When Allan from CellarBlog asked if we’d participate in #varosé day, we immediately knew that we were in.  We’re big fans of drinking pink and always try to have a few bottles on hand.  Rosé wines are typically light and refreshing, so they’re great in the warm months (of which VA has too many).  The light berry flavors so often found in rosés can also bring a welcome touch of spring and summer to cold winter days, so we’re fond of year wine drinking of the pink.  Finally, they’re often very food friendly and pair well with a wide variety of foods from salad to turkey to BBQ.  We figured the best way for us to participate in this day was to actually crack open some of those pink bottles that have languished on our wine racks through GEG’s illness last summer and our too busy for drinking schedules of the past 6 months.


The first of these bottles we opened was the 2010 rosé from Stinson Vineyards.  Most rosés in VA are made from Bordeaux grapes (cab franc, can sauv, and merlot most commonly) or chambourcin, so this rosé made from mouvedre is an unusual find.  This dry but fruity wine held up surprising well to being left on the shelf a tad to long.  It wasn’t particularly complex, but it was very refreshing.  It made me think of watermelon along with a touch of mild, somewhat watery, strawberries.  As I spent more time with the wine, I also noted some pink grapefruit.  I enjoyed my time with this wine quite a bit.

 Topiary Rose

The second rosé we’ve enjoyed recently was another 2010 – this one was the Topiary Rosé from Boxwood Winery.  This is a blend of cab franc and malbec, and we paired this one with some grilled pizza – really yummy shrimp and feta grilled pizza on a garlic and rosemary crust to be exact.  Again, this wine held up well to the test of time.  I noted light strawberry notes on the nose and strawberry and citrus on the palate along with some flintiness.  It was a great wine to savor with our pizza as we enjoyed our patio.

breaux rose

Our third rosé was the 2011 from Breaux Vineayrds.  This wine is a blend of nebbiolo, cab sauv, and chambourcin, and in the year or so since it’s release, it’s really grown on me.  It’s a dry wine, but there’s so much fruit to be found in the class that it was a bit much for me at first.  The fruit may have softened a bit, but I still note tons a strawberry, raspberry, and cherry flavors.  There’s also a touch of herbaciousness that adds a bit of depth to this wine.  This is one I don’t feel comfortable suggesting food pairings for – other than perhaps a berry-heavy summer salad – but it was definitely enjoyable as a sipper on its own.  I’d sum it up as a fun wine.

How do you feel about drinking pink?  What are your favorite VA rosés?  How are you celebrating #varosé day? What new releases would you recommend we check out?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Remember when I fessed up about our frustration with that this blog had become?  Well, part of that was too many visits to lackluster wineries that just frustrated us.  Virginia has some wineries that make fantastic wine.  There are some wineries that are gorgeous.  There are some wineries that invite slow afternoons sharing a bottle with friends.  Some even have all of these things rolled together.  Unfortunately, a growing wine industry also means that there are a lot of small wineries that offer unremarkable (or bad) wine.  The winemakers may not have enough experience, the winery might not have the resources to make wine as they wish, or perhaps, their target market isn’t a “fine wine” crowd.  Regardless, these places frustrate me and don’t really inspire me to keep visiting new to me places all the time.

reynard florence

One of the only new to us VA wineries we’ve visited in the past year or so is Reynard Florence Vineyard.  The wines were fine, but in some cases, I was looking for more acid, in others I was looking for more depth.  Clearly, not all wines will work for everyone, but given that this isn’t the type of wine I want to drink or how I want to spend my time, our visit to this winery is part of why we realized we needed to evolve our focus.

On the positive side, I appreciate that they’re doing a lot of work with petit manseng, a grape I really like that I would love to see more plantings of in the state.  I also appreciated that they weren’t trying to make hyper-extracted reds with endless oak.  At the same time, one of the things I love about petit manseng is the acid that’s a part of this grape’s profile, and that acid was missing in these wines.  Additionally, the reds were just unremarkable and not very memorable even a few hours after our visit.  Don’t get me wrong, from time to time, we’ll continue to check out new to us wineries, and Reynard Florence may be just what some are looking for, but for now, I need a break from wineries that are still learning the craft and am happy to let some others pre-screen for me for a while.


So…another issue that I’m becoming more and more frustrated with are the “Wedderies.”  These are the places that are a winery (or as I’m about to talk about – a cidery) but are really more about the events they can hold there than the adult beverages that are, in theory, the heart of the business.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in the no events crowd.  I get that wineries need to make money to stay in business and that events can help make this happen.  That said, when events seem to be the core of the business plan, it feels like a misuse of a farm winery license, and it just frustrates me.  Such is the feeling I get every time I visit Castle Hill Cider.

Please understand, that I’m just stating my impressions from my repeated visits as well as some time spent perusing their website since I haven’t read their business plan, but it seems like the whole space is about the weddings (and other events).  I like, although I don’t love, their ciders.  They are well made and enjoyable.  I’m sure I’ll continue to drink them.  I doubt I’ll be spending a ton of time on site, however.  Especially since I can never get any of the Terrestrial, my favorite of their ciders, because it’s all sold to people who want the most “champagne” like cider for their wedding toasts.

Um, the dance floor? That's critical for, um, the expression of terroir?

Um, the dance floor? That’s critical for, um, the expression of terroir?

Anyway – this is why we’re really dialing back our local winery visits.  There are great wineries in the state, and I’m sure more will be started.  I’ve just got winery fatigue and need a break. I still love wine and local wine, but I’m frustrated by the industry, the local legal wrangling, the loophole finders, etc.

In the meantime, if you visit some place you think we should check out, please let us know.

I’m not a big believer in “special occasion wines,” in part because no occasion ever seems right for these “special” bottles, and they may end up aging past their prime as you wait for that “perfect” occasion.  Given that, once we bring a bottle home, it’s pretty much fair game (although some bottles are bought with the specific intention to age them or with a specific food pairing in mind).

That said, sometimes a wine is just a wine.  It might come home with us because we enjoyed it when we tasted it or because we’d heard good things about it, or because we got a good deal on it.  These bottles are the ones that make up the bulk of what we drink.  Not all wine has to be a religious experience.  Sometimes it just needs to be enjoyable.

Two such wines that fall into this category (that I waited far too long to blog about) are the ’07 Cuvee Laurent from Delfosse Vineyards and the ‘09 LoCo Vino from 8 Chains North.

2012-10-13 19.27.27

The Cuvee Larent is a chambourcin dominated blend that got a bit lost in the shuffle of the last few years.  We suspected that it wouldn’t really hold up for too much longer, so one evening when we were having a low key night at home playing games, we popped this one open to add to the evening.  It wasn’t a wine that had a lot going on with it, but it was an enjoyable addition to an evening with a great partner.  It had a lot of bright raspberry flavors with a tiny hint of earthiness that would be easy to miss had I not been looking for it.

2012-11-10 17.22.58

The LoCo Vino is a traminette/vidal blends that runs a bit sweeter than I normally go for.  Sometimes, that’s just the right kind of wine, however.  When we decided to grill some shrimp with a southwestern rub and pair it with some cornbread pudding and steamed veggies, I thought we’d give this wine a try.  The food pairing was a bit lackluster (too floral for the shrimp – although the sweetness worked well with the cornbread pudding), but the wine was still enjoyable (particularly for my mom who was visiting at the time).  The sweetness/acid balance was working for me in this vintage, and the wine offered plenty of the rose notes that made it clear that this was a traminette.  There were also some enjoyable tropical fruit flavors.  I’m not going to be reaching for this one often, but it definitely has its place in the world.

So, yes, sometimes we take our wine very seriously, plan our wine and food pairings carefully, and analyze what we’re eating and drinking.  Other times we just open a bottle and enjoy it.  Both versions of drinking wine work for me depending on my mood and my company.  What’s your style?

I love that we’re a go to source for Virginia wine information for many.  While we’ve definitely been branching out more and more lately in our own wine drinking, we’re passionate about drinking local and raising awareness about the high quality wines that can be found close to home.  That said, we’re not the only blog doing this.  Two bloggers, and blogs, I want to highlight are organizing some VA wine-centric events for may that I think you should know about.

Allan, from CellarBlog, is the driving force behind #varosé day.  On Wednesday, May 29th, he wants as many VA wine lovers as possible to drink, talk about, blog about, facebook about, and tweet about the wonderful rosé wines from myriad Virginia wineries.

Which critter works better with rose?

Which critter works better with rose?

I agree with Allan that drinking pink is often dismissed.  Some feel it’s not manly, but GEG can tell you a great story about convincing a group of overall-wearing good-ole-boys that a sparkling rosé was the wine for them at a charity event for which we served as pourers.  After all, what pairs better with BBQ than pink bubbles?  These guys left with multiple bottles and plans to roast a pig or two.  Others may think that all pink wine is sweet, insipid, and boring.  Some definitely is – even some from Virginia.  That said, a good rosé has complexity while also being refreshing.  It’s a perfect fit for celebrating spring, to enjoy as part of a warm summer day on the deck or patio, or to bring a touch of summer to a snow-filled winter afternoon.

Given that, we’re going to be celebrating #varosé day.  We’ll post (really – we will) about local rosé that day, and we’ll tweet with the #varosé hashtag that evening as we enjoy some VA rosé from the comfort of Chez Snark.  So, join us and drink pink on May 29th as we celebrate the joys of local rosé.

Frank Morgan

Frank, from Drink What You Like, has also take the initiative to bring VA wine lovers together on a virtual level.  He’s doing this by organizing twitter chats about various VA wine topics.  For now, they’re happening every other week, and you can follow along and join in on twitter using the hashtag #VAWineChat.

Frank, like me, misses the days from the not so distant past where VA wine lovers would frequently chat about the local wines in their glasses in the evening.  Since wine makers, winery owners, and winery employees were frequently part of these discussions, we all found ourselves learning a lot as we shared our impressions of the wines we were drinking as well as winery and vineyard practices throughout the state.  Life got busy, and likely some of the newness of tweeting wore off, and this kind of interaction on VA wine online has died down a bit.


I’m pretty sure these #VAWineChat nights are going to give us some of that feeling again.  The first one was last Thursday (I know, I know – bad wine bloggers!), and we chatted about (and many drank) VA viognier (affectionately known as viggy here at Chez Snark).  Frank served as the primary moderator – tossing out questions to facilitate discussion – and Jordan Harris, from Tarara Winery, and Stephen Barnard, from Keswick Vineyards, tweeted along as “experts.”  Breaux, Horton, and Blenheim also chimed in as did a number of VA wine bloggers and VA wine lovers.  I know that I enjoyed discussing how viognier grows, style preferences, ageing possibilities, etc.  (Now I just hope some of the winemakers/winery folks come through with those offers for tasting aged viogniers!)

We’d love to have even more people join in with future editions.  For now, they’re being held every second Thursday from 7-8pm (Eastern) and all teweets shoudl use the hashtag #VAWineChat so we can all be part of the same conversation.  Here’s the schedule for the time being – if you’ve got a topic idea, let Frank know (or us, if you’re shy), and it may just show up on the schedule.

  • May 16, 2013 – Virginia Red Blends
  • May 30, 2013 – still looking for suggestions
  • June 13, 2013 – Virginia Cider
  • June 27, 2013 – Single Vineyard Wines (hosted by us)
  • July 11, 2013 – The Past, Present, and Future of Virginia Wine
  • July 25, 2013 – suggestions welcome

I know that everyone currently talks about viognier from VA since it’s the official state grape.  I also know that there’s a lot of buzz around red blends since they’ve been so dominant in the first two years of the “Governor’s Case” coming out of the revised Governor’s Cup.  That said, when we first started exploring VA wine, what we always heard about was cabernet franc as a grape that did well in VA and a wine that might help give the state an identity.

I know this isn’t where the current buzz is, but there’s still a lot of cab franc to be found throughout the state, and it can be found in a number of different styles.  Here’s some impressions of 3 of these wines that we’ve had (relatively) recently – all from the 2008 vintage.

Chatham Vineyards Church Creek cab franc

First, there was the ’08 Church Creek cab franc from Chatham Vineyards.  Given its location, Chatham doesn’t get a lot of love, but they make some really nice wines.  This was my favorite of the 3 wines that I’m going to talk about here.

It offered an earthy, dried dark cherry nose, but it was fairly tight despite having a number of years in the bottle.  On the palate, I got plenty of dark cherry and berry notes.  There was definitely some structure to this wine, but that tannins were relatively soft.  As the wine opened up with time in the glass, it softened considerably, and cooked fruit notes came up.  I appreciated that the wine wasn’t trying to be too big, but I also appreciated that it had a lot going on and evolved as I enjoyed it.

Rappahannock Cellars cab franc

The ’08 Rappahannock Cellars cab franc is the second wine I want to talk about.  When we bought this, I’m pretty sure the rich nose was what sucked me in.  I also know that this is the type of wine that GEG has traditionally gravitated to – big cab francs were a staple wine for him for a long time (I don’t think this is as much the case any more, but I’ll let him speak for himself).

This wine was very tight when we first opened it, so we decided to decant it and come back to it in an hour of so.  It made a world of difference.  After some time in the decanter, it offered a rich, dark, cherry nose with a touch of green pepper and earthiness.  The fruit tended more towards the cooked variety as opposed to the fresh.  As I sipped, I noted earthy, dried fruit, a hint of smokiness, and some noticeable oak.  All in all, this wine struck me as a monster that hasn’t really settled down.  This is not what I expect from an ’08.  That was a “typical” year for VA, so the wines have tended to be a bit softer, and seem to be drinking really well right now.  These monster reds just aren’t my thing right now.  I’m looking for more subtlety these days.

Chester Gap Cellars cab franc

Finally, we also opened the ’08 Chester Gap Cellars cab franc.  We remembered  that this was a big wine, so we planned it as a paring for some grilled lamb chops and decanted it about two hours before dinner.  This was definitely a big wine, but it wasn’t a monster.  It offered smoky, dark wild berry notes with some charred wood notes on the nose.  The wine had clearly seen some significant oak exposure, but it was starting to settle down.  In a perfect world, we would likely have waited another year or two to open this wine, but figuring out when to open a bottle you’re aging is always a bit of a guess.  On the upside, it was great with the lamb!

Clearly, you can find a lot of different options if you’re looking for a VA cab franc.  What style are you looking for these days?


We recently attended the now annual VA sparkling wine tasting organized by Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like.  This year, Early Mountain Vineyards hosted us, and as always, we had a great time catching up with our blogging friends while also checking in on the state of sparkling wine in VA.


Once again, this tasting highlighted that Claude Thibaut is at the heart of quality sparkling wines in VA.  Three of the top 4 wines from this tasting were made by Thibaut-Jannison Winery, and Claude Thibaut had a hand in making 3 of the other wines we tasted.  Kudos to him for his top quality offerings.

Setting the Stage

This year, there were 13 wines in the line up.  Ten of these were VA wines.  The remaining 3 were from the Finger Lakes in NY, New Mexico, and Spain.  We tasted the wines in 2 flights: one of 7 wines and one of 6 wines.

It’s always been hard to rank order across flights, but it felt particularly challenging this year, and I wasn’t the only taster who felt this way.  It feels like we learn something about doing this each year, so next year, I think we’re going to limit things to 10 wines and try to taste them all in a single flight.

the glow of the tablet in the background gives this blogger cred.  -G

the glow of the tablet in the background gives this blogger cred. -G

As a final note, once again, 2 sparkling viogniers were included.  We tried this last year for the first time, and I was dubious about including them.  We tried it, however.  There were mixed reactions, so Frank opted to try including them again. This year, whether people liked them or not, everyone felt that they stuck out in a pool of otherwise chard-domiated wines.  Given this, I think the second lesson we’re taking into next year is to stick to blanc de blancs.

With that said, on to the wines.  I’ll talk about them within flights, and I’ll give you my rank for that flight, my rank across flights, and the group’s overall ranking.

Flight One


The first wine in the first flight was the ’08 Trump Winery blanc de blanc.  If, like us, you’ve yet to make it to Trump, you may still be familiar with this wine from its former labeling as Kluge.  I’ve been very up and down on the Kluge/Trump sparklers, and it makes me wonder if there is a lot of batch variation since I’m usually a bit more consistent.  On this day, however, this wine was working for me.  It was my 2nd choice in this flight, my 3rd choice overall, and clichéd the number 3 spot for the group as well.  The wine offered a floral yet yeasty nose.  I particularly noticed apple and peach notes as well as some flintyness.


The next glass contained the nv Thibaut-Jannison Winery Fizz.  This wine felt a bit foamly to me rather than fizzy, and I wasn’t liking that aspect of it, but I did like the yeasty savoryness I found in the glass.  I also noted a minerality I described as river rocks.  I ranked this 3rd for this flight and 4th overall.  It grabbed the 4th slot from the group as a whole as well.


Wine 3 was the nv Gruet Winery blanc de blanc which just edged out a win in last year’s tasting.  This year, I found it to be overly perfumey and lacking in body.  It’s still a great value, but it just wasn’t doing as much for me.  I raked it 5th in this flight and 8th overall; the group ranked it 9th.


Glass 4 contained the ’08 Thibaut-Jannison Winery Cuvee D’etat.  This had a very light nose, but I really enjoyed the yeasty brioche notes with apple and pear on the palate.  It was a very balanced wine, and it was the wine from this flight that I most enjoyed revisiting.  It ranked number 1 in this flight, 2nd overall, and 1st for the group.

chateau frank

The ’06 Chateau Frank blanc de noirs from Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars was up next.  I had actually had this wine, and quite enjoyed it, when we were in the Finger Lakes this summer – in fact, we’ve now got a bottle on our wine rack.  As the only blanc de noir in the line up, it was no surprise that the fruit flavors really came through.  I notes peach, apple blossom, and a touch of light berry.  There were also hints of the yeastiness I so love from sparklers.  I ranked this 4th in this flight and 5th overall; the group had this one tied for 5th/6th.


The nv Jaume Serra Christalino brut cava was unquestionably my least favorite wine of this flight.  My first impression was of fruit, but the flavors were muddy, and I was soon left with a chemical taste that really turned me off.  Once the bottles were unblended, one taster suggested that this bottle was off given her familiarity with the wine.  I’ve never had it other than as part of this tasting, so I can’t speak to that, but I’m definitely not rushing to taste it again.  I ranked it 7th in this flight and 12th overall.   The group ranked it 13th.


The final wine in the first flight was the nv Barboursville Vineyards brut.  While this wine is fine, it’s never struck me as anything special, and this tasting didn’t change my impression.  The wine felt flatter/less effervescent and it struck me as being more like a sauv blac than a chard-based sparkler.  I ranked it 6th in this flight and 10th overall.  It came in 7th in the group rankings.

Flight Two

Let me start by saying that this flight, overall, was a disappointment.  I think a large part of the difficulty I had integrating my ratings between flights was due to my generally poor reactions to the ones in this half of the tasting.


The flight started with the’10 Afton Mountain Vineyards Bollicine.  The wine was way too perfumey for my taste, and there was a note of Elmer’s Glue in there that took me right back to my childhood – fun as that can be, it’s not what I’m looking for in a sparkling wine.  I raked it 5th in this flight, 11th overall, and the group ranked it 11th as well.


The nv Horton Vineyards sparkling viognier stood out as being a viongner, and not in a good way.  It struck me as being light flat cream soda.  This came in 6th in this flight and 13th overall.  The group gave it the 12th place berth.


The other sparkling viogner, the nv Paradise Springs Winery Apres, happened to be the wine in the next glass.  At first, when fairly cold, the wine struck me as yeasty and fruity.  It wasn’t remarkable, but it was enjoyable – at least until a somewhat off-putting finish.  As the wine warmed, however, it became too perfumey, and it just struck me as fairly flat for a sparkler.  I ranked this one 4th in this flight and 9th overall.  The group placed this one in the 10th spot.

prince michel

Wine number four in this flight was the nv Prince Michel Winery sparkling wine.  This wine struck me as bright.  It was yeasty with apple and pear notes and pear-dominant finish.  I ranked it 3rd in this flight and 7th overall.  The group scores placed this wine in 8th.


The nv Thibaut-Jannison Winery blanc de chardonnay won my top slot in this flight and the overall tasting, although the group as a whole placed it 2nd.  This wine struck me as being what I expect a sparkler to be.  It had yeast on the nose and some soft fruit that came in on the palate.  It was well balanced and a wine I enjoyed revisiting after the tasting had concluded.


The final was to be tasted was the nv Veritas Vineyards Scintilla.  I again noticed the yeast on the nose I look for along with some floral and soft fruit notes.  It was a solid wine – it just didn’t particularly stand out to me.  I ranked it 2nd in this flight and 6th overall.  It tied for the 5th/6th slot among the group.

Wrap Up

Claude Thibaut’s success did not surprise me.  What did surprise me was how consistent I’ve been in my ratings of these wines over the last few years.  The Thibaut-Jannison wines consistently rank at the top of the tasting for me, and the Barboursville and Afton wines have typically been ones I’ve struggled with.  The Scintilla from Veritas has also been a fairly consistent performer over the past few years.

This type of comparative tasting is hard to do as it can get expensive, but it really is a great way to learn about a given type of wine in a region while also learning about your own preferences.  If you get the chance to do one, go for it.

NOTE: All bottle pics were provided by Frank Morgan of the ever awesome Drink What You Like. I figure link love is always better than writing “credit: sexy Frank” thirteen times.  -G

Have either of us ever mentioned that Grape Envy Guy loves to gill?  We have?  Well, let me reiterate it again.  GEG loves to grill.  Because of that, whenever the weather allows some of our menu planning centers around what can be grilled.  This sometimes lead to some great meals, but the grilled/smoked flavors can be tricky when it comes to wine pairings (at least with white wines).  I have had some success with a few, however, so I thought I’d share two of these triumphs with you.

atwater riesling

First, I want to talk about what we paired with the bottle of Atwater Vineyards Riesling Bubble we picked up when we were in the Finger Lakes in July.  As soon as I tasted this wine, I wanted to pair it with fish tacos.  Sometimes one of us gets instant food pairing inspiration when we taste a wine.  We usually try these pairings out, but they don’t always work.  In this case, however, I was fairly pleased with the results.

GEG cobbled together a fish taco recipe from a few sources since we both have some very specific ideas about what should be included with them after years of living in the southwest.  He also made a nectarine salsa to go with them.  The fruit for the salsa could have been riper, and the taco recipe needs a bit more tweaking, but it was still a satisfying meal.

As for the wine, it offered lots of fruit on the nose, mostly white stone fruit, along with a light hint of yeast.  On the palate, apple and peach flavors dominated, and the lightly fizzy nature of the wine was just what I was looking for.  It was fun and refreshing, and the peach flavors in the wine worked really well with the fruit salsa we paired with the tacos.  Score 1 for me!

naked mountain chardonnay

Now, that first pairing probably doesn’t surprise you, but this second one might: beer can grill smoked chicken with the ’08 Naked Mountain Winery barrel fermented chardonnay.

So here was my thought process – I knew the bird would be a bit smoky given the cooking method.  I also knew the flavors wouldn’t really hold up to a red wine (and we’re also short on light reds in our house anyway).  Given that, I started thinking of chardonnays.  When I perused our inventory, and saw this bottle from our last visit to Naked Mountain, I thought I’d take a risk – and it worked! Score 2 for me. 🙂

The wine offered crisp apple and some butter notes on the nose which was joined by some sweet vanilla on the palate.  It worked surprisingly well because there was a hint of smoke in the wine.  I love it when things work out – now if only it could happen more often.