Exploring Virgina Wine Country

Afton Mountain VineyardsI recently attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA and a highlight was visiting the lovely wineries of Nelson County, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. I had no idea what to expect as far as the wines were concerned, and was thrilled to discover something that they already know in Virgina: there is some really good wine being made there. Here are a few of my favorites from my all-too-brief afternoon in the wine country:

Flying FoxPetit Verdot? From Virginia? Whaaaa? Yup. We started our day at Flying Fox Vineyard and, after a couple of (unoaked and refreshing) Viogniers, dove into a vertical of Petit Verdot: 2006, 2007, and 2008. I was so impressed with the 2006 that I ended up bringing a bottle home with me. The tannins had really smoothed out and and it was drinking beautifully.

Well-aged Virginia CabernetProbably the coolest, most unexpected wine came courtesy of the generous, affable Tim Gorman, winemaker at Cardinal Point Winery. How about a 1993 Virginia Cabernet? More than just a curiosity, it was a very tasty, well-aged Cab. Minty. Mellow. Yum.

Tim Gorman of Cardinal Point WineryTim’s a really cool guy. Animated, passionate, and humorous, he poured for us one of my Wines of The Trip: The 2009 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc. Fantastic! Would have loved to try this wine with a nice chill on it. (Especially considering it was 100 degrees in Charlottesville. With soul-crushing humidity, too.) Why didn’t I buy one? (Commence hand-wringing regret.)

One last shout-out to the vintage sparkling wine from Afton Mountain Vineyards. (Just checked out their website and dig their motto: “Grapes don’t grow in ugly places.” The photo at the top of this post is from my visit to Afton Mountain; I trust that vouches for their motto.) Their (hand-riddled!) 2008 Tete de Cuvee, corked just a few weeks prior to our visit, was a lovely sparkling wine with a nice richness. It’s a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend; thanks to the relative altitude of the vineyards, and one of the only places with a (thankfully) constant breeze, the odds are stacked in their favor to be succesful with Pinot and Chard.

Although clear across the country, and probably little-to-no distribution here in Washington, my trip to Virginia reminded me how lucky I am to live in a state with such a vibrant community of wineries. When you keep an open mind and cultivate a sense of adventure, you never know what you might discover.

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

Tuna and Prosecco
I’ve always been a big fan of Prosecco, the charming and thirst-slaking Italian sparkling wine, for festive and casual bubbles imbibing. At a recent lunch at Serafina, I was reminded what a great food wine it is as well. Prosecco belongs on your lunch (and dinner) table!

The Proseccos we enjoyed were from Valdo, a shop favorite. Their Brut DOC is a machine here at Esquin. The staff loves it and so do our customers. They also make an excellent Rosé Brut, though don’t call it Prosecco! The Italian wine laws in the region have recently changed to protect the good name of true Prosecco; it has to be made from the Glera grape and in a specific geographic area. The Rosé is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape (surely you’ve heard of it) and is a joy to drink. Ultra-fun! It was perfection with the Calamari, especially with the touch of chile flake giving a little heat. (The Brut DOC was no slouch with it, either. I was alternating back and forth between the two.)


Most unexpectedly, the Prosecco even worked with a sweet pea and ricotta ravioli (with taragon butter and sauteed pea vines, to boot) The sweetness of the peas was a nice match with the DOC Brut, which has a whisper of sweetness.

Sweet Pea and Ricotta Ravioli

But my favorite pairing was with the tuna at the top of the post. I devoured it with two special Proseccos from Valdo: The “Cuvee di Boj” and “Cuvee Fondatore”. Both have DOCG status, which denotes the highest quality in the Prosecco region. These Proseccos were drier, more elegant, and most harmonious with the tuna and its melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, and frisee salad with a basil-grapefruit vinaigrette.

It was a wonderful lunch made even more wonderful by convivial dining companions and and special guest Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, the President of Valdo. Hard to think of a more personable and genuine ambassador for the region and the wines. Bravo!

Full disclosure: I was a guest of the importer and distributor who provided the food and wine.

A Twist on Washington Red Wine: Comparing Cork and Screwcap

Hogue Genesis Merlot 2003
The cork versus screwcap debate gets most contentious when talking about how red wine will age when sealed under one closure versus the other. So it was a rare treat to be invited to attend a seminar hosted by Hogue Cellars to taste five bottles of 2003 Hogue Genesis Merlot, each sealed under a different closure. How, at 8 years of age, would each red wine fare? (Read my previous post to see how Hogue’s screwcap-sealed Riesling performed starting with the 2004 vintage.)

After sampling the red wine in glasses A-E we found out what kind of closure was used to seal the bottle:

  • A: Saranex* screwcap (with nitrogen dosing)
  • B: Saranex screwap (no nitrogen dosing)
  • C: Synthetic cork (low oxygen ingress)
  • D: Natural cork
  • E: Synthetic cork (moderate oxygen ingress)

*Saranex is a barrier film that is more oxygen-permeable than a tin liner.

My favorite? The Merlot in D, sealed with a natural cork. As Co Dinn, Director of Winemaking for The Hogue Cellars, stated, it showed “how well cork can do when you get a good one.” Even though we were discussing Hogue’s shift to 100% screwcap closures with their 2009 vintage, this was not an exercise in cork-bashing and Co’s respectful attitude and thoughtful critique of a variety of closures was much appreciated.

My least favorite was the Merlot in Glass A.  It just tasted flat. Which seemed to confirm Hogue’s decision not put any nitrogen in the headspace (area between wine and closure). The red wine needs that extra oxygen for development of secondary characteristics over time. As far as B, C, and E, they all had qualities I enjoyed and good balance between tannin and fruit; D and A just happened to stand out for reasons good and not-so-good, respectively.

Rather than looking at this issue as a battle between cork and screwcap, I found myself most intrigued about the research that Hogue did into finding the right screwcap and accounting for variables (such as sulfur level, addition or omission of nitrogen, and measuring oxygen ingress) to fine-tune the process to enable a red wine to age properly. If you really want to nerd out, there is much more information about Hogue’s screwcap study. (Including spider graphs! Which just sound cool.)

So how do you feel about putting reds sealed with a screwcap in your cellar?