More Washington Places

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I hate this time of year. I can’t hit the road and explore the way I would like to as there are too many things going on here. (Birthdays, Superbowls, etc.) So, instead? I make plans and dream of hitting the road.

And with a trip to Washington State coming up at the end of the June that gives me some time to think about where I will be going. Washington is full of viticultural areas that are mostly part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. I am working on exploring the smaller viticultural areas first.. and began with Walla Walla since that is where I will be visiting.

This time, I am exploring the Yakima Valley. Years ago, Kevin and I drove around parts of Washington State and got pretty close to Yakima. It was an amazing place. Highly irrigated, the area is a fruit belt. Orchards of apples, peaches and even a town called Apricot (which we passed). The rest of the area not being irrigated looks like a moonscape. It is dry and desolate and I was amazed by the difference between the lush valleys and bleak hills.

That being said, the area is home to nearly 50 wineries and has cultivated wine grapes since 1869. The main varietals planted are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Sangiovese, Malbec, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Viognier.

Hopefully, I will be able see some of these wineries on my trip west. Oh, and like my map of of the Central Delaware Valley AVA, I find a recognizable shape in this map. Instead of a dragon, today, I see a whale. In fact, given that I grew up on the East Coast, I see Fudgie The Whale, the beloved ice cream cake shape from Carvel. I won’t test this theory by inverting the shape to see if I can identify the equally beloved Cookie Puss. But you East Coasters will understand my drift….
Yakima Valley AVA

Villa Milagro Vineyards ~ The Wines

Villa Milagro Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, October 15, 2009

Villa Milagro’s wines, in addition to being organic, are all European-style wines.  The Gambinos have eschewed the American hybrid varietals that you find so often in the Northeast, and have planted 11 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  They have no plans to expand their holdings or production, preferring to focus on artisanal wines that they sell exclusively through the winery.

Villa Milagro produces five wines: one white, one blush and three reds, and in keeping with Audrey’s California heritage, all of the wines have Spanish names.  They are currently serving the last of their 2006 vintage, with the 2007 vintage scheduled for release around Thanksgiving of this year.

While we very much enjoyed our visit to the winery and our time with Audrey Gambino, both Maree and I were underwhelmed by the wines.  They all show promise, but in general we found them on the light side.  As both the vines and the winery matures, I would anticipate the wines becoming more complex as well.

The tasting kicked off with Villa Milagro’s sole white, a Chardonnay…

Dos Luz 2006 This is a very smooth Chardonnay.  In fact, one of the hallmark characteristics of all the Villa Milagro wines is their smoothness, which I believe contributed to our disappointment with the wines we tasted.  The wines were almost too smooth, lacking the acid that would give them balance and depth.  Aged for two years in stainless steel tanks, the Dos Luz is a light-bodied Chardonnay with a very soft, subtle nose and light notes of citrus on the palate.  I would have liked to find a bit of a “kick” on the end, and without it, the wine felt a bit flat.

Roja Dulce 2006 Roja Dulce, which means “sweet red,” blends Cabernet Franc with other, sweeter grapes to produce a fruity, slightly sweet Cabernet Franc.  The nose is pleasantly fruity, with interesting notes of strawberry.  Dry, with just a touch of sweetness, the Roja has a slight tartness and touch of acid at the end which gives the wine some character.   This was my favorite of the four Villa Milagro wines.

Sombra 2006 A medium-bodied Shiraz blend, the Sombra, like all the reds, is oak-aged for 24 months.  There are light notes of cherry in both the nose and the mouth, and the oak is stronger here than in either the Roja Dulce or the Suave, contributing smokey notes, particularly in the mouth.  I found myself writing “young” in my notes, and I suspect this wine will do better if cellared for a few years and then allowed to breathe before serving.

Suave 2006 The last wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  Suave, which is Spanish for smooth, is a medium-bodied red with both berry and chocolate in the nose.  In the mouth, cherry is the predominant note with a light toastiness from the oak.  The finish is light and slightly tart, and like the Sombra, I anticipate this wine will improve with additional aging.

We stayed a bit longer to chat with Audrey before saying a fond farewell to Commander Cody and heading north to continue the adventure…

Alba Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Continued from Thursday, September 17, 2009.

Both Maree and I prefer reds, so we carefully coordinated our selections to ensure we got to try as many of them as possible.

Under the Alba Vineyards label, the winery produces three reds: Old Mill Red, Chambourcin, and a Pinot Noir.  Unfortunately the Chambourcin was temporarily out of stock, so we each selected one of the other two.

Old Mill Red Described as a “chianti-style” wine, this is a very drinkable, pleasant red table wine.  Made from a blend of Marechal Foch and Chambourcin, with a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrown in, the wine is aged in american oak for 8-10 months.  The nose is rich with strong notes of dark berries and plum.  In the mouth there are also discernible notes of plum, and the oak provides a smoky finish.  I felt the wine would definitely benefit if allowed to breathe, as it was there was a sharpness in the mouth that is often found in wines with a strong percentage of Marechal Foch, and that usually mellows when allowed to breathe for 30 minutes or so.

2004 Pinot Noir The vineyard has only recently planted Pinot Noir grapes, and this is one of Alba’s first pressings.  For the 2004 vintage, the grapes came primarily from the New York Finger Lakes area and the Williamette Valley in Oregon.  The wine is a medium-bodied wine, although on the lighter side of medium.  There are lovely notes of cherry both in the nose and in the mouth, and there’s an interesting tanginess at the end.  This struck me as a young wine, and I wasn’t surprised to find that Alba has only just begun working in Pinot Noir.  For a newer wine, it is interesting, though, and I believe future vintages will grow richer and more complex.

Next we proceeded to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah of Chelsea Cellars.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon This was a lovely, very drinkable wine.  Medium-bodied with a soft dark-plum nose, the wine is rich and soft in the mouth.  On the palate the notes of plum are nicely balanced by touches of pepper and spice.  This would pair well with a wide variety of foods and should age well.  Definitely one of my favorites of the afternoon.

2005 Syrah I’ve been gravitating towards Cabernet Franc and Syrah lately, and the Chelsea Cellars Syrah didn’t disappoint.  The color is a dark red/purple – almost plum color.  The nose is smooth and light with notes of both cherry and plum.  Medium-bodied, in the mouth the wine has definite notes of plum and light notes of cherry which give it a brightness and freshness.  The finish is smooth with a nice balance of acid.  While I did like this wine, I definitely preferred the Cabernet, finding it a more interesting and complex wine.

We finished up the tasting with selections from among the Dessert wines.  Maree, who loves blueberries and had never tried blueberry wine, gave that one a whirl.  I, who have been tasting a fair amount of fruit wines lately, went with the Dolcina, an ice-wine style dessert wine.

Blueberry Wine When they say blueberry, they aren’t kidding.  The smell and taste of blueberry is predominant in both the nose and mouth.  Interestingly, though, it’s not overwhelming.  Like their Apple and Raspberry wines, Alba’s Blueberry wine is sweetened solely from the fruit and the result is a flavor that comes very close to blueberries straight from the vine.  It’s a rich, deep flavor that evokes … summer.  This will pair exceptionally well with chocolate or cheesecake as well as with fruit and cheese.  It would also be good sipped on it’s own as an aperitif.  Winner of the 2009 Governor’s Cup for Best Dessert wine.

Dolcina Described as an “ice-wine” style, the grapes are harvested late in the season (but not technically late-harvest) and cyrogenically frozen to produce that rich, velvety sweetness that one finds in ice wines.  The nose has notes of honey and apricot, and the mouth feel is soft and smooth.  In the mouth, the notes apricot and honey blend harmoniously, with neither one being predominant.  Definitely a nice dessert wine, but I found it didn’t have the depth and character of the true Ice Wines of the Niagara region or Germany.

Ventimiglia Vineyards ~ The Reds (New Jersey)

Marguerite BarrettVentimiglia Vineyards ~ vineyards behind winery / Photo: Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Gene Ventimiglia, patriarch and principal winemaker of Ventimiglia Vineyards, is a third-generation winemaker, having learned the craft from his grandfather, who emigrated from Italy in the early part of the 20th century.   In the 1920s, the elder Ventimiglia, a member of a local Italian-American Club, produced wine for the club throughout the Prohibition era.  With the demise of Prohibition in 1933, Ventimiglia continued to produce wine, albeit legally now, and passed the traditional hand-crafted winemaking methods he learned in Italy down to his grandson, Gene, who after growing up in Patterson, New Jersey, opted to continue the family traditions here on the East Coast.

As for the Ventimiglia Reds, Gene has produced a very interesting collection of California and New Jersey table wines:

Rocky Ridge Red 2006 The Rocky Ridge Red is a bland of eight different grapes, all grown locally in New Jersey.  It is cold-fermented and aged in oak, and like all of the Ventimiglia Reds it is unfined and unfiltered.  The nose is bright and fruity, and in the mouth there are lovely notes of dark berries and stone fruits.  The wine has a slight tartness, which gives it a piquancy.

Chambourcin 2007 A Gold Medal Winner at the 2009 NJ Wine Competition, this is a very interesting wine.  Chambourcin with a slight blend of Syrah, Merlot and a little Sangiovese, this is a medium-bodied wine with a lovely deep ruby color.  The nose is bright and fruity, and the mouth-feel is lovely and full.  Aged for 16 months in French and Hungarian oak, there are notes of dark berries, particularly blackberry, in the mouth, with a light pepper finish.  95% of the grapes are grown locally in New Jersey, making this one of three of Ventimiglia’s New Jersey Reds.

Syrah 2007 The last of Ventimiglia’s New Jersey Reds, the Syrah is made from grapes grown in vineyards directly across the street from Jon Bon Jovi’s house.  Gene has added just a touch of Grenache to the Syrah and the result is a lovely medium-bodied wine with a delicate, fruity nose, a smooth, soft mouth-feel, and light cherry notes on the palate.  The Syrah will pair well with a wide range of food, and will also cellar nicely.

Carignane 2006 This was my first taste of a Carignane wine, as despite it being one of the most planted grapes in France, it is often used for blending rather than as the primary grape.  Medium-bodied with a soft mouth-feel and notes of stone fruits on the palate, it is designed to be a “companion” or table-wine, and is Gene Ventimiglia’s favorite everyday wine.  It shares many of the characteristics of a good European (French or Italian) table wine – interesting and lightly complex, without being overpowering, it will pair well with a wide variety of foods.

Merlot 2006 Made from California grapes, the Merlot has a bright nose with notes of plum and cherry, and a lovely soft fruitiness in the mouth that is balanced by a slightly acidic finish.   A nice wine, but not as interesting as the Syrah, Carignane, Chambourcin or Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Also made from California grapes, this is a full-bodied wine with a lovely deep garnet color.  The nose is sharp and tangy, and in the mouth the wine is soft with nice notes of plum and a smoky, spicy, slight tobacco finish.  The finish also lingers beautifully, and the wine grows more complex and interesting with each sip.

Cabernet Franc 2006 The afternoon ended with the 2006 Cabernet Franc, one of my favorites of the day.  Aged in French Oak, the wine ages an additional 3 years in the bottle.  Made in the Bordeaux-style,  this is a full-bodied, dry red.  The nose is earthy with a slight mustiness, and in the mouth the wine is rich, full, with notes of grass and berries and a strong earthiness that gives it depth and character.   Very interesting wine.

A smaller winery, tucked in the northwest corner of the State, Ventimiglia is worth a stop.  While I definitely had my favorites from among the selection, none of the wines disappointed.

Win(e)ding roads: Highlights from the Sun Winefest 1.17.09


Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
Some of the more interesting finds among the Reds at the Sun Winefest included:

Greenpoint Shiraz 2005 Australia Nice smooth, earthy Shiraz. Has a slight bite at the end, but I suspect pairing it with food will do much to smooth that out.

Lot 205 Petite Sirah California Deep plum color, rich and fruity. Detected notes of berries.  One of the wines I starred for future purchase.

Alma Negra Bonarda Malbec Chile  A blend of 60% bonarda and 40% malbec grapes, this is smooth, earthy, dry wine.   It finishes with a slight bite that is a hallmark of Malbec grapes.  Interesting wine.  I also really liked the label, and when I asked about it, the distributor informed me that Alma Negra refers to “Other face,” and the label was designed to evoke that sense of mystery.
Faustina V Reserva Rioja Spain According to the distributor the Faustina V Reserva is a Rioja made in the “traditional style.”  Aged in French Oak, the wine is earthy and deep, with a slight mustiness to the nose.   We were encouraged to taste it back-to-back with the…
Condesa de Leganza Crianza Spain  A tempranillo from the La Mancha region of Spain, this is a deep, rich, fruity wine.  Very smooth, with a rich, complex bouquet, the distributor described it as being more in the spirit of California wines.  It was interesting to taste the two wines back-to-back; the rioja with its strong earthiness and the tempranillo with its bright fruitiness.  Even given the differences attributed to the grapes and the regions, it’s an interesting juxtaposition of different styles of winemakeing.
Chateau d’Aussieres Vin de Pays Ausseries D’Oc Rouge 2006 Languedoc-Rousillon A medium-bodied red with a rich, earthy bouquet.   Like the 2006 Blanc, a nice table wine.
Avia Shiraz Chile Medium-bodied, smooth wine.  Priced under $10 US, this is a nice affordable every-day red.
Avia Merlot Chile Another medium-bodied red, with nice notes of berries.  Also priced under $10 US, a nice affordable Merlot.  I used to drink Chilean wines more frequently than I have been lately.  While I’ve never found large selections of Chilean wines unless I go to a large wine specialty store, it does seem like fewer and fewer Chilean wines are available in local shops and outlets these days.  It’s a shame, because as I found with these two wines, the Chilean reds are smooth, interesting wines that are very affordable.
Windmill Estates Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi From the Michael~David Family of Wines, the Old Vine Zin is fruity, with strong notes of cherry and plum in both the bouquet and on the palate; overall a really nice Zin, but not a standout like their more recognized wine…
7 Deadly Zins  Lodi Michael~David’s “flagship wine,” this is a wine I’ve had often before.  A combination of zinfandel grapes from 7 different wineries (hence the name), this is a rich, fruity, absolutely gorgeous wine.  One of my all time favorite zins.

Dead Soldiers

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve, Editor

Here are some of the wines that we consumed with our Christmas feast. Before you get too judgemental, there were five adults at dinner and it was a leisurely dinner. Most of the wines that we had were red, including a Tablas Creek Syrah, a Warm Lake Estate Pinot Noir (which didn’t get photographed) but also a Riesling from Luxembourg. These wines were drunk with my homemade Turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck and then stuffed into a turkey), salad, scalloped potatoes, Cajun dressing and creamed spinach.

After dinner, it was coffee, a cranberry and orange trifle (made with pannetone) and my homemade liqueur, Fiori di Sicilia…

I hope that your holiday feasts turned out as well!

Happy Holidays!

Local Wines – Bellview Winery, Atlantic County, New Jersey

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
I spent Thanksgiving in New Jersey with cousins this year.  My cousin Andrew, who is a bit of a gourmand, delights in finding new and interesting wines, and this year was no exception. 
Upon arrival, he poured me a glass of a local wine: Bellview Winery‘s 2005 Syrah.  The wine has a nice bouquet – rich and earthy – and a smooth silky taste.  The wine paired nicely with the antipasto platter they had set out before dinner.  
We later moved on to some French wines which were equally enjoyable, but for me, this was the standout of the holiday.