Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fox Meadow Winery "Le Renard Rouge" Honored with 2011 Virginia Governor's Cup Award

Out of hundreds of wines entered and six finalists, the Fox Meadow Winery Meritage "Le Renard Rouge" was awarded 2011 Virginia Governor's Cup Award. First Lady Maureen McDonnell presented the cup to Cheryl and Dan Mortland, who along with their son Robert, own and operate the Linden Virginia up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The winning wine is a 50-50 blend Cabernet Franc and Merlot crafted from estate grown grapes and aged 20 months in French oak barrels.

Friday, February 25, 2011

“3” - A Monticello Wine Trail Collaboration

“Three winemakers, three vineyards, three varietals, one wine” is the unique tagline for a unique Virginia wine named “3”. A triumvirate effort from winemakers Emily Pelton, Jake Busching and Matthieu Finot was born over a friendly beer and a what-if statement. ‘”Wouldn’t it be fun if…’”.

The three winemakers decided that this would be an opportunity not only to work together and show the collaborative nature of the industry, but also to highlight the creative process of sharing and learning from one another. The winemaking industry is distinctive, in that it is a wonderful combination of artistry, science and vintage expression. Each of the three winemakers’ personal style joins forces in a product that reflects the blending of terroirs and personalities.

“3” is a Bordeaux blend of three varietals in equal one-third portions from the 2009 vintage.

The Merlot was crafted by Matthieu Finot from King Family Vineyards, the Petit Verdot by Emily Pelton from Veritas Winery, and the Cabernet Franc by Jake Busching from Pollak Vineyards.

With more than 30 years of combined winemaking experience, these 3 winemakers carefully selected two barrels from their cellars that they felt would highlight their colleagues’ wine. The resulting product is a wine with perfect proportion and balance. This wine is a limited edition crafted in friendship and bottled to show the unity of the industry. The expansion and quality of Virginia wine is mirrored in the growth of these three young winemakers’ careers.

The premiere introduction of “3” will be at Pollak Vineyards on Thursday, March 3 from 3:33 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. Tastings of this limited production will only be available at this release event and at the three participating wineries all day the following Sunday, March 6. Each winery will have 45 cases for sale at $33.33 per bottle.

Team 3
Matthieu Finot was born in Crozes Hermitage in the Rhone Valley. From a family of viticulturists and wine lovers, Matthieu was predisposed to continue his family's pursuit of winemaking and enjoying. He first studied viticulture and oenology at Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy. After graduating in 1995, Matthieu worked in many different wine regions around France including Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, and Jura. Matthieu then wanted to gain world-wide experience. He worked in Italy and South Africa before settling in Virginia. Since arriving in 2003, Matthieu has worked with wineries throughout the state. He enjoys working in the Monticello Appellation most because he likes the excitement of the region’s growth and being close to Charlottesville. When not at the winery, or with his brand new son, Matthieu likes to play rugby, snow board, rock climb, cook, and drink wine with his friends.

Emily Pelton graduated from Emory University with a B.S. in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, and a focus in Infectious Diseases. She happily moved to Virginia from Atlanta in 1999 to take a year off, and work alongside her parents in the development of Veritas Vineyard and Winery. It didn't take long for her to realize that she was not going back to her original field of study. After completing her Masters in Oenology at Virginia Tech, Emily joined the family venture full-time. Focusing primarily on allowing the Virginia terroir to show through in her wines, Emily is emphatic about being true to the grape. Elevated by a strong family business, Emily has grown up making wine solely for Veritas Vineyard and Winery. Outside of wine she has an extensive orchid collection and two beautiful girls.

Jake Busching began growing wine grapes in the Monticello region in 1997. Having grown up as a cattle farmer, the transition into winegrowing was a natural step. Pollak Vineyards has been his home as winemaker and general manager since 2003. Having learned viticulture and winemaking through mentors and hands on application, Jake believes that wine is an expression of the soil on which it is grown. Beyond the world of wine Jake plays bass guitar, thinks about playing golf, and has 2 sons that keep him very busy. In 2011 Jake will release a very limited amount of his own wine under the label Pythias.

Photographs, Courtesy of Jack Looney

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Forgotten Grapes Coming to D.C. Area

What do Helen Mirren, Beyonce, Joey from “Friends”, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Major League Baseball have to do with wine? DC-area wine lovers will have two opportunities to taste for themselves as America’s Uncommon Wine Expert and Founder of CHRIS KERN present two nights of “Getting Friendly with Forgotten Grapes: An Evening of Uncommon Wine Tasting” on Tuesday, March 1st at 6:30pm at Open City DC in Washington DC, and again on Thursday, March 3rd at 6:30pm at Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro in Arlington, VA.

Chris Kern, America ’s Uncommon Wine Expert is returning to the nation’s capital, and he’s bringing five all-new Forgotten Grape wines with him for you to taste. You’ll sample these uncommon and lesser-known wine varietals while Chris introduces you to each wine and its pop culture doppelganger through songs, jokes, skits, costumes, and interactive games. It’s unlike any other wine tasting you’ve ever attended. It’s irreverent, it’s off-the-wall, it’s unpredictable, it’s “Getting Friendly with Forgotten Grapes”.

Admission at both events is just $35 per person, which includes generous pours of all five Forgotten Grape wines, the two-hour show, and palate-cleansing snacks provided by the venue. Reservations are extremely limited and this event sold out the last time it was in the area, so make your reservations now.

Reservations for the March 1st tasting at Open City DC can be made by e-mailing Heather at Open City at Open City DC is located at 2331 Calvert Street NW in Washington DC . Visit for more information.

Reservations for the March 3rd tasting at Twisted Vines can be made by either e-mailing Twisted Vines at or by calling them directly at (571) 482-8581. Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro is located at 2803 Columbia Pike in Arlington . Visit for more information.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2011 Governor's Cup Red Wine Medal Winners

This Friday night, February 25th, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen will unveil the winner of the 2001 Governor’s Cup for red wines at the Virginia Wine Expo. We will be on hand filming the awards ceremony for Virginia Wine TV and interviewing the finalists. In total, 196 wines were submitted from 60 wineries, with six of these receiving Gold medals. These gold medal winners are the finalists for the Governor’s Cup. Let's see, three cabernet varietals, a Meritage, a Norton, and a Petit Verdot. All food groups represented. We've tasted almost all of these - except for the Fox Meadow. Sad, we were just in their neighborhood last weekend. Time to return.

Keswick Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Franc
Hiddencroft Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Franc
Afton Mountain Vineyards Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Fox Meadow Winery Le Renard Rouge 2008
Cooper Vineyards 2008 Norton
Barboursville Winery 2008 Petit Verdot

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Support HB777 for reduced taxes for craft distillers!

Join Catoctin Creek Distilling Company and lobby Congress to support HB777 a bill introduced by Congressman Hinchey (NY) that would reduce the federal distilled spirits excise tax rate to $2.70 per proof gallon for distillers that produce fewer than 65,000 gallons annually. This discounted tier structure mirrors what the small beer and wine producers have enjoyed for decades and how that's helped micro brewers and small wineries to flourish throughout the country. This tax reduction will enable these small distilleries to invest in new equipment and provide new, high-quality and sustainable jobs in communities across the United States.
If you are interested in joining in this effort to provide needed tax relief to these new American enterprises or if you would like additional background information, please contact Kristin Cook at Congressman Hinchey's Office:

"Tokaj and Beyond" - The Best Wines of Hungary

On the heels of tasting some fabulous eastern European wines at the Washington D.C. Int'l Wine Festival, we were invited to attend a special trade tasting of just Hungarian wines held at that country's embassy. There was an expanded selection from those presented at the festival which gave a fuller picture of the styles of wines produced primarily from Tokaji and Villány. Tokaji is located in the northeastern section of the country and is known for making sweet dessert fines from Furmint, the Tokaji Aszú . And there were plenty of the highest quality - 5 and 6 puttonyos - available. These wines are sweet, with generally strong apricot flavors. But they are balanced - with no gritty or syrupy finish. Two we really enjoyed were from Alana-Tokaj and Béres Vineyard and Winery. Both these wineries also had examples of dry Furmint as well as semi-dry Hárslevelü - which along with orange muscat are the only grapes authorized to be grown in the region. And Béres also provided a bonus - two versions of Hungarian palinka - these made in a grappa style. Excellent.

Villány is located in the southern region of Hungary is is known as "Little Bordeaux" for its ability to grow Cabernet and Merlot grapes. And wines from these grapes are made in the old world earthy style as opposed to the new world fruit bombs. We started with the wines imported by the Blue Danube Wine Company which culminated into the Attila - a blend of grapes that would give many premier or second crus a battle. Blue Danube also presented wines from native grapes - Kékfrankos and Kardaka which we profiled in our previous post. We then tasted several dry reds produced by the Château Teleki. They were pouring several single varietal Bordeaux style wines which were all representative of the old world miner-ally wines and tasty. But we were more pleased with their Pinot Noir, which shows that Burgundy also has a presence in Villány. This wine is velvety smooth and full bodied - very nice. The final set of reds were offered by Heumann Winery, which is owned and operated by Evelyne & Erhard Heumann. The couple found a suitable Villányi vineyard over 15 years ago and have been producing wines from native and Bordeaux grapes since. And, Mr. Heumann was present to showcase the wines personally. He offers several single varietals - including a Kékfrankos - but its his two blends, Terra Tartaro and Heumann which will remain in our memory. These are smooth classic Bordeaux cuvees, with light tannins and balanced acidity. And priced to sell - we start searching this week. As a bonus, we tasted the Heumann Chardonnay - a very impressive wine - full bodied with apricot flavors and a slight nutty finish. Perhaps the only version of Hungarian Chardonnay available.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Introducing Virginia Wine TV

The creators of MyJoogTV - who pair musicians with makers of fine wines, brews, spirits - have released a new series called Virginia Wine TV. This new series focuses exclusively on the wines and winemakers in the Commonwealth.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eastern European Wines Shine at the Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Festival

This weekend we attended the 12th Annual Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Festival and spent the majority of time tasting wine produced in Eastern Europe and the Finger Lakes. Yes, other wine regions were well represented, but on the heels of our article, Blue Frankish - A Great Wine By Any Name, we decided to taste the wines we described in the article. Our day started comparing Hungarian Kékfrankos and Finger Lakes Lemberger; although they weren't exact comparisons because the Finger Lakes versions were 50/50 blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Hungarian side we tasted the Heumann Villany Kékfrankos and the Pfneisxl Sopron Kékfrankos. The latter is lighter, made organically, but with the same smoothness and cherry flavors as the Heumann. On the Finger Lakes side, Fox Run Vineyards and Anthony Road Wine Company were both pouring Lemberger\Cabernet Franc blends. These wines reflect the natural balance that occurs with blending these two grapes - the fruit forwardness and spiciness of the Lemberger and the green fullness of the Cab Franc. We actually experimented, creating our own 50/50 blend of
Heumann Kékfrankos and Heumann Cabernet Franc - and this mixture was easily more enjoyable than each as a single varietal. Just remember, whether Hungarian Kékfrankos or Finger Lakes Lemberger, all are very good, affordable, every day drinking wines.

We also tried several other Hungarian wines, from dry reds and whites to the famous Tokaji Aszu. We tasted the Eszterbauer Szekszárd Kardaka Nagyapám, a dry, medium bodied wine with some similar characteristics as the Kékfrankos - without the complexity. Kardaka is a traditional Hungarian grape that was once the dominate grape in the famous Egri Bikaver - Bull's Blood. Its nice to see a single varietal Kardaka make the journey West. There was also plenty of dry Furmint available, another traditional Hungarian wine grape that is normally vinified into Aszu. Made dry, it is a refreshing wine, balanced between fruit and mineral characters. And we had to sample the sweet Furmint displayed in two wines: Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos and the 6 Puttonyos Aszu. Both had the powerful apricot flavors - definitely strong - but not gritty or syrupy. The "Dessert Wine of Kings". Check out the Blue Danube Wine Company more more information about these wines.

After tasting the various Hungarian wines, we moved to neighboring wines produced in Croatia and Slovenia. We are more familiar with Croatian wines, particularly those made from Crljenak Kastelanski - better known as Primitivo and Zinfandel. Another familiar grape is the indigenous Babić as well as its parent Placac Mali. Both of these were available today: Babić Piližota and the Lirica Plavac Mali Peljesac Dalmatia. Both these wines are produced in the warmer climates in the Dalmatia coast. The Babić was smooth and silky, balanced between fruit and earthiness. The Plavac Mali featured more red fruits and seemed more tannic and spicy. Both were very good and extremely affordable. Check out Fine Croatian Wines for more information.

Even with a visit to Slovenia, we are not very familiar with Slovenian wines, but after tasting the wines made by Ptujska Klet, that will change. This winery is the oldest in Slovenia with its cellars dating back to 1239. We started with the Pullus Pinot Grigio Ptuj. Normally not fans of wines made from this grape, this wine was more than drinkable - fuller than most of its kin with an actual tail. Not bad. But the second we tasted was the bomb; the
Pullus Sauvignon Blanc. This wine had everything you would expect from that variety - refreshing acidity, tropical flavors - this wine just exploded in the mouth. Will definitely give some New Zealanders a run. Wow. Once again, check out Fine Croatian Wines for more information.

We did try other wines, in particular several Pinotages from the large contingent of South African wines. The best trend was that most lacked the strong tobacco - smokey characteristic that repelled us from consuming more of wine varietal. In fact, most resembled its parent, Pinot Noir, with silky bodies and creamy texture. These were nicely done and very affordable. Time to re-evaluate these wines.

Then, of course, we had to sample the Finger Lakes dry Rieslings and the Rhatiselli from Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. Combined with the reds we tasted earlier - we must include a trip north this summer. Too much good wine being made in that region to miss.

And finally, there were a few spirits. It was nice to see our friends from St Lucia Distillers Group, producers of Castries Crème, rolling out a new line of rum under the Chairman's Reserve brand - Chairman’s Reserve and Chairman’s Reserve Spiced. The spiced rum was very interesting - with the spices and botanicals contributing like a fine gin rather than a chemical additive as with many spiced rums. And Philadelphia Distilling returned, pouring their Vieux Carré Absinthe and Bluecoat American Gin. We didn't sample today, but expect a future episode featuring these spirits from

In sum, another enjoyable wine festival with enough diversity to keep us interested. Until next time....

Friday, February 11, 2011

Reminder - Weekend Wine Festivals in D.C. Area

Just a reminder that this weekend brings two major wine festivals to the Washington D.C. metro area. At the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, over 100 domestic and international wineries will be pouring more than 600 wines during the Washington D.C. International Wine & Food Festival. Hours are from 2:00pm-6:00pm both days.

And out west, the Virginia Wine Showcase is being held at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly where 37 Virginia wineries will be pouring wine. Tickets are very reasonable $45 for a tasting; $20 for non-tasting; and children under 11 are free.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blue Frankish – A Great Wine By Any Name

Many years ago, my wife and I traveled through the back roads of northwestern Hungary, just exploring new territory. Yet in each village and especially the regional city of Sopron, we tasted several full bodied – but silky smooth red wines. Many just melted in the mouth. These wines shared several characteristics – dark cherry flavors, soft tannins, some acidity, slightly spicy, as well as the same grape: Kékfrankos – which translates to “Blue Frankish”. And why not; this area borders the Austrian wine region of Burgenland where Blue Frankish, known as Blaufränkisch, has been grown for 1,000 years. The grape continues to be cultivated in many regions of Eastern Europe that were once part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire: Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. It even migrated south into Bulgaria. Yet, Blue Frankish is possibly most known in its German form, Lemberger after it was imported into that country, not from neighboring Austria, but from the Lemberg region in lower Styra, Slovenia.

When returning home, we found that the grape was basically ignored; both from wine retailers and the general public. This despairing situation resulting from two forces: a lack of brand identification (the confusion in multiple names) and, I believe, the inability of wine consumers two decades ago to sample wines beyond their comfort zones. Slowly over time we found an influx of nice Blaufränkisch from Austria and even more pleasing – the best source has been the rising domestic production of the grape. Whereas, overseas cultivation of the grape is concentrated in Central Europe, Blue Frankish is now cultivated throughout the United States; from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies, through the Midwest into the New York and the mid-Atlantic.

Washington state wineries after been producing wines from Lemberger since 1980 (too bad none were available in our Virginia hometown back then). One of the largest growers is Chateau Champoux – located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Besides crafting their own Lemberger wines, their grapes are sourced to Olympic Cellars and FairWind Winery who have used these grapes to produce award winning wines for the past decade. In fact, many in that state think Lemberger will be to Washington what Pinot Noir has become to its southern neighbor, Oregon.

Moving east, our first sampling of domestically produced Blue Frankish came in Palisade, Colorado – at Carlson Vineyards. Carlson is one of Colorado’s oldest wineries and is most known for their Riesling. But their popular Tyrannosaurus Red is 100% Lemberger made from grapes grown in their estate vineyard as well as two other local vineyards. They have discovered that this is a hardy grape that can survive the brutal Rocky Mountain winters. During the winter of 2009-2010, temperatures fell to 15 degrees below zero and yet they were still able to harvest 1/2 their crop. About five years ago we visited the Grand Valley and Carlson Vineyards. It was a great surprise to see the Lemberger and although this wine was more a medium bodied wine – it had the same dark cherry flavor, light tannins, and silky texture that make it an easy drinking wine.

Another area where the grape is cultivated because of it cold hardiness is in the Midwest, where it was first planted in 2002 by Viking Vineyards & Winery. Their Lemberger grapes have survived temperatures of 5 to 10 below zero and with its early ripening behavior – flavors are more consistent. The proprietors decided to cultivate the grape because they enjoyed the wine’s characteristics as they describe it as “rather like a Pinot Noir with attitude (darker, more fruity and less tannic then Pinot)”. Another Ohio winemaker, Ken Tarsitano of Tarsitano Winery, is also attracted to the grape because of its Pinot Noir style. He feels that if a vineyard can grow Chardonnay then it can grow Lemberger and the grape fits into the winery’s organic spray program. And because of geography and personal tastes, the Tarsitano Winery Lemberger is similar in style to the Viking – medium bodied, dark fruit flavors and soft tannins – an easy drinking wine.

Closer to home, in the Finger Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards originally started growing Lemberger as a blending additive to enhance the color of other wines. They find in cooler years, adding 3% Lemberger brings the color of other varietal wines to their proper level. However about 10 years after our first venture to Hungary, President Scott Osborn and winemaker Peter Bell were invited to that Hungary as part of a USAID program. That trip provided the same opportunity to taste several versions of Hungarian Kékfrankos and Austrian Blaufränkisch – many which they thought “fantastic”. At that moment Bell notified Osborn that “I can make wines like this with our Lemberger “. Thus, beginning with the 1997 vintage, Fox Run Vineyards started crafting a single varietal Lemberger. And since that time they have experienced the same results as the other vineyards – a cold hearty grape with consistent annual yields. In addition Osborn says that “because of the larger loose clusters and thicker skin is very disease resistant”. The larger clusters also allow for the moisture to evaporate during humid and raining conditions. We have been fortunate to be able to taste Fox Run’s vinification of Lemberger and like the best – it is a full bodied flavorful wine but with soft tannins that enables easy drinking. The winery also produces a Cabernet FranceLemberger blend that they believe is more flavorful and balanced than either as a single varietal. This is one of our everyday table wines, not only because it is delicious; but also extremely affordable – priced under $15.

Over the years we have purchased some of these wines online, or lately, at local retailers; but this past Autumn we discovered a local source for Blue Frankish from 8 Chains North Winery. The winery produces the Otium Cellars Blaufränkisch – a wine crafted from grapes sourced from Gerhard Bauer, a native of Franconia, Germany. In his Purcelleville, Virginia vineyard, Bauer cultivates grapes native to his homeland. At the time of our visit to the 8 Chains North tasting room, the Blaufränkisch had just been bottled, so the wine was still in “shock” and a little too tart. However, a month later we opened the bottle we purchased and wow, what a transformation. The wine had mellowed into the familiar characteristics that we expect: a full flavored smooth wine. Nice to have a source next door in Loudoun County. And despite the unfamiliar brand name, consumer demand has been overwhelming and the winery is doubling their planting of the grape. Here’s hoping there’s still some available during our next visit.

As the number of domestic wineries producing Blue Frankish increase and as consumers continue their willingness to sample “obscure” grapes – the fortunes for Lemberger and Blaufränkisch wines look strong. Some grape varieties fade in and out of fashion; but with the full flavors and soft tannins delivered by Blue Frankish, we feel, by any name – it will be around for the long-term.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

MyJoogTV Episode 8: Sarah Siskind & Travis Book @ Devils Backbone Brewing Company

This episode of MyJoogTV features Sarah Siskind and Travis Book, bassist for The Infamous Stringdusters, in a discussion of beer, music, and The Festy with Devils Backbone Brewing Company master brewer Jason Oliver. The episode was filmed during The Festy, The Infamous Stringdusters' signature weekend music festival held on the festival grounds at Devils Backbone. Specifically we discussed Siskind's affection for beer as well as her beer blog; The Festy; and the award winning beers crafted by Oliver. The episode concludes with Sarah Siskind and Travis Book, accompanied by guitarist Andy Falco, performing "Wild Fire" on the Southern Stage; and The Infamous Stringdusters on the Main Stage at The Festy. The video is available to download for iTunes and Windows Media Player. To view more videos filmed at The Festy, visit the MyJoogTV Festy Channel. And a special thanks to Nelson County for sponsoring our trip to the region.

Say It Louder - Sarah Siskind
All Come Together Now - EP - Sarah Siskind

Things That Fly - The Infamous Stringdusters