Wine Blogger's Conference was held in Virginia, you could also find wines there from all over the world. From International Wine Tasting Night to The Other 46 (a showcase of wines from U.S. states like Indiana, Missouri and Ohio), there were numerous samples to taste, and as expected, the wines were a mixed bag. Some were the usual suspects, those mass produced, commercial wines that fail to excite. But I found some gems within the mix as well, especially a number of Spanish wines, which is not a big surprise to me knowing my preferences.
Some of the most intriguing wines though were poured privately, by other bloggers and attendees, at small gatherings and afterhours parties. People were very generous with their wines, offering tastes to basically anyone who happened to be around. Some of those wines were homemade, some were from the attendee's state or country, others were made from unusual grapes, and still others were rare or older vintages. At these conferences, the interactions with the other attendees is often one of the best aspects of the event. As I have said before, the best part of wine is sharing it with others, with friends both old and new. And plenty of sharing occurred!
Wines of Navarra and I was very glad that I checked out their wines. I was initially impressed with the 2010 Señorío de Sarría Viñedo No 5 Rosado ($16), made from 100% Garnacha, from 50 year old vines. It was a dry and more restrained rosado, with delicious flavors of strawberry and watermelon, and hints of herbality, especially on the finish. A perfect summer wine, and an excellent accompaniement with many different types of foods.
The 2004 Laderas de Inurrieta ($35), made from 100% Graciano, was interesting, with flavors of leather, black cherry, and plum with some violets on the finish. Moderately tannic, it had a fairly lengthy finish that ended on an exotic note. You don't see much 100% Graciano and I recommend that you check this one out. The 2004 Palacio de Otazu Altar ($50), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo was impressive, a muscular and complex wine that tantalized and seduced my palate. A melange of black fruit, ripe plum, spice, vanilla, mocha, and more. A "wow" wine which is well worth a splurge.
Winebow, were pouring wines from Spain, Italy and Chile. I had tasted the Chilean wines before, and enjoyed them, so was most interested in sampling the other wines. The 2007 Juve y Camps Brut Cava Nature Gran Reserva (about $15) is not your typical, inexpensive Cava. Instead, it reminded me far more of a Champagne, likely due to its dominant notes of toast and yeast. The fruit flavors, mostly citrus, were very subdued, and if you tasted this blind, I doubt you would think it was a Cava. The 2010 Tasca d'Almerita Regaleali Le Rose Sicilia ($12), made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, had luscious bright fruit, especially strawberry and cherry, with an underlying minerality. It reminds me more of California than France, and should appeal to many wine lovers seeking a more fruit-driven rose. Plus, you won't find many roses made from this grape.
Austrian Wines and the people of Wine Compass agreed to place their wines against each other, in a head-to-head battle to see which Bläufrankisch reigned supreme. The Austrian contender was the 2008 Feiler-Artinger Umiss Blaufränkisch ($22), produced from 100% Blaufränkisch and which spent 9-12 months in oak barrels and 20% in barriques. The Virginian contender was the 2009 Otium Blaufränkisch ($20), also produced from 100% Blaufränkisch, and it is unclear whether any oak was used or not. This is the only winery growing Blaufränkisch in Virginia, and this was their first bottling.
I have previously tasted Blaufränkisch from Hungary, the Finger Lakes, Austria and Washington, and it is a varietal that I have enjoyed. So how did these two wines fare against each other? The Feiler-Artinger was delicious, with an earthy taste along side flavors of black cherry, raspberry and plum. It had some complexity, a lengthy finish, and a sense of character. The Otium presented more juicy fruit, including some blueberry and strawberry flavors, and had less complexity and character than the Austrian one. The Otium was a simple, pleasant wine and it can easily be enjoyed on its own. As a first attempt, I liked the Otium and hope the winery will continue making this wine, improving it every year. My personal preference was for the Austrian wine but kudos to the Otium too.
Vibrant Rioja held a Rioja Crawl, where participants could stop at five different local restaurants and shops, drinking some Rioja wine and nibbling on snacks. As an incentive, if you completed all five stops of the Crawl, you could enter to win a free trip to Rioja. The stops included Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar, Feast, Zinc Restaurant & Bar, Maya Restaurant & Bar, and Brookville Restaurant. My fine Crawl group, including Adam, Andrew, Jason, Marie and Nannette, were the first ones to complete the crawl (though I technically was the first person to finish). Unfortunately, the winners of the Crawl were announced yesterday and none of my group were chosen.
The special treat of the Crawl was presented by Feast, a gourmet food shop (which I highly recommend). They offered two wines, the 2010 Muga Rosado and the stunning 2000 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva, one of my favorite wines. An 11 year old rose? Yes, this is an unusual but fascinating and delicious wine, a true gem. Along with this killer wine, Feast offered three Spanish cheeses (Mahon, Malvarosa & Valdeon), Membrillo, Marcona Almonds, and two Spanish meats (Lomito Iberico & Chorizo). With such tasty snacks, it was tempting to end the Crawl there and just enjoy their food and wine all night. Kudos to Feast for such an excellent experience.
Wines of Croatia held a great party, pouring a number of Croatian wines. I tasted a few of their whites, but sadly did not take any notes. But, I enjoyed them and most of them presented their own unique character. I'll have to seek out more Croatian wines to expand my knowledge of that region.
Another surprise was the 2008 A Tribute To Grace ($49), an elegant and mesmerizing California Grenache, so very different from any other California Grenache I have ever tasted. Adam of Wine Zag has a more extensive review you should check out. My friend Jason, of Ancient Fire Wines (who should win a "Most Enthusiastic" WBC award), brought three of his homemade wines, including a Strawberry wine, Dandelion wine, and a Hard Cider. My favorite of the three was the Cider, which was a sweet, house blend from Lull Farm in Hollis. It had a strong apple flavor, with both sweet and tart components, and should appeal to many people. I think it would also be an excellent cooking ingredient, such as in a BBQ sauce. I wasn't a fan of the Dandelion wine, but it was very cool to get the chance to taste it. If you get a chance to taste something different, grab it!
I brought two items to the conference, a sherry and sake: the 1964 Gonzalez Byass Vintage Oloroso Sherry and the Hojo Biden “Rich Brew” Yamahai Junmai. My objective was to hopefully convince more people to explore these underappreciated drinks, and I think I was successful based on the feedback I have received. The Sherry, as expected, was a huge hit, and now I just need to find more somewhere.
The conference was not the only place where I enjoyed some fine wine and sake. During two of my outside dinners in Charlottesville, I found some treasures. At Orzo Kitchen, they had an interesting wine list, including maybe ten or so Greek wines. So I decided to try one, the 2008 Alexandra's Nostos (about $20 retail) from the Manousakis Winery. This was an organic blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre & 20% Grenache, a Rhone-style wine from Greece. It was delicious, with plenty of spice, plum and black raspberry flavors, and well integrated tannins. It certainly reminded me of a French Rhone wine, and was a nice pairing for both hangar steak and spaghetti Bolognese. I often prefer Greek wines that use indigenous grapes but this is an exception, and would recommend it to all who enjoy Rhone-style wines.
During a lengthy Japanese meal at Ten, we shared two bottles of sake, including the Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Tokubetsu Junmai and the Kikusui "Chrysanthemum Mist" Junmai Ginjo. The Nanbu is a superb, smooth sake, full-bodied with lush flavors of melon and peach. It is the type of sake that I could savor and drink all night long, relishing each tasty sip. The Kikisui is also very good, but it is a leaner style, less fruit driven, and with some herbal and steamed rice notes.
Expand your palate, where ever you go.