Saturday, June 23, 2012

Enter the Octagon

For a while now, there has been one wine that has been showcased as the best of the best that Virginia makes - Barboursville's Octagon. And with good reason. The blend changes every year based on the quality of the season and the grapes at hand. Still, it remains a true Bordeaux-style blend consisting of the Noble Grapes of the region. Of all the vintages I have tried, every Octagon has had characteristically smoothness packed with flavors of cassis, plumb and dark chocolate.

Octagon has become a showcase wine because of its quality vintage after vintage. Imagine the pleasure people get once they realize that while Barboursville's Octagon is a great Virginia wine, it is by no means in a league of its own. Indeed, as Virginia's wine industry continues to grow, more and more high-quality, if less well-known, Bordeaux blends are being made.

Take, for example, Anghel. It is a side project of Rappahannock Cellars' winemaker Jason Burrus, which alone should tell you something. Named in honor of his wife, every year Jason sources grapes from thought the state - getting his hands on the best ones available - and blending them to his exacting standards. One year, it may be a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Another year, like the 2008 vintage, it may be a 50/50 blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. In essence, Anghel gives on of Virginia's great winemakers the ability to work with the best fruit and develop a signature product. The 2008 is extremely smooth with big red cherries, raspberries, cedar, vanilla and spice on the palette. Just to be smooth, the tannic structure gives way to even more smoothness on the long finish.

There are many, many other quality Bordeaux blends available from throughout the state - Cobbler Mountain's Meritage and Fabbioli Cellars Tre Sorele are two that come immediately to mind - and there are many more I have not yet tried.

Yes, The Octagon s good, and quite deserving of its reputation. However, someone's whole knowledge of Virginia's high quality blends shouldn't begin and end there. With so many other great blends being produced, that jus wouldn't b fair to any wine drinker.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Virginia's Mad Winetist

The great thing about emerging wine regions is that winemakers and vineyard managers are still learning, experimenting and figuring out what grapes grow best in what soil leading to the highest quality wines. Virginia is no different. In fact, as far as winemaking goes, the Wild West has been firmly transplanted to the Eastern seaboard.

True, Virginia is gaining a reputation built on the shoulders of Cabernet Franc, Viognier and increasingly Petit Verdot. Yet, the industry is still so young and growing that people are willing to try new things - be it blends, varietals or growing techniques.

Take Doug Fabbioli. He has made a name for himself based on his reds. His Cabernet Franc Reserve is a great showcase wine for Northern Virginia. He doesn't stop there, though. He committed to planting several rows of Carmenere to see how they did. It didn't work out, but the effort was made. Several acres and several years of patience were invested to reach that conclusion. Doug said he is now leaning to tearing out the Carmenere and replanting. Given the time it takes grapes to grow - usually three years, the land involved, and the labor costs involved, it is a proposition that other more established wine regions wouldn't consider. In Virginia, winemakers like Doug feel it is worth it because there is still the freedom to experiment.

Not all test plantings have had the same results as the Carmenere. Indeed, both Tannat and Sangiovese have taken to Virginia better than anyone could have expected.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jefferson Would be Proud

Yes, Barboursville has ruins, cows and wine. It also has large crowds and a theme park atmosphere
 On our recent trip to Charlottesville, we visited a lot of wineries and tried a lot of wine. This was my first trip to the region, and while I had heard many good things about the wine and the wineries in Thomas Jefferson's old stomping ground, I wasn't prepared for just how different each winery was in terms of atmosphere and ambiance, though I was pleasantly surprised. Since I have already mentioned Barboursville in a previous post, there isn't much more I need to say about it. True, it is big. Their wines are good. Still, I can't help the feeling that they are the Virginia wine industry's circus barker - imploring people to step right up to try wines from the state. The assembly-line atmosphere in their tasting room does little to counter this impression.

All in all, given its reputation, size and location, Barboursville is a good place to start - especially as an introduction to Virginia wines. And there are many other wineries located nearby. The other wineries we went to on the first day were Reynard Florence and Keswick Vineyards. Neither of these had the crowds or chaos of Barboursville. True, they didn't have Thomas Jefferson-designed ruins on the property either, but that's a small price to pay for tranquility.

Another view from another winery. For the life of me, I can't remember which one

Reynard Florence, a fairly new winery, was our second stop, and it couldn't have been more different. It is a small, family run winery. The tasting room feels more like a living room than anything, and we had the place to ourselves. One of the owners was pouring behind the bar. I first heard about Reynard Florence during this year's Virginia Wine Bracket Challenge where its Cabernet Franc was one of the contestants. I remember liking the wine and was impressed by the other wines they produce. They also make a Petit Manseng and a Grenache - both unique for Virginia.

Rounding out our wineries for the day was Keswick, which does a hefty wedding business for good reason. The winery grounds are beautiful. Finishing off a day of wine tasting with dry Rose on a porch in a comfortable chair is never a bad thing.  And, lest I forget to mention it, their wines are quite good, too. I was a fan of their Viognier and their Rose, though their Verdejo is also worth trying given that it is a unique varietal in Virginia.

This trip was also some of our friends' first experience with Virginia wines, and I am proud to say that they have now become fervent fans of Virginia Viognier. A weekend in Monticello will do that to just about anybody.

Friday, June 8, 2012

RIP Restaurant 3

One of my favorite Arlington restaurants, Restaurant 3, closed its
doors for good last Friday. That's sad news for DC-area food and wine

What Restaurant 3 did so well was comfort food with fresh and local
ingredients - shrimp and grits, fried oysters and pork. Lots and lots
of pork. Their happy hour pulled pork sandwiches were among my
favorite cheap eats around, but they didn't stop there. They made
their own bacon, infused that deliciousness into cocktails and hosted
PigFest. Seeing Adidas shorts-wearing men and yoga pants-sporting
women rushing to one of the 8,000 gyms in Arlington only to walk by a
fully roasting pig parked outside the restaurant was always priceless.

Of course, this is a wine blog and while their food - up to and
including their near-obsession with everything pig related will be
greatly missed - they also knew how to accompany their menu with wine.
While never the most extensive or esoteric wine menu, it was very
solid. It worked for and with the food available and ambiance that
Restaurant 3 had.

It is a shame that such a place needed to close its doors after nearly
five years in a prime location with a large and loyal fanbase. Here's
hoping whatever takes its place is also willing to park a smoker in
front and attached a whole pig to it.