On Saturday and Sunday, March 1st and 2nd we attended the 2008 Washington D.C. Wine & Food Festival held at the Ronald Reagan Int’l Trade Building. The organizers of this event do a tremendous job presenting wines from across the globe. In the past three years we have tasting wines from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Paso Robles, South America, South Africa, the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and Virginia; and wineries from these regions were again represented. The organizers also featured two local wine trails, the Loudoun County Wine Trail and Frederick Wine Trail, as well as wines from Cote du Rhone and Oregon. There were also several complimentary food and wine seminars in the tasting areas as well as private seminars at reasonable prices. On Sunday I took the A Beginner's Blind Tasting with the Master/Master seminar presented by Doug Frost. But on Saturday, the day was spent sampling the wines, beers, and spirits.
Upon entering the festival, we preceded immediately to the Oregon Wine Board section where we were able to sample excellent Pinot Noirs and Rieslings from this area. We found it odd that the same region excelled in making a Burgundy wine (Pinot Noir) and Alsace\German wines in Riesling. In fact, some of our favorites were Anne Amie Vineyards soon to be released Muller Thurgau, Sokol Blosser Vineyards Evolution (9 varietals including Riesling, Muller Thurgau, Gewurztraminer, and Sylvaner) and Amity Vineyards’ 2002 Late Harvest Riesling – a true 100% botrytis wine. But Pinot Noir was what we were interested in and each of the nine Oregon wineries had excellent samples, with the 2006 vintages being outstanding. It was also interested that the wines came from several appellations - the Willamette Valley, the Eola Amity Hills, the Chehalem Mountains, Carlton, Dundee Hills – and since I hadn’t taking Doug Frost’s couse yet- I could not discern a difference in terrior. It’s difficult to designate one over the others without doing justice to the rest, but one unique bottle was Willamette Valley Vineyards’ Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir. This wine is fruitier than the other’s and I can see serving chilled in the summer. A second unique wine is Coelho Winery’s 2006 Divertimento Pinot Noir Rosé - another nice summer wine.
We also had several good conversations with Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards about the history of Oregon wine making. He should know, he’s been growing grapes in the Willamette Valley since 1983 and was keen enough to see the enormous potential of the region by naming his winery after the future appellation. Instant brand recognition. He informed us how Pinot Noir is well suited to the region because of the clay soils, long growing season, and cool climate. We also learned that Pinot Gris was grown first in Oregon before any other state. Finally we learned of Jim’s fondness for chocolate as we either bumped into him sampling the wares or spied him bringing bars back for his neighbors.
Finally, we learned from Jim, the Redford’s from Amity Vineyards, and the other winemakers how Oregon is leading the nation in sustainable viticulture. Amity’s estate vineyard is certified by Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc. (LIVE) and produces the region’s first Organic, Sulfite-Free Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley Vineyard is the first winery in the world to use cork certified through the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards – and we kept one to show others the FSC label. Resonance Vineyard was Biodynamic® certified in 2006 certified. We found, humorously, that sustainability is an everyday vocabulary word, as in, "Kim, you’re so sustainable". And here are a list of the sustainable Oregon wineries that poured this day: Adelsheim Vineyard, Amity Vineyards, Anne Amie Vineyards, A to Z Wineworks, Coelho Winery, Olsen Family Vineyards, Resonance Vineyard, Rex Hill Vineyards, Sokol Blosser Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards.
We next moved east to the contingent from New York where we wanted to try this year’s vintage of Finger Lake Riesling. To our surprise and pleasure we found that Rob, Finger Lakes Weekend Wino, was representing the region. We read his column regularly and suggest anyone traveling to this region do so as well before you leave. While tasting the New York made Riesling it was interesting to note the differences between the Oregon versions. The latter versions were slightly sweeter and more acidic, whereas the New York Riesling being poured seemed drier. This was probably more a result of the specific wines being poured and not anything resulting from the different appellations. Dr. Frank's consistently pours a great Reisling and Standing Stone Vineyards was also available to pour their Reisling and Gewurztraminer. We also tried for the first time Standing Stone’s Cailloux, a dessert wine made from eight different grapes. Some in our contingent liked it more than their Vidal Ice Wine.
After spending some more time saying hello to our friends at the Virginia wineries and planning a trip to Tomahawk Mill Winery, we set out to try some California wines. There is always a large contingent of Lodi based wineries and in the past we had tasting excellent Zinfandel from Jessie's Grove Winery and JanKris Winery – so today we tried some new wines. One of the first were the excellent wines from Vino Con Brio. They had both excellent whites and reds, particularly their Old Vine Zinfandel. We kept hearing about Opolo Vineyards from several attendees so we had to see what the commotion was about. This central coast winery had large crowds around their booth and we saw why since they came with a large selection of wines and the entertaining representative kept the crowd laughing. We liked their reds, particularly the Fusion and Maestro blends. Another central coast winery where we spent a lot of time was Edward Sellers Vineyards, makers of Rhone styled wines. We liked their vintage Grenache and Syrah, but once again our favorites were the blends, the Vertigo (Grenache based) and Cuvee des Cinq (5 varieties of course). It was also interesting to learn how these Rhone grapes thrive in the hot central coast, since the nighttime temperatures plummet, cooling the grapes from the hot day. Other California wines we’d like to remember are Valley of the Moon Winery’s 2006 Pinot Blanc; Lake Sonoma Winery’s 2004 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; Peltier Station’s Zinfandel; Chateau Julien Wine Estate’s Black Nova; Kiamie Wine Cellars 2005 Kiamie Kuvée; Spring Mountain Vineyard’s 2003 Elivette; and Donati Family Vineyard’s Pinot Blanc. That’s quite a list.
In addition to the spirits that we tasted, Dogfish Brewery was pouring a few styles of beer, with the most interesting being their Chateau Jiahu. We’ll let Dogfish tell the story; but we drank their stand dry. Jiahu is not only unique – but it’s a good beer – similar to a cloudy wheat ale.
For one of the first times we took a break from the drinking and actually browsed the venders. And there were actually some very practical accessories. VineyardFresh has always been one of our favorites since we seem to open many bottles and return a week later to an oxidized wine. Anything to preserve wines is useful. We also liked the Bottleneck Wine Cards – basically cards that fit on the wine’s neck when giving the bottle as a gift. Plus, they are cheaper than Hallmark. And our favorite food – for some reason either it was a great location next to the Dogfish stand or peanuts go with wine, but we returned often to sample and purchase the several styles sold by Belmont Peanuts. These are Virginia grown peanuts – just south of Richmond – and we argued incessantly which was better among their plain, barbecue, honey-roasted, and chocolate. I liked the plain and barbecue, but in any case – these large and meaty peanuts put the ballpark versions to shame.
Even though these festivals seem a little pricy, the wide array of available wines and seminars make it worthwhile. Where else could you try a South African Pinotage, Spanish Muscat, Chilean Carmenere, Rhone Grenache, compare Horton’s and Dr. Frank’s Rhatiselli, not to mention the many wines we didn’t try.