Visiting Veramar and Bogati Vineyards in Virginia

Veramar Vineyards, Berryville, VA

Veramar Vineyards, Berryville, VA

A few weeks ago we went to celebrate our 5th anniversary in and around Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. As history, hiking, and wine fanatics, this area had everything we wanted all in one spot. You may know Harper’s Ferry from the famous uprising of abolitionist John Brown, which would eventually lead to our nation’s civil war. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in nearby Charles Town that was built on George Washington’s first land purchased in the area. In fact, Charles Town was named for his brother. Our first morning we spent in historic Shepherdstown and then crossed the Potomac into Maryland for a visit to Antietam National Battlefield, rendered all the more somber and powerful from an overnight snowfall. And the state of Virginia is home to over 200 wineries, with a long history of vine cultivation, but we will get to that in a minute.

With the unexpected weather we had opted to postpone our hike and winery visits until the next day when things would have melted off a bit. This was more for hike safety than for the winery visit, but nevertheless, 1,200 feet up on Loudoun Heights there was still several inches of snow to be found. After heading back down the Appalachian Trail route across the Shenandoah into downtown Harper’s Ferry, we hopped in the car to visit some of the nearby wineries of Northern Virginia.

A friend of mine who lives in the area recommended Veramar winery in Berryville. In complete contrast to the snowy mountaintops, the sun was shining down on the rolling hills and vineyards of the seemingly endless estate, with the expanse of the Blue Ridge extending in the distance as far as the eye could see. This area of the state’s wine industry is Shenandoah Valley AVA. Vine cultivation in Virginia goes back as far as the original Jamestown colony, and Thomas Jefferson himself was growing the first vinifera vines here at his home in Monticello. For more on that subject, read one of my favorite books, “Thomas Jefferson on Wine,” by John Hailman. On this beautiful day, the owner and family were enjoying the weather as well and it sounds like there will be another generation of winemakers in the family. The scenery here is one you could imagine not looking all that different 250 years ago.

Veramar Vineyards' Rooster Red and 2013 Cabernet Franc

Veramar Vineyards’ Rooster Red and 2013 Cabernet Franc

After the tasting we bought a bottle of the Cabernet Franc 2013 and ‘Rooster Red’ blend as well as a few whites we enjoyed, particularly the Seyval Blanc. I am writing this on day two for the bottle of Rooster Red I brought home, so that wine has  opened up a bit since and really is showing well on the nose and palate.

The Rooster Red is a red Bordeaux-style non-vintage blend. On the nose are black currant and a seductive smokey oak and baking spices along with distinct soil/earth notes — softer on the palate than yesterday for sure. Some fig in there, and coffee bean. It paired nicely with food yesterday and is standing on its own quite well today. It has a medal from the San Francisco Wine Awards as well as commendations from Decanter’s World Wine Awards and 83 points from Wine Enthusiast.

I also bought a bottle of the 2013 Cabernet Franc. Like the Rooster Red, the oak on this wine and the aromas associated with it are really dialed in and integrated. I don’t think I noticed as much at the winery. Though maybe that was a result of all the visitors that day and us just relieved to finally be tasting after waiting 20 minutes for a bridal shower before us to make room at the tasting bar. I was impressed — these smell like some of the best from the west coast and Europe. It is rated at 87 points on the winery site, though I am unable to find the source. On the palate, this Cabernet Franc is a balanced, elegant wine with very little of the under-ripe or green notes I usually encounter in reds from our part of the country. We enjoyed some warm bread and a gouda as well which you can buy at the tasting bar.

IMG_6339As we were looking over the options for one more stop in the region’s winery list, the staff suggested their sister winery just 7 miles down the road, Bogati.The Bogaty family runs Veramar, hence the name of their sister winery Bogati. (I am unsure of why the spelling was changed in the winery name – perhaps to be more chic?) When they told us it had a modern, Argentian flare, we decided it was defintely worth a visit. I had yet to come across a winery in this part of the country that did South American wines (or rather, a South American style of Malbec, a French native grape finding much success in Argentina of late.)   A quick drive through a gap in the Mountains led us to Bogati. On the outside it looks like a modern art gallery space with some lovely views of its own. But inside it’s all about the wine, and plenty of style. Their wines have a few medals of their own, namingly for their Seyval Blanc, the light Pinot Gris-based wine known as “B-thin,” the “Tango Blu,” and their Malbec.  The Malbec is really what I was excited about most though and it was a tasty and promising example. But equally as unexpected and unique as a Virginia Malbec, was their Touriga Nacional. You may know this as the principal grape of Portuguese red wines, and this one completely surprised and delighted me. As much for the uniqueness as the taste. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by both of these fine wineries – they are each within an hour’s reach of Washington DC.

Malbec Day Review: Zuccardi Q 2010

Zuccardi "Q" 2010 Mendoza Malbec

Zuccardi “Q” 2010 Mendoza Malbec

Today, April 17, 2013, marks the third anniversary of Malbec World Day. This year, Malbec will also be represented as a cultural and artistic expression using street art as the medium. In over 30 countries around the world, tastings, dinners and parties will be thrown to celebrate the grape. Known by other names in its native France — both Cot and Auxerrois, it is believed to have originated in either Cahors or northern Burgundy.

Why today? On this day in 1853, Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento proposed diversifying and expanding the country’s wine industry, including a school of agriculture. Malbec and other varieties were brought to the country on behalf of this effort, and it was not long after this time that Malbec’s storied history in Mendoza would really begin. Ten years later, as Phylloxera was wiping out most of the Malbec vines in France, the variety was thriving in the rugged, hot and high-altitude terrain of Argentina, with perhaps even better results than its homeland. The intense sunshine allowed the grapes to ripen fully, and the sandy soils were inhospitable to Phylloxera. And while the school of agriculture didn’t last, Argentine Malbec would begin to make headlines in the wine world. In the 1950’s, a major frost in France also destroyed large quantities of French vines, including 75% of the Malbec in Bordeaux and surrounding regions. While it has since recovered and is still popular in Cahors and other regions around the globe, it has been the most celebrated red variety in Argentina ever since. It is known for highly tannic, plummy and deep-colored wines on its own, or used in blends where it is employed to add depth and color.

Rating at an average 90 points from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator and priced at about $20, this is a fine example of Mendoza’s pride that won’t break the bank. 12 months in French barrels round out a very likeable Malbec, with jammy black fruit, white pepper, subtle oak and hints of wildflowers. Fully-ripened vines also means these wines have more alcohol. This one reaches 14.5% abv and has a nice full body. You can feel the heat but it is not overwhelming. The tannins are astringent and the acidity bright, but all very well-integrated. It is amazingly smooth and dynamic at once.

If only I had a steak.  Happy Malbec day!

Pretty Tasty Cupcakes

Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Noir

Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Noir

Since my discovery of wine has begun, all the while my wife was enjoying one of her favorite wines, Cupcake Vineyards’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. At this point I was starting to pay attention to wine more, trying to absorb everything I could about who makes them, how, and where. So every bottle, whether a Grand Cru Gevrey-Chambertain (I enjoyed one of those last weekend), or a Gato Negro, was a potential learning experience.

I have tried several of the varietals from Cupcake Vineyards and so far have been impressed with the quality. They started and are based in the Central Coast, California region with Bordeaux varietals and then expanded to several international styles as well as expanding at home. All these wines are made from collaboration with their head winemaker in the classic regions for that varietal. For example, he travels and works directly with winemakers in Marlborough, Mendoza, Barossa, etc. The Sauvignon Blanc was the first I tried, and we’ve had a lot since. I often joke that we are solely keeping them in business. But it’s good quality, at a good price, so why wouldn’t they be popular? It is a typical, but above average refreshingly crisp NZ Sauvignon with all the expected stone fruit and citrus and grassy and ‘cat’s pee’ aromas. On the palate it is refreshing and light and citrusy. A fine example of New Zealand signature Sauvignon Blanc, right down to the screw cap.

On another occasion I had the Malbec, from Mendoza. I enjoyed classic chocolate and leather notes as well as a bit of spice. This time I am trying my favorite, Pinot Noir. Speaking of Central Coast, this one is made right there at home. Cooled by the Pacific and fog, this is a great region for a grape like Pinot Noir. It insures a long hang time to get maximum ripeness.  It is a 2010, which is good – 2011 wasn’t a very good year for California. According to their website the grapes are cold-soaked and then fermented at a cooler temperature to preserve the bright berry fruit. I am definitely getting that fruit and oak, nine months to be precise, and cherry, spice and smoke aromas. The color has a nice medium intensity and it shows concentrated fruit on the palate as well. The finish is just long enough, and overall this is a delicious little Pinot Noir. I look forward to finishing the bottle with some BBQ chicken I am grilling up tonight. Another classic example. I seem to be using the word classic a lot, which tells you that they convincingly make many styles of international wines, at a cost accessible to everyone. I love that they have downloadable tasting notes for each wine. That is a nice touch for the enthusiast, like me.

I see that they now make vodka, so I will give that a try based on my experience to date with their wines. They also continue to make wine at home in California, including two custom blended wines called “Angel Food” and “Red Velvet,” also on the must-try list.