Friday, August 17, 2007

Summer = Vacations...

Wow, so blogging in the summertime is a tricky affair. As a government employee, I'm blessed with a low wage but copious amounts of vacation and comp time. My wife and I have been putting that to good use this summer, and the results are showing in my meager blog postings. Our latest trip was out to Portland, Oregon and through the Willamette Valley wine country - I'll cover that in my next post. This post, I want to do a couple mini-reviews on a few of the more interesting wines we've had this summer...

I arranged the bottles in no particular order, so I may as well start left-to-right...

2006 Strauss Samling 88 (Scheurebe)
I think the important things to remember from that name are "Strauss" (the winery) and "Scheurebe" (the grape). Weingut Strauss ("Weingut" is the German way of saying "winery" or "vineyard") is an Austrian vineyard that makes a variety of interesting wines, one of which is from the Scheurebe grape.

The Scheurebe is a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner, and my immediate thought upon first tasting it was if Germans were to make Viogniers, this is what it would taste like. It has a flowery, peachy sweet nose that really jumps out of the glass at you, and some of that peach comes through to the tongue, with a stony mineraliness and a nice lemon acidity to it. It's sweet yet dry, which I find refreshing in German/Austrian wines as so many of them seem to contain a hint (if not more) of residual sugar. The Scheurebe also had an appealing golden yellow color in the glass, which added to its allure. Purchased for $12 at Finewine.Com in Gaithersburg, MD, I'd say this wine had Good Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR). And if you bought it somewhere that wasn't Maryland, you'd pay several bucks less for it which would make it a great "alternative summer wine"!

2005 Pisano Cisplatino Tannat Merlot
Always bravely going where few have gone before (vinologically speaking), I picked up a wine from Uruguay a while back. I bet most Americans would have trouble naming the appropriate continent that Uruguay is located on (South America), much less point to it on a map. But regardless of where it's located (in between Argentina and Brazil along the Atlantic Coast), the important thing here is that they make some pretty good wine!

So the real reason I picked this up is because I saw that it was made with 60% Tannat (and 40% Merlot). I have encountered Tannat a couple of times in the past: it is a major player in wines from the Cahors region of Southwestern France; it is also grown at a handful of vineyards in Virginia, particularly at Hillsborough where they blend it into their Ruby wine (all of their wines are named after gemstones). But the interesting thing about Tannat (undoubtedly named due to its high tannin levels) is that, much like Malbec in Argentina or Carmenere in Chile, it has found a perfect home in South America - specifically in Uruguay, where it is considered the national grape.

Getting on to the wine - it had a very pleasant nose, spicy, some tobacco perhaps. The wine was lighter in color than I was expecting, given the whole tannat=tannin thing. It most closely resembled a grenache, actually. On the tongue was the spice, with black pepper and bright berries. I think this wine was around $12 at Total Wine in McLean, VA, and for that price I'd give it a Good QPR - mainly because it's "different", and I always like trying new wines.

2004 Mas de Guiot Cabernet-Syrah
I'm not sure what made me pick up this bottle in the store, but it sure as heck wasn't the label - I don't believe they could make this wine appear any less interesting if they made a deliberate attempt to do so. The French seem particularly afflicted with "lame label syndrome" - one of the many traditions that I think they need to change if they want to become more competitive in a global wine market... Anyway, I'm glad I grabbed a bottle despite the label, because it ended up being really good!

The wine was made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah, and came from the heart of Southern Rhône near Nîmes. It had a big nose of black pepper and ripe cherries. On the tongue there was the ripe cherries in front giving way to deeper blackberry and tobacco, with a black pepper / spice finish. It had great tannin structure, and excellent overall balance. Kind of gave me the impression of a superb Argentinian Cab for some reason. For $16 at Total Wine, I'd give this a Very Good QPR.

2004 Hillsborough Opal
Hillsborough is one of our favorite Virginia wineries; they produce all blends, and as I just mentioned above each is named after a gemstone. The Opal is a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay, making for a crisp, medium-bodied white wine. It had a "timid nose" (to use wine snob speak), but quite a bit of flavor: lemon citrus, red apple, pineapple, and perhaps some peach notes. It was a bit sweeter than I was expecting, but it the cornucopia of fruit pulled it off somehow.

I didn't write down a price, but being a small boutique Virginia winery I'm guessing this was in the low $20s. Given that, I'd give this wine an "OK" QPR - you could probably find something similar for less, but probably not from Virginia. I think Virginia is starting to craft really distinctive wines with certain varietals, and Viognier is definitely a grape that is starting to thrive here. So the Opal should probably get some extra QPR points simply for being an interesting Virginia wine.

2005 Hacienda Araucano Carmenére
First off, I obviously need to apologize for the picture quality - it was late (and dark), I was trying not to flash out the cool watermarked image on the label, and I just snapped a single picture and hoped for the best. Clearly, the best is not what occurred. But you can see it well enough to identify it in a store sometime I bet...

So - another Chilean Carmenére: I told you before that I just love these wines! If you've never heard of Carmenere and what to learn a bit more about it, you can read my past post about Anakena, another Chilean Carmenére.

This Carmenére was also quite good. I misplaced my tasting notes, which were written on some scratch piece of paper while watching a movie, so I can't tell you exactly how it was good, but trust me that it was. :-)

This wine was purchased for $13 at Rodman's, and for that price I'd say the Araucano (like virtually every Chilean Carmenére that I've had) has Very Good QPR. It definitely gets a spot on my "buy again" list!

OK, mini catch-up post complete - more regularly scheduled wine commentary on the way!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vote for your Favorite Virginia Winery!

I have a big long explanation coming of why I haven't had any posts in almost a month now, but I wanted to sneak in a quick announcement first: the Virginia Wine Festival is coming up September 15th & 16th at the Morven Park Equestrian Center in Leesburg, VA. They have an online poll to vote for your favorite Virginia winery, and I think it would be really cool if Three Fox Vineyards, the winery that Kris and I volunteer at, won! We really do think it produces some of the best wines Virginia has to offer, but when you factor in the overall Three Fox Experience of visiting the winery, chatting with the owners, relaxing in a hammock down by the creek or playing horseshoes, croquet or bocce out on the lawn, we think it's tops!

If you've had the chance to stop by and visit and agree with us - please click on over to the Virginia Wine Festival Voting Page, and cast your vote for Three Fox Vineyards! And if you haven't paid us a visit, or live out-of-state, you could take our word for it that Three Fox really is terrific and click on over and vote for us anyway! :-)