Everyday is a Good day for Virginia Bubbly

Virginia_Sparkling_WineWhile the Champagne region of France claims the name, other countries including the United States of America are establishing their own reputation using traditional Chardonnay grapes as well as Pinot Noir to make sparkling wine. The average bottle of Champagne contains enough carbon dioxide to potentially produce 49 million bubbles, some say even more. Watching the bubbles shoot upward is quite mesmerizing,  recalling childhood memories of bubble lights on Christmas trees.  This has sparked a new tradition in our family of opening gifts with a chilled bottle of Champagne or a Brut Rosé from Soter in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (very welcome gift from my sister).


Thibaut_Janisson_Cuvee d'Etat

Virginia has now placed itself on the sparkling wine map courtesy of Claude Thibaut and his Thibaut Janisson sparkling wines. Originally from Champagne, Claude has traversed the globe popping coks, perfecting his dosage and selecting only the best grapes and juice for his wines. He brought his expertise in the “methode champenoise” to  Kendall-Jackson, Jordan and Iron Horse wineries in California as well as Champagne Veuve Devaux, Bar sur seine, France and Yarra Bank, Victoria Australia, where his wines were voted “Best of the Best” in the 1995 Australia and New Zealand Wine Guide. He partners with Manuel Janisson of Janisson et Fils, a well know family of Champagne makers in Verzenay, France. Claude originally was enticed to Charlottesville by Patricia Kluge of Kluge Estate Winery and is  now owned and operated by Donald and Eric Trump. I am particularly fond of Claude’s latest T-J Extra Brut!

We were recently gifted with a bottle of Barboursville Cuvee 1814 Brut wine which was excellent. Side note: after pouring the wine there seemed to be very few bubbles and within a short period of time an explosion of bubbles occurred. The wine was well received by all! I look forward to serving it again.

Following traditional holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, Champagne drinking may hit a slump but any time is good for serving sparkling wine. It’s like the slogan, Orange Juice, It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore! Watch these three wineries (Trump definitely included) as well as other Virginia wineries for  future vintages!

Experiencing French Wineries vs Virginia Wineries

Clos du TriasVisions of warm sunny days, leisurely two hour lunches drawn out with conversation, an aproned waiter pouring bubbles into your champagne glass  and soft music beckon us back to the Old Country. If you’re like most wine lovers from the United States, it is a dream to visit the birthplace of  wine making, Europe. France, Italy and Spain are the most sought after destinations, followed by Germany, Portugal and Greece. 

Thomas Jefferson was just so inspired during his travels to France, thus beginning the New World efforts of cultivating grapes to make wine. He started his vines on the slopes of Monticello, his mountain top home, overlooking Charlottesville, Virginia. Richard Leahy has written a wonderful book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, about the history of this endeavor and the more recent explosion of vineyards in Virginia. I especially like the praise offered by  John Hagarty, www.Hagarty-on-Wine.com “Richard Leahy has woven a rich tapestry of Virginia’s wineries and winemakers. If Jefferson could peruse this book a satisfied smile would surely grace his countenance because his dream of quality Virginia wine has been fulfilled. This volume will be referenced often for those seeking to better understand the Old Dominion’s wine ascendency. A riveting and rewarding read.”

Recently, I travelled “across the pond”  in the company of my mother, to visit my sister currently living in Provence.  The movie, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, , is one of my favorite movies and the film location of Bonnieux, Vaucluse, France was just a little southeast of Carpentras, where we made our home base. Maison Trevier,  the delightful maison we  stayed in, is within the walled village of Carpentras, around the corner from a wonderful fromagerie, La Fromagerie du Comtat. Grab a baguette, some home made fig preserves, olives and truffles from the market and you are in heaven.  As I walked into the jardin of Gina Trevier, owner of Maison Trevier,  I could almost hear the music from the soundtrack from  A Good Year 🙂

Maison Trevier & Bebe Chat
Maison Trevier & Bebe Chat
Fromagerie Vigier

Ah, I drift….so this was the beginning of our visit to the romantic south of France, Chateauneuf du Pape, Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue, Pernes les Fontaines, Gigondas and Le Barroux. The influence of Rome and Catholicism permeated the terroir, walled villages, monasteries and small churches and olive trees used for olive wood carvings.

11th Century St. Catherine's in Gigondas
11th Century St. Catherine’s in Gigondas

I was accustomed to our lovely tasting rooms at the wineries in Virginia. Many of which supplement the costly production of wine on the east coast by building fabulous event sites for weddings and celebrations.  Not all are like Pippin Hill Farm, Veritas, King Family Vineyards  or Early Mountain Vineyards with their beautifully appointed celebration halls (which are quite gorgeous!)  many are smaller, more intimate and not quite as opulent. Afton Mountain Vineyards has a wonderful outdoor covered space, complete with blankets and space heaters to enjoy the view even when it’s cold. They have a perfect spot with a contemporary arbor for weddings plus one of the coziest tasting rooms. See my post http://cvilleuncorked.com/2011/10/15/afton-mountain-vineyards-revisited/ for more about Afton Mountain.afton-mountain-008

Horton Vineyards
Horton Vineyards

Each winery around the Charlottesville area has it’s own personality. Some are dog friendly like Keswick with it’s Yappy Hours on Sundays but also known for fabulous weddings with a plantation feel that Scarlett O’Hara would have loved.  Some are tropical and create gourmet chocolates like Glass House Winery and seating under the glass conservatory jungle of banana trees. Pollak Vineyards sits below the mountain overlooking a pond and has offered fly fishing lessons in the past. Mountfair  does weddings on a smaller scale and many of the wineries offer live music on weekends. Veritas has their Starry Nights, outdoor fire pits and a bandstand. King Family Vineyards hosts Polo matches and  an annual benefit for breast cancer, the Pink Ribbon Polo Classic coming up on June 20th, 2014. None of this takes away from the fact that Virginia is producing award winning wines that rival the wines of the Old Country. Southern hospitality abounds and you won’t be disappointed in visiting a tasting room in Virginia.

Glass House Winery
Glass House Winery

By contrast, the wineries and tasting rooms we visited in France were small, most do not charge a tasting fee and can limit you to three tastings, unlike Barboursville Winery (with it’s 5 Star Dining at Palladio)  or Horton Vineyards where you taste quite a large selection. Not to be outdone by the ruins at Chateauneuf du Pape, Barboursville has their own ruins of Governor Barbours home, designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. In Chateauneuf,  you can taste in a Cave, a small room under ground where you may taste from several different wineries or in the main tasting room for Chateauneuf du Pape that even sells souvenirs.  The French term for tasting is  “degustation” so look for a sign that includes the term. ‘En vente directe‘ indicates that they have direct sales and “vin a’ emporter” means they sell wine that you can take with you.

Ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape
Ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape
Ruins at Barboursville Vineyards

In Gigondas, my favorite village of the trip, we visited a more contemporary tasting room with very small bottles in a test tube style presentation, where you may taste many vintages and some world class wines. It was a bit  like stepping up to the counter in a store than tasting at a bar, but they had an amazing selection of wines.

Gigondas Tasting Room
Gigondas Tasting Room

The smallest winery we visited was Clos de Trias in Le Barroux and the winemaker’s home really did remind you of A Good Year, family owned and operated, this winery is one of the few 100% organic, biodynamic wineries in the world. With the family Great Dane, Tauro, sneaking in to watch us barrel taste, it was the best wine tasting on our trip. The wines were excellent and we had a wonderful  tour by Paige Carnwath and my sister, both who’ve bottled, pumped, picked and tasted for the wine maker,  Evan Bakke.

Steel Tanks at Clos de Trias
Steel Tanks at Clos de Trias
Tasting at Clos de Trias


Clos de Trias "Tauro"
Clos de Trias “Tauro”

If you want to taste wine and make an effort to converse about your tasting in France, explore this link  for French wine tasting terms. It’s like the old adage, when in Rome…

Whether you venture out to wineries in France or Virginia, the wine community is a big family, facing the same obstacles of weather, and uniting to support each other. Both countries appreciate wine from bud break or bud burst to the final product, so go, enjoy and savor the experience wherever grapes are grown.


Finger Lakes Rieslings for Thanksgiving 2012

Recently I had the opportunity to join a live wine tasting called The Riesling Hour, via Twitter and blogging. Unfortunately, the timing coincided with our daughter’s last-minute, down to the wire, wedding preparations. I did the tasting and am just now getting around to sharing the results. I participated in the same event last Fall, however that wine shipment was accompanied by an insert describing the wines and wineries. I really did appreciate the added information as I am not familiar with that region or their wines. This year I have to wing it!

At Thanksgiving many families are pairing their meals with the more versatile Pinot Noir wines, but perhaps a nice dry Riesling would be just as enjoyable, especially for guests who prefer a white or more fruity wine. I imagine many families in New York will be including a Riesling  in their wine selections to pair with appetizers at least.

The Region

The Finger Lakes region of New York was selected by Trip Advisor as the #4 Wine Travel Destination in the U.S.

Finger Lakes Wine Country, New York is a great weekend getaway destination conveniently located within a five-hour drive of most major metropolitan cities in the Northeast.

The region is made up of three major lakes including Cayuga Lake the eastern most lake of the three major Finger Lakes.   Stretching almost 40 miles in length, it is the longest of the lakes.  I had no idea that the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is the oldest wine trail in America, celebrating 25 years in 2008.

The Keuka Lake Wine Trail is home to some of the oldest vineyard and most historic wineries in the region. Interesting note, Keuka Lake is the only lake in the United States to flow both north and south.

Seneca Lake is the second longest of all the Finger Lakes at 38 miles long.  with a mean depth of 291 feet and a maximum depth of 618 feet, It is the deepest of all the lakes! Seneca Lake is home to the largest wine trail in the Finger Lakes region and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail has 36 member wineries.

Montezuma Riesling 2011Montezuma_Riesling_2011

I’m not sure why I selected this one first, but perhaps the name or label made me think I’d like this one the least. After all, what does Montezuma have to do with New York? This winery actually started out as a Honey Farm and Meadery, later branching out to wines and now, a distillery of Vodka and Brandies. This wine was actually a surprise,  with a refreshing dry, citrusy taste and hints of peach, it turned out to be my second favorite wine of the evening. As it turns out, this wine garnered double gold medals in The New York Wine & Food Classic 2011. So much for first impressions!

Three Brothers Zero Degree Dry Riesling

This dry Riesling was pale straw in color with some green apple notes. For some reason it didn’t bowl me over. Would have to give it another try.  Possibly looking for something with a bit more  body to it or fruitiness. It would be interesting to try all of the Four Degrees Rieslings. They produce four Rieslings beginning with zero as the driest and working up to the Three  as the sweetest.

Wagner Riesling 2011

I’m not a big fan of screw-tops, for no other reason than I love the ritual of  pulling out the cork screw and the little pop sound when the cork comes out.  I found this screw-top bottle Riesling very appealing.  As far as I know it hasn’t won any medals, but perhaps, it hasn’t been entered in any competitions?  Apple and peach aromas, more fruity than the previous Riesling, but still dry with stone fruit flavors and minerality, it had a nice crisp finish.

Hint for Christmas shopping at Wagner Vineyards: Vixen is a Semi Dry Riesling and Blitzen is a red blend. Cute bottles with reindeer on them! Would make a nice “His & Hers” gift.Wagner_Dry_Riesling_2011

Fulkerson 2011 Semi-Dry Riesling

This was the lightest of the Rieslings, in my humble opinion, peach aroma with a delicate almost citrusy  flavor. Possibly pair this with ham for those of you who avoid the traditional Thanksgiving gobbler.

A bit of history, the Fulkerson farm has been in the same family since 1805, black raspberries were the main crop and grapes were planted in the 1830’s. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the vineyards were expanded, with more concentration now on wine production.

* I certainly enjoyed participating in this tasting event again this year and feel like I’ve learned a little more about our American Riesling wines. Thanks for including me!