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Updated: 2018-02-07T17:18:32.835-05:00


Pacific Northwest AVAs


The Importance (and Confusion) of AVAsAmerican Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are winegrape-growing regions that have been legally established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB - created as a reorganization of the functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2003). The purpose of these regions is to allow wine producers to better describe the place of origin of their wines, and to allow consumers to more easily identify wines that they may wish to purchase. Simple enough. But this simple concept can actually lead to a lot of confusion. This post will detail the Pacific Northwest AVAs, and the next post will address some of the issues raised by the American Viticultural Areas system.(A bit outdated, but the best map I could find to give you the total picture. Thanks to Quentin Sadler's blog for the map.)Pacific Northwest AVAsBefore diving in to some of the complexity surrounding AVAs, and Pacific Northwest AVAs in particular, I wanted to list all of the AVAs, sub-AVAs and in one case "super-AVA" found in the Pacific Northwest as of March 2010 (as this is bound to keep expanding). A caveat - I'm an Oregon guy, so my coverage and knowledge of Pacific Northwest wines are jilted in that direction (a deficiency I am working (drinking?) to correct).Willamette Valley AVA - the largest AVA in Oregon, and the one containing the highest percentage of the state's wineries. Has six sub-AVAs:Chehalem Mountain AVADundee Hills AVAEola-Amity Hills AVAMcMinnville AVARibbon Ridge AVAYamhill-Carlton District AVASouthern Oregon Super AVA - This AVA was established specifically to encompass two already-existing AVAs in Southern Oregon. This was mainly done to allow the southern AVAs to better distinguish themselves from the much larger and more influential Willamette Valley AVA which, to many buyers, was simply synonymous with "Oregon wine". The Southern Oregon AVAs are:Umpqua Valley AVA - Part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, centered around the city of Roseburg, OR. Has one sub-AVA:Red Hill Douglas County AVARogue Valley AVA - Again, part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA, located just across the border from California. Contains one sub-AVA and two AVA-ish regions:Applegate Valley AVABear Creek Valley: not an AVA, but a distinct region named after Bear CreekIllinois Valley: not an AVA, but a distinct region named after Illinois RiverColumbia Gorge AVA - An approximately 40 mile long stretch of the Columbia River Valley, including land on both the Washington and Oregon sides. I can't explain it any better than Paul Gregutt did here.Columbia Valley AVA - Starting just east of the Columbia Gorge AVA, the Columbia Valley AVA includes some land in Oregon and then follows the Columbia River north into Washington, becoming Washington's largest AVA. Paul Gregutt has an excellent description of the Columbia Valley AVA posted here. The Columbia Valley AVA includes eight sub-AVAs: Horse Heaven Hills AVA Lake Chelan AVARattlesnake Hills AVARed Mountain AVA (hopefuly this page will be up and running soon)Snipes Mountain AVAWahluke Slope AVAWalla Walla Valley AVAYakima Valley AVAPuget Sound AVA - Washington's "outlier AVA" (as described by Paul Gregutt here), the only AVA in Washington located west of the Cascade Mountains. Includes the entire Puget Sound region from the Canadian border down to Olympia.Snake River Valley AVA - Idaho didn't want to miss out on all the fun, thus was born Idaho's first (and currently only) AVA (the Snake River Valley AVA also extends into Oregon, although I do not believe there are any wineries or major commercial vineyards there yet).To help you figure out where all of these are:Map of Oregon AVAsMap of Washington AVAsMap of Snake River AVA (mainly Idaho)The Confusion of AVAsPhew, good to get through that list - and I think in reading over it you will already have picked up on several of the issues that make AVAs overly complicated. More on that in the next post.[...]

Wine Closures Over Time


After winemakers have spent so much time and attention birthing and nurturing their wines in the winery, they face a big decision when it comes time to send those wines out into the world - what type of closure to use on the wine bottle (or should they even use bottles at all)? This decision can have a huge effect on the aging and longevity of the wine, and it is a topic of hot conversation in the wine industry.

There is a lot I could say on the matter, and I will likely address this issue at some point in the future, but for now I simply wanted to share a graphic that very convincingly makes the point for why screw-top (aka Stelvin) closures need to be considered as the closure of choice, particularly when bottling white wines (thanks to @Herbguy for the link). Enjoy.

Vinvenio *RESET*


SO, it has been almost 2.5 years since my last blog post. A lot has happened in those intervening years, and I feel like the time has come to jump-start this blog once more and slightly redirect it towards my current pursuits. But first...A Vinvenio HistoryI started this blog in April 2007 when I was moving beyond wine as a mere hobby or interest, and heading into the realm of obsession. The wine bug had bit, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about, well, everything really, and I thought I may as well write some of it down along the way.I started out fairly simple, blogging about different wines I was drinking, and why I liked or disliked them. This quickly lead to my desire to know WHY I liked or disliked them, so I began doing some background research on the varietals or regions of each of the bottles. The posts started getting longer, and started including links to various Wikipedia and other sources to provide a more complete picture of what was in the bottle. Then, I started working at a Virginia winery.At first I worked in the tasting room, and found that you can learn a lot about wine by pouring a glass and then listening to how hundreds of people describe the exact same bottle. I was able to further educate tasting room guests about different varietals and just wine in general, and getting asked a lot of good questions had me do my homework so that I would be able to answer any questions I missed the first time they were posed to me. I then had the opportunity to step in to the cellar and help with the wine production.I had never really seriously considered a career in winemaking, but after a few short weeks in the cellar, I was in love. My scholastic background is in molecular microbiology with a minor in geology, and then a graduate degree in environmental engineering; I found that winemaking combined everything I loved about all of my previous scientific fields of study, added in a distinct artistic element which I felt had been lacking in my career up to that point, and did so in a way that resulted in a bottle filled with a scrumptious beverage! (the importance of this last bit cannot be overstated - the existential joy experienced by producing a "thing", rather than just adding to the piles of paperwork in offices everywhere, is a large part of the appeal for me).I tried to continue the blog with posts about my experiences learning winemaking, but was quickly overwhelmed by my full-time job in the "real world", my part-time job in the cellar, and my inability to find the time to post content with the thoughtfulness and attention I believed it deserved. So I stopped writing (but continued working in the cellar!).Vinvenio 2010Fast-forward 2.5 years to March 2010. I now live in Portland, OR, and have embraced winemaking with open arms. I am taking winemaking courses through Chemeketa Community College in Salem, worked the 2009 harvest at Beaux Frères (a northern Willamette Valley winery focusing on ultra-premium Pinot Noir), and am seeking out full-time employment in the cellar. My goal is to continue to learn about winemaking, and progress up from the cellar to assistant winemaker, then winemaker, at an established Willamette Valley winery. And hopefully sometime in the near future I will be able to become an indie winemaker, making a small quantity of wine under my own label!Current Wine InterestsSince this is my blog, I'll use it to talk about stuff I find interesting. What might this be?Winemaking, and learning more about winemaking.Interesting wines / wine varietals (particularly those from the Northwest, or those I think should be planted in the Northwest) - especially interested in "lesser known" Northwest winegrowing regions such as the Columbia Gorge, Yakima Valley and Southern Oregon.Sustainable winemaking practices, such as Oregon's LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) program, Demeter's Biodynamic wine program, and the new Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) label.Technology, such as Wine 2.0 (the blend of wine a[...]

Checking in on the Whites


My last several posts detailed the harvest and initial winemaking steps for Three Fox Vineyard's Viognier and Pinot Grigio. As I mentioned, those grapes were harvested and fermentation initiated on September 7th. On September 8th, we received a load of Vidal Blanc grapes from a local grower for our "Appassionata" off-dry Vidal and started that in on fermentation. On September 13th, we took some Brix readings (the level of sugar - read my recent post for more info) to see how our fermenting wine was coming along. Here's what we found:

Brix at Harvest (9/7) = 23.7
Brix on 9/13 = 9.0

Pinot Grigio
Brix at Harvest (9/7) = 24.9
Brix on 9/13 = 9.2

Brix at Harvest (9/8) = 24.0
Brix on 9/13 = 10.0

The fermentation reaction takes the sugar from the grape juice and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. [The generic chemical reaction for a fermentation reaction is C6H12O6 → 2C2H5OH + 2CO2 + 2 ATP, or in English: glucose (sugar) → 2 units of alcohol + 2 units of carbon dioxide + 2 units of energy (which is why the yeast are even bothering with this in the first place) ] So, as you can see after not quite one week our fermenting juice is well on the way to fermenting to dry wine (i.e., Brix is roughly zero, meaning there is no residual sugar left in the wine). Cool, eh?

Next post: First up for harvest for the reds is the Chambourcin grape. Reds undergo a slightly different process than the whites, as reds are fermented with all of the skins and seeds - not just the juice as is the case with the whites. More on that soon!

Viognier and Pinot Grigio Harvest in Virginia, Part 3


My last post left off with us finishing the crushing and destemming of the Pinot Grigio, pressing it off in the bladder press, and pumping it back to a stainless steel tank for eventual fermentation. I mentioned that Three Fox harvested the Pinot Grigio and Viognier on the same day this year, so after we had finished with the Pinot Grigio we had to turn right around and repeat the process for the Viognier!Deja vu with the ViognierWe went through the exact same process with the Viognier as I described for the Pinot Grigio - the freshly harvested grapes were dumped into the crusher/destemmer, where the resulting mixture of juice, seeds and crushed skins (called "must") was pumped into the bladder press. As you can see from the photo, Viognier looks much more like you would expect a "white wine grape" to look - green and gold, rather than the light purple of the Pinot Grigio.Once the press was full, we closed the top and started inflating the internal air bladder. The one slight difference between our handling of Pinot Grigio and Viognier occurred at this step: with the Pinot Grigio, we inflated the bladder slowly allowing for some contact time with the skins in the press; the Viognier press run occurred more rapidly, with less time spent in the press in contact with the skins. The Three Fox winemaker/owner tells me that the additional skin contact on the Pinot Grigio leads to a richer color and lusher mouthfeel.The pressed juice from the Viognier was pumped back into a separate stainless steel tank. We now had two tanks full of grape juice, and we were ready to start making wine!The NumbersFor those interested in this sort of thing, we estimated our Pinot Grigio harvest at about 5,453 pounds (2.7 tons), which pressed off to about 456 gallons of juice. Our Viognier harvest came in at about 5,080 pounds (2.5 tons), and pressed off to about 381 gallons. A little "wine chemistry"So, now we're back in the winery with two tanks full of juice. When you're about to make some wine, there are really just three measurements you need to take to get all the information you need to know before starting off: brix, pH and "titratable acid" or TA. I feel we've covered brix pretty extensively over the last few posts. pH is a measure of acidity on a logarithmic scale of 1 to 14 (7 being neutral water - below that being acidic, above that being "basic"). Both our Pinot Grigio and Viognier clocked in at around 3.5 on the pH scale (we took the measurement with a digital pH meter in the lab). A reading of 3.5 is pretty good - as you may recall from my cool graph two posts ago, pH starts rising as the grapes ripen. If your pH gets too high, it'll make the wines taste flabby (after all, we often describe the "acidity" of a wine when writing it up - acidity is what makes a white wine in particular sparkle on your tongue). If the pH IS too high, you might add tartaric acid (one of the three main acids often found in grape juice, along with malic and to a lesser degree, citric) to bring the pH down again. Luckily, 3.5 is a respectable number, and we could do what most winemakers prefer to do in these situations - nothing (why stand in the way of nature?).The last measurement tells you about the "titratable acids", or TA in the juice. I just mentioned that wines often have tartaric, malic and citric acids to them (sidenote: wines that undergo "malolactic fermentation", or "ML" convert the crisp green-appley malic acid into a smoother "milky" lactic acid; many creamy Chardonnays have undergone ML). TA is somewhat related to pH, as pH does measure acidity, but TA specifically measures the amount of organic acids in the juice/wine. TA is what gives wine its "tartness". Our Pinot Grigio came in at 0.65 and our Viognier at 0.75. Our winemaker felt that both of these levels were good, and so we could again do what most winemakers prefer to do - nothing.Get them Whites Fermentin'S0, we have now determined that our grapes ripened we[...]

Viognier and Pinot Grigio Harvest in Virginia, Part 2


So I was out at Three Fox Vineyards again for Sangiovese harvest and crush (our first red harvest! - which I'll write about as soon as I catch up with the whites), so I was able to copy down some of the relevant info about the Viognier and Pinot Grigio that I skipped in my last post! So, to continue - we had just learned about how to tell when grapes were ripe enough for harvest in a generic sense. Now, I'll tell you about our grapes in particular, and how our harvest went...Viognier and Pinot Grigio HarvestWe harvested our Viognier and Pinot Grigio (same grape as "Pinot Gris" - just the Italian name for it) on Friday September 7th. The fun thing about harvest is that it's pretty easy for volunteers to get involved - Three Fox invited their tasting room volunteers and Vintner's Circle members to come out and grab some pruning shears and get in on the action! We also employ a team of professional harvesters, whose speed leaves most volunteers in awe, but there are still plenty of grapes to go around!At harvest, our Viognier had a brix reading of right around 23 degrees, while our Pinot Grigio was around 24 degrees brix - nice and ripe. In my last post I described brix as the measure of sugar in the grapes, and it is this sugar that will ultimately be converted into alcohol during fermentation. A brix reading of 23 degrees will result in a wine with ~13% alcohol, so that's about typical for most table wines. We would normally also take a reading of the specific gravity of the juice using a hydrometer - this is a much more accurate measurement than the hand-held refractometer we were using to take the brix readings - however, hydrometers are fragile creatures and a well-meaning volunteer had accidentally broken our last one days before.At any rate, harvest we did. First up was the Pinot Grigio. As you will immediately notice, the interesting thing about Pinot Grigio is that it is a pretty darn "red" grape to make a white wine. "Grigio" actually means "gray" in Italian (and "gris" means the same in French), so the name of the grape literally means the "gray pinot" grape (as opposed to the "black" pinot grape of recent Sideways fame - Pinot Noir, and the white pinot grape, Pinot Blanc/Bianco). They are thus named because while we think of wines as white and red (OK, rosé too, but that complicates my example), those wines are made from white and "black" (not red) grapes, respectively. So Pinot Grigio's name is a tip off to the fact that it occupies a slot smack dab in the middle of the white to black grape continuum, and appears dark pink/light purple in color.So, to explain the picture above (and the harvest process) a bit: the metal box on the right is a crusher/ destemmer - as the name suggests, this machine both de-stems the grapes (separating the grapes and spitting out the stems - look at all of those stems!) as well as "crushes" them (slices open the grape skins so that the juice flows out more freely). There is a pump in the bottom of the crusher/destemmer (winemaking, I'm learning, involves a lot of pumps) which pumps the crushed grapes up and into bladder press (the big white thing on the left). You can sort of tell from the photo that the press is a large cylinder made from a stainless steel mesh.There is a central bladder running the length of the press; once the press is full, we'll start it rotating. The simple act of rotation is enough to start the juice flowing from the press (indeed, since the grapes have already been crushed, there is quite a lot of "free-run" juice that drains out of the press before we even begin). But to really squeeze out all the good stuff, we start inflating that internal air bladder. This forces the contents of the press against the steel mesh, and allows us to get almost all of the juice remaining in the skins. From the press, the juice falls into a trough where it is captured and pumped into a waiting stainless steel tank. In a [...]

Viognier and Pinot Grigio Harvest in Virginia, Part 1


Our first harvest of the season at Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, VA occurred on Friday September 7th. It was a beautiful day, but the remnants of some tropical storms were supposed to blow through later that weekend, and we wanted to get the fruit off the vine before that happened. The last thing you want to have happen right before harvest is a big rainfall: the vines suck up the water and pump it into the grapes, effectively diluting their flavors at best, and possibly even bursting the fruit on the vine and losing crop. We had tested the fruit just a few days prior (more on that in a sec) and knew we were within the "harvestable" window, so rather than take the chance with the rain we decided to harvest perhaps a few days before what may have been the optimum time. This is not at all unusual, as especially in Virginia you are at the mercy of fickle weather systems and must adapt your harvest schedule appropriately.Determining When to HarvestTo understand the decision of when to harvest, you need to know a little bit about how grapes grow and ripen. From the perspective of a winemaker, grapes go through two phases: an initial growth phase, during which time the berry size steadily increases, and a following ripening phase during which berry growth slows, sugar levels start increasing and acidity starts dropping (pH increases) [Ignore the anthocyanin in the cool cool graph I stole from the Texas Cooperative Extension page]. The transition between these two phases is called veraison - this is a French term which means "change of color of the grape berries". The berries start softening, and their color starts changing from fresh growth green to the color appropriate for their varietal (i.e., "red wine grapes" start getting reddish purple, "white wine grapes" start getting yellow-gold). Shortly after veraison is when you want to start taking readings of the sugar levels in the grapes to gauge how the ripening process is progressing.Sugars levels in a liquid is measured in brix. The unit of measure- ment for brix is "degrees", so when you take a brix reading of the grapes, you'll record a result of something like "19.5 degrees brix". To take a brix reading of the grapes, you first walk around each "block" of vines (Three Fox "blocks" are 30 rows long) in the vineyard, and take a random sampling of 15 or so grapes. This random sample should include grapes from the beginning, middle and end of the vines, as well as from both of the East and West facing sides of the vines (Three Fox rows are oriented N-S). You then allow the grapes to rest a bit, and cool down to 65 degrees F or so (winery temps). Then you mash them up and use a refractometer (or fancier instrument, but a refractometer gives you a precise enough reading at this point) to measure the brix by placing a couple drops of the juice on the plate and looking through the viewer and taking your reading.So, we had done this with our Viognier and Pinot Grigio a few days prior, and knew that we were within the "harvestable" window in terms of brix levels (I don't have my notes, so I can't tell you exactly what the brix levels were, but they were in the low 20s). Thus we decided to harvest the fruit before a possible storm could negatively affect their quality.Next Up: Harvest and CrushI think this has been a rather scary post for the non-technically inclined, with lots of weird terms like "brix" and "refractive index" thrown into it, so I'm cutting this one off. My next post will detail the harvest, crush, press and yeast addition to start off the fermentation of the Viognier and Pinot Grigio, and will have cool pictures rather than boring graphs![...]

A Mini-batch of Chardonnay


After our final bottling of the 2006 vintage at Three Fox, there was much cleaning of tanks and re-arranging of the winery that had to occur. Since our indoor temperature-controlled space is pretty limited, we had moved several (empty) stainless steel fermentation tanks outside to make room for the oak barrels that we aged the red wines in. Now that those barrels, too, were empty after bottling, we had to reverse the process, cleaning out the oak barrels with soda ash and moving the stainless steel tanks back inside.Easing into the 2007 VintageThe first harvest to come in was a small batch of 800+ lbs (not quite half a ton) of Chardonnay. Grapes come in to the winery in small, sturdy plastic containers called "lugs". Each lug holds approximately 30 pounds of freshly harvested grapes. (I have since determined that lug is a very appropriate term, as you spend a considerable amount of time and effort lugging them around!) Lugs are filled to just below the top of the container such that when they are stacked, none of the grapes get squished by the container above it.Whole Cluster PressFor this small of a batch of grapes (~800 lbs), we have to use a small 1/4 ton press as there isn't enough mass to sufficiently fill our (much nicer, faster and exceeding less messy) 3 ton rotating bladder press (I'll show you this bad boy in subsequent posts). The "technique" we used for this Chardonnay was "whole cluster press", meaning the entire grape cluster (grapes, stems and all) are all dumped into the the press. An alternate method sometimes employed for whites is to send them through a destemmer first, to gently jiggle all of the grapes from the stems, and then only the grapes are pressed. Or, you may send the grapes through a crusher/destemmer, where the grapes are first destemmed, then crushed - breaking the skins and allowing the juice to flow freely out of them - before being pumped into a wine press. This last method is the one we used for our Viognier and Pinot Grigio, and I'll describe it in a later post.So, here's a picture of the small 1/4 ton wine press we used for the Chardonnay. Grapes are simply dumped into the top of the press, which has a large bladder in the center of it. It's a bit tricky to see the actual press in this picture as it's been wrapped in plastic, but the wine press is made of wooden slats with a small space between each slat. These had been soaked in water for a day or two prior to use so that the wood has absorbed some water and swollen in size, pressing close together. Typically, you line the inside of the press with a mesh screen, which prevents grapes and seeds and things from squishing through the wooden slats, clogging them up and making a mess. We did not have such a screen available, so wrapped the outside in plastic to catch the "burps" of grape skins and seeds that would occasionally squirt out during press.In the center of the press a large rubber bladder which will eventually be filled with water (this is a hydraulic press - our larger press is pneumatic and uses compressed air which is much faster). As the bladder expands, the grape clusters are pressed against the wooden slats, breaking them open and forcing the juice from the grapes. The juice runs down to the bottom of the press, where it is collected in a clean bucket. We then carried the bucket to a stainless steel fermentation tank, and carefully poured it in. Voila - we're ready to start making wine! And the only thing we need to do that is some yeast.FermentationSince we want to end up with wine and not grape juice, we employ yeast to convert the sugar in the grapes into alcohol in the process of fermentation. Yeast occurs naturally in the environment, and there are generally several strains of yeast living on the grape skins, in the winery, everywhere. It is possible (even likely) that if we did nothing at this point, ou[...]

Makin' Wine in Virginia...


So you may have noticed my posting frequency dropped off a cliff. After a fun summer of vacations, I was ready to get back into the thick of it when an opportunity came along that I just couldn't pass up: starting in the end of August, I have been working as a part-time winery assistant for Three Fox Vineyards! Luckily I have been able to work some flexibility into my "day job" so that I can work at Three Fox on Wednesdays and Fridays (and my wife and I both continue to work periodic weekends)!This has been an amazing learning experience for me so far - I started just as harvest season rolled around, and there certainly has been plenty to do! So I think I am going to start posting about the ins-and-outs of working at a small, family-owned winery during harvest for the next couple of months. I think this should provide whatever readers have stuck with me through my summer hiatus with an interesting and educational look at winemaking in Virginia.Out with the Old, In with the NewOne of the first things we had to do in preparation for the coming harvest was bottle up the remaining 2006 wine! We'll be needing those tanks and barrels that the wine is sitting in for this year's fruit, so time to bottle everything up. It doesn't make sense for a small (~3,000 cases per year) winery to own their own bottling equipment, and so what most folks do is rent out a "bottling truck". If you saw this thing driving down the highway, there's no way you would think it contained a mobile bottling lab!It's a bit of a tight squeeze on the inside, with a bottle washer, wine dispenser, corking machine, foil - adder - and - heat - it - to - shrink - it machine, labeler, and conveyor belts everywhere (no, I have no idea of what everything is called, but it's fascinating to watch!). And let me tell you, this thing really MOVES - we were pumping out a case of wine approximately every 10 seconds! "Frantic" only begins to describe the sense of urgency you feel as more than one bottle a second is hurtling down the line at you, to be yanked from the belt and shoved into boxes by hand - there is literally no time for mistakes. Luckily, bottling is an entertaining enough event that we had a good crop of volunteers there, so someone could step in and swap out positions once the repetition of whatever it was you were doing started getting to you.I don't have the exact numbers right now, but we ended up bottling several hundred cases of wine in the matter of a few hours. Not bad for a days work! And now all of our stainless steel tanks are empty and ready for cleaning in preparation for fermentation.TimelineSo this final bottling run actually occurred in late August. Not to ruin the surprise, but we have already harvested our Viognier and Pinot Grigio and pressed them along with a load of Vidal from one of our growers and started their fermentations, and we've also received a load of Chambourcin grapes from one of our growers which we crushed and started fermentation. None of the other reds are ready for harvest yet, so I have a bit of a breather in which to catch up to the present with my posts. My next post will discuss how we determined when the Viognier and Pinot Grigio were ready to harvest, what goes on during harvest, and what wine chemistry we performed on the newly pressed juice prior to fermentation. So stick around - it should be an interesting next couple of months![...]

Summer = Vacations...


Wow, so blogging in the summertime is a tricky affair. As a government employee, I'm blessed with a low wage but copious amounts of vacation and comp time. My wife and I have been putting that to good use this summer, and the results are showing in my meager blog postings. Our latest trip was out to Portland, Oregon and through the Willamette Valley wine country - I'll cover that in my next post. This post, I want to do a couple mini-reviews on a few of the more interesting wines we've had this summer...I arranged the bottles in no particular order, so I may as well start left-to-right...2006 Strauss Samling 88 (Scheurebe)I think the important things to remember from that name are "Strauss" (the winery) and "Scheurebe" (the grape). Weingut Strauss ("Weingut" is the German way of saying "winery" or "vineyard") is an Austrian vineyard that makes a variety of interesting wines, one of which is from the Scheurebe grape.The Scheurebe is a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner, and my immediate thought upon first tasting it was if Germans were to make Viogniers, this is what it would taste like. It has a flowery, peachy sweet nose that really jumps out of the glass at you, and some of that peach comes through to the tongue, with a stony mineraliness and a nice lemon acidity to it. It's sweet yet dry, which I find refreshing in German/Austrian wines as so many of them seem to contain a hint (if not more) of residual sugar. The Scheurebe also had an appealing golden yellow color in the glass, which added to its allure. Purchased for $12 at Finewine.Com in Gaithersburg, MD, I'd say this wine had Good Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR). And if you bought it somewhere that wasn't Maryland, you'd pay several bucks less for it which would make it a great "alternative summer wine"!2005 Pisano Cisplatino Tannat MerlotAlways bravely going where few have gone before (vinologically speaking), I picked up a wine from Uruguay a while back. I bet most Americans would have trouble naming the appropriate continent that Uruguay is located on (South America), much less point to it on a map. But regardless of where it's located (in between Argentina and Brazil along the Atlantic Coast), the important thing here is that they make some pretty good wine!So the real reason I picked this up is because I saw that it was made with 60% Tannat (and 40% Merlot). I have encountered Tannat a couple of times in the past: it is a major player in wines from the Cahors region of Southwestern France; it is also grown at a handful of vineyards in Virginia, particularly at Hillsborough where they blend it into their Ruby wine (all of their wines are named after gemstones). But the interesting thing about Tannat (undoubtedly named due to its high tannin levels) is that, much like Malbec in Argentina or Carmenere in Chile, it has found a perfect home in South America - specifically in Uruguay, where it is considered the national grape.Getting on to the wine - it had a very pleasant nose, spicy, some tobacco perhaps. The wine was lighter in color than I was expecting, given the whole tannat=tannin thing. It most closely resembled a grenache, actually. On the tongue was the spice, with black pepper and bright berries. I think this wine was around $12 at Total Wine in McLean, VA, and for that price I'd give it a Good QPR - mainly because it's "different", and I always like trying new wines.2004 Mas de Guiot Cabernet-SyrahI'm not sure what made me pick up this bottle in the store, but it sure as heck wasn't the label - I don't believe they could make this wine appear any less interesting if they made a deliberate attempt to do so. The French seem particularly afflicted with "lame label syndrome" - one of the many traditions that I think they need to change if they want to become more competitive in a global wine mark[...]

Vote for your Favorite Virginia Winery!


I have a big long explanation coming of why I haven't had any posts in almost a month now, but I wanted to sneak in a quick announcement first: the Virginia Wine Festival is coming up September 15th & 16th at the Morven Park Equestrian Center in Leesburg, VA. They have an online poll to vote for your favorite Virginia winery, and I think it would be really cool if Three Fox Vineyards, the winery that Kris and I volunteer at, won! We really do think it produces some of the best wines Virginia has to offer, but when you factor in the overall Three Fox Experience of visiting the winery, chatting with the owners, relaxing in a hammock down by the creek or playing horseshoes, croquet or bocce out on the lawn, we think it's tops!

If you've had the chance to stop by and visit and agree with us - please click on over to the Virginia Wine Festival Voting Page, and cast your vote for Three Fox Vineyards! And if you haven't paid us a visit, or live out-of-state, you could take our word for it that Three Fox really is terrific and click on over and vote for us anyway! :-)


Pesto Galore!


Basil is definitely in full bloom here in the Mid-Atlantic! Not only do we grow some basil out in the yard, but we also belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which bestows upon us massive quantities of basil each week. And what's the best thing to do with an abundant supply of basil? Pesto of course! I'm sure I will begin to tire of fresh pesto meals, but I haven't yet. In fact, the cool thing about pesto is that if you make extra, you can place it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then whenever you want pesto, just pop out a cube or two and throw it in to the mix and voila! Instant pesto.So, when looking for a good wine match for pesto, I stumbled upon this SF Chronicle article gathering the opinions of great SF Bay chefs on the classic summer dilemma of pairing wine with fresh vegetables. Virtually all raw veggies are pretty wine un-friendly, and choosing a nice wine match for a meal starring even cooked veggies can be a challenge. So I was happy to find this advice for matching wine to meals made from fresh herbs, such as pesto:"Green herbal and grassy notes in many New Zealand and some domestic Sauvignon Blancs, and other white wines like Albarino, echo summer herbs' freshness. Wines with intense fruit can work well, provided they doesn't have too much leftover sugar.If the herbs are used along with richer ingredients like cheese or butter, a light red may be a good option. As for pesto, its intensity requires an equally intense wine.Examples: Albarino; unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay; Gruner Veltliner; dry Riesling; Sauvignon Blancs with some weight, depth and grassy or mineral notes; Italian Sangiovese; light to moderately oaked Barbera or Dolcetto."I was fresh out of my typical stand-by for such a circumstance, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; but as luck would have it, I had a nice Gruner Veltliner patiently awaiting consumption in the cellar.Grüner VeltlinerNever heard of Grüner Veltliner? It's definitely a grape worth remembering. As you might guess by the name, the grape is most widely grown in Austria (accounting for over 1/3 of all grapes grown there) although it is beginning to catch on elsewhere. I think of "Gee-Vee" as the Germanic world's New Zealand Sauv Blanc - minerally, crisp and fresh with a nice acidity, Gruner Veltliners are very food friendly, and are as age-worthy (if not more so) than dry Rieslings.2005 Anton Bauer Gruner VeltlinerTonight's wine was a 2005 Anton Bauer Gruner Veltliner. Besides displaying the typical GV characteristics mentioned above, this wine had some melon to it, and perhaps some white pepper. The overall impression though is of a fresh, clean wine which went spectacularly with our fresh pesto! (Thanks SF Chronicle!)Selling for $11 at Total Wine in McLean, VA, I'd say this wine has a Good Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR). I'll give it a couple extra points for variety's sake as it's an excellent alternative once you've exhausted your palate on Sauvignon Blancs and Unoaked Chardonnays during the hot summer months. If you've never tried one, give it a shot![...]

Vino in the BVI


So, Vinvenio has been on summer vacation for a while here, with a nice chunk of that time spent sailing around the British Virgin Islands! Kris and I chartered a 45' sailing catamaran and cruised the islands - awesome. But even in the rum-soaked Caribbean, I still found ample opportunity to enjoy some quality vino! In fact, I think the American Yacht Harbor's Marina Market in Red Hook, St. Thomas had a better selection of American wines (California, Washington and Oregon) than I can find here in euro-centric Maryland!2005 Rodney Strong Sauvignon BlancYee-haw! I finally get to take a shot of a scrumptious looking bottle of white wine sweating in the heat of the day to rival those of Winedeb from Deb's Key West Wine blog!This 2005 Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc was enjoyed with a chef's salad off the coast of Jost Van Dyke (pronounced "yoast van dike"), BVI. As you can probably tell by the picture, virtually any beverage is going to taste just splendid given the surroundings, but I think this wine really pulled through beyond that. This medium-bodied Sauv Blanc had a nice pear, citrus/pineapple and melon taste, with a mineral tanginess to it that refreshed the palate. I didn't record the price, but given the slightly inflated price of anything imported to the islands it may not have been representative of its US mainland cost (although I doubt it cost more than $20 even in the VI). Thus, no Quality-to-Price ratio (QPR) for this wine, but all I've mentally put this wine in my "buy again for a refreshing white" list.2005 Estancia Monterey Pinnacles Ranches Pinot Noir"Uncork & Unwind" says Estancia. And so we did! You definitely know you're not roughing it when you can not only find a bottle of Pinot Noir, but Port Salut cheese to accompany it! If you've never paired Pinot with Port Salut cheese, you must do so immediately - this is a match made in heaven, and you don't know what you're missing!This Pinot had a nose of cherries, tobacco and spice. The cherries and spiciness carried through to the palate, which also displayed a nice earthiness to it. I must admit that Pinot Noir doesn't play a very prominent role in my day-to-day wine consumption. This is not because I don't like it - on the contrary, I love the versatility of a red wine that can be consumed slightly chilled (especially handy on 90 degree days), paired with fish (which goes well with my largely pescetarian diet), etc. No, the reason I don't drink much Pinot is that I'm a cheapskate. Everyone who watched Sideways now knows that Pinot Noir is a fickle grape, difficult to grow and offering lower yields (thus increasing its price). Well, I try to keep my typical wine consumption in the $10-$15 range, which in my experience excludes almost any Pinot worth drinking.Thus my Pinot Noir palate is quite limited. But that limited palate has convinced me that there are two major styles of Pinots - velvetty and spicy. These two styles aren't mutually exclusive - there is certainly some overlap - but in general it seems to me that some Pinot makers bring out a spiciness, and others concentrate on a more subtle, smoother wine. This Estancia Pinot Noir was firmly in the spicy camp. In general I think I'm more of a "velvetty Pinot" fan, but at around $17 in the BVI, I think I'd probably buy this Pinot again. For a Pinot, I'd say this wine has a good QPR, especially if you're looking for a light, spicy wine. Me, I'd love to find some affordable "velvetty Pinots", so if you know of any please let me know!Completely Non-Wine RelatedSo wine is obviously my alcoholic beverage of choice, but given my sailing/piratical leanings, I'm also a big fan of rum and rum drinks (especially while in da islands mon). Some hot sum[...]

Look at those Grapes Grow!


Just last week the grapes at Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, VA were but babes - check 'em out this week!
(image) Our baby grapes are well on their way to being all grown up...

We won't be volunteering out there again until mid-July, so this will be our last "grape update" for awhile... I wonder what they'll look like then!

A Tale of Two Rieslings


As I've mentioned in the past, I'd like to taste some more Rieslings. According to the wine goddess Andrea (Immer) Robinson, Rieslings are very versatile white wines that can pair well with food and are generally under-appreciated in the US. Since most of the food I eat on a regular basis (especially in the summertime) consists of veggies and fish, an exploration of Rieslings seems in order.The two Rieslings I'm comparing here were not tasted back-to-back, but a couple days apart. And to foreshadow my conclusions here, neither compared to the Alsace Riesling we tasted during our "Big Six" tasting a couple weeks ago (I loved that wine!!), although one came close, and for almost half the price....Bonny Doon vs Dr. LoosenThe two Rieslings tasted were the 2005 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling and the 2005 Loosen "Dr. L" Riesling. In the traditional anti-establishment tradition of Bonny Doon, the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling was made from a blend of Washington State and Mosel (Germany) grapes; the Dr. L simply mentioned the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germanyas the source. Both wines were purchased at Total Wine in McLean, VA for $10 and $11, respectively.Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry RieslingAs with all Bonny Doon wines, you can tell right away just from the bottle that the wine is going to be a little "different". ("Different" doesn't even begin to describe Bonny Doon founder and wine philosopher Randall Grahm - just check out their webpage and you'll see what I mean).So, the idea behind the "Pacific Rim" Dry Riesling is that Washington State is a wonderful place to grow Riesling as the long, cool growing season allows the grapes to fully ripen while maintaining good natural acidity; however, Bonny Doon felt that German Rieslings have a "haunting floral perfume" to them that can't be matched. So they blend in approximately 25% German Riesling into 75% Washington State, et viola - the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling.(Just for the record, Bonny Doon Vineyard started off just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Always looking to expand vinilogical horizons, they have spread out to producing wine from Washington State, Italy, France, and probably a couple other countries / locales).Tasting the Pacific Rim Dry RieslingSo I wanted to highlight that word, DRY, in the title for a reason - I now know what I need to look for in a Riesling to enjoy it - it has to be DRY!Dry is kind of an interesting word in the wine lexicon, since is doesn't have an obvious meaning. I mean, how can a liquid be "dry", anyway? A lot of red wines may make your mouth feel dry, but that is actually due to their tannins, and is not what the term refers to in wine. In the wine world, dry refers to the fact that all of the grape's natural sugars have been converted via fermentation to alcohol. (Paradoxically, a "dry" county is one that doesn't allow alcohol, so it's no wonder people get confused with this term.) Most "normal" table wines are in fact "dry". Even wines that may seem sweet (many white wines for example) usually don't have any residual sugar left in them and it's just their flavors that make them appear sweet (with the major exception of dessert and fortified wines such as port and madeira).Getting back to Rieslings - an important thing to look for in Rieslings to clue you in to their style is either the word "dry" on the label, or more likely their alcohol content. This Bonny Doon Pacific Rim was 12% alcohol (the Domaine Trimbach Alsace Riesling I loved so much from our Big Six Tasting was 12.5% alcohol); the Dr. L German Riesling was 8.5% (and as you'll see, this was not what I was looking for). With Rieslings in particular, there are two distinct styles that crop up - sweet [...]

Chilean Merlot - while I still can! (by Kris, not Nate) :-)


Upon much prodding from Nate, I have decided to chime in and add my 2-cents for a wine blog here and there. It seems only appropriate that I start with my latest fascination, Chilean merlots! As June progresses and the summer continues to heat up, I relish the nights where it cools down below 70 degrees and I can still sneak in a glass of red wine (or two!). Nate and I have discovered the fantastic flavors and values of Chilean merlots and have been enjoying trying different bottles, to find a favorite.

We have somewhat recently adopted the Carmen merlot as our "house red" which we buy by the case and keep around for everyday drinking, a great second bottle, or just a guilt-free open. At only $6, this merlot is fantastic, (and has a high QPR, as Nate would say). :-) If we haven't written it up already, we should and will... However, recently we decided to experiment and see what a few more dollars would buy you from Chile.
Tonight's bottle is a 2005, Santa Rita Reserva Merlot from the Maipo Valley. The aromas are fairly intense, dark berries, currant (I have a story about that in a second) and distinct tones of vanilla. On the palate it is bursting with fruit, but is immediately balanced by the tannins and a hint of spice. I think this could be a red that could please both the "big-fruity" people as well as those liking their tannins and a bit more complexity. It's very enjoyable just sipping, but also went well with a polenta-veggie-lasagna I made tonight. What this Santa Rita has taught me is that while it is good to have a safe, $6 house read wine, when you want a treat, you don't have to splurge much more to get a large, lush and tasty merlot. This bottle cost $11 and I would definitely buy again when I want something a bit more special.

Now, since Nate always goes on tangents, I feel as though I need to follow suit....about currants: I had always seen wine described as having aromas or flavors of currant, but never had seen nor had a currant - we discussed whether this was an "old world" fruit that no longer is relevant as a wine descriptor today.... But, not more than a couple days later, while shopping at Trader Joe's, we happened upon a bag of dried currants and had to try it! To eat our words, (somewhat literally), we popped open the bag and tried our first currents! The flavor is intense, much like I would imagine a dried blackberry, mixed with a blueberry, and maybe a cherry too. Its tart, but also sweet, and definitely a flavor I have had in wine before. I really do think there is currant in the Santa Rita, although I admit to being a bit eager to find it in a wine - I guess I'll just need to eat a few more, and sip a bit more to be sure!

The Grapes are Growing in Virginia!


As I've mentioned before, my wife Kris and I volunteer in the tasting room at Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, VA. We were just out there this last weekend, and I thought I'd post a picture to show you that the grapes are starting to take form in Virginia!

More updates as the growing season progresses! I'm missing out on bottling next week or I'd document that for you, but hope to have pictures from different aspects of the winemaking process as it comes up!

We Have the Facts And Are Voting Pink!


Pink is definitely shaping up to be THE color for wine this summer. Both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have run cover stories on rosés, and the general media at large have picked up on this trend and run stories in newspapers across the US, so rosé - your time is now!Catavino's Virtual Rosé Wine Tasting last month really piqued my interest in pink, and I plan to continue my exploration of rosés this summer. As I mentioned in my previous rosé tasting notes, I'd been a bit traumatized by White Zinfandel in the past, so it's taken me a while to come around to the notion that not all pink wine is wretchingly sweet. Once I overcame that roadblock, I've really started enjoying rosés!The bottleSo I admit, I bought this wine for no reason other than it had a really cool bottle. Seriously, check that out - how cool is that?! I'm all for more interesting bottles, as long as they still fit within a wine rack, and just as importantly, fit within a refrigerator! (I'm frequently annoyed with Rieslings and Gewurztraminers in their tall skinny bottles that only fit cock-eyed in the fridge).So anyway, I really liked the shape bottle. I did look beyond the bottle shape enough to note that this wine came from Côtes de Provence, France before purchasing it - I figured the French abhor sweet table wine, so I was pretty safe in avoiding anything remotely resembling White Zinfandel. Plus, Wine Enthusiast claimed that 8% of all the world's rosé was produced in Provence, so I figured they'd be a pretty safe bet.But back to the bottle - not only was it a funky shape, it also had a raised sun and palm tree on the glass: again, trés cool. I've mentioned before that I'm a total sucker for wine bottles with raised images... See, I wasn't kidding. We're going to have to keep this one and make it into an oil candle or something.The LabelBesides stating that it was from Provence, in typical French style the label was very unhelpful in conveying any useful information about the wine (grapes used, brief tasting notes, pairing suggestions, etc).What I'd really like to start seeing on wine bottles is a website address! In a recent post, Winedeb mentioned that she found a web address on the cork - perfect location! If you're in a restaurant and you find something you like, you can just take the cork home with you as a "business card" of sorts. Why don't more wineries do this?? I'm sure the corks must cost a little more, but I think the cost would be more than offset by increased sales as people would be much more likely to be able to find the same wine again. I think this would be particularly helpful with French, Spanish or Italian wines - I always have a tricky time trying to Google for particular wines from non-English speaking countries, so having their web address would really help (even if I had to have Google translate the page, at least I'd be starting off in the right spot!)Since its label was so unhelpful, I went online hoping to at least find out if this wine was made from Grenache, Cinsault, or Syrah grapes - all of which are likely given its Provence appellation. But alas, a few minutes of searching turned up no pertinent information, so I'll just have to live in ignorance...Tasting the PinkThis 12.5% alcohol 2006 Roque Martin rosé was purchased for $10 at Rodmans. As you can kind of tell in the photo, it was a nice dark salmon color. My first impression was that there wasn't much on the nose - this may have been because it was too cold, as I started getting notes of light berries, maybe strawberry, afterwards. First impression of the taste was similar - i[...]

Virtual Albariño Wine Tasting!


The good folks from Catavino are at it again! The theme of this month's "Virtual Wine Tasting" - Spanish Albariños! As with all Catavino Virtual Wine Tastings, you don't need a blog to join in on the fun - just grab a bottle that falls within that month's category and post it directly to Catavino's website.So - Albariño. I'd heard of this white wine before, even have tasted one or two in the past, but didn't have any distinct recollections to know what to expect, or to steer me in my wine selection. So I did a quick search of what Total Wine in McLean had to offer, and my "choice" became quite simple - they only had one in stock. Thus I ended up with a $15 2006 Val Do Sosego Albariño from the Rías Baixas region of Spain.Albarino and Rias BaixasThe Albariño grape (called Alvarinho in Portugal) is grown predominantly in Galicia in Northwestern Spain, as well as just across the border in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. As seems to often be the case in the world of wine, Albariños coming from these coastal regions are said to pair quite well with food common to such a locale; in this case, that means seafood. The Rías Baixas DO (Denomination of Origin) is particularly well-known for its Albariños (and not surprisingly, it's seafood!). For additional background info/chatter, check out the Catavino forum set up for this month's tasting where you can read about it directly from the Spanish wine experts (Ryan and Gabrielle).Tasting NotesThe 2006 Val Do Sosego Albariño from the Rías Baixas was light gold in color with just a hint of green to it. This immediately made me think of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, and that association was just strengthened by the nose, and again by the palate.On the nose, I picked out lemon grass and green apple, and Kris was adamant about pear. On the tongue, the lemon-grass came through, and it had a very nice minerally-ness to it. It had a higher-than-average acidity, which made this medium-bodied wine nice and crisp. I've read this phrase a lot, but I think I'd like to use the term "racy acidity" here to describe it - it just seems to fit.So, given that Albariños are supposed to pair perfectly with seafood we probably should have attempted to cook up some fish for dinner, but that wasn't in the cards for tonight. On a tip from some blog or another, we instead paired this Albariño with Indian food and I must say - it worked really well. It's always a bit tricky to pair Navratan Korma or spicy lentils with anything wine-related, so I was pretty happy with how to find a wine that could do it. Overall RecommendationThis wine was *very* similar to many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs I've had. I was a little disappointed, not because it wasn't good (it was), but because it wasn't that different from other wines I've had. This wine had a very nice acidity to it, but none of the smoothness or slight creaminess I have heard attributed to Albariños, nor did it have the supposedly-distinctive apricot or peach nose. So at $15 a bottle I thought it was a great wine, but I could pay a couple dollars less and get a very comparable Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that would do the same thing for me. Perhaps I need to try again in case this was an atypical Albariño, although this was the only one carried by my usual wine shop so I'd have to hunt around a bit. But from what I've read from others posting their tasting notes on Catavino, it may be well worth my effort![...]

Red Wine from Germany???


So I'd decided I wanted to learn more about Rieslings this summer, and was reading about some German Rieslings when I came across a reference to a red wine made in Germany - a Dornfelder. Red wine?? Germany?? Those two thoughts had never occurred in the same paragraph for me, so I was very curious to try some.BackgroundSince red grapes have trouble ripening in the colder German climate, most German wines have been white (which require less ripening time on average), or have been very pale, thin reds. The Dornfelder grape was bred to provide Germany with a grape capable of producing deep, dark reds with some tannins to them. Turns out the Dornfedler is a pretty new arrival to the wine grape scene: it was bred in 1955 at Staatliche Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Wein- und Obstbau Weinsberg, which as far as I can tell is a German viticulture and enology school. The grape was named "Dornfelder" after Immanuel Dornfelder, the founder of the viticultural school.2005 (Weingut) Anselmann Dornfelder (Pfalz, Germany)So German wines are a bit of a mouthfull to pronounce - probably part of their marketing problem in the U.S. This is definitely not an "easy" wine in name, region, or taste, so only the vinologically adventurous would likely seek this wine out for purchase.This wine hails from the Pfalz (Palatinate) region, the largest wine-producing region of Germany. Pfalz mainly grows Müller-Thurgau and Reisling, although they have been diversifying of late, creating more artisanal wines as well as some different varietals (such as Dornfelder).Tasting NotesThis Dornfelder was deep ruby in color. The label advised drinking it chilled - 55 degrees F or slightly warmer. This was far too cold for the type of wine I was anticipaitng, so this immediately sent up little warning flags for me - this is not going to be a "normal" red wine...The nose was very subdued - likely due to the colder temperature stifling the aromas. On the tongue, the Dornfelder was sweet, with flavors fo dired fruits and smoked gouda. There were few tannins - I thought this was supposed to be a "real" German red, and to me that means tannins. This wine reminded me a bit like the sweet Banyuls I recently tasted for WBW #33 - and in this case, that was not a good thing. I thought that a red German wine would be a lighter Pinot Noir-like red, suitable for pairing with fish or lighter fare - not so, with this wine.Overall RecommendationI am always interested in trying something new, so was glad I gave this Dornfelder a go. However, I think I was expecting to taste a German version of a Pinot Noir or something like that, and this wine ended up so very different than my expectations. Possibly because of that, I just couldn't appreciate this wine. It was just too sweet for me, especially when I was anticipating something like a fruity, smooth Pinot. My recent experiment with Banyuls made me consider, and this Dornfelder experiment has appeared to confirm, that I just don't like sweet reds unless they're Port, Madeira, Sherry - the fortified reds. So unless you think you'd be a fan of sweet reds, I'd steer clear of the Dornfelder for greener, more fortified pastures...[...]

2005 Anakena Carmenére


OK, so I realize I've had an almost week-long lull in the posting action here - I've had one heck of a week! So I'm going to post-date these blog entries to when they were supposed to have been written up! I'll catch up and get back on track - I promise!Brief History of CarmenéreSo, as I have alluded to in several previous posts, I am totally loving Chilean Carmenére. Don't worry if you've never heard of "Carmenére" - it's a bit of an obscure grape, but one well worth memorizing. Carmenére is a bit of an outcast, and I think that plays in to the appeal. Carmenére was originally grown in the Bordeaux region of France, but its low yields caused it to lose favor when French viticulturists were replanting after Phylloxera invaded Europe in the 1880s. This resulted Carmenére becoming all but extinct in its native Bordeaux.Prior to the Phylloxera invasion, several plantings of Carmenére made their way to Chile (along with other Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec). Carmenére found a natural home here, and really took off. Interestingly enough, wine made from Carmenére in Chile was inaccurately labeled as "Merlot" up until genetic testing in the 1990s confirmed its identity as Carmenére. "Oops" said the Chilean winemakers, who then hastily remade their labels to say "Carmenére" instead of Merlot. Carmenére and Merlot look extremely similar in the field, and the winemakers really didn't know what they were dealing with until quite recently.Carmenére = ChileSimilar to how Zinfandel is now associated with California, Shiraz with Australia and Malbec with Argentina, Carmenére is now seen as "Chile's grape". What could have been a mini-catastrophe in mistaken identity with Merlot, Chilean winemakers turned into a boon by instead touting the benefits and unique characteristics of Carmenére. And lucky for all of us that they did, as Carmenére has ended up being a very fascinating wine - with generally lower tannins than Merlot and big juicy fruit and spice, Carmenére is a very versatile wine that can match well with a variety of foods, or just be enjoyed on its own.Anakena CarmenéreAnakena makes one solid Carmenére. And for only $10 (at Total Wine in McLean, VA), this wine has Excellent Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR). The best way I can think of this Carmenére is as "a Merlot, but more so" - it's spicier, fruitier and more in-your-face than a Merlot (in a good way!), but with subtler tannins. Alternatively, think of this as a toned-down California Zinfandel. Regardless of how you think about it, I strongly recommend giving a Carmenére a shot.The Anakena Carmenére had dark, ripe berries and spices on the nose that carried through to the palate. Clocking in at 14.5% alcohol, you'd think this wine might be a bit "hot" on the tongue, but somehow it manages to avoid that. I've had this wine on several occasions now, and enjoy it enough each time to make a point of buying more on my next vino purchasing expedition. Hopefully you'll give it a shot - let me know what you think![...]

Tasting the Big Six


Ever since I started flipping through Andrea (Immer) Robinson's book Great Wine Made Simple, I have been itching to try out her series of recommended tastings to train the palate and help you learn to identify certain aspects / flavors / styles of wine. Well, last weekend I finally got my chance, as Kris and I held a "Big Six" tasting event!The Big SixThe idea behind the Big Six is twofold: First, by tasting the big six grapes (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), you will have tasted the "guts" of roughly 80% of all wine produced throughout the world; Second, you get the opportunity to experience the full range of "bodies" - light, medium and full- in both red and white wines.Robinson helpfully recommends specific wines in "budget", "moderate" and "splurge" monetary categories that she thinks will best illustrate varietal character and appropriate body for each grape. I found her list a very helpful starting point, and I stuck to it fairly closely. She recommends that all wines be selected from within the same price category, as you don't varying quality of wine interfering with the point of the tasting, namely varietal expression and body.Kris and I decided in advance upon the "moderate" category - we wanted wines that tasted good, and were of high enough quality to accurately express varietal character and body, but we wanted them affordable enough so that participants could consider purchasing their favorites for casual dinners at home. This goes along with our general philosophy that wine is an "everyday beverage" - we like good wines that are affordable enough to enjoy each evening with dinner without feeling like we are blowing our budget.Our Wine SelectionsOn to our selections. As I mentioned, the purpose of the Big Six is to distinguish differences in body across the major wine grapes of the world. For whites, Riesling typifies light-bodied, Sauvignon Blanc medium-bodied, and Chardonnay full-bodied; for reds, Pinot Noir typifies light-bodied, Merlot medium-bodied and Cabernet Sauvignon full-bodied. The following wines were purchased from Total Wine in McLean, VA:Riesling: 2004 Domaine Trimbach (Alsace, France) - $16Sauvignon Blanc: 2006 Stony Bay (Marlborough, NZ) - $12Chardonnay: 2005 Franciscan Oakville Estate (Napa Valley, CA) - $13Pinot Noir: 2006 Sockeye (Chile**) - $14Merlot: 2003 Chateau St. Michelle (Columbia Valley, Washington) - $11.50Cabernet Sauvignon: 2004 Simi Winery (Alexander Valley, CA) - $14**Note: This is what happens when you don't do your research. I am a Pinot Noir neophyte, but have been interested in trying some Oregonian Pinots. Sockeye (like the salmon) sure sounds Northwest-ish, and this wine was filed under "Oregon". Turns out Sockeye sources grapes from different locales, and their 2003 was from Oregon, their 2004 was from Australia, and as I discovered upon returning home, their 2006 was from Chile! I thought this boded poorly for the tasting, since I have heard of a lot of great wines coming out of Chile and no one has ever mentioned Pinot...The Wine Tasting SetupTo really be able to directly compare the different wines in the Big Six, Robinson recommends using 6 different glasses so that all wines could be poured at once. Thinking that this could end up pretty chaotic, I made a nifty little tasting mat to keep the wines in the right order.Note to my viewers at home: this is actually a legal sized sheet of paper (8.5" x 14") - a standard 8.5" x 11" paper was jus[...]

Wine Blogging Wednesday #33 - Entry #3


Yes, I really went all out for this, my inaugural Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) event, and tasted THREE qualifying wines. As I've mentioned in my previous entires, the theme for this month's WBW was "Mid-Priced wines from the Midi" (i.e., $15-$30 bottles of wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, also known as the Midi). You can read all about it at the WBW#33 host's blog, Doktor Weingolb.Saving what I hoped would be the best for last, my third entry into WBW#33 was a 2004 Domaine Le Pas de l'Escalette "Les Clapas". The label proclaimed it was from the Coteaux du Languedoc AOC, and it also mentioned Terrasses du Larzac. A little research determined that Terrasses du Larzac was one of the Northern-most regions of the Languedoc-Rousillon in Southern France (I guess that just makes it Middle France?). This wine was produced by the same winemakers as my Entry #1 for WBW#33, only this wine costs an additional $5 per bottle ($20 at in Gathersburg, MD) and carries that added designation of "Terrasses du Larzac".Wine LabelsA good rule of thumb I've learned when reading labels is "the more specific the label, the better the wine". For example, you may see bottles labeled as simply a "California" Cabernet Sauvignon - this is likely of lower quality than a "Sonoma County" Cabernet Sauvignon, or better yet - a "Russian River Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County, CA. And the best yet is often when the label designates a specific vineyard - this is about as specific as you can get. Thus I was excited to taste a wine that should be "one step up" from my WBW#33 Entry #1 wine.Tasting NotesMost of the time, Kris and I see pretty eye-to-eye when it comes to wine. This is obviously quite fortunate as it makes splitting a bottle much easier! This wine was a bit of an exception however; I don't know if seasonal allergies just had me stuffed up a bit so that I was missing out, but Kris was a lot more impressed with this wine than I was.I thought the nose was quite subdued, with hints of old leather and spices. Kris was gushing over all of the bright, young fruit on the nose, which I missed completely. On the tongue, Kris continued to taste the fruit, whereas I enjoyed the tangy spiciness of this wine. We both agreed that it had very nice complexity, especially for grenache, with nice tannin structure.As we drank it with dinner, the wine really started to open up, and *then* I was able to start picking up some of the fruit. By this point the wine was over half gone, and we were kicking ourselves for not decanting it in the beginning. I bet if we had, I'd have had a similar initial reaction as Kris.Overall RecommendationThis was a very enjoyable wine, but at $20, this is several bucks above our usual $8-$14 nightly bottle. Considering that, I have to rate this wine as "OK quality-to-price ratio" - the quality was there, but the price was a bit high. Kris pointed out that it was probably pretty hard to get this much complexity into wines of this style, so for her it was a good QPR. Although she could have found a bottle she enjoyed more for less, she thought that this Les Clapas was a great example of what could be done with Rhône-style blends at a much more affordable price than a Chateauneuf du Pape.In terms of this month's WBW theme, we both really enjoyed exploring wines from the Midi, and will definitely consider Languedoc-Roussillon wines in a restaurant or for adding to our cellar! Thanks for t[...]

Wine Blogging Wednesday #33 - Entry #2


For my second entry into Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) #33, I tried out a "vin doux naturel" from the Banyuls region of Languedoc- Roussillon, France. As I described in my first WBW#33 entry, the theme for this month was "Mid-Priced wines from the Midi" (i.e., $15-$30 bottles of wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, also known as the Midi. You can read all about it at the WBW#33 host's blog, Doktor Weingolb.The wine I selected for Entry #2 was a 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles, purchased for $16 (for a 500 mL bottle) at Total Wine in McLean, VA. The Banyuls region is located in the far south of France near to the border with Spain/Catalonia. "Rimage" is a Catalan word meaning vintage, so much like a vintage Port all grapes for this wine came from a single declared year (2003, in this case). Also like a vintage Port, this wine has been fortified: neutral grape alcohol is added in a process known as mutage to halt fermentation, allowing some of the natural sugars to remain in the wine. The Clos de Paulilles Banyuls was made from 100% Grenache (noir) grapes.Tasting NotesRusted red in color, this Banyuls had a bit of an astringent nose (not too surprising given its 16% alcohol; this is less than many Ports however, which can be in the 20% alcohol range). You'd think this may make the wine "hot" on the tongue, but it was quite smooth. On the palate were flavors of dried cherries and dried cranberries (my wife wasn't so sure about the cranberries) - the point here is "dried" since this was a rich, intense wine, almost syrupy sweet due to the concentration of fruit flavor. I also detected a hint of berries and chocolate.Overall RecommendationI'm a big fan of tawny Ports, so I was interested in trying something a little different, which the 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles most certainly was. When judged on it's own however, I would only give this Good Quality-to-price Ratio (QPR). I was definitely enjoying the wine, but for the $16 price tag I can get a 750 mL bottle of a nice tawny that I would enjoy as much or more.But then I broke out some Green & Black's 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate. YUM!! I frequently attempt to match red wine and chocolate, but I have to say I think this is one of the most perfect matches I have yet tasted. Once the dark chocolate entered the picture, the QPR shot up to "Great". If you're interested in trying Banyuls, do yourself a favor and make sure you've got a good bar of dark chocolate in the house!I also think the 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles would make an interesting choice for someone looking for a red dessert wine that hasn't found what they were looking for in a Port. The slightly lower alcohol level helps ease the burn, which is what I think turns a lot of people off of Port initially. So consider this a Port Alternative for non-Port drinkers.[...]

Working at Three Fox Vineyards


(image) Kris and I started volunteering at Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, VA last weekend. This is one great little winery. The owner's Holli and John Todhunter are intimately involved in all aspects of operation, and they have (successfully) attempted to create a little bit of Tuscany and La Dolce Vita here in Virginia. If you are touring Virginia wine country, Three Fox is where you want to stop to enjoy the beautiful day, have a picnic lunch, play croquet or bocce ball, and sip on some of their fabulous Italian-styled wines.

We decided to volunteer at Three Fox to learn more about wine from a completely different perspective. It is our dream to someday make a life-long career move into the wine industry, so we thought that volunteering mainly in the tasting room (with additional winery and vineyard duties as they come up) would be a nice introduction to that.

(image) Another big advantage is that Three Fox is very dog friendly, and allow us to bring our two border collies (Owen & Iris) as adopted winery dogs while we're working! Luckily, since they're border collies, they never wander very far and can mostly be found greeting new customers or chasing bees around the vineyard!

Our first day as volunteers ended up being pretty hectic, with two large (40-50+) groups arriving on tour buses, and a couple other large groups dropping in unannounced. Overall, we had some 220 something visitors, which seems like a lot for a small operation like Three Fox! I'll continue to provide updates on our "Will Work For Wine" volunteerism at Three Fox, and will try to remember to take some pictures of the 3-acres of new vines they just planted just so you can see how "baby vines" look when they're just starting out!