Friday, August 28, 2009

TechAdventureDC is Only a Day Away

What can be better than writing a blog about wine and the DC area's wine culture? If you answered "going to one of Virginia’s great wineries to mingle, taste what the winery has to offer and get to know other DC-area social media, bloggers and general tech-savvy wine lovers?" than you are absolutely right.

Tomorrow is the inaugural event that is hosted by TechAdventureDC. The organization aims to "put the social back into social media," and was organized by some of DC's preeminent social media experts. Rappahannock Cellars is hosting the event, which should provide a great venue for what is likely to be a fantastic day and a great event, with or without the expected rain. Rappahannock has a particularly good cabernet franc that I would encourage attendees to try.

Caitlin and I are both going, and, last time I checked, tickets were sold out. Not to worry, though. There will likely be many, many tweets and blog posts discussing the event from every angle and every detail in the days following TechAdventureDC.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy 20th, Tarara!

Tarara Winery in Leesburg is celebrating its 20th year in operation. To think of how far the Virginia wine industry has come since Tarara first opened its doors two decades ago is amazing. Of course, once upon a time - give or take the generations surrounding the Founding Fathers - Virginia was known for tobacco. Sure, some of its former residents - Thomas Jefferson, for example - dabbled in wine making, but having an established and respected winemaking industry is a fairly new development for the Commonwealth.

It must have been with some skepticism and perhaps a little anxiety that Whitie and Margaret Hubert opened their doors back in 1989 with the goal of producing wines that could be enjoyed by both the novice and the snotty aficionado alike. I doubt that the Huberts could have realized, back before the Internet, cell phones and laptops that they were going to be seen one day as a new breed of pioneers forging the reputation of Northern Virginia’s wine culture and industry. Whitie passed away last year, but Virginia’s wine landscape is spotted with “Glen Graduates,” as his disciples in Virginia winemaking are known.

Long story short, 20 years on Tarara casts a large shadow over DC’s wine country and is one of the true destination wineries in the region. It is not just its sheer size, but its prominence and reputation that help to distinguish Tarara. Their secret to success, as far as I can tell, is based on both the atmosphere and the wine that it produces. The winery has beautiful views of both mountains and water, a friendly and cozy, albeit often very busy, tasting room, and a good program of events that invites the community in to see what the winery has to offer. On top of that, Tarara makes some very, very good wines.

With all the high praise and bromides out of the way, Tarara does have some room for improvement when it comes to customer service. When I called up Tarara recently to get a bit more information on their “Toast to the Tunes” concert series, I called five times, and never once got hold of a live person on the other end, as there is no way to reach a live human on the weekend, even though there was an event that evening. Even after the frustrating phone ordeal, Caitlin and I headed out to Tarara, picnic in tow, to spend an evening at one of Virginia’s great wineries.

Back to the bromides and high praise for the place. Tarara is a beautiful, destination winery for good reason. The Toast to the Tunes series takes place on a bandstand that overlooks a pond, and while under-staffed, they set up a tasting bar in the center of the activity. There was plenty of space to set up on the lawn, if not at the tasting bar. Even though the event was well attended, it was not so crowded as to make it uncomfortable.

To be honest, though, I seriously doubt if anyone headed out to Tarara for the music alone. People were here for the wine first and foremost, and Tarara makes some great ones. Of their whites, my favorite is their 2007 Viognier. It was very crisp with a touch of acidity on the palette that gives the wine an almost, but not quite, sparkling quality. The nose has some fruit to it, but also has a bit of a chalky hue. In case you’re wondering, that is actually a good thing for this wine. Don’t ask how I got “chalky.” I did, and it’s not a bad thing. For $30 a bottle, their viognier is a bit pricey for a Virginia wine, but if you want to splurge on a great Virginia white, Tarara’s viognier is worth it.

In terms of reds, I tried a very nice Cabernet Franc and a less-impressive Pinot Noir. Stick with the cabernet franc. It was a bit darker than most cab francs, and had a nice, full body to it. The nose was lighter than the color was, though there was a nice hint of plumbs and a little whiff of chocolate to both the taste and the smell.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dry Mill’s Dry Run

Some of you have emailed me with queries similar to this: “you claim to be “Beltway” Bacchus, yet most of your posts are of Finger Lakes or California wines. What gives?” The answer is simply that Caitlin and I spend a lot of time at her parent’s house on Owasco Lake during the summer, which is conveniently located near the Finger Lakes wineries. We do travel out to Loudoun when we can, and the more we get out there, the more I will post about local, DC area wineries. Starting with this post!

We recently were able to get out to Dry Mill Vineyard and Winery in Leesburg, VA. It is one of Loudoun’s newest wineries, having just opened in March of this year, and I was pleasantly surprised by the wines that I tried. Nestled into what was once a horse barn, Leesburg sprawl gives way to the rolling Virginia countryside and Dry Mill is on the rustic side of that divide, yet is still a quick drive from Downtown DC and its environs. Also, Dry Mill has a winery dog, Chard, a friendly black lab, which gets it a few extra points in my opinion. But enough about ambiance and dogs. Onto the wine!

Of the wines that I tried at Dry Mill, there are two that stand out - one white and one red. The 2008 Steel Chardonnay and the 2007 Syrah both were better than I was expecting. As Dry Mill is a newer winery, I was somewhat skeptical of the wines that they had to offer, thinking that they may have purchased their grapes, or were still working to get some of the kinks out of their winemaking process. Surprisingly, neither of these were the case. This is likely due at least in part to the fact that the owners, Dean & Nancy Vanhuss, have been growing grapes in Loudoun County since the 1990s. The wines I tried, and would happily try again, were good, balanced wines that are a great addition to Loudoun’s current roster of wineries.

The 2008 Steel Chardonnay was semi-sweet with a crisp finish with a lot of fruity undertones. It was almost as if I was drinking a fruit salad - with apples, pears and several different kinds of citrus topped with a light vinaigrette, but in a good way.

The 2007 Syrah was a little on the thin side, but had much more of a body than many Virginia reds that I have tried. It also had the spicy kick that Syrahs are known for, but without it being overpowering. The thinness of the body could even be one of the advantages to this wine. If it were any fuller, it would most likely overwhelm and food that it was paired with. As it stands, the 2007 Syrah would go well with just about anything from the red meat camp that is cooked on a Bar-B-Q. Bucket Grill or otherwise.

While both of the wines stand up on there own merits, the benefits of the atmosphere cannot be overlooked. When Caitlin and I visited, there were only a few other customers. We did not need to elbow and claw our way up to the tasting bar and stake a claim. The owners themselves were working the tasting bar, and both Dean and Nancy, along with their dog, were very friendly and welcoming. It helps that the winery is in what was once a horse barn, but has been renovated without losing any of its rustic charm.

Dry Mill is close to DC, has good wine, a great atmosphere and serves light food. It is well worth the trip on a Saturday or Sunday.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Swedish Hill Winery: Come for the Riesling, Stay for the Jackass

There is a huge difference between taking what you do seriously, and taking yourself so seriously that you come off as pompous and arrogant. The former can be a blessing while the latter can be the kiss of death. Luckily, Swedish Hill Winery in Romulus, NY takes the process of making wine seriously, though it is still able to maintain a fun-loving sense of humor that comes out in the tasting room. Need evidence that they are fun? How many wineries do you know that have a donkey named Doobie as their mascot? As of this writing, I can think of only one, Swedish Hill. Still, with Doobie and the great and knowledgeable people who work in the tasting rooms - they have three separate ones - you can learn a lot about the wines that they make and not feel like you are in a lecture hall. 

Swedish Hill is part of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail which is one of the two primary one trails in the Finger Lakes - the other one being around Seneca Lake. Cayuga Lake has some great wineries, though, like most wines from the region, you should be prepared to taste a lot of sweet and semi-sweet wines. They are the regions bread and butter and riesling is defiantly the king grape of the Finger Lakes. 

The first wine that we tried at Swedish Hill was the 2007 Dry Riesling, which was a light, citrusy riesling that had a nice body and decent finish. Being a riesling, even though this was their “dry” variety, there was still a tinge of sweet syrupiness to it, which, given the characteristics of the riesling grape should be expected.

The next wine on their tasting list was their 2006 Reserve Chardonnay. Unlike many chardonnays I have had from the Finger Lakes, this one was not too oaky. It actually tasted like wine instead of scotch. It did have some light oak undertones, as well as the buttery finish that one expects with a chardonnay. This particular wine also had some hints of pear and apple in it. As this part of New York is also known for its apples, this was not surprising. Now if only the Finger Lakes cold make their apples taste like wine, that would be awesome.

The 2006 Reserve Chardonnay was followed with Swedish Hills’ Blue Waters Riesling. This was perhaps the most reflective of Finger Lakes wines that we tried at Swedish Hill. Not only does the label hint at the region’s lake culture with its halcyon image of kids jumping off of a wooden pier, but it is a riesling that has a sweet, but not too sweet, taste throughout with a fruity, lingering aftertaste of peaches. The Blue Waters Riesling is a good candidate to be an ambassador wine for the region, even though the Blue Waters line is Swedish Hills’ budget line. Riesling is king here, and this is a good riesling.

As for the reds that we tasted, the 2006 Cabernet Franc-Lemberger smelled like a cabernet sauvignon, and had a bit of a peppery aftertaste, but was a light and thin wine that could have been greatly improved if it had any more of a body and a deeper complexion. The Meritage was dry, without almost any nose and was too thin for my taste. Considering that Meritage seems to be pushed hard in every wine-producing region I have visited, even though it is a totally made-up term without any standards or regulation, except that a winery has to pay for the use of the name, a future post will likely be dedicated to Meritage as a whole. 

Finally, I talk about my fiancee, Caitlin, quite frequently in this blog. She is the very beautiful lady in red in one of the pictures on this post. Everyone say hi to her and be as lucky as I am to know her!