After a long career in vineyard management in Napa Valley, Clay Shannon set out to acquire land to make his own wines in 1996. “I wanted a mountain vineyard that had red dirt to grow some rich, well-concentrated red grapes with strong tannins,” he shared with us. Shannon found his land on a remote ridge at 2500 feet elevation in Lake County outside Napa Valley and Mendocino to establish his ranch and Shannon Family Wines which he oversees with his wife, Angie Shannon.
The Lake Country wine region is home to about two dozen wineries and seven designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA). Grape growing here dates to the 1800s but was replaced by other agricultural products during Prohibition era. Grape growing resumed in the 1960. The area is mountainous with cool winters and volcanic soils. The area’s just still far enough away from the Napa scene to be a “discovery journey.”
About half of the Shannon’s 2000 acres is dedicated to vines, with a focus on organic regenerative farming The rest is preserved. There’s also a herd of sheep, which inspired the label for Ovis, a premium single vineyard estate red. Shannon cultivates Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and Rhône reds. He is also experimenting with other drought-resistant varieties including Touriga Nacional, Counoise, Nero d’Avola and Alicante Bousche.
Many have referred to Clay Shannon as a “maverick” for settling in Lake County which still has a lower profile than its starry neighbor, Napa. It is a title he eschews. “I’m just cowboy farmer who wanted to the own the best land I could to make the wine I wanted. Sometimes you need to venture a little further to find what you are looking for.”
What we tasted:
Clay Shannon Sauvignon Blanc. Think lime, gooseberry, white peach and a hint of flint. SRP $30
Clay Shannon Cabernet Sauvignon: Grapes are sourced from the lots to make this red which is has notes of raspberry, cherry and tobacco. SRP: $45
Buck Shack: Shannon’s popular red blend is aged in bourbon barrels to soften the tannins and lend hints of whisky and vanilla. It’s sold in 750L whisky bottle. The name Buck Shack is a nod to the 100-year-old skinning shed located on his ranch known as “Ye Old Buck Shack.” “This is a wine about having fun, Shannon shared. SRP $35
Shannon calls Ovis his “sexy Cabernet Sauvignon. This estate grown single vineyard red is barrel-aged 20 to 24 months and then another year aged in bottle. The name Ovis translates in Latin to sheep, and there are 3000 of these wooly creatures on Shannon’s ranch. Would pairing this rich, dense red wine with roasted lamb feel appropriate? SRP $60
Listen here to our SIPS podcast with Clay Shannon (link). Or click below.
Boston is considered one of the nation’s centers for higher learning and is home to many renowned universities. The city is also home to Commonwealth Wine School a leading institution for both avocational and professional wine, spirits, and sake education.
Located in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Commonwealth Wine School offers a range of courses from beginner to advanced levels. For industry professionals, Commonwealth Wine School offers certification level programs from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), the Wine Scholar Guild, and the Society of Wine Educators.
We recently caught up with Kim Simone, Manager of Commonwealth Wine School, and asked her about what you should look for when selecting a wine studies program. Kim has worked in education for many years and has numerous wine certifications including Level 3 WSET and Certified Wine Educator. She served as corporate sommelier for the Legal Food Restaurant Group for many years and is founder of Vinitas Wineworks, a wine consulting company that collaborates with retailers and wineries.
TCT: Kim, many people may be considering a wine program to advance their education. What questions should they be asking when looking at schools?
KS: It depends on their priorities and what they want to do with their education. We see people from many backgrounds and with many reasons for enrolling. Some students work in the industry and want professional certifications to advance their careers. Others are enthusiastic wine consumers who want to become familiar about a certain wine region or style. Or they are traveling overseas and want to learn about the wines beforehand. We offer a broad range of studies for both groups.
TCT: We see more people using initials like WSET, CWE and CSW after their names. Tell us about the certification programs offered.
KS: Commonwealth Wine School offers the full course of wine studies and certification levels for WSET as well as for spirits and sake. That is something that sets us apart. We also offer certification programs for the Wine Scholar Guild and the Society of Wine Educators.
TCT: Tell us about your instructors.
KS: We work with many fantastic teachers in the Boston who are respected for their knowledge. Many are published authors or who have worked in the restaurant and hospitality management industry – just to mention a few: Erika Frey, Adam Centamore, Jo-Ann Ross , Ashley Broshious.
TCT: How large are your classes?
KS: Our classes on average range from 12-to 20 people. Especially for the professional studies programs, we want to keep classes small to encourage communication. Of course, we also host winemaker dinners and tastings that are larger, and we also offer virtual classes. So anyone can join us from outside Boston throughout online platform.
TCT: Have you noticed any changes in what students are enrolling in?
KS: We are seeing more students enrolling from our restaurant partners. We see them sent by their beverage group or manager. Many enroll to advance their education and improve their standing in the industry, or they may work retail and want to improve their knowledge to better serve their customers.
TCT: Anything else you want to share with us?
KS: Yes, it is important to note that Commonwealth Wine School is about building community, whether you are joining us for avocational or professional reasons. We offer a diverse range of workshops, wine camps and tasting events that are affordable for those individuals who enjoy learning with like-minded people, and we aim to be the leading center for higher wine education in the greater Boston/New England area for industry professionals.
Albariño wines from Rías Baixas in Spain are aromatic wines with zesty tropical and citrus notes and zippy acidity that tap dance on your palate as you savor them, perhaps with with a plate of fresh-caught Galician seafood.
But, as we learned tasting aged albariños from Bodegas Fillaboa, that time spent on fine lees with the steady stir of bâtonnage creates wines more like a graceful pas de deux of flavors and complexity.
We tasted three different selections from Bodegas Fillaboa, a family-owned estate in Galicia. Located in a 15th century Romanesque castle near the border between Spain and Portugal, Fillaboa produces some of the finest and rarest estate-grown wines in D.O Rías Baixas.
Estate grown wines in Rías Baixas are still uncommon, according to Isabel Salgado, winemaker at Bodegas Fillaboa since 1998. “We feel having estate grown fruit is important for maintaining full quality control.”
Fillaboa is located near the Portuguese border (150 feet) and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (22 miles) and the Tea and Miño Rivers. “This is a very windy and rainy part of Spain with granite-rich soil and round rocks from the river. Here we use “en parra” (pergola) system to elevate vines six to seven feet to protect the fruit from the damp soil and increase wind flow through the plantings,” Salgado noted.
Salgado believes albariños have great aging potential. “At the beginning of my career, everyone wanted fresh albariños to drink. Over time, I researched the aging potential of white wines in bâtonnage. I was inspired to keep some albariños on fine lees to see how they would evolve. No one in the region had made wine like this in the past. In 2000 we released our first Seleccion Finca, and it showed how well albariño can age.”
What we tasted
Bodegas Fillaboa Albariño, 2020 (SRP $20) This wine spends at least four months on fine lees. This is an aromatic wine with refreshing notes of pineapple, lemon, mango and apple with bright acidity. Consider pairing with boiled seafood, lightly grilled or poached fish with citrus sauce, mussels in garlic and white wine. Salgado feels this wine has three-year aging potential.
Selección Finca Monte Alto, 2018 (SRP $26) This is a single vineyard wine from Fillabao’s Monte Alto plot of just seven hectares with 28-year-old vines. The wine is aged on fine lees for one year. Annual production is limited to 10,000 bottles, depending on the vintage. This wine has fuller flavors of tropical fruit, apple and light toast with a smooth finish. Consider pairing with blackened redfish, Spanish tortas with jamón and queso, fish stew. Salgado sees its aging potential for five years.
Fillaboa 1898, 2010 ($58) This is a complex wine made only in the best vintages. Albariño grapes are sourced from eight estate plots; the wine is six years on lees with regular bâtonnage. This wine delivers unctuous notes of ripe tropical fruits, baked apples and brioche toast with a long finish. Savor with roast pork, coq au vin, butter-poached lobster.
Tasting through these three albariño selections gave us a greater appreciation for these wines and the complexity they can develop with age. Bodegas Fillaboa wines are imported in the U.S. by Folio Fine Wine Partners. www.BodegasFillaboa.com
World Malbec Day, April 17, is an annual observance that celebrates this noble red grape. Malbec’s roots are from southwest France, but it has achieved superstar status in Argentina where it has flourished. In fact, Argentina now produces seventy-five percent of Malbec, and its wines have become world-renowned.
One example is Bodegas Luigi Bosca. Established in 1901 by the Arizu family, Luigi Bosca is one of Argentina’s few continually owned and operated family wineries. Its main winery is in Lujàn de Cuyo, a sub-appellation of Mendoza. The Arizu family was instrumental in helping establish Lujàn de Cuyo as an official CDO in 1989. The winery also vineyards in Maipú and and the Uco Valley, also in Mendoza.
Head winemaker, Pablo Cunéo, has worked with Luigi Bosca since 2017. If anyone is an “ambassador” for Mendoza, it is Cunéo, who praises its climactic conditions for making exceptional wines.
“We are fortunate to have very stable growing conditions year after year,” he noted. “Mendoza has a continental climate bordered by the Andes and high elevation vineyards. Its poor alluvial soils help to produce a high concentration of fruit. The cool winds from the Andes, low humidity and ample sunlight are ideal for ripening the fruit with exceptional vibrance and color, especially as you go higher in altitude in the Uco Valley.”
Bodega Luigi Bosca’s De Sangre collection of reserve wines was introduced in October 2021. (Importer: Frederick Wildman)
“De Sangre means ‘of the bloodlines,’ and these wines are close to the Arizu family, special reserve wines usually brought out to serve for special occasions. Now, they want to offer them to the world,” said Cuñeo.“The wines are made from grapes sourced from select parcels to show the characteristic of each variety.”
We tasted three selections:
De Sangre White is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Semillon (35%) and Sauvignon Blanc (15%). “The Chardonnay is fermented for eight months in French oak to attain toasty, caramel notes. The Semillon has herbal and chamomile characteristics, and the Sauvignon Blanc adds citrus and acidity. We thought this wine would well with a variety of dishes, from a light creamy pasta to spanakopita to pan-roasted trout almondine or Florida grouper in a tropical sauce. So many ideas came to mind!
The De Sangre Cabernet Sauvignon (100%) is blended from grapes from four different parcels in Mendoza. “Each adds something special to the wines,” said Cuñeo. After 12 months aging in oak with malolactic fermentation, this wine delivers pleasing black fruit and peppery notes and ripe, balanced- not overly agressive- tannins which we appreciated. Consider this wine for a for grilled meats, game, or roasts. We enjoyed it with a savory roast chicken.
De Sangre Malbec is one of three Malbecs produced in the collection. The Malbec DOC Lujàn de Cuyo is aged 12 months in oak with malolactic fermentation, which imparts soft elegance and a ripe roundness to the fruit laced with notes of cacao and coffee. This Malbec is silky and plush. We discussed grilled meat, steak and barbecue and tasted at home with David’s “vegetarian” meat loaf.
Cuñeo feels Lujàn de Cuyo produces the most representative of European Malbecs made in the 19th century- very classic. “I call it [Lujan de Cuyo] the Malbec that conquered the world,” he said.
There was a time in South Africa, when a woman of color would not have the opportunity to run a winery. Berene Sauls represents a new generation breaking down barriers as owner of Tesselaarsdal Winery, located in the Overberg. Opened in 2015, Tesselaarsdal produces cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with grapes sourced from nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The name Tesselaarsdal is an homage to Sauls’ ancestors who were freed slaves and farmers in the area.
Believe in a Dream: A Former Au Par Turns Vintner
Much of Sauls’ hands-on training has been under the mentorship of Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell, whose namesake winery is among the finest in South Africa’s Overberg region. Sauls began working as an au par to the Hamilton Russell’s four daughters. She expressed an interest in learning the wine business, and the couple encouraged her, giving her more hands-own work at their winery and serving as her mentor.
Sauls says the learning experience of working every department of Hamilton Russell Vineyards was invaluable. Eventually this led to the Hamilton Russells offering to help Sauls start her own winery in 2014. They have provided her a production facility at their winery and seed money to build a winemaking facility.
Tesselaarsdal – A Symbol of Freedom and Heritage
Located in the Overberg, Tesselaarsdal is a rural village with historical significance. The widow of its namesake settler, Johannes Tesselaar, left his farmland to his freed slaves upon his death in 1810, a bold move at the time.
Sauls glows with excitement talking about her future as a winery owner, something she knows would have made her mother and grandmother proud. “I named my winery Tesselaarsdal to honor my roots and legacy, and the women on wine’s label represent my mother and grandmother who both loved the land,” she shared.
Eventually Sauls plans to grow her own estate fruit. For now, she sources her grapes from nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge whose higher elevation and cool winds provide ideal growing conditions.
We tasted Tesselaarsdal’s two wines.
Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020
Sauls second vintage, is aged in both amphora and six months in oak, giving it a light toast blended with soft tropical and citrus notes and a nice minerality. As we tasted, visions of Asian curry, Cajun blackened redfish and fresh grilled trout crossed our minds.
Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2019
This wine is aged just over nine months in French oak, imparting notes of allspice, wild strawberries, and fresh cherries on our palate. In South Africa this would be the perfect wine for a classic braai. Here stateside, we call that a cookout on the grill with sausages, lamb, chicken skewers and grilled vegetable. The night we tasted this wine we had cauliflower pizza with bitter greens, anchovies, and caramelized onions.
Tesselaarsdal means “heaven on earth” in Old Dutch and Afrikaans. And for Berene Sauls it is a place to honor her heritage and plant her own piece of heaven, writing an exciting next chapter for this vibrant young woman.
We enjoy drinking wine with our meals and an evening cocktail. We also know taking a healthy break from daily alcohol consumption is a good thing, especially in our profession. However, drinking water with our dinner just doesn’t provide the satiating satisfaction we desire.
Happily, we discovered Enroot Sparkling Teas, thirst-quenching cold brewed teas with botanical and fruit flavors that do not overpower the palate. The recipes for Enroot’s five different tea flavors were created and tested by chefs with food pairings in mind. Our first taste of Enroot was at Chef J J Johnson’s Field Trip at Rockefeller Center in New York City. At the time, we had never heard of Enroot, but we were impressed. Then, our friends at Vineyard Brands introduced Enroot a wine tasting in New York City last October. Vineyard Brands is the distributor. We were hooked!
It turns out Enroot is the brainchild of three friends, Cristine Patwa, John Fogelman and Brad Pitt (yes, the actor!) The teas were conceived to appeal to the “sober curious,” population who want to enjoy low or no-alcohol beverage options and seek something better-for-you than a sugary soda. Tea, being filled with antioxidants and botanicals makes sense.
Fact: Low- and no-alcohol market, driven by millennials, is continuing to expand, with consumption expected to grow 31% by 2024, according to the IWSR.
CEO Cris Patwa was inspired by the refreshing teas made by her grandmother, Pamela, a small-scale farmer and food entrepreneur in the Philippines. “When I was a little girl, my grandmother would cut open fresh mango for our afternoon snacks. If we were thirsty, a fresh coconut would be plucked and hacked to enjoy directly from the trees as refreshment. We lived with this authentic connection to our food, farms and family – which ultimately became the values that Enroot is founded on today. A driving force for me in creating this company with Brad and John was to be able bottle these memories and learnings from her.”
The cold brew process takes over 20 hours. “This method avoids scalding or over-cooking the tea leaves and botanicals which can create bitterness and astringency that often require a notable amount of sugar or artificial sweeteners to mask,” said Patwa. “Without this bitterness in our slow cold brews, we were able to avoid the use of added sugars, sweeteners, artificial ingredients, flavors/essences/extracts, concentrates, Stevia or monk fruit – while only being 25 natural whole calories. “
Enroot works with small farmers around the world to select its botanicals, another nod of respect to Patwa’s grandmother.
“Each ingredient is meticulously sourced to ensure the highest quality farm-to-bottle experience. Our organic teas can take several months to several years to evolve and mature for careful picking during harvest season,” said Patwa.
Enroot also partnered with The James Beard Foundation (JBF) to select 12 chefs to create the botanical recipes for Enroot. There are currently five flavors. Apple-Lemon-Cayenne-Yerba Mata; Mango, Ginger- Tumeric-Guyasa, Peach-Hibiscus Jasmine Green Tea, Raspberry-Mint White Peony Tea and Strawberry- Lavender Rosemary- Tulsi (a type of holy basil). The chefs also created cocktail recipes and dishes to pair with the different teas which can be found at www.drinkenroot.com
A Certified B Corp, Enroot has also committed to supporting JBF’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. “The desire to support women is also a nod to grandmother, Pamela. In many ways, she laid the foundation for who I am today, imparting wisdom and life experience, and learning about business, agriculture, community, and sustainability,” said Patwa.
Listen to our conversation with Cris Patwa, CEO, Enroot- The Connected Table SIPS! podcast-iHeart Radio
Sixty years is a milestone for any business and especially when it is a winery. Even more interesting is when the winery is located in New Zealand, which is still considered a “new world” wine region. Many of the country’s earliest grape growers were immigrants from Croatia with the biggest wave arriving between 1890 and 1914. This included the Fistonich family. That is where the story of Sir George Fistonich and the birth of Villa Maria begins.
In 1961 at the age of 21, George Fistonich leased land in from his father and planted his first acre of vines in Auckland with the goal of making quality wine, accessible to many. From those humble beginnings, Villa Maria expanded to three wineries throughout the country. It is New Zealand’s most awarded winery with more than 2000 accolades. In 2009, Sir George Fistonich was knighted in recognition of his service to the New Zealand wine industry, a first in that nation.
Villa Maria’s winemaker, Tom Dixon started as a cellar hand in 2013. “Villa Maria one of the few wineries making wines in every production region of New Zealand. We are based in Auckland on the North Island. On the east coast in Gisborne, we grow Chardonnay and Pinot Gris; just south in Hawkes Bay we produce Bordeaux style reds and Chardonnay. The South Island in Marlborough is where we make out Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir,” he explained.
Villa Maria’s Sauvignon Blancs take center stage. We tasted the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon 2021, Marlborough (SRP $16.99). The wine’s flavor notes blend citrus and tropical fruits with lemongrass, fresh herbs and a whiff of bell pepper. Dixon explained that Villa Maria sources its Sauvignon Blanc grapes from two vineyards to achieve this balance of flavor.
“The Wairau Valley in Marlborough has a warmer climate and more fertile soils which bring out the tropical fruit character. In the Awatere Valley the climate is cooler, drier, windier and the soils are poor, resulting in wines with more vegetal character such as snow peas and grass. With the Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, we aim for a 50-50 split so you can taste a lovely intermingling of both tropical and herbal notes,” he noted.
Villa Maria is also recognized for its sustainability platform based on four pillars: Respect the land. Tread lightly. Invest in people. Inspire conscious consumers. “By caring for the land and focusing on preservation, we benefit by making better wine. By investing in people, we have a committed team who shares our mission. Our passion and desire to be sustainable and responsible we want to inspire others to do the same,” he said.
We recommend pairing Villa Maria with plant-based dishes, salads, grilled fish, mussels frites, papaya salad or pad Thai.
As digital media has soared in popularity many print newspapers and magazines have taken a financial hit.
But not all.
“Niche publications are the healthiest in the media industry, and aspirational lifestyle categories like wine are performing particularly well,” said Jacqueline Strum, President and Publisher of Wine Enthusiast Media, during an interview on The Connected Table SIPS.
So, what’s driving the interest in niche media?
Niche, a.k.a. special interest media, with its focused content, attracts an engaged, loyal audience of enthusiasts, whether the subject is wine, gardening, quilting or yoga. It’s a blend of aspirational meets recreational.
“Consumers want a break from staring at their screens all day working remotely during the past 18 months of the pandemic. They just want to focus on something they enjoy that is not work-related,” said Strum.
How to select, collect and store wine are also big topics. “People want to learn more about the wines they are drinking, and they are purchasing more wine to enjoy at home. In addition to the growth of virtual wine talks and seminars, we’ve seen considerable interest in new design concepts for at-home wine storage and wine accessories through our Wine Enthusiast catalog,” noted Strum.
Making the Wine Lifestyle Accessible
In 1979, when newlyweds Adam and Sybil Strum decided to launch a wine accessories catalog out of their suburban New York home, America’s wine drinking culture was in its nascent stages. Many Americans knew very little about wine unless they traveled to Europe or had an expense account to dine at restaurants known for their wine lists. California wines were just starting to gain acclaim, thanks to the 1976 Paris Wine Competition- the Judgment of Paris -organized by the late Stephen Spurrier, a juried blind tasting of California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against their French counterpart from Burgundy and Bordeaux. In an upset that gained international attention, the California wines won the competition.
The Strums sought to make the wine lifestyle accessible through their Wine Enthusiast catalog selling wine accessories, and in 1988 the launch of Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
In 2021, the elder Strums named Jacqueline (Jacki), President and Publisher of Wine Enthusiast Media, and her sister, Erika Strum Silverstein, President of Wine Enthusiast Commerce.
The company has been a family run business since the beginning, and both sisters have been active running different divisions. Jacqueline Strum emphasized that both of their parents remain very much involved and are not stepping back.
“I work closely with our father on the business side of the magazine; he has built a large network of connections since the days when he worked in wine sales. Our mother is a design and product guru which is important for the Wine Enthusiast catalog.”
While advertising is the bread and butter for Wine Enthusiast magazine, Strum acknowledged the powerful impact of ecommerce. Wine Enthusiast’s ecommerce business alone has grown 50% in 2021.
The Strums look at marketing and promotion with a comprehensive eye towards making wine as accessible as possible. “With niche media, there are no wasted impressions. Every person reading Wine Enthusiast is a possible customer for your brand or business. You are speaking directly to your readers,” Strum said.
You could say Strum sees the glass half full…both of opportunity and fine wine.
The term “terroir is used to describe how climate, soil, topography, elevation and other environmental factors help create the unique expression in a bottle of wine. But “terroir’ is also applied to other products, including wine and coffee.
Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO of Waterford Whisky, is addressing “terroir” head-on in his new Irish single malt whiskies with a focus on single farm origin barley. After 20 years working in wine and another 20 in spirits, Reynier has a nose for what we likes and the knowledge to make it happen.
The Entrepreneur Spirit
Reynier was raised in the wine industry. His grandfather started a wine importing company and owned retail shops in London; his father began selling wine wholesale after World War II. Reynier launched one of London’s premier wine and spirits shops, La Reserve. His love affair with whisky started after he won a ₤1,000 bottle of whisky at a London Wine Fair. In 2000, Mark resurrected the defunct Bruichladdich distillery in Islay, Scotland and later sold it to Remy Martin. He then launched a new venture, purchasing the former Guinness brewery in Waterford, Ireland, in 2014, and turned it into a state-of-the-art distillery with the mission to make a terroir-driven whisky.
In Burgundy, they talk about terroir all the time in relation to their wines,” say Reynier, “I was convinced that the same could be done for whisky, and Waterford is the result of that effort.”
Follow the Barley
Reynier chose Ireland to make whisky so he could “follow the barley” as he feels Irish barley is among the best in the world. To make Waterford, he’s sourcing from 97 farmers across the country, all of whom work to meet his exacting standards. Once harvested, Waterford stores, malts and distills each farm’s grain separately to capture the distinctive character of each site. Each bottle of Waterford Whisky identifies the farm and shares a numbered terroir code so the curious can learn more about the source on the Waterford website www.waterfordwhisky.com. “We’re offering full transparency,” says Reynier.
Currently, three Waterford Irish Whiskies are available in the U.S. market. Coincidentally, each is named after a different fort in Ireland – Dunmore (“big fort”) Dunbell (“hillside fort”) and Rathclogh (“stone fort”). Each presents a single farm origin for its barley, differentiated by the unique soils, climate conditions, topography and elevation – EG: terroir – specific to that farm. “
Here is a brief description of each:
Waterford Single Farm Origin Dunbell sources its barley from farmer, Ned Murphy, east of the River Nore. The whisky was aged just under four years in four different cask types. It is a light The palate is bright with lemon zest, dried orange peel, and ginger.
Waterford Single Farm Origin Dunmore sources its barley from John Tynan in County Laois .was aged just under four years in four different cask types. It has notes of graham cracker, granola, and ginger. There was a delicate and pleasing creaminess on the palate with spiced pear and apple.
Waterford Single Farm Origin Rathclogh sources its barley from Richard Raftice in Kilkenny, whose farm has glacier meltwater gravel soils in Kilkenny. Also aged in four different casks, this whisky has earthier notes with a touch of toffee brittle, but not cloying. It delivers a pleasant richness.
There’s more to discover in Virginia than stunning mountain scenery, historic landmarks, expansive horse farms and miles of coastal Atlantic beaches. This beautiful state also has an impressive diversity of wines; many wineries are family owned. We recommend putting Virginia on your U.S.A. wine itinerary
A Little Virginia Wine History
Virginia’s wine history dates to the Jamestown Settlement in 1607. The Virginia Company of London made it mandatory for each male settler to plant at least ten grapevines as an economic venture. In the 1700s Thomas Jefferson, an oenophile after serving as Ambassador to France, tried without success to cultivate European grape varietals at his home, Monticello in Virginia’s central Piedmont region.
In the nineteenth century, Virginia’s native Norton grape, the oldest American varietal, was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World Fair. In the twentieth century, Virginia’s wine industry stalled thanks to Prohibition, two World Wars, and the Great Depression. However, modern farmers and visionary entrepreneurs from the late twentieth century to current times have remained committed to making quality wine in the region and have made the necessary investments to make it happen. A turning point was 1976 when Italy’s Zonin wine family invested in Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.
Virginia Wines Today
Today, Virginia has over 300 wine producers in eight designated AVAs. The most concentrated areas are Central Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia. While Bordeaux varietals dominate, notably Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot, one can also find Tannat, and some Rhone varietals (red and white). Notable whites include Chardonnay, Viognier and Petite Manseng, a grape better known in the southwest of France, and Vidal Blanc, a white hybrid. To be called a “Virginia wine,” the grapes must be primarily sourced from within the commonwealth.
Virginia wine country is an easy getaway for east coasters or visitors to Washington DC. Here are three regions to get you started based on our visits:
While Thomas Jefferson never managed to make quality wines at his home, Monticello, the AVA is a center for production, thanks to the region’s fertile, clay and granite-based soils. Base yourself in Charlottesville to explore the dining scene as well as numerous historical sites.
Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville. Established in 1976, by Italy’s Zonin family, Italian varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano and Nebbiolo flourish under the watchful eye of Luca Paschina, the respected estate general manager/winemaker. Barboursville’s Paxxito took top honors at Virginia’s 2021 Governor’s Cup Awards. Its signature wine is the sublime Bordeaux blend, Octagon.
Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison. Owned by former AOL executives, Steve and Jean Case, this winery features a large tasting room and small café where visitors can sample a curated selection of Virginia’s “best of the best” wines as well as Early Mountain’s selections made under the guidance of winemaker Ben Jordan. Try: Eluvium 2016, a Merlot-dominant (56%) blend with Petit Verdot (44%). Here is a link to our interview with Ben Jordan (link to podcast)
Horton Vineyards, Gordonsville. (Pictured at top of article. Photo: Megan L. Coppage). The late founder, Dennis Horton was inspired by Rhone varietals he discovered while traveling in France, and this winery plants several as well as ancient varietals such as Georgian Rkatsiteli and the native Norton red. We tasted nearly 20 wines when we visited! Try: Horton Petite Manseng, a fragrant white with a tad (5 %) Viognier and Rkatsiteli, named “Best in Show” at the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards in February. the estate is now run by Horton’s wife, Sharon, and daughter, Shannon, whom we interviewed on The Connected Table in November 2020 (link to podcast)
The Shenandoah Valley stretches from Winchester to Roanoke. Driving the rural roads, one can’t help but pull over to take Instagram-worthy photos of historic farmhouses and pastures of grazing cows and sheep. In the distance, the Blue Ridge Mountains stretch to the east and the Appalachians and Allegheny Plateau to the west.
Bluestone Vineyards. The Hartman family makes small-batch wines from estate-grown grapes Try: Bluestone Chardonnay (100%), aged on lees and in French oak and Acacia barrels for perfect balance and texture and Bluestone Petite Manseng. We visited with family winemaker, Lee Hartman, in this edition of The Connected Table Live (link to podcast)
We recommend Bluestone’s 2019 Petit Manseng which is among the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case top 12 highest ranking red and white wines. Petite Manseng does well in Virginia, and this is one of our favorites. Fermented in oak and aged on the lees for 10 months, this wine’s is a more citrusy versus creamy style of Petit Manseng with a nice, long finish and great minerality. SRP: $24.50.
CrossKeys Vineyard, Mt. Crawford. The Bakhtiar family named this palatial winery with an on-site café after the historic Cross Keys Tavern which served as a community gathering place in the 1800s and housed wounded soldiers during the infamous Battle of Cross Keys. Try: Fiore, a refreshing rosé made from Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc- a Silver Finalist for Virginia’s 2019 Governor’s Cup.
Dotted with palatial estates and horse farms, it’s hard to believe the bustle of Washington DC is only an hour’s drive away. Middleburg is truly a country retreat for the city weary and country squires.
Linden Vineyards, Linden. Owner Jim Law is one of the most respected vintners in the state. Located in the Blue Ride Mountains 60 miles west of Washington, D.C., The off-the-beaten path drive is well worth it the destination! Law produces stunning, limited edition Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux blend reds. We chatted with Jim Law in this edition of The Connected Table Live (2nd guest). (link to podcast).
We recommend trying the Hardscrabble Chardonnay. Produced from estate grown grapes from Linden’s signature vineyard, this wine offers aromas of ripe pear and grilled peach with vanilla toast and nutmeg with a creamy texture combined with balanced acidity. SRP $48.
Boxwood Estate Winery, Middleburg. One of Virginia’s earliest horse farms, this eighteenth century estate focuses on premium estate-grown wines in the Bordeaux style.
Slater Run Vineyards, Upperville. This 300-year-old family-run farm along Goose Creek focuses on making classic wines using French varietals under the guidance of French winemaker Katell Griaud.
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, Middleburg. This luxury inn dates to 1728 and is in the heart of Hunt Country. Try the Virginia peanut soup!
Inn at Little Washington, Washington. This is a tiny town with a big reputation thanks to Chef/Owner Patrick O’Connell, who runs this luxury inn with a Michelin three-star restaurant.
The 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards: The historic inn located on the expansive winery property is the perfect place to unwind after a day of tasting and sumptuous dinner at Palladio, Barboursville’s excellent Italian restaurant.
In this episode of The Connected Table SIPS, Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat and Drink What You Like, discusses Virginia’s different appellations and a few standout grapes, including Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. We taste selections from three Virginia producers that we have visited: Bluestone Vineyards, Linden Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards.
Considered one of the world’s great wine regions, France’s Alsace has long been a player on the international stage with its exceptional still and sparkling wines. With 12 generations at the helm, the Cattin family has been at the center of this region’s wine production since 1720.
France, you say, has many wine regions, so what sets Alsace apart? While France does boast a large number of regions devoted to making wine, most are warm climate areas where red wines dominate. Alsace, with its moderate climate and northerly geographic position next to Germany, is known for its production of white wines, and so holds a special place in the often-complicated world of French winemaking. Let’s take a closer look.
Domaine Joseph Cattin (www.cattin.fr) is the largest independent family-owned winery in Alsace and is located in the small village of Voegtlinshoffen, just South of Colmar. Now run by husband-wife family members, Jacques and Anaïs Sirop Cattin, the winery makes wines across the full spectrum of what Alsace offers, with particular emphasis on Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and their self-professed specialty, Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine – all of which are widely available in the U.S.
The family currently owns just over 160 acres of vines throughout the area, and like a majority of Alsace producers, farms their vineyards organically. “We’ve been farming this land for 12 generations,” said Anaïs Cattin, “by farming our vineyards sustainably, we have a better chance to ensure this winery will produce for the next twelve generations.” Cattin’s wines, all certified vegan, by the way, are produced in two separate wineries, one for still wines , the other dedicated exclusively to the production of Crémant d’Alsace.
Cattin’s whites are textbook Alsace wines, with each expression showing true varietal character whether made as AOC classified wine or coming from specific “Cru d’Alsace” vineyards – those next level properties showing unique terroir that are designated as the best vineyards in Alsace. A hallmark of Alsace wines is their beautiful compatibility with food. “While they can be consumed anytime, these are food wines,’ said Jacques Cattin, “their weight, acidity, and depth of flavor all condone pairing with not just the local cuisine of Alsace, like our famous choucroute, but with a variety of other foods, including cheeses, meats, and even fish.”
Crémant d’Alsace, sparkling wines made in the Méthode Traditionelle, are vinified in the same way as Champagne, but utilize the grapes varieties of Alsace in addition to those traditionally used for making champagne. The most popular styles are Brut, usually made with local white grapes but can also include Chardonnay; and Brut Rosé, which can only be made with Pinot Noir.
“Alsace’s dry climate and cool evenings during the growing season create the perfect combination for giving our grapes the acidity needed to make excellent sparkling wines,” said Jacques of his family’s Crémant d’Alsace. “And not having to rely exclusively on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two of the industry’s most expensive grape varieties, allows us to make wines of individuality and also keep costs in check, which in turn allows us to provide wines of great value for the price.”
With most Crémant d’Alsace wines priced at under $25, it’s a win-win in our opinion, and helps make Crémant d’Alsace Brut and Rosé some of France’s best sparkling wines.
Cattin wines we tasted; all available in the U.S.A. Imported by T. Edwards Wines.
Riesling AOC Alsace 2018, SRP: $17. Appearance: bright and pale yellow with green reflections. Nose: mineral with citrus flowers. Palate: fresh, dry and mineral, with grapefruit flavors. Pairings: sushi, choucroute, goat cheese.
Gewurztraminer AOC Alsace 2017, SRP: $18. Appearance: clear, pale gold. Nose: perfumed nose with lychee and mango aromas and a delicate touch of rose water. Palate: ripe exotic fruits with floral notes; well-balanced between spiciness and freshness; a long-lasting finish. Pairings: curries, chicken or vegetable chili, strong cheeses (e.g., real Munster cheese from Alsace).
AOC Crémant d’Alsace Brut, SRP: $22. Appearance: bright pale gold; fine bubbles. Nose: fresh; green apple and white flowers. Palate: fresh and dry palate; lively acidity balanced with fruitiness of green apple and lemon; fine and creamy bubbles. Pairings: apertif, fish, white meats.
AOC Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, SRP: $20. Appearance: clear; elegant salmon pink; abundant and dynamic bubbles. Nose: fruity especially red fruits such as cherry and black currants. Palate: refreshing and creamy with fruity aromas such as strawberries and lemon. A clean and long lasting finish. Pairings: spicy Asian dishes, fruit desserts.
Grand Cru wines are the cream of the crop in regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but here’s a tip: Alsace also makes outstanding grand cru wines, and they deliver exceptional quality for value.
We visited with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation of family-run Domaine Gustave Lorentz and winery president. Established in 1836, Gustave Lorentz is located in the heart of Alsace’s Grand Cru wine country near Altenberg de Bergheim. The winery is the essence of Alsace: historic, decidedly French and welcoming to visitors.
While we were familiar with the fact that 90 percent of Alsace wine production is white, we learned a few key points during our discussion with Lorentz:
Alsace has a unique micro-climate
Located in northeast France bordering Germany and Switzerland, Alsace is a small region with big secret Lorentz shared with us: “Alsace is protected by the Vosges Mountains and has a unique micro-climate that delivers drier and warmer temperatures, ideal growing conditions. In fact, Colmar is considered the second driest town in France.” Most producers practice organic and biodynamic farming. Gustave Lorentz has farmed organically since 2012.
Alsace Grand Cru wines are a rare find
While Alsace produces seven grape varieties, only Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat are permitted in the Grand Cru regions of Kanzlerberg and Altenberg de Bergheim near Gustave Lorentz. Here, vineyard plots are small, with concentrated plantings and lower yields in soils that are mainly clay and limestone, producing exceptional grapes. The wines deliver more complexity and can age well. Lorentz told us, “Alsace Grand Cru wines represent only five percent of production, so they are a rare find and exceptional value.” Most average $35/45/bottle.
Alsace Is a top sparkling wine region
Alsace is the oldest and largest producer of crémant, sparkling wines made in the traditional method. One can find crémants made from blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is also permitted to make Crémantd’Alsace. These wines are elegant and refined, delivering great value as well, averaging $30 bottle.
Alsace vs. Germany- Styles
Historically, Alsace has bounced between French and German occupation. However, the heritage, culture, and wines are very much French, as Lorentz explained: “Both Alsace and Germany used the same seven different grape varieties; but Alsace’s vinification style is decidedly French. Germans tend to enjoy drinking wine outside their meals so vinify their wines accordingly, making wines lighter in body, alcohol and style, and also sweeter with less acidity. Conversely, Alsace wines a made to enjoy with food and therefore made with more body, higher alcohol and also drier with better acidity.”
We were impressed with the finesse of the Gustave Lorentz wines we tasted:
Riesling Reserve2017, 100% Riesling with white floral and citrus notes, fresh acidity and a hint of minerality. The finish is dry and fresh. A nice aperitif wine or paired with seafood, white meat chicken or a classic Alsace Choucroute (pork and sauerkraut).
12.3% ABV SRP $21
Pinot Gris 2018, 100% Pinot Gris, that, while white, shows more like a red wine in structure. Creamy texture and underlying yet distinct backbone of acidity, it shows notes of pear and quince with a subdued smokiness in the finish. A beautiful wine that pairs well with roasted chicken, venison, or cheeses like Comté or Parmesan. 13.5% ABV, SRP $24.
Crémant d’Alsace Brut, 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Blanc, 33% Pinot Noir. Made in the méthode traditionnelle to bring a refinement to the bubbles. Zesty and crisp with notes of lemon rind and a hint of red berry. Made our mouths water for a plate of smoked gouda and country ham, or a plate of grilled shrimp. 12% ABV, SRP $26
Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, a 100% Pinot Noir made in the méthode traditionnelle. Pale salmon pink in color, this crémant is lovely to look at as well as to sip. Fresh and fruity with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, softer palate and more roundness. 12 % ABV SRP $25 Enjoy with a heartier dish like roast pork, pasta with tomato sauce or to complement a light fruit dessert. 12% ABV, SRP $25