables to enjoy the picnic lunch we packed. While Rappahannock sells cheeses and crackers in their tasting room, they also let you bring your own lunch to enjoy outside.  The weather was perfect, and we lounged outside enjoying the chilled bottle of Viognier and our picnic lunch. The vineyard cat even joined us and politely waited until I’d finished my rib before jumping onto the table, grabbing the entire bone and running off with it. Never seen that before!

Brazen kitty.

Brazen kitty.

All in all, a great day. Thanks to Lenn for kicking my butt back out to the VA vineyards. If Rappahannock is any indication, things have come a long way since I last visited VA wine country about 2 years ago. I’ll have to get out some more this fall to see what everyone else has going on!

Barrel Oak Winery: Visiting VA Vineyards

Several months ago, Brian Roeder, the owner of Barrel Oak Winery, contacted me, and invited me to come visit his brand new winery in Virginia. After some back and forth, given that I am traveling for work a lot these days, we finally came up with a good weekend and Matt and I ventured forth to Virginia Wine Country.


Barrel Oak is one of the newest of Virginia’s ever-growing winery population. About 3 and a half years ago, Brian and his wife decided to go ahead with purchasing land to start a vineyard, an idea they had been tossing around in a casual/semi-serious manner for a few years.

Right now, as you can imagine, Barrel Oak is in its infancy. They are currently producing wines with fruit sourced from various Virginia vineyards and they used the facilities of Pearmund and La Grange for their first vintage. They intend to have their first estate harvest in 2009 and will crush and make the wine at Barrel Oak this coming season. Brian’s wife is the head winemaker, having trained at many VA vineyards, she is assisted by the former assistant winemaker from Pearmund. Brian designed Barrel Oak with the future in mind: they have the capacity to produce 10,000 cases within 10 years, with 9000 square feet of production space. They also intend to boast 3 full tasting bars on the premises.


We tasted through the current line up and reserve line up:

Bow Haus White 2007: $18. 70% Vidal Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, it recently won gold at the VA State fair. Citrus, grapefruit, touch of honey, light good texture, pineapple, great summer white. We bought 2.

2007 Seyval Blanc: $19. Includes 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Minerals, wet stone, lemon, grass, crisp, dry. We took home 2.

2007 Chardonnay: $24. Stainless steel fermented, no maloactic, aged in neutral French oahk. Oak, apple, spice, lemon, green apple, light in the mouth.

2007 Viognier: $20. Maloactic fermentation and oak aged. Honey, peach, pear, honey suckle, creamy, nice mouthfeel.

2005 Bowhaus Red: $18. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Tourig, 11% Malbec, 6% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, some Norton in there too. Chocolate, earth, sweet, light, strawberries, berries. Would be good slightly chilled.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon: $20. Very light in color, 12% Petite Verdot. Light, berries, strawberry, raspberry, nice finish.

2005 Merlot: $20. 100% Merlot. Earth, leather, berries, wood, oak, nice body, tannins, cherry, plums, very well done.

2005 Norton: $18. 10% Cabernet Franc. Perfumey, violets, fruity, grapey, berries.

2005 Tour Ga Franc: $26. 40% Cabernet Franc, 60% Touriga. $2 from each bottle are donated to Lance Armstong’s Foundation. Spice, red fruit, herbs, pepper, red berries.

2006 Cabernet Franc: $26. 10% Chambourcin. Herbal, leather, tobacco, red fruit, very light, peppery finish.

2005 Petite Verdot: $26. 12% Merlot. Chocolate, plum, red fruit, very aromatic, nice fruit, good structure. One of my favorites of the day, we took home one bottle.

2006 Late Harvest Viognier: $25. Picked late October. Honey, citrus, spice, pineapple, sweet, thick.

2006 Chocolate Lab: $26. Muscadine, Merlot, Viognier. Cocoa nibs are added along with neutral grape spirits. Chocolate, slight berry, port-like.

Barrel Oak has a beautiful facility. Their porch looked so inviting, and had it been a little later in the day, we definitely would have parked ourselves out there with a glass of wine to enjoy the view (well, and also, if the sprinklers weren’t on drenching the porch!). The tasting bar of Barrel Oak is huge, and that’s just the first one! They also have a space in the loft for a 2nd bar, and space downstairs for a 3rd bar. Though I think we’ll have to avoid the 2nd floor as Matt was a bit too tall.

Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of wine being produced by Barrel Oak. It honestly surprised me for such a young winery as I have certainly tasted many established VA wines that don’t come anywhere close to the quality being produced here. I thought the reds were very well done, and would have taken home more if it weren’t so hot here now that red wine doesn’t really enter my mind. Also good to note, Barrel Oak is extremely dog friendly. You are more than welcome to bring your pooch with you to enjoy the day in VA Wine Country.


My one pet peeve, and I say this about all wineries: I hate tasting fees that aren’t returned if you buy bottles. I realize that many folks say that people will buy the cheapest bottle to get the fee back, blah blah blah. I have no problem if you put a “Buy 3 bottles get your fee refunded, or buy $50 worth and get your fee refunded.” And maybe I missed the sign or notation on the menu where it told you the cost, but I don’t think so. I must admit, I was thus a bit surprised to find a tasting fee charge on my tab.

I will certainly return to Barrel Oak in the future to see how their wines develop as they move toward harvesting their own fruit.

An Older Dessert Wine

I found this bottle of dessert wine lurking in the cellar during one of our reorganization projects. I purchased it in 2005 from the Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, VA back when I lived down there and was a frequent visitor, particularly to scoop up bottles of the Governor’s White! This wine was a 2002 Williamsburg Winery Late Harvest Vidal. I bought it at the winery, it had a real cork closure, clocked in at 11% alcohol by volume, had 13% residual sugar, and I couldn’t tell you what I paid, though the current vintage sells for $24.

On the nose the wine was sweet, showing honey and apricot. In the mouth, much of the same. It has held up incredibly well over the years, and actually tasted even better than I remember. The color had also intensified, though I can’t find the picture of it that I took for you. Given how well it’s drinking now, but also taking into consideration that it still had a nice backbone, I’d say this one still has some life for aging in it. I will also admit that it was not stored under perfect conditions….it lived on my counter wine rack in my townhouse for well over a year, survived a summer in VA in un-airconditioned climate, then lived in the racks in our one bedroom apartment for almost a year before it moved to our house for almost another year. And it still tasted great!

Local Vino

A quick review this morning (have to go to work super early today!) of a local wine from Rappahannock Cellars. I owe you a review on our tasting experience at Rappahannock, which I will get around to eventually, along with a million reviews from Sonoma and the DC Wine and Food Festival!

The wine for the evening was a 2006 Rappahannock Cellars Vidal Blanc. We see quite a bit of Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc here in Virginia, both grapes grow fairly well in our climate. I’m pleased to notice that the quality has grown in leaps and bounds in the 5 years I’ve lived here and been drinking VA wines.

The wine had a nose of pear, honey, apricot, and tart tropical fruit. In the mouth, apricot and spiced pears dominated the flavors. The wine was tart, with good structure and solid acidity to keep the sweetness that this grape can demonstrate in check.

Oddly enough, I can only find information about the dessert variety of this wine on their website, and the bottle appears to have disappeared from my house. I believe we paid around $14 for this, it had a real cork closure, and was about 12.5% alcohol by volume.