Albariño Tasting at Maggie Malick Wine Caves

Albariño is arguably Spain’s signature white grape. Mainly found in the wine growing region of Rías Baixas and nearby Portuguese region of Vinho Verde (where it’s known as Alvarinho), Albariño produces a light, crisp wine, famous for its salinity and zestiness.

While Albariño isn’t well known in Virginia, be prepared to hear a lot more about it. While Virginia currently only has 34 bearing acres of Albariño, it’s proven so popular that in the last several years another 27 acres have been planted but haven’t yet reached maturity. This makes it the fastest growing grape variety in the state by percentage of growth.

Virginia’s Albariños have also been racking up awards. Maggie Malick’s 2020 steel-fermented Albariño earned double gold in the San Francisco Chronical wine competition, and later went on to place as one of Virginia’s top-12 wines in the 2022 Governor’s Cup competition. Ingleside Vineyards has also earned a number of Gold medals for their Albariños in different Governor’s Cup competitions.

During a tasting of Governor’s Cup wines, Master of Wine and competition Director Jay Youmans asked rhetorically, “Why aren’t more Virginia wineries growing Albariño? Grows great, people like it, huge upside.”

“Albariño is a premium grape for us”, explained Mark Malick, winegrower at Maggie Malick Wine Caves. “It’s a smaller berry, which means about 25% less yield in comparison to most other grapes. But the smaller berries means more intensity of flavor.”

Albariño at Maggie Malick Wine Caves

Mark Misch, former winemaker for Ingleside and current winegrower for Trump Winery, explained his view of Albariño’s appeal. “I think it’s a couple factors. Albariño is relatively new to the state so its newness makes it appealing. Not many people know what it should taste like either so we have a lot of wiggle room to make a “Virginia” style.”

To help discern if there is indeed a “Virginia style”, Mark and Maggie of Maggie Malick Wine Caves hosted an event where they shared 18 bottles of Albariño with a group of industry professionals, wine writers, and social media mavens. Most of these wines were from Virginia, but Maryland, Spain, Portugal, and Uruguay were also represented.

This group sampled 18 wines over six flights. To kick things off, we also had an excellent sparkling Albariño.

Flight 1:

1. 2020 Maggie Malick (grown in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, Northern Neck AVA): The grapes came from Ingleside but the wine was made by Maggie. Initially Maggie considered blending it with her own estate fruit, but ultimately decided she liked both wines on their own so she kept them separate.

The wine presented notes of ripe yellow peach, cantaloupe, and saline. Some participants described it as ‘classic’ in style, though still not quite an exact match for a Spanish wine. Clean finish, good depth.

During the judging of the 2022 Governor’s Cup, Jay Youmans described this wine as “ocean in a glass”. When wine blogger and Governor’s Cup wine judge Kathy Wiedemann first blind tasted it, she turned to Jay and said “One of those Albariños kicked-ass.”

2. 2020 Maggie Malick Reserva (grown and made in Loudoun, Virginia). While the fruit for this wine came from Maggie’s estate vineyard, the two couldn’t be more different despite being made by the same person. This was “Albariño on steroids”, explained Mark. Very fruit forward and intense. Notes of white peach and lime zest.

3. 2020 Ingleside (grown and made in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, Northern Neck AVA): Stylistically-speaking this was closer to Rías Baixas than to Virginia. The wine was aromatic, with notes of lime, saline and melon, but absent the stone fruit qualities the others had.

The comparisons and contrasts of these wines really makes you question how much the final outcome can be attributed to either the terroir or the winemaker. The fruit for the Ingleside and ‘regular’ Maggie Albariño both came from Ingleside Vineyards, and both were made in steel. They shared some of the same tasting descriptors, yet both were very distinctive.

Ripeness was a quality shared by both of Maggie’s Albariño, although their tasting profiles were very distinct. Both were made in steel, although they also used different commercial yeasts and came from different vineyards.

The favorites of this round were fairly evenly split between the two Maggie wines, with some favoring the finesse of the regular Albariño but others loving the power of the Reserva.

Flight 2:

4. 2020 October One (grown and made in Loudoun, Virginia): According to owners Bob and Loree Rupy, this wine was made using whole cluster pressing. We found this process added more to the body. Many tasting notes were provided, ranging from yellow peach and stone fruit, all with a nice lemon zest. It had a slight amount of residual sugar, but was still a dry wine.

5. 2021 October One (grown and made in Loudoun, Virginia): This wine was also made using whole cluster pressing. The result was described as a “yellow peach explosion.” It was a little drier than the 2020, as well as more balanced and expressive. Overall, this bottle was the favorite of this round.

6. 2019 Bodegas Pazo de Villarei (grown and made in Salnes Valley, Rías Baixas, Spain): “Sancerre-like” was mentioned. The nose had some funk to it, almost like canned asparagus. It also went past ‘notes of saline’ to ‘full-on salty’. This started a trend of demonstrating how different the Spanish wines were from Virginia Albariños.

Flight 3:

7. 2021 Willowcroft Vineyards (grown and made in Loudoun, Virginia): Softer and approachable. White peach notes. Crisp and clean. We felt this would also be a very food-friendly wine. Overall the favorite of this round.

8. 2021 Cana Vineyards (grown and made in Greenstone Vineyards, Loudoun, Virginia): Not a lot of depth; in fact it was almost Sauv Blanc-y in body. We found grapefruit notes with some salinity. One of the lightest Albariños of the evening.

9. 2020 Val Do Sosego (grown and made in Rías Baixas, Spain): “Bite-y” was Mark’s favorite descriptor. This wine was more mineral driven, and went exceptionally well with the shrimp dish we were sampling.

Flight 4:

10. 2021 Wisdom Oak Vineyards (grown and made in Central Virginia, Monticello AVA): Apple on the nose. Some felt there was a smoky quality to it. Lime zest and stone fruit on the palate. It was also noticeably lower in acid than the others, which made it exceptionally quaffable.

11. 2021 Old Westminster Home Vineyard (grown and made in Maryland): Very aromatic, reminiscent of ‘cat pee’ in Sauvignon Blanc. This was one of the most different wines of the evening, as it was made using native yeast fermentation. Very flowery nose…fennel maybe? One mentioned it had an herbal quality to it, plus notes of lime.

Although wines made with native yeast are usually very obvious, this one didn’t taste like it. Even so, it didn’t come across like a ‘traditional’ Albariño.

12. 2020 Bagoa do Mino Rias Baixas (grown and made in Rías Baixas, Spain): This was our favorite Spanish wine of the night. Richer and more balanced than its counterparts. Softer & rounder was mentioned. Also very quaffable, with or without food.

Flight 5:

13. 2020 Blenheim Vineyards (grown and made in Central Virginia, Monticello AVA): In my opinion one of the top contenders of the night. It also had one of the prettier aromas of the evening, with lots of orange peel.

We had plenty of tasting notes for this wine. Most participants noted it was crisp and spicy. Some detected notes of lime, white peaches, maybe lemon. The wine had medium acidity and had a juicy quality to it.

14. 2020 Garzon Reserva Albariños (grown and made in Uruguay): This Uruguayan wine was another favorite of the evening, stylistically-speaking more in line with Virginia than with Spain.

Fruit forward. Notes of jasmine and white peach, with a ginger heat on the back end. This and the Blenheim were close contenders for round favorites.

15. 2019 Chrysalis Vineyards (grown and made in Loudoun, Virginia, Middleburg AVA): The ‘verde’ label on the bottle was an accurate descriptor, since this was definitely made in a lighter style. Light and very lively. There wasn’t a lot of finish but very good front end.

Flight 6:

16. 2020 Nordica Alvarinho (grown and made in Minho, Portugal): Another one that was ‘ocean in a glass.’ The salinity was very pronounced, with an almost sweet-note to it. Grape fruit on the palate. Very easy drinking.

17. 2021 Old Westminster Winery, Maryland (grown and made in Maryland): This was a late-add so very few notes. Flinty, mineral notes. Lemon oil quality to it.

18. 2020 Palacio de Fefinanes (grown and made in Rías Baixas, Spain): Apricot on the nose, honey finish. Someone said the nose was reminiscent of amaretto. Citrusy/lime quality, more mineral than saline. Several mentioned it was their favorite Spanish wine, although overall people seemed to favor the Nordica.

What did we learn?

Of the 12 Virginia or Maryland Albariños that were sampled, most tasted varietally correct but still diverged from their Spanish counterparts. Nearly all the Virginia wines trended towards notes of stone fruit, especially yellow or white peach. Most had more traditional lime-zest flavors. Several had notes of melon. Two had an almost Sauvignon Blanc quality to them.

The greatest difference between local Albariños and Spanish ones were the local examples were far more approachable. While Albariño’s traditional saline quality was often there in Virginia wines, it wasn’t to the same degree as the ones from Spain. A few were made in a fresher style where the salinity was entirely absent.

The Spanish and one Portuguese Albariños tended to have more bite to them. Most had a high saline quality to them, with one being full-on salty. Two were more mineral driven. Interestingly enough the Bagoa do Mino was our favorite, and noticeably easier-drinking than the others.

This Uruguayan wine was another favorite of the evening, more in line stylistically-speaking with Virginia than Spain. Although its tasting notes were distinct, it likewise had an easy-drinking, moderate saline quality to it.

Maybe our audience had acquired a “Virginia palate”, but the results were clear – the more approachable wines were more popular, and those disproportionally came from Virginia.

Picking a favorite for the evening was difficult, but a poll of the other participants revealed the top-5 choices usually included the 2020 Maggie Malick Albariño, 2021 October One, 2020 Blenheim, Uruguay’s 2020 Garzón, and Spain’s 2020 Bagoa do Mino. Honorable mentions went to the 2021 Wisdom Oak, 2020 Portuguese Nordica, and 2020 Maggie Malick Reserva.

Early Mountain Vineyards Announces New Head Winemaker

Really happy how this turned out. I initially interviewed Maya Hood White for a separate article, but this time I got to go into more depth with her.

I’m sad to see Ben Jordan go, but couldn’t think of someone better to replace him.
#VAWine #winemaker #virginiawine #womeninwine #womenwinemaker #girlboss #earlymountainvineyard

https://wineandcountrylife.com/early-mountain-vineyards-maya-hood-white/?fbclid=IwAR0ki7k3ffKYShXtYDCIlY3DYNXWWHdfSD81CUhCRUvgwnSJiqVEPgvY1xw

Virginia’s Forgotten Winery: Belmont Vineyards

Virginia prides itself as the birthplace of American wine. The first chapter of Virginia’s viticultural history started in 1619 when settlers at Jamestown were instructed to plant grape vines. This story is usually followed by how Thomas Jefferson repeatedly tried but failed to make wine using vinifera (grapes from the Mediterranean region) at his estate in Monticello. But the narrative usually jumps from Jefferson to the 1970s when Barboursville Vineyards and others started making local wine for the first time since prohibition.

Not nearly as well known is the century between these benchmarks, including how in 1880 Virginia was the 5th largest wine producer in the United States. Norton, an American variety discovered in the early-1800s, was the state’s main grape. It was so popular a Norton from the Monticello Wine Company won gold at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873 and silver in Paris in 1878. At the start of the 20th century Charlottesville was calling itself the “Capital of the Wine Belt in Virginia,” although vineyards dotted the entire state.

One of these vineyards was Belmont, located not far from the northern entrance to what is now Shenandoah National Park. Once reaching over 100 acres of vines, at its peak Belmont may have been the largest vineyard in the state.

Belmont wine label. Source: Dr. Carole Nash

Belmont was founded by Marcus Blakemore Buck (1816-1881), a member of a prominent Front Royal family. In 1847, Marcus purchased nearly 2,000 acres in the mountains just outside the city. Half he subsequently sold, but the remaining land he turned into his farm.

According to research by archeologist Dr. Carole Nash of James Madison University, by 1863 the business included 80 acres of vines and 10 acres of sugar cane, farmed by slaves. The end of slavery and destruction of the local rail network led Marcus to diversify his business, adding a distillery that sold whiskey to local pharmacies.

Belmont homestead. Source: Shenandoah National Park

In 1875, Marcus fell on hard times, resulting in the sale of Belmont to his cousin T. A. Ashby, who brought the farm back to prosperity. Virginia cartographer Jed Hotchkiss included Belmont in his 1884 science and business journal, saying, “The Belmont Vineyard, on the Blue Ridge near Front Royal, Warren co., Va., is … probably the largest vineyard in the state, as it has over 100 acres in grapes of various kinds.”

By the 1880s Belmont was producing as much as 20,000 gallons of sweet red wine, port, and dry red. It was also a nursery, selling vines to other vineyards. Newspapers referenced Ashby growing over a dozen grape varieties including Catawba, Concord, Delaware, and Norton.

Belmont wine bottle. Source: Shenandoah National Park

These wines were sold throughout the U.S. According to letters republished in the Front Royal Sentinel, “The reputation of the Belmont wines is attested to the fact that during the last year 6,000 gallons of them were shipped to Minnesota alone, besides large quantities to Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, and other states.”

Belmont’s success was also in part due to of good timing. France’s own wine industry was still recovering from the ravages of phylloxera, and the recent completion of the Transcontinental railroad hadn’t yet transformed the American economy. Virginia vineyards had unprecedented market access that allowed them to grow.

These good times couldn’t last forever. By 1900 the business had folded, likely a victim of competition from California wine, economic depression, and the state’s nascent prohibition movement.

Belmont’s remnants were lost to history until a Park Ranger discovered grape vines growing along Dicky Ridge, not far off Skyline Drive. The Park contacted Dr. Nash to investigate further.

Nash and her students explored the farm using advanced geospatial technology as well as old-fashioned fieldwork. Their discoveries included a pair of underground wine cellars, several farmsteads, a road system, and multiple stone walls that marked the vineyard’s boundaries.

LiDAR map of Belmont. Red dotted lines indicate Dicky Ridge Trail, while the yellow lines indicate Skyline Drive. Source: Shenandoah National Park

Her team was also able to trace the outline of several fields. Even over a century later, Belmont’s grapes can be found growing in the wild.

Potential explorers should be warned; this is not an easy hike and its remains are protected under law. The Park Service tore down the remaining buildings in the 1950s. Only stone walls, flattened land, a large pit, and the corner of a building are visible to the naked eye.

While Belmont Vineyards is long gone, it left a legacy that was taken up by future generations.

According to Shenandoah National Park Cultural Resource Program Manager Dr. Brinnen Carter, “I think Belmont showed you that Virginia can do industrial scale production of wine.” During its peak, Belmont produced the equivalent of 8,000 cases of wine a year. That number is even more impressive when Virgina’s population in 1880 was only 1/5th of what it is today.

While vinifera grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay make up over 80% of today’s Virginia vineyards, hybrid varieties such as Vidal Blanc and Traminette are widely used, primarily to produce sweet wines. And Marcus Buck would be proud to know that Norton is thriving in Virginia today, with over 100 acres planted.

Chrysalis Vineyards is by far the largest producer, but DuCard Vineyards and others are also making red wines with outstanding character using the Norton grape.

Hybrid and American grapes have an important place in the overall Virginia vineyard industry due to their hardiness, an important trait as climate change causes increasingly extreme weather patterns. Their ability to thrive without requiring the same degree of pesticides and anti-fungal spraying also makes them better suited for sustainable agriculture and organic winemaking.

To learn more about the history of Virginia wine, look up The Birthplace of American Wine: The Untold Story behind Virginia’s Vines – Virginia’s Travel Blog.

Women Take Top Honors in Maryland and Virginia

My latest article of the Old Town Crier is now published.

I had the opportunity to chat with the top-winning winemakers in both states; Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards and Lauren Zimmerman of Port of Leonardtown Winery. Both won their state’s most recent top-wine awards, with Melanie earning the Virginia Governor’s Cup in March and Lauren winning both the 2021 Maryland Governor’s Cup and 2022 Comptroller’s Cup.

For Virginia, it was the first time a female has ever been awarded the Virginia Governor’s Cup in the event’s 40-year history. For Maryland, it was Lauren’s second win of the Maryland Governor’s Cup.

One last fact-oid; only around 15% of Virginia winemakers and 20% of Maryland Winemakers are female.

https://oldtowncrier.com/2022/05/01/women-take-top-honors-in-maryland-and-virginia/

Virginia Chardonnay Blind Tasting Showdown

I’ll start off by saying this: I love Chardonnay. I’m not alone, given it’s the 2nd most planted white grape in the world and 2nd most planted variety in Virginia.

People who say “Anything but Chardonnay” are probably referring to cheap, overly oaked versions from California. But Chardonnay is something of a chameleon, found in a variety of styles shaped by its growing condition and its winemaker’s preferences.

I’ve long thought Virginia does Chardonnay very well. Two of the most famous Chardonnay producers, Michael Shaps and Jim Law, seem to have an especially strong affinity for Old World-style Chardonnays. Michael Shaps makes authentic Burgundies from his Maison Shaps, and Jim Law refers to his Hardscrabble Chardonnay as his estate wine.

My blind tasting events has always had a great cross-section of participants, but this one had something of an “A-Team” of wine palates including Kathy Wiedemann of Vinous Musings (also one of the state’s best blind tasters and a Governor’s Cup judge), Paul Armstrong and Warren Richard of Virginia Wine Time, and Stephanie Vogtman, a consultant with extensive experience in the Virginia wine industry.

Having an A-Team of tasters required an equally impressive lineup of wines, many of which I accumulated specifically in anticipation of this event. The A-Team brought several more.

The wines:

  1. 2019 Chatham Church Creek (Steel). Grown in the Eastern Shore. Winemaker Jon Wehner.  This wine is also one the best seafood wine in Virginia (with all due respect to Barbourville’s Vermentino).
  2. 2018 Veritas Reserve. Grown in the Monticello AVA. Winemaker Emily Pelton. Brought in by Stephanie.
  3. 2017 Linden Hardscrabble. Grown not far from Front Royal at Linden’s estate Hardscrabble vineyard. Winegrower Jim Law. One of the most – arguably the most – famous Chardonnay growers in the state.
  4. 2019 Early Mountain Vineyards Madison County. Grown on I believe EMV’s estate vineyard. Winemakers Ben Jordan and Maya Hood White. This dynamic duo makes several vineyard-specific Chardonnays, but this was my favorite of the bunch I sampled. This EMV was brought by Kathy.
  5. 2019 Michael Shaps Wild Meadow Vineyard. Vineyard located in Loudoun. Winemaker Michael Shaps. This wine also won a place in the 2021 Governor’s Case, so I special ordered it for this event.
  6. 2019 Walsh North Gate Vineyard. Grown at the estate vineyard of Walsh Family Wine in Loudon County. Winemaker Nate Walsh. I don’t recall what drew me to this wine, but I’ve always enjoyed Nate’s wines so this was an easy choice.
  7. 2018 Two Twisted Post. I believe grown on their estate vineyard in Loudoun Valley. Winemaker Theresa Robertson. Brought by Paul and Warren.
  8. 2017 Pearmund Old Vine. Grown at their estate vineyard near Broad Run (which incidentally has some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Virginia). I believe the winemaker at the time was Ashton Lough.
  9. 2019 Keswick: Grown at their estate vineyard in the Monticello AVA. Winemaker Stephen Barnard. I tried this a few years ago during a visit and as soon as I had this sweet ambrosia I knew this was going to be a participant at my event.

Flight #1:

  • Wine 1. 2019 Chatham (1st winner)
  • Wine 2. 2018 Veritas (3rd)
  • Wine 3. 2017 Linden Hardscrabble (2nd)

By coincidence, we started out the gate with what turned out to be one of our favorites of the day – the 2019 Chatham (Steel fermented). Most of us had sampled this wine before and were fairly certain of its identity, but we decided to wait till the end before we played ‘guess the bottle’.

The Chatham presented its distinct minerality. This was a soft, fresh “sipping wine”. Lemon or clementine zest on the palate.

Next up was Veritas. Although 2018 was a rough year I think Veritas made good adjustments for this vintage. While the oak was a bit pumped up, pairing it with food brought out those oak-profile characteristics in a good way.

The Linden Hardscrabble shouldn’t need any introduction, given Jim is one of the premiere Chardonnay-makers on the east coast. This was a higher-acid wine, which presented some pink fruit notes (grapefruit?) and even a trace of pineapple.

Putting these three winemakers in the same lineup was almost unfair, especially since the 2017 and 2019 Chardonnays are outstanding vintages. In retrospect I was a bit surprised that Linden didn’t rank higher but the A-Team was united; it was Chatham all the way. Veritas and Linden had a near-tie for 2nd place.

Votes:

  • Kathy: 1/3/2
  • Matt: 1/2/3
  • Paul: 1/3/2
  • Stephanie: 1/2/3
  • Warren: 1/3/2

Flight #2:

  • Wine 4: 2019 Early Mountain Vineyard Madison County (2nd)
  • Wine 5: 2019 Michal Shaps (3rd)
  • Wine 6: 2019 Walsh Family Wine (1st winner)

Let me start off by saying this was my favorite round! There wasn’t a single wine here I’d ever say no to.

The key term to describe Early Mountain Vineyard’s Madison County Chardonnay was ‘lush’. Fresh nose, long ripe apple finish. Notes of orange zest. We were it was a mix of neutral and newer American oak (it was actually neutral French and newer European oak). The wood was well integrated.

The Michael Shaps 2019 had a tropical nose (maybe a dash of Petit Manseng?) and it gave a big ‘pop’ of tropical fruit, like mango and pineapple. We felt this was definite a ‘food wine’.

The Walsh Family Wine had a softer nose with a whiff of flowers. I swear I got a bit of tannin here. Very diverse profile of tasting notes, to include some sweet orange. Creamy finish. We felt this would be great with creamy dishes or seafood. “Very Burgundian” was mentioned. Probably the most versatile wine of the lineup.

Walsh was easily our favorite, with EMV and Shaps vying for 2nd place.

Votes:

  • Kathy: 6/4/5
  • Matt: 6/4/5
  • Paul: 6/4/5
  • Stephanie: 6/4/5
  • Warren: 6/5/4

Flight #3:

  • Wine 7: 2018 Two Twisted Posts (2nd)
  • Wine 8: 2017 Pearmund Old Vine (3rd)
  • Wine 9: 2019 Keswick (1st winner)

Off the bat you could tell the first two wines were far darker than anything we’d had before, with an almost orange hue. This was the closest round in terms of favorites, since Two Twisted Posts and Keswick were especially appreciated.

The Two Twisted Posts had an almost hay color. Yellow flowers on the nose…maybe daisies? Yellow apple, lemon, citrus on the palate. Close #2 for this round.

The Pearmund was oakier than we preferred. There was an almost green quality to this bottle. Notes of celery or asparagus were mentioned.

The Keswick was well liked all around, ranked 1st or 2nd by all. Caramel, crème, apple on the plate. Flinty notes and wild flower on the nose. Someone mentioned a candied lemon quality here. It was also an especially high acid wine. Someone mentioned ginger on the back end.

Votes:

  • Kathy: 9/7/8
  • Matt: 9/7/8
  • Paul: 9/7/8
  • Stephanie: 7/9/8
  • Warren: 7/9/8

Finalist Round:

  • Wine #1: 2019 Chatham (2nd)
  • Wine #6: 2019 Walsh (1st winner)
  • Wine #9: 2019 Keswick (3rd)

No special tasting notes here. We took a break to eat, thinking maybe this might change our earlier tasting notes. But ultimately, our palates were still on the same path as they were before.

These were three clear winners, with the fresh minerality of the Chatham vying with the versatility of the Walsh. But for this round, Walsh won.

Votes

  • Kathy: 6/1/9
  • Matt: 1/6/9
  • Paul: 1/9/6
  • Stephanie: 6/1/9
  • Warren: 6/1/9

Overall Favorite: 2019 Walsh Family Wine

Not the main question – did the best wine win?

I think to ask this question misses the point. Any blind tasting is the product of that day, with that group, with that food. I could repeat the same wines days later and we easily could have gotten different results. And if we had tried pairing them with a different set of dishes, the final selections would have been more different still.

But I’m not at all surprised we picked Walsh. I think Nate is really under-rated, and this wine seemed to go with everything and satisfy every palate. I purposely tasted every wine on its own as well with a bite of food, and Walsh always stood out.

Not surprised either that Chatham or Keswick made it to the finals. Chatham was the ‘most different’, likely because of its minerality and lack of any oak (I’m really happy it went first). Keswick likewise was bright, fresh, and very quaffable. Interestingly enough, all were from the 2019 vintage, which was ripe yet young enough to retain their ‘fresh’ characteristics.

Next up: Viognier.