Loudoun County Wine Pre-Trip: Continues to Bring Great Surprises

Shaun T

I came out of my early morning haze with two words running through my mind – Dig Deepa! You see, I brought along the Shaun T Insanity workouts and I knew that I was about to sweat out the wine, cheese, dessert, nuts and other sins of yesterday. After a very ugly workout session, I was ready for day two.

Our first stop was Chrysalis Vineyards. This was to be my first experience with Norton and I was excited. I had read the “The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine,” by Todd Kliman and was very intrigued to taste the native Virginia grape that was such a labor of love for Dr. Norton. The Norton grape was almost destroyed during the Civil War and then again during Prohibition.

Chrysalis Vineyards is a 412-acre farm that is known for being the world’s largest grower of Norton, deemed by owner Jennifer McCloud as the “real American grape.” In addition to Norton, McCloud has planted a variety of Spanish and French varietals in addition to the usual line-up. The vineyard also has several American milking Devon cows and will be making cheese and ice-cream soon.

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We were split into two groups and our hostess, Pat, was born to showcase Chrysalis wines. She introduced us to “Sarah,” namesake of several blended wines and the vineyards gorgeous outdoor patio. Sarah, who died an untimely death of “consumption” or tuberculosis at the age of 16 in 1855, was the daughter of the property owners of the estate in the 1800s. Based on what I saw, she’s definitely resting in peace.

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We tried 15 wines – all except for two were grown on the estate:

- 10 Chardonnay – this was made in the Old World almost Chablis-like style with lots of acidity and green apple. This is one of the wines sourced from grapes outside the vineyard, $17.

 - 09 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay – more New World in style. Citrus and oak abounded, $24.

 - 10 Viognier – very refreshing with notes of vanilla, melon, floral and peach notes, $29.

 - 10 Mariposa – a dry rose with notes of raspberries and strawberries. Not my favorite wine as I struggle with rose wines that do not sparkle, $15.

- 10 Sarah’s Patio White – I tasted citrus, honey and almost a Chinese spice, $15

- 10 Sarah’s Patio Red – This 100 percent Norton had almost a hint of sweetness to it. Big cherry, raspberry and a note of Asian spice. Pat talked about how good this is as a base to sangria and I’m inclined to agree, $15.

 - 08 Rubiana – This wine combined Spanish and Portuguese varieties and tasted of black fruits and pepper, $17.

 - 07 Norton Estate – I really wanted to love Norton especially after reading about its resurrection and knowing this vineyard brought back Norton in 1992, but the earthiness combined with fruitiness made me pause, $17.

- 10 Norton Barrel Select – This wine was made in a Beaujolis style and was very fruity, n/a

- 08 Norton Locksley Reserve – Aged for three years in the bottle, this blend of Norton (75 percent), Petit Verdot and Nebbiollo was very earthy with pepper and chocolate. I would have been interested to see what happened to this wine had it been decanted.

- 06 Petit Verdot – I tasted chocolate, pepper and earthiness, $35.

- 07 Tannat (or poker playing wine) – I tasted mocha, currant, vanilla and blackberry. This wine could benefit with several more years in the bottle, but had nice structure, $35.

 - 08 Papillon – Had notes of mocha, cedar, pepper and pine, $35.

 - 10 Albarino – An explosion of white peaches, floral and even a bit of mango. This was one of my absolute Virginia favorites at $24.

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Then it was time for the pinnacle – the 10 Petit Manseng, reserved for only the VIP wine club members and it usually sells out instantly. Chrysalis was the first to bring this wine to the Americas. I tasted honey, candid fruit, spice and orange. It was a very special wine and as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince anyone to sell me a bottle.

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Our next stop was Boxwood Winery. Rachel Martin, EVP of Boxwood and the daughter of Rita and John Cook, former owners of the Washington Redskins, greeted us and talked about the history of the winery. Designed by Architect Hugh Jacobsen, it’s an airy, light filled and cheery place to experience wine. The 16-acre winery was first planted in 2004 and focuses on French Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The focus is producing fine wines in a French style with Virginia terrior.

Stephane Derenoncourt, a French winemaker, consults with Adam McTaggart, Boxwood’s day-to-day winemaker. Boxwood was Derenoncourt’s first U.S. consulting venture.

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We tried several wines:

- 09 Topiary Rose, a dry sipping wine with tasted of strawberry. You guys know I struggle with roses, but the rest of the bloggers enjoyed this wine, $14-16

 - 08 Topiary, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, was done in a right bank style. It had a deep purple color, dark fruits, berry, smokiness, spiciness and eucalyptus notes, $25-27.

- 08 Boxwood was done in the left bank style and was a blend of petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I tasted blackberries, black cherries and almost a sandalwood essence, $25-27. – 09 Topiary, muted berry, cedar and earthiness. This wine will be released in the Fall, n/a.

- 09 Boxwood had big berry, a powerful structure and benefitted from a quick whirl in the Wine Soiree (actually both 09 wines did). I brought home a bottle of the 08 and 09 to compare at a future tasting, n/a.

A few things struck me after spending these two days tasting Virginia wines. First, I was surprised at the number of European influences on the wine styles and the grapes being planted. Second, it is clear that no expense has been paid to bring in some of the world’s top wine consultants. And finally, Virginia is an area that is making the commitment today to make some serious wine in the future.