Old Westminster Winery

I visited Old Westminster Winery back to back with Black Ankle Vineyards. Both were on my list of ‘must visit’ Maryland wineries, although for different reasons. While Black Ankle makes wine in a more traditional style Old Westminster leans heavy into experimentation; specifically the production of ‘natural wine’.

Natural wine isn’t well defined but most agree it’s a style of winemaking that utilizes natural yeast fermentation, limited to no sulfites, and doesn’t use no filtering to clarification (or some combination of these and other methods). It’s an ancient style that’s come back into vogue due to its emphasis on sustainable agriculture (and perceived health benefits, although those are more debatable). While some wineries have a pétillant natural (pet-nat) sparkling or claim their focus on ‘minimal intervention’ Old Westminster takes its ‘natural’ approach to a whole new level.

Personally I find natural wine a love-it-or-hate-it style. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of natural wine out there that’s quite yummy and I would totally recommend visiting Old Westminster to try for yourself. But they can taste ‘funky’ for lack of a better term (although not in a bad way), and the wine itself can look cloudy due to its lack of filtering. Cloudy wine isn’t in any way faulted, but its best to keep an open mind for any visit.

Right now they have 10 acres planted – mostly Muscat. On top of this they have a vineyard at Burnt Hill Farm (also called the Burnt Hill Project) which promises more estate fruit. Otherwise they source fruit from Maryland.

Another cool thing is they have a number of food options available, including several styles of pizza. Some are traditional margarita-style pies, others are (like the wine) on the experimental side. I chose a personal pizza topped off with beats (of all things) but really enjoyed it. They also have Sunday brunch.

As for the wine – a number flight options are available, both for reds, whites, and sparklings. Not wanting to miss anything I did a good cross-section. My server was also kind enough to swap out a few items for others I was more keen on sampling. They also have canned wine (didn’t I mention they were experimental?). Extra points for having tasting notes with QR codes you could scan to get a quick video of the winemaker chatting about the wine.

2020 Albariño: Saline, peach notes on palate. Pineapple and peach on the nose,

2020 Sauvignon Blanc: About as opposite a New Zealand SB as you can get. Neither high acid or perfume-y. I detected some melon notes.

2020 Trio: Chardonnay heavy white blend

2019 Muscat: Apricot all the way. Apparently there is some residual sugar but I couldn’t detect it. No filtering so it has an interesting cloudiness (which is totally healthy)

Frank Fizz: Interesting; 100% Cab Franc pet-nat sparkling. A ‘rustic’ sparking.

Rev 7th Edition: Cedar/Oak. “Molassas” is on the sheet but I can’t confirm it since I don’t know what it tastes like!

Solera Batch 3: A port-style wine. Spicy, with Christmas-y notes. Not sure if I loved it but it was very interesting.

I can’t remember which it was, but one of the wines I tasted has ‘tastes like beet juice” in my notes!

Black Ankle Vineyards

While several Maryland wineries are about as close to me as Virginia ones, unfortunately I’ve never visited them as often. I’ve heard from friends the Maryland wine industry is maybe a decade behind Virginia – but they are catching up fast.

But in asking around, a handful of names came up as ‘must visit’ locations. Black Ankle Vineyards was one of them. Since they were just over an hour away from me, further investigation was in order.

As a smaller state Maryland wineries have less flexibility in sourcing local fruit, so it’s not unusual to find their wine labeled as “American” rather than “Maryland”. Fortunately at 56 acres of vines this location doesn’t seem to have a problem with having estate fruit.

I was quick to discover Black Ankle was at least the equal to any I’ve visited in Virginia (or just about anywhere) both in service and in wine. They even took the difficult path of only growing vinifera, including Albariño (increasingly a Maryland favorite) and Syrah (which is hard to find anywhere on the east coast).

The tasting room is pretty, with lots of outdoor sitting and great views. It’s also dog & children friendly (at least outdoors for the later), and you can bring your own food. They even have a Telsa charger and nice glassware. Black Ankle checked off lots of boxes before I even had my first tasting.

I didn’t have a reservation but it was early so I snuck in anyway. My server Kody was on the spot during my hour-long visit – and she was very kind to let me sample a few bottles not on the tasting menu but happened to be open. I’m thankful for that, because several turned out to be favorites.

Black Ankle seems to have an affinity for Albariño because they had three different versions from three different tracts – and they all expressed themselves differently. But the real treat was the sample of their Black Ankle Estate, which really blew me away. The only thing I didn’t love were the price points were on the higher side, with whites going from $38-50.

All flights were accompanied with tasting notes, although I tended to use my own descriptors.

  • 2019 Chardonnay: Some butter notes. Not necessarily California style but it was somewhat reminiscent of one.
  • 2020 Grüner: Light, lots of mineral notes. Hard to compare since I see so little of this variety locally.
  • 2020 Albariño Verjeo: Aromatic. Heavier than I expected. At first I thought I detected citrus but probably more leaning towards pear.
  • 2020 Albariño Sur: More citrusy than the first, and definitely with some mineral notes.
  • 2020 Albariño Norte: Definitely citrusy and softer than the rest.
  • 2020 Passeggiata (red): A super soft summer red, meant to be chilled. Not sure what the blend was.
  • 2019 Crumbling Rock (Bordeaux blend but leaning towards Cab Franc): Wonderful aromatics!!!
  • 2016 Black Ankle Estate (Bordeaux blend but leaning towards Cab Sauv): Heavier Bordeaux blend. Earthy and dark cherry; a definite winner.

All in all, Black Ankle was a great experience. This place really blew away my expectations for Maryland wine, so I’ll happily go back.