Tasting at James River Cellars

Virginia is for Wine Lovers!  I’m not joking.  According to the Virginia Wine Board’s website there are 251 wineries in the State.

Recently, I trekked to the Richmond area where I managed to have a Virginia wine experience.  While there are a number of wineries within a reasonable driving distance from Richmond proper, the closest is probably James River Cellars just north of Richmond in Glen Allen.

The winery is easy to get to – a short way off I-95 on US Route 1.  The winery is set back from the road, and the drive up to the tasting room takes you past a driving range.  When I stepped in the front door, I was immediately greeted by the winery staff.  Friendly and knowledgeable, the staff took me through a full range of wine options for the very modest fee of $5.  Normally, the fiver gets you samples of 13 different selections.  If you’re lucky – like I was on my visit – they may have an additional selection or two open which they will share as well.  Below are the wines I got to try.


Regular Tasting:
2013 Reserve Chardonnay
2014 Chardonnay (un-oaked)
2014 Petit Manseng
2013 Vidal Blanc
2013 Rad Red – 43% Cabernet Franc, 30% Petit Verdot, 20% Chancellor, 7% Sangiovese
2012 Cabernet Franc
2012 Monitor vs CSS Virginia – 47% Cabernet Franc, 44% Merlot, 9% Tannat
2012 Meritage – 45% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Peti Verdot
2014 Montpelier – 63% Pinot Gris, 20% Chardonel, 17% Chambourcin
2014 Hanover White – 45% Chardonel, 45% Pinot Gris, 5% Petit Manseng, 5% Muscat
2013 Chambourcin
2013 Real Santa Red – 58% Merlot, 42% Touriga Nacional

Bonus:
2014 Chardonel
2012 Petit Verdot
2012 Hanover Red – Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Touriga Nacional

There was a lot to take in during this tasting.  Even so, I thought they had a number of selections I might like to buy.  The Reserve Chardonnay had bright acidity, a silky mouthfeel and citrus flavors including lemon and grapefruit.; the Petit Manseng had flavors of spiced stone fruits; their Petit Verdot was smoky and earthy; and there are two wines I’d call specialty wines which would make great additions to holiday celebrations.

Those specialty wines are the Chambourcin and Real Santa Red – a blend of Merlot and Touriga Nacional.  The winemaker has added sugar to the Chambourcin which for me makes it a bit like berry (cranberry?) sauce in a bottle.  It is definitely a dessert wine, in my opinion.  Then there is the Real Santa Red to which they have added cinnamon.  Although not dessert-wine sweet like the Chambourcin, I think Real Santa Red would be a nice accompaniment to holiday pies (apple, pumpkin, cherry, etc.) and cakes.

If you find yourself in the area, you should definitely stop by the winery.  If you can’t make it to the folks at James River, their wines can be purchased from the winery and shipped or at a number of retailers in Central Virginia.  See their website at jamesrivercellars.com for details.

 

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Horton Norton 2011

This is the second of the two selections I brought back from the Vintage Virginia 2013 wine festival.  The brief sample I got at the Horton booth put this wine on my “buy” list.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was a varietal I’d never tasted.  I enjoy new wine experiences.  And then there was the name.  The name of the wine made me immediately think of Dr. Seuss.  You know … Horton Hears a Who.  But in this case, Horton Makes a Norton.  OK!  I’ll admit that I have a warped imagination and sense of humor.

Horton Vineyards is a winemaker in Gordonsville, VA.  Given that the Norton grape varietal – named for it’s creator Dr. Daniel Norton – was first grown in Virginia, this seems like a natural fit.  From it’s origins in the Richmond area, Norton cultivation has spread to the Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest.  Evidently, the Missouri wine industry relies heavily on the Norton.  This selection, however, is from it’s home turf.

Winemaker:  Horton Vineyards
Varietal:  Norton
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Monticello, Virginia AVA
Price:  $15.00

Notes:  Not only do I like tasting varietals that are new to me, but I also like pleasant surprises.  This wine, my friends, was truly a pleasant surprise.  In the glass the Norton Horton made was a deep purple.  On the nose I smelled tangy berries, earth, spice and violets.  It was medium-bodied with good acidity and dry at 13% alcohol.  The flavors for me were dark sweet berries at the fore (blackberry, black currant), a hint of pepper, notes of black plum and hints of fruit bread as well.  Tannins were soft but present.  On the finish I found a green, leafy note and cranberry.  While I’m sure the wine could pair well with food, this is the kind of vino I like to just sip on it’s own because as it runs the palate you get an enjoyable variety of flavor experiences.  It’s also a well balanced red in my opinion.  The Norton wines were called Virginia Claret in the 1800’s, and there is something of the more restrained European tradition in this selection.  I enjoyed it and was glad to note recently that it is available at my local Safeway!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Williamsburg Winery Governor’s White 2011

This is a winery that has some serious history behind it.  You know that wine-making in the U.S. started in Virginia.  Right?  After all, the Twelfth Acte of 1619 required that each settler plant at least 10 vines on his property for the purpose of making wine.  A few years later — a mere 369 years — the first Governor’s White from Williamsburg Winery was released.

While this is not one of the wines I brought home from Vintage Virginia 2013, I thought it would be a good time to sample this offering from one of the largest players in the Virginia wine industry.  They were at the festival, but they weren’t pouring this particular wine.  Instead, I bought this at my neighborhood grocery store.  That being said, the label clearly indicates that this wine is available in Virginia only.  Bummer!  You can buy it direct from the winery, but they only ship to 19 States plus D.C.

Winemaker:  Williamsburg Winery
Wine:  Governor’s White
Varietal:  Riesling
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Virginia
Price:  $11.49

Notes:  This Virginia Riesling is a pretty pale yellow in the glass.  On the nose I got scents of apple and peach.  On the tongue this was a light-bodied white with good acidity.  Flavors for me were plentiful peach with green apple, some hints of pear and apple peel on the finish.  It’s brisk while providing plenty of fruit flavor.  Alcohol is at 12.5% which gives this Governor’s White a light sweetness without it becoming cloying.  On the tart-versus-sweet-o-meter, I’d put this one down more on the tart side (but not tremendously so).  Of course, that’s right in the strike zone for my taste buds.  I enjoyed it.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

First Colony Chardonnay 2011

This is the first of the two selections I brought back with me from the Vintage Virginia 2013 wine festival a few weeks ago.  This is a winery that was new to me, and I was intrigued enough by a quick sip or two of their wines to want to experience more.  I probably would have purchased more than just one bottle then if I’d had the room to tote them home with me.

First Colony makes a couple of Chardonnays.  One is labeled Estate Reserve and spends some eighteen months in a combination of new American and neutral French oak barrels.  This one, on the other hand, is unoaked.

Winemaker:  First Colony Winery
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Monticello, Virginia AVA
Price:  $14.00

Notes:  This Virginia Chardonnay was a medium yellow in the glass with a tinge of goldenrod.  On the nose I detected light fig and citrus with some floral hints.  It was a medium-bodied Chardonnay, and the acidity was fairly lively.  On the palate I tasted fig, citrus, brown spice, and the slightest touch of butter with a nice grassy finish.  Alcohol is at 11.4%, but it didn’t present as a sweet wine.  I definitely enjoyed the fact that the flavor profile was just a tad outside the “usual” for Chardonnays I run across.  I liked it.   By the way, the winemaker says this wine presents with banana, lime and kiwi flavors.  Maybe my taster was off this go-round, but I’m sticking with my notes.  If you give it a try, please post a comment and let me know what you think.  Either way, I thought it was a pleasant Chardonnay that would pair very nicely with some succulent summer barbecue – chicken or pork, your choice.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Vintage Virginia 2013 – Where Vintners Battled At Bull Run

This past weekend I went out into the Northern Virginia countryside (not so country anymore, really) to taste what the Virginia wineries had to offer at Vintage Virginia 2013.  Held at the Bull Run Special Events Center in Centerville, VA, this year’s wine festival hosted some 40 wineries along with an assortment of food and goods vendors.

First, let me say that my experience was a little different than most.  Why?  Well (he said sheepishly), because I decided to bike to the event.  Ha!!  Never having been out to the venue before, I placed my trust in an online maps program to get me there safely via bicycle.  Unfortunately, the maps aren’t quite complete for bikers.  By that I mean I discovered on my trek out that the directions I had were missing large chunks of the route.  So what was slated to take me 1.5 hours in one direction took 3 as I wended my way through the streets of Northern Virginia looking for bicycle-friendly passages to get me to my destination.

Peck_VintageVA2013_3

Once I got there, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the event.  It was well-planned.  As this was the 32nd iteration, I suppose they’ve had the chance to work out all the kinks.  For those who drove, there was ample parking with parking attendants helping people get to and from their spots in an organized fashion.  Check-in was a snap, in part because I had purchased my ticket online and printed it at home.  But the will-call and ticket purchase booths didn’t have extensive lines either.  The wineries and vendors were located in tents, stalls and trucks (food trucks!) thoughtfully arranged across a hillside that overlooked a big stage where music acts entertained while festival-goers tasted, sampled, drank, ate, learned, and bought.  They even had an awesome service allowing those who were buying in bulk (too much to carry around or through the festival grounds) to pick up their wine in a tent right in the parking area.

Of course, I didn’t get a chance to taste all the wines or even wines from all the wineries.  Still, I did my best to get to as many as I could reasonably sample.  It was great to see that the festival attracted a mix of old and new wineries – big and small.  Prince Michel of Leon, VA was there along with Williamsburg Winery (sharing a very yummy pre-release Merlot) and Horton Vineyards, too.  New to me were First Colony Winery (with two nice Chardonnays and a refreshing white blend called Zephry), Oak Crest Vineyards (using Symphony grapes to good effect in almost a Gewürtztraminer style and whose unexpectedly fun selection called  Hot Jazz is fortified with jalapeno peppers), Rosemont Vineyards (with a red blend of note called Kilravock), Trump Winery (their Blanc de Blanc was by far the best sparkling wine I tasted that day) and Lake Anna Winery (whose Cab Franc and Claret were both enjoyable wines and whose staff I found to be among the most knowledgeable at the tasting tables).

Since I was there at Vintage Virginia under one humanpower and no horsepower, I wasn’t in a position to take advantage of the bulk buying service.  Instead, I had to content myself with carrying away a mild sunburn along with  just a couple of select bottles and the wine glass I was issued for my day of tasting.  The glass was included in my entrance fee.  I promise to share my thoughts on those two wines when I have the chance to pop the cork on each.

Again, I had a very good time at the festival.  Kudos to everyone involved in putting Vintage Virginia 2013 together, and a special thanks to my fellow wine enthusiasts who kindly gave me plenty of clearance as they zipped past me on the road out of Bull Run Park.  One last note: I got completely soaked in a summer rain shower on the way home.  Well, it was a MEMORABLE day!!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.