VA: Viognier Aptitude?

Is Virginia for Viognier lovers?

With 82 of Virginia’s 228 wineries producing Viognier, this vivacious varietal is set to make a name for itself in the state for lovers. In 2011, the Virginia Wine Board decided to designate Viognier as the state’s signature grape, hoping to brand it as a Virginia specialty, much the same way that Cabernet Sauvignon can be associated with Napa or Pinot Noir with Oregon. With such an astounding array of styles and character, Viognier certainly isn’t a bad grape to hitch your proverbial wagon to. Generally, wines from this varietal fall into two main styles: bright, lively and slightly sweet with plenty of stone fruit, apricot and honey, or a full-bodied, drier version that exchanges some of its fruit forwardness for oak and vanilla nuances.  Virginia does them both, and does them both well.

Noticeably absent from the 2013 Governor’s Cup Case, one might wonder if Virginia Viognier is really the standout that the state was hoping for (though just one wine in the Governor’s Case is a non-red, and that was the 2008 Trump Winery Sparkling Rose). Still, here are three outstanding wines that make perfect partners for seasonal spring and summer dishes:

Whether Virginia will achieve global acclaim for its Viognier remains to be seen, but this thick-skinned grape may be just the right metaphor for Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry as it looks to take on heavy hitters from California and Condrieu on national and international stages.

Viognier grapes ripening on the vine.

Of Wine, and Wonder, and AVAs!

Watch out Cali, Virginia is stepping up its game. The birthplace of American wine is celebrating another exciting arrival:  a brand new American Viticultural Area (AVA). The AVA designation must be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), and affords certain rights to wineries and vineyards within the delineated area (like labeling their wines “estate bottled”). More importantly, however, an AVA designation imbues the area with certain standard of quality, and specific characteristics. Ever bought a chardonnay from Rutherford or Alexander Valley because you’d had one from the area that you liked before? That’s why AVAs are important. As the TTB puts it, “the use of an AVA name on a label allows vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a certain area to its geographical origin.”

Boxwood's Rachel Martin and VA First Lady Maureen McDonnell unveil the new Middleburg AVA sign.
Boxwood’s Rachel Martin and VA First Lady Maureen McDonnell unveil the new Middleburg AVA sign.

The new Middleburg AVA is Virginia’s seventh recognized viticultural area, but marks an important milestone for Virginia wine.  The culmination of 6 years of hard work by proponents, the new AVA solidifies a growing trend towards superior quality wines, capable of competing (and winning) on national and international stages. Some of Middleburg’s wines already are.  During the sign unveiling ceremony last week, the driving force behind the AVA petition, Boxwood’s EVP Rachel Martin, had this to say:

“This AVA designation promotes Northern Virginia as a recognized US wine growing region further placing Virginia in a national context of making wine and allows us to tell a more comprehensive story of Virginia vineyards, wines, viticulture and winemaking practices.”

And Boxwood certainly is telling a story. Their powerhouse Bordeaux blends are quickly climbing the menu ranks in restaurants throughout the region and across the country. But they’re not alone. Nearby winery RdV Vineyards is a rising star, following years of soil research and site analysis to find the right plot of land to cultivate the best fruit for their Bordeaux blends.  With both the Lost Mountain and Rendezvous blends winning a spot in the 2013 Governor’s Cup Case, winemaker Rutger de Vink is putting his money where his grapes are and taking on Napa Mertiage and Cabernet blends in their very own blind tasting at the vineyard. This is definitely an AVA worth your tasting time.

For a snapshot of the Middleburg AVA boundaries, and the wineries and vineyards therein, check out this interactive map.

Got Cab Fare?

It’s National Cabernet Sauvignon Day! What better way to celebrate this domestic day of recognition than with a captivating Cab from within our own borders? While lots of AVA’s produce Cabernet Sauvignon, I can help but be seduced by the iconic romance that Napa has developed with this grape.

When Napa Cab is at its best, it is a stunning representation of all that is beautiful about this varietal. Supple tannins, deep black fruit flavors and nuanced hints of smoke, tobacco, or cedar create an entire experience right there in the glass. The experience, however, does not come cheap.

Napa Cab has certainly earned its reputation, producing magnificent bottles year after year. While Cab-dominated red blends from Napa were once perceived as the poor man’s Bordeaux, Napa has been producing age-worthy Cab blends for decades. The Judgment of Paris back in 1976 proved that Napa Cabs could hang with the big boys from Bordeaux, and started commanding prices to reflect that. Still, there are some fantastic options that won’t leave you with sticker-shock. Here are my favorites:

  1. 2012 B Side Cabernet Sauvignon – the critics agree, for $20, this one stands up to its far more expensive counterparts. Bonus: Costco is currently stocking this beauty.
  2. Hess Cabernet Sauvignon – I love the Allomi Vineyard Cabernet at $25/bottle, but the Napa Valley Cab (the one with the red label) is also a fantastic option at $12.
  3. Duckhorn Decoy Cabernet – Duckhorn’s merlot tends to get a lot of attention, but this Cabernet is solid. Especially at $22/bottle.

Whatever you choose to drink today, raise a glass to this great grape!

Baby, you’re a Firework!

Welcome, friends, to Fourth of July week! Like so many Americans, I plan to embrace our nation’s tradition of giving thanks to all those who have served, and appreciate our freedom and all that it engenders for the citizens of the United States. To do that properly, I will most certainly need a cuvee companion.

If you too, find yourself searching for a libation to celebrate our liberation, allow me to make some suggestions:

  • With the holiday smack in the middle of summer, folks tend to crave something refreshing and light to quench their thirst. Start with a Rose, which will also complement the fruit and light veggies that are so often the prelude to a beautiful summer barbeque. I like Anne Amie Cuvee Rose, which is a fantastic expression of what a pinot noir rose can be.  A local favorite of mine (and SO worth it at $14/bottle if you can get your hands on it) is the 2011 Boxwood Estate Rose, a bright, flavorful blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Malbec.
  • Did someone say barbeque? Fourth of July just isn’t the same without the grill. If you plan to partake in this American pastime, consider a wine that will stand up to the smoke and bold flavors of barbeque. Try a full-bodied Malbec (stay with the New World versions – Argentina, Chile or the good ‘ole U-S-of-A) which offer bold, dark fruit flavors and structured tannins that won’t fade in the face of a zesty spice rub. A big, spicy California Zin will also work well with the traditional BBQ fare (Ravenswood Zins from Sonoma are always a solid choice).
  • Don’t forget the Sparklers! What would the 4th of July be without a little bit of celebration in a glass? It’s impossible to go wrong with any of the spectacular sparkling wines from Domaine Carneros. They even have a festive rose, and an amazing blanc de blancs (meaning that it comes from all white grapes) called Le Reve, which translates to “the dream.” Believe me, it lives up to its name. If you have a crowd that likes sweeter wines, and is willing to try something different, try The Chook Sparkling Shiraz. Hailing from the land down under, The Chook offers vivid notes of raspberry and cherry with just a little sweetness to accommodate the dessert and firework portion of the evening.

Whatever beverage strikes your fancy this Fourth of July, be sure to remember the true meaning of the celebration and give thanks to all those who have fought (and are still fighting) to win and protect our freedom. Cheers to you, America!

Enological Ensemble?

Normally, when I wear my wine, it is not intentional. In fact, it usually requires that I take off what I’m wearing to address the issue. But the brilliant minds at the University of Western Australia have discovered a way to solve the occasional issue of sipping spillage. Behold the enological ensemble:

Micro’be’ fashion is made from wine and beer. Photo courtesy of

This fermented fashion is created when wine contaminated with the Acetobacter bacteria is allowed to dry in open air, creating a rubbery film layer on top.  While it’s still malleable the “fabric” is applied to molds or human bodies to finish drying. This process can be also performed using white wine, or even beer. As appealing as this is (the clothing retains it natural odor and color) don’t go hitting the stores just yet. Designer Donna Franklin conceded that the material is not flexible, which makes getting it on and off rather challenging. Not to mention that your favorite beverage might not mix well with your perfume.

Franklin is the fashion designer behind the ongoing research initiative, Bioalloy, out of the laboratories at the University of Western Australia. Working with researcher and scientist Gary Cass, the two hope to troubleshoot the flexibility and olfactory shortfalls of this seamless fermented fashion.  For the sake of all of us who sometimes wear our wine unintentionally, here’s wishing them every success.  Cheers!

Mad for Malbec

Happy World Malbec Day, my fellow oenophiles! Today we celebrate the sumptuousness and seductiveness of Argentina’s most prominent red grape.  I’ll admit that I am a big fan of Malbec in general, especially New World versions from Argentina and the United States, but what I appreciate most is its flexibility. Whether you want to dress it up or dress it down, pair it with a main course or with a dessert, or just drink it by itself, the expressions of Malbec are versatile and accommodating.

When I feature Malbec in wine tastings, I like to pair it with a hearty food companion to stand up to the tannins and compliment the smoke and spice which are so often hallmarks of this great grape. If I have adequate time to prepare, I will often do a slice of roast beef with some caramelized onions served on crostini. If I need something quicker or more streamlined, a slice of farmhouse cheddar on a peppery cracker will also work well.

For my personal celebration of World Malbec Day, my kitchen will feature a steak with a nice BBQ spice rub, grilled asparagus, and parmesan mashed potatoes. A little dark chocolate will cap off the meal and compliment the very same varietal that stood up to my steak! It’s hard not to love a wine that will go from appetizer to after-dinner sweets without missing a beat.

If you happen to live or be in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles or Washington D.C. today, check out one of the many World Malbec Day events planned for this evening. If you’re not in one of those locales, pick up a bottle on your way home and have your own celebration. Here are two of my favorite Malbecs:

  • Ben Marco Malbec, Mendoza – this is possibly my all-time favorite, and an amazing option under $20, but can be a challenge to find.
  • Cruz Alta Malbec Reserve, Mendoza – a beautiful, expressive option that will pair well with a variety of foods for under $15.

Malbec grapes

Whatever you do to celebrate World Malbec Day, be sure to lend your palate to the magnificent Malbec.

Bud Break

Hello, and welcome to Cuvee Communiqué! My name is Kwino, and I’ll be your hostess for this hopefully entertaining, at times edifying, but never boring journey though the wide world of wine. Whether you’re in the trade, a weekend warrior hopelessly devoted to adventures in oenophilia, or a first-time taster, I hope you’ll continue reading as this blog explores etiquette, market trends, new labels and vintages, and generally all things wine.

We’re entering an exciting time of year when winemakers and wine enthusiasts alike begin looking toward the growing season ahead. It is the time of year when gnarled grapevines spring back to life and hint at the promise of a brand new vintage. Bud break, as it is known, signals the start of the new growing season and holds immeasurable potential for the next harvest. Like the vineyard managers who have been pruning and preparing their vines for the year ahead, I’ve been gathering ideas and putting thoughts on paper for this blog’s bud break.

Here’s to new beginnings, to budding blogs, and to the hopeful start of something new; here’s to bud break, and welcome to Cuvee Communiqué.