Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Linganore Wine Cellars - Swingin’ Blues Wine Festival

Today we attended one of Maryland’s best wine events, Linganore Wine Cellars’ Swingin’ Blues Wine Festival. This event included music by local legends the Kelly Bell Band and The Nighthawks as well as tours of the winery, crafts, seafood, and wine. Linganore is Maryland’s oldest and largest winery, growing from 6,000 bottles in 1976 to 600,000 today. They produce a wide array of wines (31 total), from dry reds – sweet whites – fruit wines. In 2005 their Merlot, made from grapes grown in southern Maryland, won the Governors Cup as the best wine made in the state that year. The Aellen family is also moving into its third generation, as the current winemaker Anthony is starting to pass over tour responsibilities and future winemaking to his daughter.

When we arrived at the festival, we realized we were too late to grab a good seat near the stage. We were already being directed to the back parking lot and we could see a literally a thousand people already picnicking, playing volleyball, and tasting wine. When we entered we stood near the stage to hear the last set of Kelly Bell, and then took the winery tour. The tour is highly recommended; you hear how Linganore started from a home wine making operation with a hand crusher to today’s automated processes. In between Mr. Aellen encourages his audience to drink what they enjoy – you either like a particular wine – or you don’t. The tour ends with a wine tasting in the new Chambourcin Tasting Room with a sampling of several wines not available in the main tasting tent. At this tasting, we tasted for the first time their Chambourcin, Traminette, and May wine. The Chambourcin is a good full bodied dry red wine that has a slightly spicy finish. The fact that Linganore makes a good Chambourcin is not a surprise since the grape thrives in the mid-Atlantic region. The Traminette is a much sweeter white wine that was a favorite at this outdoor event. The wine is also spicy – both in aroma and flavor – as compared to its Gew├╝rztraminer “offspring”. Finally, the May wine was a pleasant surprise. This is a semi-sweet wine (4%RS) flavored with Woodruff. Like the German tradition, this wine is recommended for spring drinking, but like other seasonal wines, is worth drinking whenever.

By this time, the Nighthawks had started playing, so we quickly grabbed a bottle of Terrapin White, an off-dry Riesling and our favorite from Linganore, and found a seat in the terrace adjacent to the old tasting room. The Nighthawks have been a Washington D.C. favorite since the early 1970’s when the band was formed by front man\harmonica player Mark Wenner and guitarist Jimmy Thackery, and joined early on by bass player Jan Zukowski and drummer Pete Ragusa. After Thackery moved on to a successful solo career, Pete Kanaras finally joined the band in 1995 and the same players have been performing over 200 shows a year since. For the rest of the afternoon, the Nighthawks entertained the crowd with their Chicago Blues and James Brown styled soul.

During the Nighthawks session break, we ventured into the grand tasting tent to try their remaining wines. The Black Ravin is a good lighter style dry red wine whereas the Steeple Chase Red is an interesting sweet red wine that has hints of chocolate at the finish. Finally we liked two of their fruit wines; the Strawberry tastes exactly like biting into a large ripe berry, while the Raspberry was a little less pronounced, but more satisfying.

Besides the music and wines, Linganore is a great place to spend an afternoon. The volunteers are extremely friendly and enthusiastic in introducing the visitors to their wines. The Aellen family and staff are also wonderful hosts and provide an excellent service to local music lovers. Linganore has three other festivals this year, including the wildly popular Reggae fest in July; just plan on arriving early to get a good spot under the shady trees.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Witch Creek Winery; Carlsbad, California

While driving along scenic Highway 101 we noticed the Carlsbad tasting facility for Witch Creek Winery. After a quick u-turn, we entered the tasting room to discover that the winery makes several excellent wines from grapes grown throughout California. Out of close to 20 wines available, we sampled six. The reds were outstanding, smooth yet full bodied. Our favorite was the Tre Amici, a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Syrah. The wine is spicy up front with a smooth low-tannic finish. Another good blend was the 2005 Dave’s Pretty Good Red, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Brunello. This wine is more than pretty good now, and the winery recommends aging a few more years, when the wine should peak. The final blend was the 2004 Guadalupe Full Monty – made from Montepulciano and Aglianico grapes grown in Mexico. Like the Tre Amici, this wine is initially spicy and then finishes smooth. We also tasted two vintage wines the 2004 El Dorado Merlot and the 2005 Nebbiolo. While each was good, we preferred the blends – they just seemed to have more texture. We finished the tasting with their awesome Muscat Love (Orange Muscat) and Hard Apple Cider. These sweet wines are both recommended, especially the Muscat with its floral aroma and vanilla finish. On our next trip to southern California we plan on visiting Witch Creek’s Julian tasting facility in the San Diego County Mountains.

Friday, June 22, 2007

July Wine Festivals

The event database contains over 2,450 upcoming events in the United States and Canada. For those looking for wine festivals in July, here is a short list of events in several states:

Altus Grapefest - Chateux Aux Arc: July 28th-29th

Sonoma County Showcase of Wine & Food
Sonoma: July 12th -15th
Central Coast Wine ClassicSan Luis Obispo: July 12th -15th
Friday Night Wine and Cheese - Hwy 46 West Wineries: July 13th
California Wine Festival - Chase Palm Park, Santa Barbara: July 20th-21st
The Long Beach Grand CruLong Beach: July 21st-22nd
Livermore Valley's Wine & Food ExperienceLivermore Valley Winegrowers Association: July 27th
4th Annual Apple Hill Wine Fest Apple Hill Growers Association Wineries: July 28th
A Taste of Camarillo Food & Wine Festival - Historic Camarillo Ranch House, Camarillo: July 29th

Arts & Wine Festival - Nassau Valley Vineyards: July14th-15th

Terrace Lakes Wine & Art Festival - Garden Valley: July 28th-29th

’s Annual Midsummer Celebration - Lanthier Winery: July 21st

Reggae Wine Festival - Linganore Wine Cellars: July 21st-22nd
Great Grapes - Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, Annapolis: July 28th-29th

Beer and Wine Festival -
Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island: July 1st
Sunrise Side Wine and Food Festival -
Harrisville Harbor: July 21st

Very Berry Wine Trail -
Hermann Wine Trail: July 28th-July29th

New Jersey
Summerfest '07 -
Alba Vineyard: July 21st

New York
Shrimp & Chardonnay - Keuka Lake Wine Trail: July 14th-15th
Cool Whites, Hot Nights - Niagara Wine Trail: July 14th & 21st
Finger Lakes Wine Festival – Watkins Glen: July 20th-22nd
Grapehound Wine Tour -
Cayuga Wine Trail: July 28th-29th
12th Annual "Bounty of the Hudson" Food & Wine Festival - Shawangunk Wine Trail: July 28th-29th

2nd Annual Brandywine Valley Big Bang BBQ - Brandywine Valley Wine Trail: July 7th-8th
Wine on the Mountain -
The Lehigh Valley Wine Trail: July 28th-29th

South Carolina
Summer Parrot Head Festival -
La Belle Amie Vineyard: July 21st

L'Et├ę du Vin - Nashville, Tennessee: July 12th-14th

WOW Picnic Road Trip -
Way Out Wineries of Texas – July 6th-July 8th

10th Wine Down the Music Trail
- Floyd: July 7th-8th
Horse and Hound Wine FestivalBedford: July 14th
Daylily and Wine FestivalAugusta County: July 21st-22nd

Killington Wine FestivalKillington: July 12th-15th

Celebrate Hoodsport -
Hoodsport Winery: July 2nd-4th
4th Annual Art Walk & Wine Gala
Prosser: July 21st

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Swedenburg Estate Vineyard

Sadly, we just read about the passing of Juanita Swedenburg, owner of Swedenburg Estate Vineyard. She was the lead litigant in the 2005 Supreme Court ruling overturning many state regulations regarding wine sales. The Loudoun Times Mirror provides a concise obituary. - Screwcaps

This week's peeve involves screw caps. Why the hysteria? We recently had a few wines that were closed by screw caps; the wines were excellent and the caps were much easier to close compared to trying to jam the cork back into the bottle. Plus there is no chance of TCA contamination that are possible with natural corks nor oxidation problems associated with synthetic corks.

Monday, June 11, 2007 - Tasting Fees

I have started using a new site to open threads on things in the wine industry that bother us. Today I posted a peeve on the excessive price wineries charge for merely tasting their wines. Lately we've had to pay $10 and the fee wasn't even waived when we purchased a bottle. For now on, we are no longer visiting wineries that charge more than $5 and don't waive the fee after purchase.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

2007 Vintage Virginia Festival

On Saturday June 2nd, we attended the 2007 Vintage Virginia festival, which featured wines from over fifty wineries from throughout the state. We wanted to use this event to sample the latest vintages of Norton and find out which wineries were going to participate in the first annual National Norton Festival in September. This event also enabled us to sample wines from wineries we had not visited, particular those in central and southwestern Virginia.

But first, we said hello to several friends at northern Virginia wineries and for the first time we tasted wines from Fabbioli Cellars, a winery that before this summer was only open on a limited basis. Douglas Fabbioli took his 25 years experience working in the wine industry in California, New York, and Virginia and started his winery just north of Leesburg. He grows or sources several different varieties of grapes for his wines, including Chambourcin, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. A central theme of the festival was the outstanding Cabernet javascript:void(0)
Save NowFranc that is being made in Virginia, and Fabbioli’s is no exception. Theirs is a medium bodied wine with cherry flavors and a smooth finish. We also enjoyed their Fratelli, a Chambourcin-Tannat blend and the Tre Sorelle – a blend of Merlot, Tannat and Petit Verdot. Luckily, starting this summer the winery will be open on Saturdays.

We spent time at two other Northern Virginia wineries, Village Winery and Chrysalis Vineyards. Village Winery is one of the smallest wineries in the state, but makes in outstanding array of wines. We were always big fans of their Cabernet Franc and Elderberry (one of the only dry Elderberry wines you will find in the country), but this year they also introduced a Viognier and Apple wine. Not surprisingly the Apple wine is their new best seller – it is dry, but very flavorful. Kent Marrs told us that red wine customers are purchasing the apple wine as much as the white wine drinkers. We are also big fans of Chrysalis and large Norton and Viognier offerings. Since the Viognier is sometimes too pricy for our budget, the festival is a good chance to try the wine – several times. Chrysalis has the largest planting of Norton in the country and the quality continues to rise. Their latest Norton estate won a double gold (unanimous selection) at this year’s Riverside International. Ms. McCloud is very enthusiastic about Norton as well as her winery’s chances in the National Norton Competition. And for good reason, their Norton’s are full bodied and smooth – with little signs of acidity that are often present in Norton wine.

From Chrysalis, we went out to taste the Norton offerings of
Horton Vineyards, Burnley Vineyards, Cooper Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards, Peaks of Otter Winery, and Valhalla Vineyards. Of these are favorites were Keswick’s and Valhalla’s. The Keswick Norton was the best; theirs is aged 5 months in French Oak that produces a full-bodied wine with the normal grapey flavor, but a slight spicy finish. This wine will fare well against the Missouri Nortons. Valhalla’s Norton is also full-bodied but made as more an every day dinner wine. The finish is smooth and tasty. Valhalla also makes an interesting Alicante Bouschet. This grape is a sibling of Grenache and is usually used to add color to blends. Valhalla has managed to create a wine with incredibly dark color, “the darkest red wine you are likely to enjoy”, but that also has a flavorful taste and a long spicy finish. This is the type of wine to have on hand when you get bored with the everyday varietals.

We also tasted good wines from a couple neighbors of Valhalla, Fincastle Vineyard & Winery and Rockbridge Vineyard. Fincastle was pouring two very good red wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The Cab Franc was worth buying. It is a medium bodied wine with a great cherry aroma and flavor. The finish is slightly spicy – but smooth – very smooth. Fincastle also operated a bed and breakfast, so if your travels take you to Lexington or Roanoke – Fincastle is a great option. Traveling north, past Lexington would bring you to Rockbridge Vineyard and one of our favorite everyday summer wines, St. Mary’s Blanc. This off-dry Vidal based wine is fermented in oak, and for $10 is perfect for summer afternoons, dinner, you name it. Rockbridge also makes a good Riesling and this year’s vintage won a Silver medal in the Finger Lakes, not too shabby – entering the Lion’s den and coming home a winner. Two other Rockbridge wines deserve attention. Their Cabernet Franc is a good representation of the vinifera wine being produced in Virginia and it won a Gold medal at the 2006 Governor’s Cup Competition. Another Gold medal winner at this event was Rockbridge’s Vd’Or, an ice-wine styled wine made from late harvest Vidal. The grapes are frozen, and then pressed; the result is a Sauterne type wine with orange-honey flavors.

It is well apparent that Virginia wineries can produce excellent wines from vinifera grapes. The days of using solely hybrids are gone. One of the first pioneers in growing vinifera grapes in modern day Virginia was Gabriele Rausse, who first worked at Jefferson Vineyards, but now owns and operates his winery that bears his name. We never pass an opportunity to try his wines and today we sampled 14 of them, all made from vinifera grapes grown in Virginia. For whites Rausse offers your standard Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, but it was the Viognier that stood out. This wine is aged 1 year in French oak, which provides a slight buttery taste that you don’t expect – or would expect with a Chardonnay. However, this process works for Viognier and this wine would be perfect with a meal. Rausse makes two rose styled wines, the Rosso from Cabernet Franc and the Dry Rose, made from juice bled from several red varietals. This is a great wine and perfect for those who are looking for something new. For reds, Gabriele Rausse offers something for everyone. They have a full-boded Merlot, an excellent Cabernet Franc, a Cabernet Sauvignon aged in stainless steel, a spicy Shiraz made from Orange County grapes, and two excellent reserve wines, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005 and the Nebbiole Reserve 2005. Both of these reserves wines are pricy ($35) so the festival provided a great opportunity to taste wines that we normal would not have purchased. Of the two, the Nebbiole was awesome, full bodied with light tannins. Gabriele Rausse wines are only available in retail outlets in Charlottesville, so if you are in the area…..

There are several more Virginia wine festivals scheduled for this summer and fall. Check the Virginia Wine Compass page to find one close to you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tasters Guild International Wine Judging - Double Gold Winners

I’ve been slow drafting a few articles, so here is another in the competition results series; this time from the Tasters Guild International Wine Judging. Several wineries were awarded multiple Double Gold medals including three for Rosenblum Cellars (CA), Viansa Winery (CA) and Missouri’s St. James Winery. I can’t wait to try their 2003 Norton Reserve.

7 Deadly Zins 05 - Zinfandel Lodi CA $13.01 - $17.00
Ackerman Winery 06 - Raspberry IA $7.01 - $10.00
Alpen Cellars 06 - Chardonnay Estate CA $7.01 - $10.00
Barboursville Vineyards 04 - Octagon VA $38.01 - $50.00
Barefoot Cellars NV - Sauvignon Blanc Calif. CA $0.00 - $7.00
Barefoot Cellars NV - Chardonnay Calif. CA $0.00 - $7.00
Bianchi 04 - Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles CA $17.01 - $22.00
Blumenhof 05 - Goldblumen MO $13.01 - $17.00
Brassfield Estate Winery 04 - Pinot Noir High Serenity Ranch CA $22.01 - $30.00
Brassfield Estate Winery 04 - Zinfandel Monte Sereno CA $22.01 - $30.00
Captains Walk Winery 04 - Merlot WI $22.01 - $30.00
Casa Larga NV - Cabernet Franc I.W. NY $50.01+
Chateau Grand Traverse 05 - Riesling-I.W. Old Mission Pen. MI $50.01+
Chateau Thomas Winery 06 - Riesling-Dry Yakima, WA IN $13.01 - $17.00
Cline Cellars 06 - Viognier CA $7.01 - $10.00
Dom de Bertrol NV - Prosecco Semi Sparkling Italy $13.01 - $17.00
E&J Distillers NV - Caramel Temptation CA $10.01 - $13.00
East Valley Vineyard 04 - Sangiovese Santa Barbara CA $22.01 - $30.00
Erath Vineyards 05 - Pinot Noir Prince Hill Vineyard OR $38.01 - $50.00
Ferrante Wine Farm 05 - Chardonnay Signature Series OH $13.01 - $17.00
Ferrante Wine Farm 06 - Vidal Blanc OH $7.01 - $10.00
Fiore 04 - Chambourcin Reserve MD $17.01 - $22.00
Flora Spring Winery 04 - Trilogy CA $50.01+
Forestville Vineyards 00 - Cabernet Sauvignon CA $10.01 - $13.00
Henry Estate Winery 99 - Pinot Noir Winemaker Reserve OR $38.01 - $50.00
Heron Hill Winery 04 - Riesling L.H. NY $30.01 - $38.00
Hopper Creek Ranch 02 - Cabernet Sauvignon Napa CA $22.01 - $30.00
Husch Vineyards 05 - Postre CA $17.01 - $22.00
Hyatt Vineyards 04 - Cabernet Sauvignon Yakima Valley WA $7.01 - $10.00
Jacob's Creek 05 - Shiraz SE Australia $7.01 - $10.00
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards 05 - Primitivo CA $17.01 - $22.00
Jost Vineyards 06 - Vidal Blanc I.W. NS-CAN $17.01 - $22.00
Kendall-Jackson 04 - Merlot Grand Reserve CA $22.01 - $30.00
Livingston Cellars NV - Burgundy CA $0.00 - $7.00
Lynfred Winery 05 - Petite Verdot American IL $17.01 - $22.00
Marlena 06 - Malbec Argentina $0.00 - $7.00
Merriam Vineyards 04 - Cabernet Franc Jones MA $38.01 - $50.00
Mount Pleasant Winery 05 - Claret MO $13.01 - $17.00
Norman Vineyards 04 - Zinfandel Old Vine CA $17.01 - $22.00
Northstar Winery 03 - Stella Man's Red WA $22.01 - $30.00
Oliver Winery 05 - Vidal Blanc I.W. IN $38.01 - $50.00
Oliver Winery 05 - Vignoles L.H. Late Harvest IN $22.01 - $30.00
Pelee Island Winery 05 - Cabernet Franc ONT-CAN $7.01 - $10.00
Pepi 05 - Pinot Grigio CA $7.01 - $10.00
Pepi 03 - Sangiovese CA $7.01 - $10.00
Pine Ridge 03 - Charm Stone CA $22.01 - $30.00
Prairie Berry Winery 06 - Frontenac SD $13.01 - $17.00
Quady Winery NV - Deviation CA $22.01 - $30.00
Rideau Vineyard 06 - Viognier Estate CA $50.01+
Rideau Vineyard 06 - Grenache Blanc Santa Ynez CA $30.01 - $38.00
Robert Hall 05 - Rhone de Robles CA $17.01 - $22.00
Rosenblum Cellars 05 - Zinfandel H. Kratka Vineyard CA $30.01 - $38.00
Rosenblum Cellars 05 - Petite Sirah Pickett Road CA $30.01 - $38.00
Rosenblum Cellars 04 - Port - Syrah CA $17.01 - $22.00
Rosenthal 04 - Cabernet Sauvignon Malibu Estate CA $30.01 - $38.00
Rosenthal 04 - Merlot Malibu Estate CA $22.01 - $30.00
Simmons Winery 06 - Nortonburg White IN $7.01 - $10.00
Simon Creek Vineyard 04 - Cabernet Sauvignon WI $13.01 - $17.00
St. James Winery 03 - Norton Reserve MO $22.01 - $30.00
St. James Winery 05 - Seyval Vintner's Select MO $7.01 - $10.00
St. James Winery 06 - Vignoles Vintner's Select MO $10.01 - $13.00
St. Julian Wine Co NV - Passionate Peach Spumante MI $10.01 - $13.00
St. Supery Vineyards 03 - Elu CA $50.01+
St. Supery Vineyards 06 - Moscato CA $17.01 - $22.00
Sunce Winery 04 - Nebbiolo St. Olof Vineyard CA $38.01 - $50.00
The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey 05 - Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve CO $22.01 - $30.00
Torrey Ridge Winery NV - Catawba NY $7.01 - $10.00
Trecini Cellars 04 - Zinfandel Signature CA $30.01 - $38.00
Trecini Cellars 06 - Merlot Rose' CA $13.01 - $17.00
Unionville Vineyards 04 - Hunter's Red NJ $22.01 - $30.00
V. Sattui Winery 06 - Sauvignon Blanc Vittorio's Vineyard CA $17.01 - $22.00
V. Sattui Winery 06 - Gewurztraminer Mendocino CA $17.01 - $22.00
Viansa Winery 04 - Merlot Lorenzo CA $38.01 - $50.00
Viansa Winery 03 - Ossidiana CA $50.01+
Viansa Winery 03 - Cabernet Franc Sonoma CA $50.01+
Victor Hugo Winery 04 - Petite Sirah Paso Robles CA $17.01 - $22.00
Wolf Blass 05 - Shiraz Yellow Label Australia $10.01 - $13.00
Wyndham Estate 03 - Shiraz Black Cluster Australia $30.01 - $38.00
ZD Wines 05 - Pinot Noir Reserve CA $50.01+

Monday, June 4, 2007

Fiore Winery - Chambourcin Proprietor's Reserve

A couple years ago, Paul Lukacs published a book "The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages" in which he selected 40 wineries that have been producing the same quality wine for the past decade. One winery that did not make the list, but has been extremely consistent in producing quality chambourcin wine is Fiore Winery and their Chambourcin Proprietor's Reserve. Last week we opened our last bottle of their 2001 vintage which won a Gold Medal at the 2005 LA County Fair. This is a medium bodied wine with a slight grapey nose with cherry flavors and a smooth finish. Their 2004 vintage will soon be available and it was recently awarded a Gold at the 2007 San Diego International Wine Competition and Double Gold at the 2006 Tasters Guild Competition. This makes 6 Gold Medals this wine has been awarded this year. When released, this wine will retail for $17.99. Not a bad price.