I spent my summer vacation in central Virginia, wine tasting. The timing could not have been any better. My nephew Chris graduated from Randolph Macon College, my brother-in-law opened a store on route 250, and I had just read a New York Times article about the new wine country – Virginia. Let’s roll!
Kings Family Vineyards
6550 Roseland Farm
Crozet, VA 22932
My first stop was at Kings Family Vineyards. I did a sampling of their Michael Shaps reds. Up to this point in my wine tasting excursions, I’ve only sampled reds, particularly Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Shiraz/Syrah’s, Bordeaux’s, and Burgundy’s. I started off heavy on the Bordeaux’s, worked my way through California Cabs, continued up the west coast into Oregon and Washington for some Merlots, Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Sauvignons, back to France for a France/California Pinot Noir comparison, and finally to the southern hemisphere to The Land Down Under for Shiraz. I must admit that I do like a good Bordeaux, and the Michael Shaps Merlots are Bordeaux style wines for sure. The Michael Shaps 2003 Monticello Merlot is young and tight. After letting it breathe for 30 – 45 minutes, it loosened up to plum and ripe fruit on the nose and tongue. I asked one of the pourers if they had any older wines, and it just so happened that they have a Michael Shaps 2002 Merlot ready for release next month, they are selling some bottles now, but they are not part of the tastings. The pourer described the 2002 so well that I bought a bottle without a sample, and I’m glad I did! The 2002 Michael Shaps Merlot is very good and will be featured in the VAVino mid July Wine Tasting. This 2002 Merlot has a nice brick color, rose on the nose, earth tones and a slight hint of tobacco on the tongue. It has very rich tannins and a dark finish. It went down a little smoother than the 2003. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was simultaneously tasting both the 2002 and 2003 Merlots out on the veranda totally enjoying the mountain scenery and catching a really mellow buzz when I looked up and my mother-in-law and my aunt were walking towards me. Life is good. They joined me and I went inside to get two more glasses for them. My Aunt went in to taste and came out with the Michael Shaps Viognier. The King Family Estate has a really nice atmosphere about it, and if you like a wine that is complex, get your hands on a bottle of their 2002 Merlot. Better yet, buy more than one for the cellar.
5282 Sugar Ridge Rd.
White Hall, VA 22987
Marcus, my other nephew, didn’t have to work, and he knows where all the vineyards are located, so he volunteered to drive me around to check them out. I think he was really enjoying driving the BMW too, and I was happy to have a designated driver. Let’s roll!
Marcus told me that he heard good things about White Hall so we went there first. It’s located on route 810, and they are closed on Monday and Tuesday, but we didn’t know that until we got there (bummer). However, while standing at the door, I could see someone approaching. It was the owner. Antony Champ opened the door and told us that he normally isn’t opened, but he was having a private tasting and asked if we’d like to join (why, hell yes, I said to myself), “certainly!”, I exclaimed with glee. We started off tasting the whites. I’m not particularly fond of white wine, but I wasn’t going to tell Antony that I only want to sample his reds because I was honored that he allowed us to join his party. I was glad I tried his whites though, because the 2004 Petit Manseng was excellent! I was seriously pleasantly surprised by the taste. He explained that they do whole cluster pressing of the white grapes, and after that we tasted many more whites, but the 2004 Petit Manseng stopped me cold in my tracks. After tasting all the whites, he took us on a tour and explained the technique he uses for the reds which is called Remontage. Remontage is a process in which the grape skins rise to the top of the tank forming a thick cap of skins floating on the surface. The cap is then punched down, breaking it up to allow the juice to flow more freely in and around the solids in the tank. This process increases the Tannin level which promotes long term cellaring. After the tour, we went back upstairs to taste the reds (Yes!).
2003 was not a good year for Virginia wine producers due to the large amount of rainfall, but White Hall was able to harvest select grapes for their 2003 Merlot vintage. I must admit that it is very good. The 2002 Michael Shaps Merlot is an excellent Bordeaux style wine, but the 2003 White Hall Merlot is a very tasty, very rich textured wine, made in the American style. The color is ruby red to the edge producing beautiful uniform legs streaming down the sides of the glass. A hint of oak combined with ripe cherry on the nose gives it a balanced bouquet. Strawberry, cherry, and a semi dry finish is detected on the tongue. I’m telling you that the White Hall wines are very good and reasonably priced! Let me reiterate that the White Hall wines are very good ,and reasonably priced! Compared to other 2003 Monticello Merlots that I’ve had so far, and granted, I haven’t been to all of the vineyards in Virginia, this one is definitely, in my opinion, a Best Buy. I didn’t want to wear out my welcome, so I bought a bottle of the 2003 Merlot, the Petit Manseng, and a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Marcus and I hit the road…
As soon as we walked through the door, I could tell this one was a party already started. There were about 6 other folks well into a tasting and they were all sideways. The pourers were young, and cool. The atmosphere was hip and fresh. The pouring began right away and was constant. They poured, I swirled, sipped, tasted, put my glass down – on to the next sample. Marcus had received a call from his aunt Z before we got to the place and she was on her way. I got through the tasting and bought a bottle of the 2001 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon. Marcus took my Nikon and began shooting the vineyard while I settled in with my bottle at a picnic table. About halfway through the bottle, Z and her friend Jesse arrives, bottle in hand, ready to begin. Z is into wine culture also, so we had a great time discussing her 01 Old Vine Estate Bottled Chardonnay and my Cab. The 01 Cab/S was garnet in color and had buttery fruit, strawberry and a hint of oak on the nose. It’s complex with toast, oak, cherry, and strawberry. We were pretty well toasted when we went trudging off into the vineyard for a look see. We finished off our bottles and decided to hit another winery and call it a day. Afton Mountain Vineyards is a very cool place to hang out – no doubt.
Jesse doesn’t drink so he took off, leaving Marcus, Z, and myself heading for Veritas. Veritas is upscale for sure, and can accommodate a very large group of folks in a hip, posh atmosphere like the kind you’ll find in D.C. You can either stand at the bar, sit comfy (sink deeply) in one of many chairs or couches, or take a table. Very warm colors, and a very comfortable laid back setting. In order for us to evaluate the vintages, we took a table. Our minds were prime for evaluating because our heads were still abuzz from Afton. Let the slurping begin!
2004 Sauvignon Blanc – Aged in stainless steel but it had oak flavors, with just the right amount of tartness, and a long melon finish.
2003 Chardonnay – Aged in stainless steel. Ripe fruit and vanilla (I simply adore the taste of vanilla and/or butterscotch on the tongue).
2003 Reserve Chardonnay – Hint of vanilla and butter
2003 Rose – This is simply an adorable wine! 14% Cabernet Franc; 86% Merlot. I bought this one and will evaluate it again when I return to Nashville along with other wines I bought, but particularly the Rose’s. This Rose and the Petit Manseng from White Hall has peaked my curiosity about this blend. Further investigations are needed…
2003 Cabernet Franc – Tannic
2003 Claret – Fruity
2003 Meritage – This one is blended with the grape variety known as Tannat. Again, further investigations are needed!
2002 Vintners Reserve – Another very good bottle which will require further investigation when I return to Nashville. My notes will include the details. Bottom line is, if I bought it, it was good. I bought this one.
By this time Z, and I were very well toasted, laughing, and having a great time. I remember right before the 2002 Vintners Reserve arrived, Z asked me what I thought of the 2003 Meritage. I told her “it sucks”, but I said it so loud that the pourer, whom was standing there unbeknownst to me, replied “I heard that”, and everyone within earshot roared into laughter! It was great. 2003 was not a good year for the wineries in Virginia due to the wet, and everyone knows it, but what can you do? You make do with what you have and move on. The 2002’s are tasty and there are some 2003’s that are not bad, and I mentioned them previously. The most important thing is to have a good time, and that’s what Virginia wineries are about – Good times with good wines.
We loaded up our booty, and Marcus drove us home…
1353 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, VA 22902
"We could, in the United States, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good." Thomas Jefferson.
My wife and I, with our nephew Chris as our designated driver, headed for the Jefferson Vineyards on our last day in Virginia. We sampled many wines but the one that stood out the most to both of us was the 2002 Meritage. As a matter of fact, my wife told me to buy it, and made the purchase of it very clear to me! It is truly a treasure. 57% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Franc; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol, full of flavor. Royal purple in color with lots of legs streaming down in a uniform tight nit group. I personally like to see the formation of legs in a wine, because there’s just something beautiful about it. The truth is that the more alcohol a wine has, the more legs that particular wine will produce, nothing more, nothing less. Legs have nothing to do with a wines quality. There’s still something beautiful about seeing them though, and my wife and I both adore it! The key to legs is balance. I do not want a wine to taste of alcohol. I want to smell/taste the grapes, not the alcohol, and the 2002 Meritage is classy in its complexity without the taste of alcohol. On the nose, ripe red fruits are distinguished along with hints of earth, oak and a touch of cinnamon. The finish is dry but the flavors linger on the back of the throat. Bordeaux is written all over this one, and I love the Bordeaux style, I must admit! Ripe fresh fruits, very flavorful, very complex, with a lingering finish to the end. I raise my glass to one of our nations forefathers, Thomas Jefferson, whom had a love for the wines of Bordeaux, and brought his love for wine to Virginia.