TasteCamp 2012 in Virginia: First Impressions

TasteCamp participants arriving at Boxwood Winery, yesterday

It was almost ironic, for TasteCamp participants who had also visited Virginia for the Wine Bloggers Conference, last year. The weather for the first tasting of this three-day tour of North Virginia wine country was reminiscent of the much-discussed heat of last July, with temperatures reaching into the 90s.

90 degrees is better than 100, however, and tastings were certainly enjoyable, starting with a very fresh rosé from Bordeaux varieties that Boxwood served on arrival. Crisp, balanced, fresh, with nice notes of red fruit, it is also very reasonably priced at 14$ a bottle. In fact, reasonable prices are the norm at Boxwood, with a second label red called Trellis (a very floral, substantial and joyous blend of malbec and merlot, mainly) at 18$, and the solid, classic main Bordeaux blends, Boxwood and Topiary, both selling for 25$. The winery announced yesterday that it would now be open to visitors (previously, it was by appointment only), and it is certainly is a place worth visiting, if only to get a peek at the elegant, circular barrel room.

Winemaker Adam McTaggart (seen from the back) showing TasteCamp participants the barrel room at Boxwood.

The grand tasting, with eight Virginia wineries attending, showed a lot of good wine, whether Bordeaux blends, viogniers, chardonnays and others. Lots of well-balanced wines, some that showed a good aging capacity (2005 cabernet franc from Barboursville, for instance). As well, it was interesting to note just how different vintages can be: a cool 2009, a cool and sunny 2010 that produced reds at over 15% alcohol, and 2011 where winemakers were chasing maturity like crazy, despite the heat spikes of July.

There is much more to say, of course, but it is almost 8 am and the bus will be leaving for vineyard walks and all the other nice things in the TasteCamp agenda. See you later!

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TasteCamp Virginia Update: Linden, Fabbioli and Tranquility Added to Agenda

So, when is TasteCamp 2012, again?

What do you mean, two weeks?

Wow. Time sure flies by when you’re organizing a visit to a wine region. But the important thing is that the agenda for TasteCamp is essentially complete, except for a couple of knick-knacks and details, and that we’re very happy with the experience that participants are being offered for the fourth edition of this gathering of wine writers and bloggers from all over the US and Canada. I’m very excited to get a more in-depth look at what Virginia has to offer – and to meet the great bunch of people that take part in the event.

For more details, here is today’s press release, fresh off the virtual presses.

* * * * *

TasteCamp 2012 in Virginia is just around the corner

Visits at Fabbioli and Linden added  • Spots still open for grand tastings

The organizers of TasteCamp are gearing up for an exciting weekend of wine discovery that will bring some 40 bloggers and writers from all over the US and Canada to Loudoun County and Northern Virginia, May 4-6, 2012. The program for the weekend has been steadily taking shape in the last few weeks, with some great additions to the three-day experience now confirmed.

A Great Finish at Linden

The weekend’s final vineyard visit, on Sunday morning, will almost be worth the trip in itself: Linden Vineyards. As Jancis Robinson put it in a recent article in the Financial Times: “A key figure in raising standards in Virginia grape growing… and winemaking has been Jim Law of Linden Vineyars, whose wines have been exceptional almost from when he started in the 1980s.” It’s an honor that Jim Law agreed to host the TasteCamp group and provide a true idea of what Virginia is capable of.

Vineyard walks at Fabbioli and Tranquility

Vineyard walks – a great opportunity to understand where the wines of a region are coming from – have always been an essential part of TasteCamp. This year’s program features two walks that will showcase some of the most interesting grape growing spots in Northern Virginia.

On Saturday morning, TasteCamp participants will get to know another solid example of Northern Virginia wine, Fabbioli Cellars. Winemaker Doug Fabbioli will be showing the group around his vineyards and winery, where he produces Bordeaux varieties, but also sangiovese and tannat, as well as a selection of fruit wines.

On Saturday afternoon, the group will visit Tranquility Vineyard, a 7-acre property in Purcellville that provides fruit for several local producers. Ben Renshaw, winemaker/owner of 8 Chains North winery, will lead the group on a vineyard walk and tasting.

Grand tastings at Boxwood and Tarara

TasteCamp will also offer a wider-ranging look at the diversity of Virginia wines, thanks to two grand tastings presented at Boxwood Winery (Friday) and Tarara Winery (Saturday). Some of the best producers in Virginia have confirmed their presence, including Blenheim, Barboursville, Hume, Ankida, Veritas and Corcoran. There are still spots open for the grand tastings: wineries interested in participating should contact Frank Morgan or Lenn Thompson at the coordinates below.

A laid-back Southern-style BYO

The always-fun BYO dinner, a Saturday night tradition at TasteCamp, will benefit from a laid-back, relaxed, Southern-style setting and menu. Organized in collaboration with Visit Loudoun, the dinner will take place at a great location, North Gate Vineyard, with catering by Smokin Willy, a well-known Virginia BBQ provider. All at a very nice price, too!

Essential Virginia partners

TasteCamp is also proud to count on several other great partners, starting with three host wineries : Breaux Vineyards, Boxwood Winery and Tarara Winery. Two key regional organizations are also on board : The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (Virginia Wine) and the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association (Visit Loudoun) who are offering logistical, financial and/or transportation support. TasteCampers will be staying at the National Conference Center, in Leesburg, Virginia, a conveniently-located facility that is offering a special rate for event participants.

About TasteCamp

The concept for TasteCamp, created in 2009 by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report, is a simple one: getting enthusiastic journalists and bloggers together in a region that is new to them, to taste as much wine as possible and speak to as many winemakers as possible over the course of a weekend.

Most smaller, lesser-known wine regions in the world would love to get their wines in front of new audiences, but it can be a challenge. With TasteCamp, the new audience comes to them.

This is not a junket — attendees pay their own travel expenses, including their hotel rooms and meals.  Through generous sponsors, some meals may be deeply discounted.

Follow the Latest updates on TasteCamp 2012:

• On Twitter: #TasteCamp

To participate as an attendee, contact Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com

To participate as a sponsor, contact Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

For more information, contact co-organizers Remy Charest (remycharest (at) mac.com) and John Witherspoon (vcuspoon1 (at) comcast.net)

Media and interview requests:

Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com or

Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

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Enjoying older wine the way it is

Tonight, at a family dinner, with my parents and my sister’s family, we drank a 2000 Dame de Montrose, the second wine from Château Montrose. It was delicious and  well-rounded, tannins nicely softened up, still a lovely amount of fruit, and that pleasant dustiness that comes to Bordeaux wines, especially those with a good dose of cabernet sauvignon. It was a great time to drink it, did perfect with the pork dish we had, and everyone loved it.

Now, was it better than it would have been two or three years ago? Probably not. But not worse, either. It was just in a different phase, with more mature characteristics than a few years before.

I’ve had several older wines, in the last couple of months. Some because of holiday meals when it seems especially appropriate to pull old and/or rare bottles, others just because I looked around the cellar and figured it was probably time to drink them. All of the wines I’m thinking of were over 10 years of age, some even over 20. Notably, there was a 1996 Château Ramage La Bâtisse from the Médoc, lovely and still in very nice shape. A 1995 Riesling Les Écaillers from Léon Beyer, all confit lemon and salty caramel, that lasted for days and days after opening. A 1989 Chinon from the Lenoir family (merci, Philippe, at The Ten Bells) and a 1989 Bourgueil from Domaine de la Chevalerie (merci, Pascaline, from Rouge Tomate) that proved without a doubt how cabernet franc can age remarkably well. There was also a 2000 Château Bouscassé, a Madiran that didn’t feel as overly oaky as I feared – though there was a fair bit of barrel toastiness in the profile.  And a 1997 Château Chasse Spleen Blanc, which proved to me, once again, that good white bordeaux (and good sauvignon, in general), seems to improve constantly over a couple of decades, with terrific, elegant floral and exotic notes building up in the wine.

With the exception of the Chasse-Spleen, none of these wines showed as definitely, irrefutably better than they would have a few years younger. In a couple of cases, they probably would have been just as good several more years down the line.

What I mean, here, is that none of those wines gave me the impression that I had missed the perfect moment to drink them, nor that I was having them too early for them to show their best. It didn’t feel to me as if there was a mythical peak, a perfect moment when they should have been tasted. But they were all good and interesting to drink. And in general, they were purchased at very reasonable prices.

There are some great wines that can take a long time to come into their own, and do seem to reach for a peak as they age. Having had a sip of Hermitage La Chapelle 1978, thanks to a rather fantastic New York sommelier who really likes to open bottles, I can tell you that was an example, right there. It had youth and maturity, all at once, openness and structure, the whole range of aromatics: a great, great wine. I’m grateful to have had even just a sip, in my life.

Other wines, like the moelleux chenins from the Loire, also come to mind. A good dozen years ago, I had a vertical of Moulin Touchais, a Coteaux du Layon that I’ve developed quite a liking for. The wines went back all the way to 1949, and reaching that vintage, it felt like you were still climbing up the stairs to get to higher ground. I sometimes think that the last sip of wine I should have in my life, on my deathbed, should be some 1969 Touchais, from my birth year.

In general however, wines that are able to age will mostly evolve, more than they will improve. I’ve seen that written and heard it said a number of times, generally with a sort of regret – as if it was kind of sad to have kept the wines for a long time, if nothing hyper-magical was going to happen to them. To me, it’s as silly as saying that women are only beautiful when young. A ridiculous idea. Bright youthfulness is not everything good about life, thankfully.

After these last few weeks of tasting, I disagree even more strongly than I did with this kind of regret. Maybe those good, but not exceptional wines don’t surpass themselves, with the passage of time, but they are good wines that remain good and are transformed, showing a different side of their personality, over the years. That is plenty, sometimes.

Posted in White Bordeaux, red wine, tasting, white wine, wine, wine and food | Leave a comment

About that wine and chocolate thing…

Okay, so, apparently, there’s a thing called Valentine’s Day that’s around the corner? Something to do with chocolate?

Red wine and chocolate pairingActually, according to lots of people (in particular, PR persons), Valentine’s has to do with matching wine and chocolate. More specifically, red wine and chocolate. By which people generally mean dry red wine.

I’m not in your mouth, people, so I can’t tell what’s going on in there, but personally, I think dry red wine and chocolate is, generally speaking, one of the worst possible food and wine matches. And it’s not just a matter of personal taste.

The problem has to do with the sweetness in the chocolate vs the dryness of the wine. While it can be perfectly good to have a drink that shows some sweetness with a dish that isn’t sweet (I really like sauternes over a roast chicken, for instance), the reverse is a lot more difficult to do.

Sugar in the wrong place

Why? Well, have you ever had a piece of fruit – say, an orange – after having a really sweet dessert? All you taste is the acid in the fruit, right? Very simply put, that’s because the sugar that coats your mouth masks the more limited amount of sugar present in the fruit, so that only the acid shows up. In the same way, a red wine that seems unctuous and juicy on its own may well feel overly dry, tannic and acidic, if you sip it over something sweet.

So that big chocolate truffle is probably going to kill that Barossa shiraz you were told to match it with, even though the cocoa, roasted flavors from the heavy-toast barrels may find some aromatic harmony with the chocolatey aromas. At the very least, it’s going to make it a lot less expressive and engaging.

Exceptions to every rule

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. But they generally have to do with what is in the chocolate, rather than with the chocolate itself. For instance, I was surprised to enjoy a piece of dark chocolate bark loaded with dried cherries, along with a nebbiolo from the Langhe, a few months ago.

Two things were at work behind that good match. One, the chocolate was a dark one, not very sweet, which minimized that effect of smothering the perceived sweetness of the wine. Two, the dried cherries appealed to one of the central aromatic components of nebbiolo, a grape that is famous for its tart or dried cherry flavors. And on top of that, the dried cherries delivered some acid that balanced the sweetness, allowing a better continuity with the high acid grape.

I’ll bet you the nebbiolo would have tasted even better with plain dried cherries, though…

Another example is a spicy chocolate, infused with pink peppercorns or hot chili. There, it is the spiciness that is at work, reacting to the spicy notes in grenache or syrah, for example. As I’m writing this, I’m having some with an Argentinian cabernet sauvignon with a hot chili chocolate from Lindt, and it’s not bad. The tannins do seem a bit drier, but the spiciness works well on the finish. (With a classic, sweet chocolate truffle, however, the wine feels acidic and bitter – ugh!)

Another possibility that could make the match work is the fact that some supposedly dry red wines are actually quite sweet, with levels of residual sugar that would be defined in, say, a German riesling, as actually off dry. But if that’s the case, why not go straight to dessert wines?

Stickies and spirits

Port wine or the sweet reds of Roussillon (Maury and Banyuls), or even a Greek sweet wine like mavrodaphne from Patras are classic matches with chocolate – with good reason. Sweeter versions of madeira or sherry are also great pairings. Even the caramel tones of an ice wine or a trockenbeerenauslese could do. Certainly better than a big, tannic malbec or cabernet sauvignon.

Yesterday, when I tweeted my exasperation about the return of the wine-and-chocolate-is-awesome noise that comes with the nearing of V-Day as inevitably as the wine-for-the-turkey pieces come back around Thanksgiving, I got some interesting tweets back from a Kansas City bartender and restaurant owner called Ryan Maybee. He pointed to whiskey and cognac as being an even better match, especially with rich chocolates. I could certainly see a great match with a chocolate coated caramel, for instance… And I’d be willing to give his other suggestion – mezcal with spiced chocolates – a go as well.

With so many good options around, why would you want to test the limits and pair your chocolate with something that is not so well-suited, like dry reds?

After all, isn’t Valentine’s Day supposed to be all about perfect matches?

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It’s official: TasteCamp is headed to Northern Virginia

What I love most about wine writing is the opportunity to discover new wine regions. Since 2009, TasteCamp, founded by my friend Lenn Thompson, has provided me with some of the best opportunities to do so, with a three-day intensive session of tasting and visiting that has taken participants to Long Island and the Finger Lakes, in New York, and in the Niagara region (on both sides of the US-Canada border).

Since last year, I’ve joined the event’s organizing committee and have been happy to work on this next edition, which will take place in Northern Virginia on the first weekend of May. After a first taste of Virginia wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference, last July, I’m happy to return for a more in-depth look at what defines this wine-producing state.

Today, we’re glad to make the first official announcement about the fourth edition of TasteCamp. Without further ado, here is the official press release about the May festivities.

* * *


TasteCamp 2012 heads to Northern Virginia

Fourth edition of wine bloggers and wine writers’ meeting heads to Loudoun County, May 4-6.

The organizers of TasteCamp are proud to announce that after exploring the regions of Long Island, the Finger Lakes and Niagara (US and Canada), the event will hold its fourth edition in Northern Virginia wine country on May 4-6, 2012. Several important partners and sponsors have confirmed their participation and are working together to create an exceptional opportunity to discover the very best that Virginia wine has to offer.

The 2012 program will feature the combination of vineyard visits, grand tastings, conversations with winemakers and camaraderie that has made the event so successful over the last three years. Participants will also take part in what has become a TasteCamp tradition, a BYO dinner where wine lovers share special bottles in a freestyle evening of discovery and one-upmanship.

TasteCamp founder and New York Cork Report executive editor Lenn Thompson said that there was much reason for the event to head for the vineyards of Virginia: “The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference was a great opportunity for both Virginia and bloggers, but I wanted to bring TasteCamp to Northern Virginia to offer a truly immersive experience. We want attendees to eat, drink, sleep and breathe Virginia wine for three days. It’s of course impossible to fully explore a region in just a weekend, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.”

Over its three first years, TasteCamp has generated significant attention for the wine regions where it has taken place, generating dozens of stories and articles every year. It also offers emerging wine regions an exceptional opportunity to have their wines tasted by a passionate outside audience that brings a different light to local wine production and creates new conversations with local winemakers.

Essential Virginia partners

Three of the region’s top wineries will be hosting TasteCamp participants for lunches, dinners and grand tastings of Virginia wines, where many other wineries will provide a portrait of what this increasingly important wine producing state can offer. The three confirmed host wineries are:

-       Breaux Vineyards, in Purcellville overlooking the valley between the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains, is one of Virginia’s most popular estates, with over 100 acres under vines.

-       Boxwood Winery, founded by former Washington Redskins’ owner John Kent Cooke, is located in the historic village of Middleburg, and produces Bordeaux blends from 100% estate-grown fruit, in collaboration with renowned consulting winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt.

-       Tarara Winery is located in the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains on 475 acres along the Potomac River in Leesburg. One of Loudoun County’s oldest wineries, Tarara focuses on single-vineyard wines.

TasteCamp 2012 organizers are also excited to be counting on partnerships with two key Virginia organizations. The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (Virginia Wine) and the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association (Visit Loudoun) will both be partners of the event, offering logistical, financial and/or transportation support.

Accommodations

Rooms have been set aside at the National Conference Center, in Leesburg, Virginia, only 12 miles from Dulles International Airport and a short drive from most of the vineyards visited over the weekend. A special room rate is offered to TasteCamp guests at this large-scale facility located on a quiet 110-acre campus.

TasteCamp 2012 organizers will have more announcements as the wine weekend approaches.

About TasteCamp

The concept for TasteCamp, created in 2009 by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report, is a simple one: getting enthusiastic journalists and bloggers together in a region that is new to them, to taste as much wine as possible and speak to as many winemakers as possible over the course of a weekend.

Most smaller, lesser-known wine regions in the world would love to get their wines in front of new audiences, but it can be a challenge. With TasteCamp, the new audience comes to them.

This is not a junket — attendees pay their own travel expenses, including their hotel rooms and meals.  Through generous sponsors, some meals may be deeply discounted.

Follow the Latest updates on TasteCamp 2011:

• On Twitter: #TasteCamp

To participate as an attendee, contact Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com

To participate as a sponsor, contact Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

For more information, contact co-organizers Remy Charest (remycharest (at) mac.com) and John Witherspoon (vcuspoon1 (at) comcast.net)

Media and interview requests:

Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com or
Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

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