The Experience of Loudoun County: Award-Winning Wines Take Bloggers by Surprise

I remember the crowd reaction last year during #wbc10 when Virginia was named as the host city for the next Wine Bloggers Conference in 2011.  There was skepticism, puzzlement and I heard the comment that the conference was clearly sold to the highest bidder.  I encouraged those around me to give the state a chance and that some of the wine there just might be a well-kept secret.  I was correct.

Fast forward a little over one year and I found myself at the Dulles airport at the pre-conference tour of Loudoun County.   Stacey and Wendy served as our very generous and knowledgeable hosts and we had no idea what a fabulous time we were about to have.  I was also thrilled to see some old friends from last year and those I connect with often on Twitter.  Our first stop was a tour and tasting of Tarara Winery.  Jordan Harris, general manager and winemaker, served us a variety of local meats, cheeses and fresh-picked blackberries.  I had to exercise a great deal of willpower to not eat the entire blackberry bowl single-handedly.

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Jordan Harris, general manager and winemaker

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Tarara Winery was founded in 1989 by Whitie and Margaret Hubert.  It is one of the oldest wineries in Virginia and focuses on artisan wines.  The winery has three main vineyards – Nevaeh (estate vineyard), Tranquility (in Purcellville) and Honah Lee (in Orange).  In Jordan’s opinion, these three vineyards best represent the terrior of Virginia and are defined by their place, not their varietals.  Interestingly, all of the wines produced by Tarara have screwtops.

We tried the following wines:

-          09 Charval, a blend of chardonnay, pinot gris, viognier and sauvignon blanc.  I tasted tropical fruits, floral notes and a little lemon on the nose, $20.

-          10 Viognier, a classic Virginia viognier (and that is meant as a compliment) with peach, melon and honeysuckle.  A very elegant wine for $15.

-          09 Navaen White, which is a blend of viognier and chardonnay.  I got mandarin oranges, floral, cinnamon and a little minerality.  This elegant wine was borne from a hobby that got out of control, $30.

-          09 Three Vines Chardonnay, full of pears, butterscotch, fennel and citrus.  This is a classic chardonnay for $20.

-          97 Chardonnay.  This was an interesting wine as we wondered how well Virginia wines could age.  Unfortunately this was past its prime and I couldn’t get over the musty smell, n/a.

-          09 Tranquility Red, this is a blend of the top two barrels that three wineries – Tarara, 8 Chains and Hiddencroft Vineyards – produced from Tranquility Vineyard.  It’s a great example of the collaboration that you find between Virginia winemakers.  I tasted blackberry, licorice and pine.  I’d like to have some time for this to open up to truly experience the flavors and in fact the winemaker recommends holding for 5-7 years, $40.

-          08 Nevaeh Red.  I tasted berry, cassis, mineral, plum and oak.  This wine is one of the first east coast wines to be named a Rhone Ranger, $40.

-          09 TerraNoVA, this allocation-only wine tasted of big currant, eucalyptus, menthol and red raspberry.  The fruit was harvested from several vineyards from Loudoun County.  Tarara selects its two favorite barrels of cabernet that best represents Loudoun’s terrior.  At $45, this is a very nice wine.

-          08 CasaNoVA.  This was the biggest wine of the bunch and therefore, my favorite red.  I tasted chocolate, mint, tobacco and cedar.  It was lovely, complex and well-rounded.  It was also $45.

-          07 Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was very Old World with earthiness, plum, cooked raspberries and strawberry notes.  It aged better than the white, but wouldn’t be my first choice to pull out of the cellar.

We ended with the 10 Honah Lee LH Petit Manseng, the winery’s first late harvest wine.  I tasted floral, honey and tropical notes.  It was a great dessert wine, but wasn’t for sale. We also tried an 08 syrah that was cold fermented with viognier – also not on the regular wine list yet.

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Our next stop was Breaux Vineyards, which was founded in 1994 and opened to the public in 1997.  It has 104 acres planted with 18 different grape varieties – half red, half white — with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Owners, Paul and Jennifer Breaux, welcomed us with a hayride around vineyard.  It was scorching weather, but of course I had to participate as did most of our blogging crew. 

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Jennifer Breaux Blosser, Sales & Hospitality Director 

We then moved into the cool cellar where we got to taste amongst the barrels and see how Virginia winemakers are encouraging experimentation with lesser known varietals like nebbiolo. 

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We tried the following wines: 

-          10 Sauvignon Blanc – the perfect “after hayride” wine.  At $17, it was very crisp with citrus, melon and green apple notes.

-          10 Viognier – Lots of apricot, honey and floral notes with a touch of oak on the finish.  A very nice elegant wine for $24.

-          07 Nebbiolo Barrel Sample – Lots of promise in this wine.  I tasted deep berry, violet, roses and a bit of terrior-driven chalkiness.  It was a soft wine – even in the barrel – and one I can’t wait to try in the bottle, n/a.

-          07 Meritage – Definitely an Old World style with spice, pepper, blackberries and chocolate and oak on the finish.  It was a nice mosaic of Bordeaux varietals, which is priced at $28.

-          07 Cabernet Franc Reserve – very soft tannins with spice, blackberry, vanilla and raspberry.  Two bottles of this came home with me.

-          10 Cabernet Franc Barrel sample – I tasted raspberry and mocha.  This had a nice structure and it will be interesting to see what the end result brings, n/a.

-          10 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel sample – Blackberry, chocolate, mocha, cassis and mint were the dominant flavors in this blend.

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David Pagan Castaño, winemaker

We then got to try a few others including the 08 Nota Viva Viognier, which was refreshing with tropical notes, but a nice minerality and the Corcoran Seyvel Blanc, which wasn’t my personal taste.

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After that, we took a short bus trip to Grandale Farm Restaurant. The restaurant is located on a Historic Operating Farm in Loudoun County.  The mission of the restaurant is to source locally as much as possible and the picturesque garden showcased some great looking herbs, fruit and vegetables.  The dinner was fabulous and paired with Loudoun County wines.  I enjoyed the first two whites – a Viognier and a Chardonnay, but the dessert wine pairing tasted to most of us at the table like it had turned.

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Wine Soiree Came to the Rescue Many Times This Weekend, But Couldn’t Save the Dessert Wine

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After eating way too much food, we were transported back to one of two hotels where we either hit the bar, pool tables or if you were smart, got a full night’s sleep.  I wasn’t.