Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2007 Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Expo

On Saturday and Sunday, March 10 & 11th we attended the 2007 Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Expo, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The sponsors of the Expo promised that the 280 wineries on hand, pouring over 1,100 wines would provide loads of fun for everyone. Based on the size and positive assessments from the participants – I think they succeeded.

These 240 wineries represented wine regions from North and South America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. For the United States, there were wineries from California, Washington, New York, Virginia, and even Maryland (our good friends from Linganore Cellars). Strategically located next to the entrance and wine glass booth, Linganore had a steady crowd tasting their popular Terrapin White, Traminette, Merlot, and Bacioni wines. The Virginia wineries were represented by Orange County’s Horton Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards as well as the Shenandoah Valley’s Rockbridge Vineyards. New York Finger Lake wineries were represented by Bully Hill Vineyards, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, and Standing Stone Vineyards. Appearing for Long Island were Wölffer Estate and the Long Island Meadery, who spent two days explaining the difference between mead and cyser. For those who don’t know, expect a Wine 101 series on Mead later this spring. Covey Run and Domaine Ste Michelle represented Washington wineries, while several Napa, Sonoma and Lodi based wineries represented California.

As expected, we tasted several excellent California wines. Our first was the Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir from Sonoma’s Foppiano Vineyards. This is the second oldest continually operating winery in California; the winery survived prohibition by selling grapes to home wine-makers (which was still legal) and by outright bootlegging. Foppiano’s website contains photos of police officials destroying barrels of wine – what a shame. Next, we really liked Alexander Valley Vineyard’s Cyrus, a full bodied Bordeaux blend aged 24 months in oak and 9 months in the bottle. We also found that Four Vines Winery’s 2004 Paso Robles Peasant (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise), was much fruitier and fuller-bodied than similar wines offered by the French wineries.

Then there were the Zinfandels - like last year, we particularly enjoyed tasting the diverse selection of these wines. Our favorites were from Lodi’s Abundance Vineyards and Jessie's Grove Winery, Paso Roble’s JanKris, and a couple zins from Four Vines Winery. Four Vines offered Zinfandel made from grapes grown in Sonoma, Paso Robles and Amador County and was interesting to notice the distinct differences in each wine. The best in the group was The Maverick made from 100 year old vines in Amador County and then The Biker -made from Paso Robles vines.

For the international wineries we concentrated on the European visitors and are favorites were from the republics of Georgia and Moldova, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Austria, and a new winery from Liechtenstein, Hofkellerei des Fursten Von Liechtenstein. Although based in Liechtenstein, the grapes and winery are actually located in Austria where the winery has a very unique history. The Princely House of Liechtenstein has been growing grapes in their Austrian vineyards since the early 1400s where the wine was used primarily for entertainment in the family’s castles in Austria, the Czech Republic and Liechtenstein. Immediate before the Second World War, the family fled Austria to neutral Liechtenstein, but retained ownership of the vineyards. Although displaced from Austria, wine production continued and today Hofkellerei des Fursten Von Liechtenstein is owned by Prince Hans-Adam III – Liechtenstein’s head of state. Our favorite wine was their 2003 Merlot-Zweigelt blend, which displays the depth of the merlot and the fruitiness of the Zweigelt. These wines are available through their distributor, Dionysos Imports (571-437-4490).

Another Austrian wine we liked even more was Anton Bauer’s Wagram Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, Merlot, and Syrah. This is a full-full-bodied wine with spicy – piney aromas and a long smooth finish. If this wine is too strong for your tastes, try their fruitier Zweigelt 2005.

Traveling East from Austria we tried several wines from Hungary, Moldova, and Georgia. The Törley sparkling wines, produced from a 125 year old winery, were better than the French Champagne we tasted that day. To add insult, Törley even advertises that they had become a popular drink in Paris as well. The other Hungarian wines poured at the Expo were from the Craftsman™ Series from Hilltop Neszmély Winery. These wines included the light-bodied Királyleányka (think Chenin Blanc), Cserszegi Füszeres (think Muscat- Gewürztraminer), Pinot Noir Rose, medium bodied Cabernet Franc, and the Bordeaux-ish blend Falconer’s Cuvee. All are worth a try. Graystone Wine Imports provided excellent examples of Moldovian wine which effectively explained why Moldovia is one of the top 10 grape-wine producing countries in the world. Moldavian winemaking dates back 2,000 years, starting with the early Greek and Roman settlements. The wines provided at the Expo were familiar vinifera varietals with our favorites being the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Two sets of Georgian wines rounded out this region. We discussed Georgian wines last year, so for now we will just reiterate that you should visit the Dozortsev & Sons and Georgian House websites to learn more about these great wines.

We also tasted several excellent Italian and Portuguese wines. From Italy, we tasted a very good Montepulcoano-Sangiovese blend called Saraceno provided by Iatesta Imports. We also liked the Meron (Primitivo) from the same importer. From Portugal, we are fans of Touriga Nacional, and we tasted a few excellent versions from Quinta D’Aguierira and Encostas de Estremoz. Then the port became too tempting. World Shippers & Importers provided two excellent bottles from Quinta da Peca, a Reserva and 2000 Late Bottled Vintage. These were followed by two Royal Oportos provided by Admiral Imports, a standard Tawny Port aged 3-5 years and their 10 Year Old Tawny. This last was awesome, with nutty and caramel flavors and an orange finish.

After tasting the several ports, we ventured back into the domestic arena to try a few dessert wines. Maryland’s Linganore Winecellars offered an excellent Abisso, made from Maryland grown Cabernet Sauvignon and naturally fermented to 18% alcohol. No fortified spirits were added to this wine. Rockbridge Vineyards and Standing Stone Vineyards each offered a Vidal Ice Wine, although the Rockbridge version is actually a late harvest wine whereas Standing Stone’s is an actual ice wine. In any case, both were excellent with apricot flavors and a balanced finish. Another good dessert wine was provided by Covey Run’s Semillon Ice Wine. Whereas most ice wine is made from Vidal or Riesling, this was the first Semillon that we had tried. It is different in that with the previous grapes you usually get an apricot flavor; this wine displayed a more citrus flavor. There is also a strong vanilla aroma that continued to the finish. Nicely done. After finishing these wines, we realized that there was a German ice wine being offered by Hauck Winery. This was a 2000 Riesling Icewine that showed that Germany continues its historic role in producing this type of wine. This ice wine had a strong apricot flavor balanced with a nice sweet, acidic finish.

Once again we failed to visit the South American, Australian, New Zealand, and South African booths. With so many quality wines it is difficult to stay sober and make it through each winery. Next year we will begin with these wineries in order to broaden our knowledge of new world wines. We hoped everyone had as much fun as we did and we look forward to next year’s festival.
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