Archive for the ‘Wine Varietals’ Category

Old House Vineyards Tasting Room

Granted there are many “old houses” in Culpeper, but only one houses a vineyard and winery with a talented, young winemaker by the name of Damien Blanchon.  As I drove up to the stately farm house of Old House Vineyards, I was brought back in time, and as Damien led me through the tasting room and private event dining room, both with fireplaces, the ambience of the exterior architecture continued within.  It feels like a B&B, and in fact they do have some rooms to let, if you are attending a private wine dinner in the dining room. It is marvelous that owners, Pat and Allyson Kearney, decided to keep the rooms as they were.  Just some painting and floor refinishing, and what they created is a most inviting and charming series of tasting areas.  I can only imagine that it is next to impossible to get people to leave!  Granted, I am a sucker for classic old farm houses with big sweeping porches, dark wood mouldings and fireplaces.  I just wanted to move in!  And combine that classic homey ambience with fabulous wines and a picnic lunch.   

Damien told me that Old House has 22 acres under vine and he only uses Estate grapes in the 3,000 case production.  Planted in the vineyard is Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and some newly-planted Tannat, not yet in production. BTW – Tannat is a main varietal from where Damien hails from in Peripignan, Southwest France.  Born into a family of viticulturists, Damien started his education in his Grandfather’s vineyard. He then went on to receive his  degree in viticulture and enology at the College of Agriculture LEGTA Charlemagne in Carcassonne.  Coming to the United States to make wine was a decision led by his desire to experiment with different growing conditions, varietals and the freedom to blend any range of varietals that he so desires.

Damien Blanchon

The first wine we tasted in the cellar was the ’09 Vidal Blanc Clover Hill. Aged in stainless steel and with a malolactic fermentation this wine sang of pear on the nose.  Fresh and lively, it is the dry VB of the portfolio. 

The first Chardonnay ’09 was barrel femented in a neutral barrel and is resting ‘sur lies.’  Damien also stirred the lies to prevent oxidation, and then did a malolactic fermentation. So you can imagine the roundness on the palate, yet acidity bounced in at the  back end.  The second Chardonnay ’09 is aging in a ‘toastier’ barrel and that showed in a nice way.  These Chards will age  for one year in the barrels.  

The Cabernet Franc ’09 is bright, light and fruity, and well-balanced.  It will be a great picnic & BBQ red.

Chambourcin ’09 is blended with some Cabernet Franc and is just wild strawberry fruity!  It reminded me of picking wild strawberries in the field behind my childhood home in Maine.  The second Chambourcin ’09 went through a cold soak and longer maceration.  This will be used in the Bacchanalia blend….a favorite of Old House’s customers.

Damien Blanchon

The Late Harvest ’09 Chambourcin grapes were immediately refrigerated, then de-stemmed and put into a stainless steel tank, and is now aging in a barrel.  I really like red dessert wines and this is soooo South of France!  And even for the summer, it would be great with a cheese course of Blues and Cheddars, oh throw in some Epoisses, too.

Ahhh…the Petit Verdot ’09….I am becoming a fan of this varietal as a single-varietal wine.  This PV is still in a fresh, young stage and showing good acidity.  PV is a grape that delivers a good level of acidity, another good reason for its blending capacity, but works in its favor as a single varietal.  This wine will be aging for another year.   In the meantime, The Petit Verdot ’08 is a classic inky, full bodied PV that will be released in the Bacchanalia blend this summer.  Damien is still deciding on the final blend, but it may be something like 50% Petit Verdot, 30% Chambourcin, 25% Cabernet Franc…you heard it here first.    

The ’09 Vidal Blanc Late Harvest has been fermenting since December and has about 3 more weeks.  Then it will be racked and held in a stainless steel tank; then racked again and transferred to barrels to age for maybe one year….for as long as Damien decides it needs to.  He is planning to release it towards the end of 2010…. maybe in time for Christmas.

I have never tasted a Port made from Chambourcin, and I was surprised to see that it’s amber color.  The ’09 has brandy added to stop the fermentation….and that is called ‘mutage’…en Français.  This is a very South France style, Vin du Naturel.  Two barrels will be aging for 3 years….oh, take off that frown, because Damien is aging another batch for 1.5 years, that of course, will be available sooner.  Besides, the ’08 Port is available in the tasting room.  Although, I can’t wait for that 3-year aged batch…let’s see 3 years aging, bottled, released oh sometime around 2013.  Yikes!! Considering the Ancient Mayans predicted total earthly devastation in 2012…pffft, never mind.  I shall remain positive that we will be imbibing in this nectar. I don’t think even the Ancient Mayans prediction will convince Damien to decrease the time of aging. 

Current Releases – no more teasing of wines to come.  These are now available!  ’09 Vidal Blanc, this is the semi-sweet VB of the portfolio.  Damien did a skin maceration with this and delivered a 3% Residual Sugar.  BTW – it’s fructose sweetness vs. saccharin, which would result from adding sugar. Just thought you might want to know that.  The fermentation was stopped at 12.3% alcohol, so even though it’s semi-sweet wine, it’s not any higher in alcohol.  Yes, that is a license to drink more.  I’m planning to try this wine with grilled shrimp that I’ll marinate in a medium-spice curry paste, as a first course on greens.  Vidal Blanc is aromatic and expressive, and it’s semi-sweet nature should be an interesting pairing with the spicy shrimp.

2007 Bacchanalia, a blend  of Cabernet Franc, Tannat and Chambourcin.  I undersand why I had so many customers asking for this when I was on the floor at Frenchman’s Cellar in Culpeper.  A bold wine, but that strawberry thing with the Chambourcin softens it a bit and brings some female to the wine.  Along with the earthiness of the Cab Franc and tannic blackberry of Tannat in the blend, it really paired nicely with a Chicken Marsala I recently made, using Crimini mushrooms.  The richness of the Marsala wine sauce stood should-to-shoulder with this wine.

2008 Port – this is the older brother of the ’09 that is still aging in a  whiskey barrel.  Again, Damien used Chambourcin and it really works well for Port.  Perfect with a cheese course, or chocolatey dessert.  I can see just sipping it on late wintry evenings.

2006 Petillante, which translates as “bubbly, sparkling.”  This is a yeasty, biscuit-like sparkling with a long finish.  This elegant Sparkling is made every two years, and only 100 cases.  As you may know, it is a rather tedious endeavour to make premium Sparkling in the ‘methode traditionelle” style, hence the price tag generally. But at $35 for Petillante, it delivers for the price.  I can see this with foie gras as a first course; or with a lobster dish.  Today, I came across a suggested pairing of Dom Perignon with BBQ  ribs.  So, go for it!

"The Island" at Old House Vineyards

The biggest news from Old House is the introduction of their Lake Pavilion, an events venue that overlooks the “The Island,” which is perfect for wedding ceremonies.   This is the newest and most unique wedding venue addition to the region.  Imagine….dial in to your romance gene…strolling across the foot bridge over to the small island to say those vows. The Lakeside Pavilion is still having some final tweaks done, but will be ready in time for this season.  As an event planner in Napa and on the East End of Long Island, I’ve done lots of weddings in beautiful locations, and Old House Vineyards certainly delivers a top notch site that offers a gorgeous view and setting without any puffery.

Check out their upcoming winery events.




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Before coming to Virginia, I drank Viognier, but not very often and always from the Rhone/South of France.   My Virginia experience has brought me closer to Viognier and for that I am very thankful!   It is by far one of the most flexible white wines in which to pair with food.   Viognier is prolific with Virginia wineries, and you will find many with differing characteristics, to choose from.   Hence, the fact that Viognier is so very flexible in its pairing abilities is a culinary Godsend to the Virginia wine industry.  It has been suggested that it is the varietal, at least white varietal, to be seriously considered as the one that Virginia should put forth as its signature wine.  Petit Verdot and Norton are considerations for red wines.   History tells us that New World wine regions have achieved widespread recognition with a particular varietal…..the obvious being Napa with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Australia with Shiraz.  New Zealand with Sauvignon Blanc.   I guess time will tell which one the industry chooses as their hallmarks.   In the meantime…let’s just talk Viognier and some of the dishes I like to pair with it.

Viognier can express notes that range from citrus/lemon-lime, honeysuckle, to apricot, to floral and white peach, some minerality is always a good thing; and in the hands of a good winemaker will maintain freshness and acidity, while providing enough roundness on the palate to be an elegant dinner wine.  The introduction of malolactic/2nd fermentation, either wholly or partially, will secure that richness on the palate.  Leaving it ‘sur lies’ in the barrel, is another option.  The ripeness of the grapes is always essential for a wine to express the fruit’s characteristics at their best….and this is sooo true for Viognier. In the spirit of “when in Rome” I served Viognier for my first Thanksgiving in Virginia.  My palate told me that this would be a perfect pair, and it was right!!  I will not go into my traditional Thanksgiving menu details now.  Clearly, not the season and besides, what would I write about for Thanksgiving 2010.  My point is that in exploring Viognier, I discovered quickly its pairing potential.  Scallop and Bacon Chowder, Shrimp and Corn Chowder – staples of my winter comfort foods repertoire.  Roasted Guinea Hens or Chicken stuffed with apricots and wild rice….or, wait a minute, what about an Herbed Roasted Pork with an Apricot Chutney!  I am giddy with the possbilities.   Typically, Viognier is paired with exotic foods that encompass sweet spice – think Indian or Moroccan or Asian.  And I highly agree with that, and one of these days will purchase a Moroccan tagine and do just that.   But, for most folks making dinner for their family and friends, Indian or Moroccan may be a tad challenging.   

A lighter Viognier as an apéritif pairs nicely with hummus.  Sabra is a hummus brand that I like a lot.  The one with pine nuts, or the red roasted pepper, with some pita slices….a not-too-ripe brie, maybe warm with apricot or peach chutney…and some olives, would make a fabulous opening spread. 

I was convinced that I alone had figured out the Viognier and Thanksgiving pairing (I’m sure there are  VA wineries that would challenge me on that claim)…..but, very recently, when perusing Evan Goldstein’s Perfect Pairings, I discovered that he had beat me to the punch.  Pffft (as the French would say).  Okay, at least I can take solace in knowing that a published Master Sommelier, son of renowned Chef Joyce Goldstein, had come to the same pairing conclusion.  And having recently connected with Evan in the world of social media, I had my intro….Viognier and Thanksgiving and the conclusion that, as Evan says in his book, “Viognier is underrated in its ability to pair with food,”  OMIGOD, I’ve said that lots of times…really!!   I’d like to think that we are now pairing soulmates.


“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.”  Robert Fripp, Rock Guitarist extraordinare and old friend.

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