Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Virginia Day Two--------Beyond Jefferson's Vines and Further!

Beyond Jefferson's Vines
There is absolutely no challenge to the fact that the very main reason why the State of Virginia is what it is concerning wine  centers around the passion of one man-----Thomas Jefferson. Without his enthusiasm, dedication, travels and writings I would dare say that much less would have been accomplished. Jefferson, in his portrayal of the French wine industry during his lifetime, induced to the common man a legacy of "what could be" and in his attempts to produce wine in Virginia "what was to be!"
Richare Leahy is a well known historian, wine writer, sommelier and  author of  "Beyond Jefferson's Vines" a book describing the advent and production of wine in Virginia. Richard's knowledge on and about wine goes much further than just Virginia.
His experience as Mid Atlantic and South  Editor for the Oxford Companion of Wines in North America and his editorial experience with Vineyard & Winery Management (East Coast) in addition to his participation in the organizing of wine events in the United States  have made him invaluable as an addition to any group involved in the field of wine.
Richard quickly became a trusted and very caring friend in whom I have great respect for. The man was and is awesome when it comes to listening a knowledgeable person speak so fluently about one's favourite subject. His words flowed so easily and his knowledge is so very wide.
My friend, you have my very well earned respect. Incidentally, Richard's "Beyond Jefferson's Vines" is now updated and in its second printing. Congratulations my friend.
Loudoun County
Loudoun County is 521 square miles of American History.  Echoes of the past intermingle with the sounds and sights of the present almost everywhere one goes. Always quite rich in agriculture, it was known as "The Breadbasket of the Revolution" for having sustained George Washington's army with its grain during the American Revolution.Loudoun County is also known for its battles during the American Civil War.
While Loudoun remains a notable agricultural community with strong ties to the equine, food and wine industries, it also has a very powerful service economy. Due to its proximity to Washington and also Dulles International Airport many major companies have their operations in it.      
Morining At The Salamander      
My room at the luxurious Salamander Hotel was well situated to display the serene beauty of the scene outside my room's window balcony. When I awoke  the morning after I arrived, the sun was just starting to push its way through the mist that had befallen the gorgeous grounds of this 350 plus Equestrian Themed Resort and was reflecting itself off the left sides of several buildings.   It could have been a page out of any number of romantic novels and I actually had to pinch myself as to how breathtakingly gorgeous the scene of sunlight fighting its way onto the green, slightly frosted lawns. Pencils of light were illuminated and reflected from the minute crystals that formed with the frost covered greenery. I could have looked at this sight for much longer period of time had my growling stomach advised me to search in an other direction.
Breakfast was the quick version of a muffin and a copious amount of coffee, it was time to head out for our first winery of the day. Our first stop was to be Northgate Winery.
Northgate Winery
16031 Hillsboro Road
Purcellville, VA 20132

 Situated on approximately 26 acres in the northwest part of Loudoun County, Virginia  at the east base of the Short Hill Foothill Mountains, North Gate Vineyard produces high quality wine grapes for its wines. North Gate's Tasting Room is LEED Gold Certified, and is 100% solar powered. It features indoor and outdoor fireplaces, a covered patio, and amazingly scenic mountain and vineyard views .
We were met by husband and wife wine making team of Mark and Vicki Fedor who have been growing grapes since 2002 and making wine since 2003.
"We take pride in growing the best grapes possible and making them into the best wine possible!" said Mark. "You can make a good wine from a recipe but to make a great wine one must strive  to exceed that formula by understanding his vines, the soil they grow in and everything that goes into making it. Indeed both he and Vicki have done just that.    
 While grapes are grown on their estate, not all the wines are made from estate grown grapes. However, both winemakers know as much about the estates where their grapes come from as their own.
The Wine
Viognier 2013 (Loudoun County)
This is a 100% single variety with tropical flavours, some citrus/floral notes on both nose and palate.. Immediately appealing to the senses with an accent on vanilla spice.  The wine is made up partially 
of wines grown locally and from vines grown elsewhere in Loudoun County.
I do prefer the above as both an aperitif and meal wine.
Chardonnay 2013 (Loudoun Couty)
A 100% Chardonnay with apple/pear/peach on the nose and ripe apple, citrus mix and tropical/vanilla on palate. Citrus taste carries through to finish. Vines are not estate grown but all from Loudoun County appellation.
Cabernet Franc 2012 (Virginia)
While a single variety on "paper", the wine contains 2.5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Nice raspberry/cherry on nose with currant nuances. Touch of mint in the background and pepper on the nose. Red fruit with medium body on the palate. Pleasant finish with a recurrence of the mint. Vines are not estate grown.
Merlot (Loudoun County) 2012
Another "single" variety with a touch of other wine available. 95% Merlot versus 5% Cabernet Sauvingon. The vines are not estate grown but are Loudoun appellation.  On the nose there is black fruit of some ripeness, tobacco smoke  plus cassis with a touch of pepper. On the palate the wine is medium to full in body, similar fruit as nose. Smoke permeates the lower "back of throat" nasal after swallowing and there is a lingering oak on the finish.
Meritage (Loudoun County) 2012 
This wine is definitely a blend similar to that of the Bordeaux style. 50% Cabernet Sauvingnon, 30% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc. This Meritage had a nose full of berries and currants but also it exhibited mint, coffee and chocolate nuances which were repeated on the palate. The wine was medium to full bodied with a lingering finish. Once more the appellation here was Loudoun although none of the wine was produced by the estate.
Petit Verdot (Loudoun County) 2012  
This wine was produced entirely from grapes cultivated at the winery by the winemakers and staff.
The wine had cedar/tobacco smoke and floral on the nose. Medium bodied with blackberry/raspberry notes plus tobacco/smoke and plum on the palate. The wine was definitely on the verge and attracted a small following prior to our visit ending.
Apple Wine 2012
Fresh, clean and luscious juice was my first thought when I tasted the apple wine. A nice pleasant drink that, when appropriately cold, would be perfect for a warm, steamy summer night.  

North Gate was a very inspiring winery to visit and basically started our journey in a most excellent manner. The group of wine writers from the USA, Britain and Canada were now anticipating what was around the next corner! Our next stop, Breaux!

Breaux Vineyards
36888 Vineyards Lane
Purceville, Virginia 20132
If great wine was synonymous with fine scenery, then the wines of Breaux would be classed as the best anywhere. The scenery one encountered as the bus dusted its way down the winery driveway towards a dining area was one of the best that I had seen anywhere with a plethora of multicolored flower bushes surrounding the landscaped perimeters of the winery.
We were met by Jennifer Breaux Blosser, daughter to Breaux's President and CEO, E. Paul Breaux Junior. She had set up a luncheon for the group-----matching Breaux's fine wine to the meal. First she described a bit about the winery's history and philosophy.
Apparently Breaux started its life as a log cabin circa 1750. What was a hobby turned into a serious winery which eventually reached a capacity of some 50,000 gallons with a current 10,000 case capacity. Presently the winery is undergoing expansion.
Jennifer took over the day to day operations from her father several years ago and is now the Director of Sales and Hospitality.
Jennifer also introduced us to winemaker Heather Munden, U of Davis graduate who acquired a great reputation as a wine consultant for wineries in Italy, Australia, Chile,New Zealand and California. Heather explained the philosophy behind the Breaux wine making.
The Wine
Sauvignon Blanc (2013)
On the nose the wine had herbal spice, green apple and citrus lime. On the palate it was medium bodied, green apple, peach and vegetal flavour. Nice acidity led to a crisp, dry finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon (2010)
On the nose this wine expressed red fruit, anise, clove spice. On the palate it was full bodied with some red/black fruit flavours especially cherry along with a touch of black pepper. Oak was slightly present and the finish lengthy.
Meritage (2007)  

Nose expressed chocolate, coffee, dark fruit with some mint.The wine palate was full bodied with ripe dark fruit, oak, pepper. Long in finish.
Cabernet Franc Reserve (2007)
Highly concentrated with concentrated dark fruit, liquorice/anise, tobacco smoke, walnuts on both nose and palate. Palate was also full in body. Very powerful and lengthy finish.
Soleil (2006)     
Nose has full of lychee, honey, melon pear, ripe fig and citrus flavours with  a palate of jam, lychee, honey, apricot, peach and fig flavours.

The Meal
The group was also treated with a lovely lunch provided by Bluewater Kitchen, a first class catering company, matched with three other Breaux wines.
First Course
Roasted Chilly Hollow Farm Squash & Spice with Spring Farm Bacon
Accompanying Wine: Viognier (2013)
Nose: floral, melon, tropical fruit and tropical spice. Palate was medium, concentrated, some toastiness with smoke, white fruit, citrus and pebbles on the finish.
Second Course
Coq Au Vin with Braised spring farm chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, fall vegetables, oyster mushrooms.
Accompanying wine: Nebbiolo (2006)

Nose: cherry, fig, licorice, smoke with a palate of  red fruit, chocolate/coffee. Forward tannins and very pleasant mouth feel. 
Challah and Brioche Bread Pudding with raisins, honey crisp apples, bourbon creme Anglaise.
Accompanying Wine: Lineage 
Nose: Port like made using the Solera system! Coffee, ground nuts, chocolate, plum, dark plums and a soft, delicate finish.
The wine and meal went very well and every wine was an excellent example of a wine/food match.  Our next destination was to  Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg.
Fabbioli Cellars

Owner University of California Davis educagted Doug Fabbioli acquired his skill as a wine maker through his employ at such vineyards as Buena Vista in California, Tarara, Windham and a number of other wineries in Virginia. His experience in working with such renowned wine makers as  Andre Tchelicheff and Anne Moller-Racke (who is now President and Winegrower of Donum Estate in California) enabled him to move forward with his plans for making first class wine in Virginia.
In 2000  along with his wife, Colleen, he purchased 25 acres of land near Leesburg, Virginia planting  Merlot and Petit Verdot in 2001.
On our first meeting, he reminded me of the former wrestler Jessie Ventura in his enthusiastic speech and passion for wine. He immediately stuck me as being an innovator and leader----definitely not a follower. His commanding voice and "western-edge" in his demeanor communicated his style and determination. No wonder this guy was/is a success.
His philosophy of wine circulates around education and the environment with the end result being a saving that is passed on to the consumer but eventually allowing the winery to make a profit. Organic or sustainable agriculture is the key which allows a balance between the growing of the vines and producing excellent crops/wine and allowing nature to rule rather than using artificial methods to secure a successful product. Nothing is left for chance. Vines are carefully monitored. The soil is naturally replenished. Geothermal units are used for hot water production and climate control. Natural pesticides and fungicides are used. Education and updating for staff is a priority.
The result is a superior product of Bordeaux style wine that any winery would be proud of.
The Tasting
 Wine: Something White 
A blend of Viognier, Vidal, Chardonnay was paired with Cream Cheese and Pumpkin Spread on Crackers.
Wine: Chambourcin
Light and spicy red with with an earthy/dark fruit flavour matched with stuffing.
Wine: Cabernet Franc Reserve 
Medium to full bodied wine with red and dark fruit, pepper and oak flavours matched with Peppered Turkey.
Wine: Tre Soreille
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc in descending order of percentage. Red fruit and floral on nose and red fruit on the palate. Matched with Wensieydale Cranberry Cheese.
Wine: Zinfandel 
Rich and jammy red fruit on nose with dark fruit, figs, anise spice on palate matched with Dried Pomegranate/Brie on Crackers.
Wine: Raspberry Merlot
Medium sweet Raspberry/Merlot blend. Fruit, cinnamon spice and wood matched with Raspberry/Merlot Truffles.
Wine:Pear Port
A sweet Port style wine matched with Pumpkin Fudge.

The wines at Fabbioli showed what talent and passion could do if applied well. However we still had one more winery to view on our second day in Virginia and that was Tarara!
Tarara Winery
The historic and beautiful surroundings of the Potomac River is the site of 475 acres devoted to Tarara Winery's vines. Here owners Whitie and Margaret Hubert set up shop in 1985 with the intent of developing first class vines and wines. Starting with Chardonnay, they moved on to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot,
We were welcomed to the winery by the winemaker/general manager, Jordan Harris. Jordan is Canadian and was educated at Niagara College in St. Catherine's Ontario. He was a top sommelier taster placing first in a National Sommelier Competition and also place third in the World in a similar contest.
Jordan was very gregarious and friendly as he discussed his wines and philosophy of wine making. He believes that "less is more" which basically means that the less you tamper with a wine and make wine that you like to drink, you will get a far better product. He prefers his white wines to show "delicacy, complexity and density" with good "mouth feel".  As for his reds, The reds are vinified to produce greatest extraction of ripe fruit. The cap is gently managed via a system of gentle bubbles versus heavy punch downs. Punch down in certain lots is done by hand.
The reds are aimed to be complex and balanced with little or no fining/filtration. This allows for greater development and longevity.
White Wine
Blend of Chardonnay, Rkatsiteli (Georgian ancient white grape), Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng.
Has good acidity, citrus lemon, pineapple, herbal/grass.
A Chardonnay/Viognier blend with floral notes on both nose and palate. Tropical fruit and citrus with great concentration.
Citrus orange/apple pie/tropical fruit on nose with pleasant acid freshness on the mouth palate. Nice wine that shows promise for future development.
Red Wine
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat with black fruit, cedar wood, blackberry and cassis on nose and palate with a rich concentration of tannin with subtle smoke and currant. Great ager!
Navaeh (Red):
A Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with red and black fruit namely blackberry/plum on nose. Palate is similar with a great deal of ripe fruit flavours and smoke on the finish.
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Dark and red fruits with plum concentration and cedar wood. Palate is similar with ripe forward tannins and blackberry flavours. Chocolate underscores the fruit flavours with a nice smokey/vanilla finish.
Once again the wines proved to be inspiring to say the least. The thing to keep in mind here is that the all with wines from all the wineries tasted so far revealed a penchant for food pairing.
This was the last winery of the day but the fun was not over yet since a grand dinner awaited us at the great Salamander Resort where we were staying.
It was a nice way to end a long day. A five course dinner with matching wine at the Salamander Resort. We watched the group of chefs prepare a sumptuous meal that culminated in one of the nicest feasts that ever existed. The wine and food matches were amazing and the fabulous fillet mignon was one of the best I ever tasted. The dessert---a Creme Brulee---was sumptuous and though I am not usually a dessert person, I finished it to the very last spoon. One of my colleagues actually commented that it was the first dessert that she saw me eat totally.  The end to a perfect and very busy day.
End of Day Two.  





Monday, December 1, 2014

Rocky Mountain High------A Visit To Virginia`s Wine Country

Beginnings: Day One Of Virginia Wine Country  November 2nd 2014  
Be advised that I abhor airports! It used to be fun---this traveling! The airport used to be a point of pleasurable anticipation. One could go and lounge around---checking a few stores and eventually wander to a dining spot to have a breakfast or lunch or dinner or just a quiet drink. That is now all gone because of some cowardly asses who think that they can strike fear into travelers with their threats of destruction. It used to be fun----it used to be!
Now, the fun and anticipation has been changed to a rush! Get to the airport! Check your bags and don`t be late as you walk through the security lines and check points---removing belts, shoes and emptying your computer bags, purses and wallets into a tray. Once through one form of security, if one is going into the United States, a second even more time consuming line of security and protocol has to happen. All because of some misguided persons wishing to disrupt the lives of many innocent individuals just wanting to get from point a to point be quickly. It`s not quick anymore. The fun really has gone out of air travel and going to the airport was not on my top experience lists.
The limo picked me up very early (around 6 am) for a ten thirty flight to Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. I tend to be very anal when it comes to airports and travel. Enough time must be given to potential problems which could seriously alter the flight plans. Thus I was at Pearson some three hours earlier. My first quandary presented itself immediately upon arrival. I found my way to the Air Canada flight monitor to check for my flight to the USA. No flight was listed. I checked the main monitor and found a flight going to Dulles at ten thirty am but it was a United flight. Upon checking with an agent walking by at the time, I found out that this was my flight and that Air Canada Flight 3910 was actually United Airlines Flight 5098. No one had informed me of that and no one had written any such material on the ticket.
I waited, read and waited some more before my time came to head for the security area. In went with the usual----remove belt, remove shoes, remove jacket, empty computer case, empty pockets etc. etc. and was escorted to the gate where I had to remove my shoes, my jacket, my belt, my pocket change and empty my computer case etc. etc. That took almost an hour and a half of additional search time.
Once through I made my way to the gate which seemed at the far reaches of the airport. It was almost the last gate.
My flight was on a 72 passenger jet which would take about an hour and a half to fly to Washington.
The flight left on time and we actually made great time----arriving about ten minutes early.
I certainly was not prepared for Dulles which was one confusing airport for a first time visitor. I had checked the Dulles website which made no mention of a train that had to be taken to a different terminal. If it wasn`t for some very nice people, I would have ended up wherever but not where I was supposed to go.
I found my way around then it hit me! THIS was the airport of Die Hard 2 fame---you know the one with the caption ``Die Harder``  and featuring the plot to ``rescue`` a drug dealing general from a South American country on his way to be incarcerated within the United States. You know the plot! It was snowy, cold and the ``bad guys`` took over the control of the tower ---holding a large number of fuel deficient flights in the air over Washington hostage.
Yep I was in that airport and while there were a great deal of people, there wasn`t any great excitement going on! I waited for several hours until the shuttle bus picked me up and then circled until all the wine writing group was picked up.
 It took some time for the British wine writer members of the Circle of Wine Writers to clear customs but after much waiting, we were on our way to the hotel-----an ultra new. ultra luxury hotel in Virginia.
The Salamander         
 I remember telling my daughter Taryn that I was "at least going to be away from horses and barns for a few days" since I usually spent most of my time catering to her "hobby" related to the Equestrian past time. Little did know of the surprise that awaited me.
The Salamander hotel describes itself in this manner 
"Set on 340 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains amid Virginia’s famed horse country and lush vineyards, and just 35 minutes from Washington Dulles International Airport"
"Horse Country"----"famed" at that! I got that certain queasiness in the pit of my stomach that said, "Oooops, I think you are IN horse country!" That all came to fruition when I got to the hotel.
The hotel was amazing------actually better than amazing! Recently built it is an ultra luxury hotel that is immersed in the local equestrian history. It consists of twenty five acres dedicated to equestrian activities with a 14,000 square foot stable with 22 stalls, nine paddocks of at least one acre, trail ride areas, a huge outdoor riding area with ThorTurf footing and dining/viewing areas within the stable. The resort itself has a state-of-the-art kitchen supervised by top chefs. The rooms all have tremendous views of the some 340 acres of scenic beauty ----200 of which are dedicated to conservation.
Inside the hotel are reminders of the equestrian influence area through pictures, paintings, ribbons and statues of riders and horses. This place is a Mecca for any rider but for those of us lowly persons who do not ride (and especially for "broke" fathers whose daughter's compete in the Hunter/Jumper category) there was so much to see and do. For wine lovers, the wineries close by and the excellent cooking at the hotel would keep any gourmet, wine expert and/or life aficionado enjoyably busy for months if not years! 
I laughed at myself as I thought of the prophetic yet ironic statement I made to my daughter Taryn as I prepared for this trip to Virginia. "At least I am going to be away from horses and barns-----!" I laughed as I sat down at the side of my bed and stared right at a picture of a horse jumping over an "Equestrian Eventing" obstacle!  Since the group was so late in leaving the airport we opted to go to our first winery late rather than put it off until the next day so after we registered and freshened, we were off to the first of many wineries on this trip, Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Virginia.
Boxwood Winery
The group of Circle of Wine Writers was basically familiar with each other since many of them had traveled with each other before. This was with the exception of two of us plus our driver Devon. I was made to feel immediately comfortable and the other, a young Russian lady by the name of Tanya, was also well received. Our driver with his excellent personality and driving skills was to become a very appreciated and contributing member to our team. There were two other individuals whose hard work made our trip possible and who accompanied us on this tour: Annette Boyd, Director of the .
Virginia Tourist Corporation and Christi Braginton, International Media Manager for the same.
Boxwood is located not far from the Salamander Hotel in Middleburg. Priding itself on its Bordeaux style blends, it grows five  varieties of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Four styles of wine are produced: "Boxwood", "Topiary", "Trellis" and "Rose".   Boxwood is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Topiary consists of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Trellis consists of  mainly Merlot with small proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot added.  The Rose wine is produced from a blend of all the varieties grown at the winery. 
The winery which started in 2001 was the brainchild of  entrepreneur Jack (John) Kent Cooke, son of theti former Canadian business person who made it very big in the United States. Mr. Cooke invested a huge amount of money in Boxwood in order to make it a "star" attraction compared to other wineries around the Globe. He obtained the best French Bordeaux Clones in order to make wine that was similar in style to that of the French Bordeaux.  
Boxwood's winemaker is Adam McTaggert is a Canadian winemaker educated at Brock University in St. Catherine's Ontario who was hired by Mr. Cooke to oversee the wine production. Cooke's daughter Rachel Martin is the Executive Vice President and chief spokesperson for Boxwood. She studied Oenology and Wine Evaluation at colleges in Napa and Bordeaux.
Presently there are some 16 acres under vine. The winery is State-of-the Art with a magnificent tasting area.  Great care is taken to make sure that the grapes are hand harvested and berries hand selected for berry fermentation and eventual French oak aging.
CWW group were given a tasting of several wines made at Boxwood. 2008 Boxwood Red (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot), 2009 Topiary (50% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec), 2011 Trellis (60% Merlot, 40% blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), 2011 Topiary (68% Cabernet Franc, 32% Merlot) and 2012 Boxwood Red (56% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot).
While all the wines were excellent, my favourite was the Trellis which had both power and elegance combined.  
It should be noted that famed viticulturist and consultant Lucie Morton was also involved with the success of this vineyard. More about this famed person later on in my blogs.

It was quite late when we finished our tasting at Boxwood and then we were off to a delicious meal at the Grandale Restaurant in Neersville. This four star restaurant is noted as being one of the top 50 restaurants in Northern Virginia. After a fine meal with matching Virginia wines, it was back to Salamander Hotel for a good night's sleep.
End of Day One