17 Nov 2010
Virginia is home to some of our country’s early history, 8 US presidents (including 4 of our first 5), Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a strong military ship yard, beautiful beaches, and some of the most amazing Fall scenery in the U.S. With some of our countries earliest history of wine, Virginia is not just for lovers, it is for wine lovers.
38 years ago I was born among the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Roanoke, Virginia. The childlike fondness I have from living there for 10 years remains with me. While we occasionally go back to VA to visit my mom’s side of the family, it’s been eight years since I’ve been back. Apart from a small sip from Sean Sullivan a few months back, I’ve yet to experience the wine of my forefathers…and mothers, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I was recently invited to participate in an online wine tasting of six Virginia wines. Needless to say, I was excited. For me, this was a chance to connect with the wine my family drinks and a little family heritage. Sadly, shipping was delayed and I wasn’t there to receive the wines the day of the tasting. Over the days that followed I casually made my way through the six wines (three whites, two reds, and a sparkling wine).
*Note to distributors and representatives, when introducing new wines and wine regions to a group of people, please include winery information and winemaking notes.
Since I tasted these wines a few weeks ago, I’ll share my brief notes and my overall impression of the wines that I received. The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference is in Charlottesville, VA July 22-24. You can count on me being there and then enjoying a nice return visit with my family in Roanoke. If you are interested in learning more about Virginia wine, I suggest you check out the following blogs.
The Virginia Wines
The 2009 Monticello Gewurz had medium flavor but lacked a strong acidity which left the wine lingering in the mouth. A hint of sweetness is present on this mostly dry wine along with average flavors of peaches and stone fruit. Overall a nice first impression. The winery web site prices this wine at $19. 3/5
Wow! My notes indicate that I really enjoyed this wine. 14%ABV, 420 cases, combination of oak and barrel fermentation. Awesome flavors of melons and pears coupled with a great acidity make this a pleasant sipping wine or paired with food. At $22, I will definitely keep my eyes out for this wine on the trip back east! 4/5
This wine didn’t do much for me. It came across a little flabby, light in flavor and heavy handed on the oak. The label leaves a little to be desired. At a retail price of $23, I would give it a test sip before you commit. 3-/5
This Seven Oaks Merlot is a little thin on fruit and comes across very young, green and under ripe. Flavors start smooth but then move to a little tartness on the palate. The finish is rough on the edges. 75% of the wine is aged 10 months in French and American oak. $18, 3/5
60% Petit Verdot, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc – This is a very dark and moody wine with colors of dark plum and black. Good aroma of flowers and fruit jump out of the glass getting me very excited for the sip. In the mouth the wine is slightly gamey along with deep fruit flavors. Under-ripe bell peppers and a slight minerality make the mid-palate slightly disjointed. Really enjoyed the layers of flavor. $25, 3/5
95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir – Lively bubbles that race to the top of the glass. Good aroma of strawberry toast and yeast. While the wine is made dry, there is a nice hint of sweetness on the front palate. I’m not a sparkling wine expert, but this was a very tasty wine that went down very quickly. With only 12%ABV, the bottle was quickly empty. $28, 3+/5
Overall, I was most impressed with the Viognier and the Sparkling wine. I look forward to exploring more Virginia wines in a few short months to see what else is coming out of the region. A few of these wines were rough around the edges, and the whites were better than the reds, in my opinion.
30 Sep 2010
Are you looking for a wine that will kiss you on the lips, smack you on the ass, and leave you feeling completely satisfied? Mollydooker just might do it. In my 11 months of wine blogging and five years of wine consumption, I have yet to experience anything so over the top and hedonistic as the Mollydooker wines. In fact, it’s not even until now that I understand the use of the word hedonistic when describing wine. Even at their lower end price points $25, the wines are full of big and rich fruit with an emphasis on flavor. It’ll feel like a flavor orgy in your mouth. Be careful, however, the bold wines come with bold alcohol levels of 15.5% and higher! Too much of this booze and you’ll get a smack on the ass from falling on it!
Mollydooker has put together a winning combination of wine, marketing, and consistency since coming on to the scene in 2006. Their web site is fun, quirky and educational, the labels are catchy and carry a personal connection, and the wine has garnered praises including five 99 point scores from Wine Advocate, Top Value Wine (under $20; 2006), and the Carnival of Love has been selected as a Top 10 Wine in the World (2 years running).
Owners and Winemakers Sarah and Sparky Marquis spent 12 years making critically acclaimed wine for others companies before starting Mollydooker in 2005. Based in Australia’s premier regions of McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Pathway, Sarah and Sparky claim that it is their Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme and Marquis Fruit Weight focus that sets their wine apart. Two pretty cool, although heavily marketing focused, videos are on their web site at www.mollydookerwines.com.
The watering program manages the growth of the vines and canopy to create a healthy and vigorous crop. At specific times the plants are deprived of water to drive the energy into the grape clusters. A repeating cycle of starvation and watering leads to the high fruit weight the Marquis’ are aiming for. Marquis Fruit Weight is a non-scientific measurement of WOW. It is an attempt to quantify the percentage of your palate that’s covered by the smooth fruit flavor.
I was pretty skeptical and intrigued by the Fruit Weight concept, so I thought I’d put the three sample wines to the test in a blind tasting format. I had the wife bag and tag the wines after removing the colorful foil identifiers. I knew I was drinking Mollydooker, I knew they were 2009 Shiraz, but I had no clue as to which wine was The Boxer ($25), Blue Eyed Boy ($50), or Carnival of Love ($90). Watch the video for the surprising results.
*So far, this may sound like a sales pitch for Mollydooker, instead of a review. I’m just providing the back story (and theirs is an impressive one). I did review a 2008 vintage of Blue Eyed Boy and didn’t give it so glowing of a review.
- The Stuff: 100% Shiraz from vineyards in McLaren Vale, Langhorne and Pathway. The wine spent 12 months in 57% new 43% year old American oak; 3.6% residual sugar, 16%ABV, screw cap enclosure (as are all Mollydooker wines) – 70% Marquis Fruit Weight
- The Swirl: Thick and inky in the glass with a heavy purple. Wine leaves a film on the glass edge when swirling.
- The Sniff: A Shiraz masquerading as a big Malbec with blueberry and vanilla on the nose. There are subtle hints of sweet residual sugar and cedar too.
- The Sip: Good flavor but not overwhelming. Starts off feeling a little syrupy and then gives way to dark black and blue berry fruit. A stronger pepper finish than I expected and a good amount of acidity to clear away the sweet fruit.
- The Score: At $25 this is a great wine that easily outperforms Aussie Shiraz in the $15-$20 range. The flavor is more intense but not over the top. Great price point. 3+/5
- The Stuff: 100% Shiraz from the Mollydooker vineyard and Langhorne Creek; aged 12 months in 71% new and 29% used American oak; 3.6% residual sugar, 16%ABV, screw cap enclosure – 80% Marquis Fruit Weight
- The Swirl: Great light refraction around the edges. The wine looks like a pristine calm glassy purple lake. Thick and very weighty
- The Sniff: A very well layered aroma profile that includes perfectly balanced amounts of fruit, licorice, powdered sugar, and deep blackberries. Love the subtle cracked pepper on the finish
- The Sip: A massive wash of soft plum, bright blackberry, and warm milk chocolate. The luscious and round mouth feel is accompanied by a good amount of firm tannin on the finish. This is a young wine that drinks very well now, but is crying out for sausage, cheese, and beef dishes.
- The Score: For those wine drinkers that are accustom to laying down $50 for a good bottle, this is a fantastic wine. There is more here than just a giant fruit bomb. The layers of flavor will ease the pain of parting with the cash. This is a special wine whose taste and aromas are burned into my memory. 4/5
- The Stuff: 100% Shiraz from the Gateway vineyard in McLaren Vale; 97% new and 3% used American oak for 12 months. 3.8% RS; 16%ABV, screw cap enclosure – 90% Fruit Weight
- The Swirl: As with all the MD Shiraz this wine is pure purple passion. Very thick and pure like liquid glass. The Enchanted love is one of the darker wines I can recall seeing.
- The Sniff: Beautiful scents of violets, sweet sugar, bright blueberries, rich plums and spice. I think about 10 minutes went by before I quit smelling this wine. An enjoyable experience even before the sip.
- The Sip: A wonderful evolution of flavor happens on this wine. Tasting the wine gives you an understanding of what “fruit weight” is. The flavor seems to wrap every square inch of your mouth. Not a single taste bud is left out of this experience. Great presentations of fruit, spice, and even some dried tomato and coffee components.
- The Score: The Carnival of Love is a sensory experience not to be missed. This is truly a wine event, if ever I’ve had one. A huge step above in balance over the previous vintage and crafted with subtle intricacies that keep you wanting another sip. Keep in mind this is not a subtle experience of strolling through a park enjoying the serene waterfalls and flowers, this is a high octane double loop roller coaster at 70MPH! At $90, a challenge for most but if you want to really impress a wine lover (especially one who enjoys Aussie Shiraz), you’ll score big points here! 4+/5
Each month I review between 17-20 wines on camera. The total has climbed above 200. However, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t always wait until the film is rolling to drink wine. Several wines are enjoyed at trade tasting events or even in the casual company of friends over dinner or just for fun. Some of these wines, while embedded in my memory for their amazing quality, just don’t receive the time and attention that is needed for a quality review.
Below are six wines that I tasted during the month that didn’t see the bright lights of the video room but did receive the attention for a review. The best phrase I can use to describe these are ‘beauty and beast.’ These wines left indelible impressions on my palate and not always in a good way. Below are some of the best AND worst wines I’ve tasted this year.
Former Chateau St. Michelle wine maker Michael Januik continues his quality tradition at Januik Winery. During our visit to Woodinville in September 2009, sister properties Januik and Novelty Hill were a favorite stop. The ultra modern facility provided one of the more unique tasting room visits we have experienced. The Klipsun Vineyard Merlot was bold in flavor but soft in presentation. The multiple layers of fruit included raspberry and red currants along with thick milk chocolate layers. The wine leaned toward a medium full body and offered an extremely well balanced and soft finish that whispered hints of vanilla and candied cherries. At $30, this Merlot was perfect for a night cap sip, with desert, or along-side chicken parmesan, lamb or roasted duck. 4/5
I am a fan of Zinfandel. I’ve been on a search for the quintessential Washington State Zin, and hoped I had found it at Hard Row to Hoe. This big full bodied fruit attack is from Milbrandt Vineyards and is a blast of jammy strawberry and blackberry in the mouth accompanied by a pinch of pepper on the finish. Sadly, I learned that Milbrandt removed their Zinfandel vines after the 2006 vintage leaving me on the continued quest for a sinful Washington Zin. The wine is big and slightly hot and best enjoyed on its own. The $35 price tag may seem hefty when comparing to quality Seghesio from California, but the Hard Row stands tall as a big and dynamic wine. 4/5
Rated 90pts by Wine Enthusiast
Maison Bleue has burst on to the scene with quality Rhone varietal wines from Horse Heaven Hills and around Prosser, WA. As I tasted through the line-up of wine, the Roussanne stood out among the others for its unique flavors of honey, apples and sweet peaches. Beautiful floral notes permeate the nose. Even with a 4.7% residual sugar, the sweetness of the wine is perfectly balanced with the acidity. A refreshingly “low” alcohol of 12.7%ABV is hardly noticeable in this dangerous summer delight. A bright crisp finish surprises at the end. The Alder Ridge and Six Prong Vineyards provide great fruit for this stainless steel fermented wine. At only $20, this is easily one of the more memorable wines I’ve experienced for the month. 4+/5
Rated 91pts by Wine Enthusiast
A glass of sweet elegant gold is a good way to describe this opulent desert wine. The 2007 R.A. Harrison Nobility is an addiction waiting to happen. I’m not a lover of syrupy sweet wines. I tend to avoid dessert wine tastings. I kept waiting for the opportunity to get the Nobility on camera. Just sitting in its 375ml bottle, it boasted super star qualities. The casting call never came and the 78% Napa Sauv Blanc and 22% Sonoma Semillon ended up stealing the supporting role for the month. The 12.2% residual sugar may make you think simple sweet Taylor Swift but this wine has a dangerously sexy and seductive quality of the mature Heidi Klum. Amazing flavors of honey, almonds, peach syrup and gardenias fully envelop the entire palate. While I know to enjoy this wine in small quantities, the bottle kept beckoning me back for more. $75; 4+/5
The Osborne Seven non-vintage red blend is available in the Octavin Home Wine Bar packaging. The premise is a four bottle package that utilizes a non-oxygen permeable bladder and spigot that keeps wine fresh for up to six weeks. If you could stomach this wine for six weeks, then this would be a value. At only $22 ($5.50 per bottle) the blend of 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Tempranillo, 8% Grenache, and 8% Graciano makes for a less than desirable combination. The juice is thin, tepid and extremely disjointed. The berry flavors seem tart and under ripe and while the tannin is smooth on the finish the blast of alcohol and bitterness ruin any hope this wine has. This wine is not a value at any price. It was given several chances to perform over a three week period and ended up down the drain. 1/5 – There are better ways to spend your money.
The eclectic mix of 51% Malvasia Bianca, 14% Muscat Canelli, 13% Viognier, 10% Gruner Veltliner, 5% Pinot Gris, 4% White Riesling offer a unique tasting experience. Flavors of melons and sweet tropical fruits are gentle on the palate. An unfortunate steely bitterness pervades the finish causing a very disjointed tasting experience. At $22 for the four bottle Octavin packaging, some may consider this a good value. Personally, I prefer the Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc or the Monthaven Chardonnay for wine bar value whites. Combining this wine with spicy chicken and serving extra chilled helped considerably. 2/5
22 Sep 2010
I first met Cheryl Hodgins at Taste Washington in Spokane. This fireball of energy nearly tackled me when I saw her from across the room. We chatted about Skylite Cellars and even did a brief interview for the Washington Wine Commission (which either I dreamed up or got lost in cyberspace because I can’t find it anywhere). One thing I learned from chatting with Cheryl, she is passionate about wine and Walla Walla.
Skylite Cellars brings together a big city radio entrepreneur and a small town farm girl. Tom Hodgins was busy in the radio industry and Cheryl was content driving a tractor around the farm. Wine and travel brought these two love birds together. That love eventually led to diving into the wine business. In 2000 the Hodgins’ invested in Ash Hollow Vineyards with several other winemakers and the following year, Cheryl’s father planted a few acres of wine grapes in what would eventually be known as Skylite Vineyards. In 2003 the journey to full fledged winery was complete with the addition of wine maker Robert Smasne.
With only a few vintages under their belt, Skylite Cellars is making quite a name for themselves. Their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received 90 points from Paul Gregutt, Gold in the Seattle Wine Awards, and Double Gold at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition. During the #Cabernet day review, the wine performed very strong against two Caymus Vineyards Napa, CA wines with a strong 4/5.
Skylite Cellars has two locations in Walla Walla. Their production and main tasting room is located off the old Highway 12 close to L’Ecole, Woodward Canyon and Waterbrook Winery. You can also visit them in downtown Walla Walla in the historic Quinn building on 2nd and Rose Ave (just steps from the Marcus Whitman Hotel).
- The Stuff: 100% Walla Walla Cabernet that was aged 22 months in new American oak; 14%ABV
- The Swirl: A nice dark crimson purple color with about 90% opacity. Rich in color.
- The Sniff: Big a$$ cherry fruit. One you get around the bright cherries you pick up some campfire smoke. Dark red fruit dominates the aroma.
- The Sip: Amazed at the integration of the American oak in this wine. The mouth feel is dominated by big red cherry fruit that is smooth and lush. The tannins are medium and very well balanced. A quick finish ends up with a touch of alcohol head.
- The Score: At $28 the Skylite Cabernet is a very well made wine with a slick polish. If you like cherries, you’re going to love this wine. 3+/5
- The Stuff: 51% Malbec, 33% Cab, and 16% Carmenere make up this blend. Each barrel was chosen for their unique character and quality to be considered for the Reserve. Various combinations of French and American oak; 13.9%ABV
- The Swirl: Glassy purple center with bright purple pearl colors around the edges of the glass
- The Sniff: Strong aroma of blueberry and vanilla. A subtle hint of cinnamon rounds out this opulent nose. There may not be a lot of dynamic scents but what is there is full bodied.
- The Sip: A wine you want to just let sit in your mouth. Lush layers of blueberry and blackberry fruit envelop your tongue. After a few seconds a perfectly balanced spice of cracked black pepper and cinnamon create an additional layer in the wine flavor. The finish is bright and the acidity prepares your mouth for the next stip.
- The Score: At $47 this is a wine that is out of reach for quite a few people. If you have a chance to buy this by the glass or find it on sale (especially if you love Malbec), don’t hesitate. This wine would be a treat for any special occasion and the massive blueberry and vanilla flavors would win over almost any non red wine drinker! 4/5
07 Sep 2010
“How do you taste wine online?” “Is it just me or am I the only one who doesn’t get mass twitter wine tastings?” These are a few of the questions, I’ve heard related to the “taste and tweet” phenomenon. What is the benefit to the mass twitter fury, chatter, and tweet noise? I’ve participated in about a dozen online wine taste and tweet events. Some are small affairs featuring one wine from one winery with a group of 10-15 people. Others are massive world-wide tastings that bring together consumers, trade, aficionados, and beginners for the joy of the grape. The benefits of participating are many!
The intimate twitter tastings have been fun and informative. Experiencing 1 or 2 wines with a group of people, and often times with the winery, opens up my eyes to new things about the business of wine and the joy of drinking it. Each time I walk away with at least one new piece of information and one new twitter friend.
Mass online wine tasting events are an adventure and can often be overwhelming as you sift through the incredible cacophony of chirps and tweets. The recent #Cabernet day, while organized by Rick Bakas of St. Supery winery, quickly grew to be owned by the entire online community. A true use of the organic nature of social media, #Cabernet day was celebrated in New Zealand, Australia, many European countries, South America and North America. I even saw tweets from China as Brian Wing of norcalwingman.com struggled to find good #Cabernet. Several dozen wineries in Walla Walla joined together for a trade celebration. Large meet-ups were organized in Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, New York and more. Morton’s Steakhouse restaurant chain promoted #Cabernet day at all of their locations. Five Spokane wineries got on board offering discounts to Cabernet lovers across the city. The result, the king grape Cabernet, showed its worldwide dominance. Pretty amazing for something that started as a single tweet. There is power in an interconnected community that embraces a collaborative spirit.
As I tweeted and tasted three amazing #Cabernet Sauvignon, a few things came to mind. One, wow, people love their Cabernet. The sheer volume of tweets and participants dwarfed the previous tastings I’ve hosted and participated in. Two, consumers were everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of tweets and Facebook wall posts from people not in the “trade” consumed my feed. Three, where was the media or power players? Apart from a large presence from WineLibrary.com and Corkd.com, I saw very little interaction and involvement from those who are proponents and communicators of wine news. Where was Wine Enthusiast or Wine Advocate? How come bloggers and writers like Dr. Vino, Vinography, Tom Wark and others weren’t involved? While I can’t claim to know their schedule or their reasons, it was just a curious observation.
As a newbie to the online community, involvement for me means connecting with people. Keeping up with the blur of tweets is an overwhelming challenge but tasting along with everyone else exposes me to new people and also helps introduce my blog to fellow wine lovers. As a blogger, I want people to read my blog. I write about wine. How often do you get the opportunity to potentially touch 2000-3000 like minded people at once with your brand? For me, not being involved is a missed opportunity in my book.
Before I talk about #Cabernet day stats, it is helpful to put it in perspective with other successful broad scale online tastings. Bakas’ first event of the year, #CaliCabs generated about 1400 tweets from 275 participants. Our first Washington based tasting, #WAMerlot, brought 480 people together online for 1900 tweets. On May 6, #Chardonnay swelled to over 600 participants. Earlier in the summer, winetonite.com , suburbanwino.com, and sipwithme.blogspot.com hosted Pinot Noir with 2000 tweets by 325 people. This brings us to #Cabernet. Buzz leading up to the day indicated that the event was going to be massive. The twitter machines seemed to be coming alive with a love of #Cabernet. The result (according to www.wthashtag.com):
7200 tweets by nearly 1750 individuals
In addition to tracking tweets, Booshaka.com indicates that there were over 3500 Facebook wall posts mentioning Cabernet. This, combined with the 50+ in person tasting events easily drives potential participation rates to well north of 3000 people. Imagine the wine sales! Consider the economic impact! Keep in mind the total dollar amount spent to promote the event – $0
Upcoming Online Tasting Events
The NectarView – Hip Hip Hooray for my Cabernet
- The Stuff: 100% Cabernet from three Walla Walla vineyard sources. No specific information available on web site. 13.5% ABV, winemaker Robert Smasne
- The Swirl: Dark in the glass with about 70% opacity. Wonderfully thick with a slight cloudiness
- The Sniff: Initially the wine presented a musty barrel room smell. After about an hour of decanting the nose came a live with cedar, dark cherry aromas, tobacco, and hints of burnt campfire wood (like right after you douse it with water).
- The Sip: Very impressed with the mouth fell of the wine. An immediate attack of cherry fruit envelopes your whole mouth and then dissipates to include black tea and dark chocolate. The oak is well integrated and the finish is full with smoother tannin and nice acidity.
- The Score: At only $32 this is a superb Cabernet that outperforms the price point. Drinks well with or without food but really shined when paired with our dinner, Guinness Angus burgers and blue cheese. 4/5
Scored 90 pts Wine Advocate and won gold at the 2010 Seattle Wine Awards
- The Stuff: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from various Napa Valley vineyards; 16 months in new French oak; 15.2%ABV; winemaker Chuck Wagner
- The Swirl: Medium body color with crimson highlights in the deep purple hue
- The Sniff: Coy nose with moderate fragrances of cranberry, vanilla and chocolate milk
- The Sip: A very smooth and elegant presentation of a Cabernet that offers up flavors of spiced oak, creamy vanilla and under ripe red berries. The mid-palate feels slightly hollow and the finish offers silky tannin and moderate acidity. Surprising balance with the high ABV as it’s not noticeable.
- The Score: At $60, this isn’t a big full bodied Cabernet that I would expect (especially for the age). The flavor is quite nice and will certainly impress even your most discriminating wine friends. I appreciated the easy sipping and well balanced flavor. 3+/5
- The Stuff: 100% Cabernet from select barrels of various Napa Valley vineyards. 16 months of new French oak; 15.4%ABV
- The Swirl: The dark purple colors are nearly opaque. The clarity is like liquid jewelry and the light refracts across the top.
- The Sniff: Vibrant aromas of eucalyptus, menthol, dark chocolate, and vanilla. A slight under-ripe red berry note is also detectable
- The Sip: An impressively well made wine that showcases the balance of fruit, oak treatment, and Napa Valley Cabernet. The wine has a flavor of thick cream, under-ripe red berries, and what I would imagine an evergreen tree to taste like. The finish is full and lush and the tannins have a surprisingly smooth velvet finish with only a slight chalkiness on the back end.
- The Score: Not many people have $120 to drop on a bottle of wine. If 2008 is a special year for you (celebrating a birth or a wedding), I can definitely recommend this wine as a buy and hold. The Special Selection performs nicely now, but will definitely live up to its price point in 7-10 years. 4/5
Check out this great video from Caymus Vineyards about part of the wine making process.
*Wine was provided as an industry sample with the intention to review