Tuesday, February 24, 2009

2009 Washington D.C. Food & Wine Expo

We attended another year of the Washington D.C. Food & Wine Expo which showcases wines made in practically every region of the globe. When entering the expo it wasn't difficult to start with wines from close to home since Loudoun County was allocated a prime location. Among others there was a fruit forward Cabernet Franc from Corcoran Vineyards, a creamy Viognier from Tarara Vineyard & Winery, and a sweet Raspberry Merlot from Fabbioli Cellars. Nearby a few other Virginia wineries poured wines: Orange County's Horton Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards as well as Kluge Estate Winery. There were several other East Coast wineries such as the Maryland's Frederick Cellars, Running Hare Vineyards, and Linganore Wine Cellars. The Finger Lakes were represented by a smaller contingent than last year Standing Stone Vineyards, Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, and Fox Run Vineyards. We liked the Riesling from Standing Stone and Dr.Frank's and the Lemberger from Fox Run. There was a surprise east coast winery, Connecticut's Sharpe Hill Winery, that was pouring a couple wines - most notably the semi-dry Ballet of Angels.

Moving west, there was sadly just one Oregon winery, Evergreen Vineyards - which carries a brand of wines named after the Howard Hughes’ famous airplane: the Spruce Goose. The winery had brought several wines which included a dry rose, an excellent Riesling, and several smooth Pinot Noirs. California was well represented and by several wineries we have become fans of over the years. Alexander Valley Vineyards was pouring several wines; Four Vines Winery had several Zinfandel based wines; and JK Estates - the new winery opened by Mark Gendron formerly of JanKris Winery had several excellent wines. We liked the Petite Sirah from Peltier Station as well as wines from Carr Vineyards & Winery, Brassfield Estate Winery and Hall Winery. But a new favorite emerged with Lockwood Vineyard. This winery produced several wines from estate grown grapes - at extremely affordable prices.

Another great value came from Australia, where Ballast Stone Estate Wines was pouring from a couple brands. This family owned winery has been growing premium grapes for decades in the McLaren Vale and Currency Creek regions. The Ballast Stone refers for the stones that ships used to maintain buoyancy with while sailing with an empty cargo. Once in Australia, the rocks would be off-loaded and whatever products exported were loaded. The stones was then used for construction. The winery's brands represent this heritage with the Steeple Jacks, the Stonemason, and the Ballast Stone brands. The Steeple Jacks Chardonnay and Merlot - which our entire party enjoyed - retails for around $6 a bottle. Good wines at bargain prices: I don't know how they do it. The Ballast Stone Estate brand wines retail for a "staggering" $15. There was an excellent Grenache, Petite Verdot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon - all great values.

European wineries were everywhere - from France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Spain. We didn't get a chance to sample the Spanish wines, but made up for it in the other countries. The Cotes du Rhone wines were excellent and will force us to research this area more. You can't go wrong with blends made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. Plus all their wines retailed for under $15. The dollar can't be in that bad shape. Moving on, we sampled interesting Pinot Noirs from Hungary and Austria - which were good, but much different from the west coast American versions. The other Hungarian wines imported by Monarchia International and Matt Brothers included two fine Torley sparkling wines and a few Craftsman and Monarchia wines. We particularly liked two whites made from the native Cserszegi Fuszeres and Olivier grapes. The Austrian wines included the aforementioned Pinot Noir plus a nice Zweigelt blend - an offspring of Blaufränkisch and most widely-grown red grape variety in Austria. Those who prefer sweeter wines flocked to the German wines and we liked a few - even the cheaper Scheurebe.

But then there were the Italian varietals. Dezel from My Virginia Vine Spot joined me on a tour of these wines - starting with an American winery - Domenico Wines. Why start with an American winery, when tasting Italian varietals? Well, for one, Domenico Wines was at the same table. But, two, Dominick Chirichillo makes wines based on his Italian heritage and his family's wine making tradition. In fact Dominick learned about wine making over fifty years ago when his grandfather showed him how to use the family wine press in the basement of their New York home. Over time he moved from amateur competitions to commercial wine making after moving west to California. He still assists amateurs through the Bacchus Winemaking Club, which enables people to create their own wines with custom labels. Dominick's commercial wines have won close to 200 awards and both of us enjoyed his Miscela (blend in Italian), a Bordeaux styled concoction of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot. Along with this French styled wine, Domenico Wines offers many Italian varietals such as Nebbiolo, Aglianico, Malvasia Bianca, and of course Pinot Grigio. From there we moved down the table trying Italian wines from various regions - all the while increasing our appreciation for that country's grapes. From the north in the Piedmont we enjoyed the Vilanna Langhe Rosso, made from Nebbiolo and Barbera and the Roero Arneis made from 100% Arneis, a native variety cultivated in the Roero area. We traveled east into Trentino-Alto Adige and the Barone Fini wines, then south through Tuscany and Abruzzo to Sicily, home of Nero d'Avola - our favorite Sicilian grape. What a ride.

While Dezel called it a day, we returned to old habits: Georgian wines. In the past few years we have become infatuated with the ancient grapes from this country and The Georgian House always have several wines available at the expo. These wines are primarily made from indigenous grapes in different styles: dry reds from Saperavi; semi-sweet reds from Mujuretuli, Aleksandrouli, and Ojaleshi; and dry whites from Rkatsiteli, Tsolikouri, and Mtsvane. These grapes that have been cultivated for thousands of years and even though they are not household names - they make excellent wines.

By chance we also stumbled upon another portfolio from an old world region, the wines from Corvus Vineyards - a Turkish winery located on the island of Bozcaada. Grapes have been cultivated on this island (located across from the Trojan coast) for over three thousand years. Turkish architect Resit Soley resurrected several vineyards planting indigenous as well as more familiar vinifera grapes. The flagship wine is The Corvus Corpus, an elderberry flavor blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah with a smooth vanilla tail. They also produce a varietal Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a several wines from native grapes: Karalahna, Bogazkere, Okuzgozu, and Kuntra. These wines were very impressive - they have found a home in European cellars and are slowly making their way into the states. We can't wait to find an outlet.

With so many wines - we can't describe each. But the Washington D.C. Food & Wine Expo shows that there are excellent wines made throughout the world. Your responsibility is to be adventurous and try them. Oh yea, I forgot about the food. The expo should really think about removing "Food" from the title for there really wasn't any. Yes there are cooking demonstrations. But where are the Washington D.C. Restaurants? If not for the Divine Chocolates and Gerbs Pumpkin Seeds.....

Additional photos are available at the Wine-Compass.com Compass Tours section and the Facebook WineCompass page.

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