North American Wine Bloggers Conference

Giampaolo Tabarrini & His Montefalco Wines

Giampaolo could not be missed at the tasting table…his enthusiastic tastings of his family’s Tabarrini wines filled the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference Meet the Sponsor room. You couldn’t resist stopping by to enjoy his wines and listen to tasting notes and stories of his winery and hometown in Montefalco, Italy (province of Perugia in Umbria region).

Four generations of the Tabarrini Family have tended to these vines… then in the late ’90’s, Giampaolo decided to continue the tradition in a new way by bottling their own wine. The results are fantastic!

If you don’t know much about Umbria wine, here are a few facts.

  • Umbria is the region sitting next to Tuscany to the southwest.
  • Wine regions include Orvieto, Torgiano and Montefalco Sagrantino.
  • 850,000 hectoliters of wine produced each year…only a small percent of Italy’s production.
  • Grechetto is the top white grape producing a full bodied white wine.
  • Sagrantino, the typical red grape from the Montefalco area, is the hero of this region first appearing at the end of the 19th century. Traditionally this grape was only made in a sweet version and Sagrantino Passito DOC was authorized in 1977.
  • In 1992 Montefalco Sagrantino Secco and Passito became the 12th Italian wine to be designated a DOCG (a controlled and guaranteed demonination of origin). This designation requires a minimum aging of 30 months before release.

Tabarrini is a leading producer of Montefalco Sagrantino. Half of their twenty-two hectares of vineyards are dedicated to the Sagrantino grape, used in five of the six wines they produce. The wine I’ve sampled the most, thanks to the Live Wine Blogging Session at the Conference and the gift bottle in our Welcome Bag, is their Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. This wine is one of three under their Colle Grimadesco trademark used for their highest quality wines.

Montefalco Sagrantino, Colle Grimaldesco, DOCG 2004 & 2005

  • 100% Sangrantino grapes
  • 10-15 year old vineyards with sandy, muddy soil mixed with some clay and river pebbles
  • Wine is soaked on the skins for over a month, aged 30 months in French oak then 6 months in bottle.
  • Deep ruby red color
  • Aroma is fragrant of blackberries and cassis
  • BIG red full of berry flavor and spice… uniqueness and complexity of this wine comes through in every sip.
  • Pair with roasts, braised meats, mature cheeses
  • 14% alcohol.

Visit Tabarrini’s website for a look at their full wine line-up then buy them on line here. You can also ‘Like’ them on Facebook and follow Giampolo on Twitter.

And when you’re in Umbria, visit their cantina on the property. It represents Tabarrini’s innovation and tradition…three floors including one for fermentation, one for barrels and a cellar completely underground. On the first floor you can see the ritual drying of the Sagrantino grapes.

You don’t want to miss a chance to taste these special wines with Giampaolo himself!

A Look Inside Thomas Jefferson’s Wine Cellar

It was a hot July evening at Monticello and people looking for cool shelter were told to check out the wine cellar in the passageway under the house. When they did, Wine Blogger Conference attendees stepped into Thomas Jefferson’s now fully restored wine cellar and got a glimpse into the important role wine played in his life.

Jefferson, in addition to being third President of the U.S., is often called America’s First Wine Connoisseur. His appreciation and knowledge of wine grew greatly serving as Minister to France in Paris, 1784-1789, where he was able to tour wine regions of Germany, France and Italy. Upon his return to the U.S., he began his prized wine cellar; served as wine advisor for Presidents Washington, Madison and Monroe; and in 1807, planted grapes at Monticello with hopes of his home state producing wines that rivaled those of Old World Europe.

Prior to the cellar restoration, you could only peer into the room from behind iron bars. Now thanks to Justin Sarafin, Assistant Curator and Project Coordinator at Monticello, and the restoration team’s great work, you can step onto a raised platform in the cellar to take it all in. Jefferson letters and an archaeological dig under the very spot provided insights and artifacts into his wine consumption. The restored cellar tells you that story.

  • Wine Consumption: Monticello consumed 400 bottles per year. Wine was served in the formal English manner, following dessert after the table cloth was removed (vs. French manner where wine is served throughout the meal). They used glass decanters, silver and wood wine coasters and a seau crenelé for chilling and rinsing glasses. The cellar is just below the Dining Room and the dumbwaiter carried the wine straight up for serving. One of the two dumbwaiters is now restored to working condition.
  • Wine Shipments: Jefferson’s good taste included wines of the great French château, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion and Château Lafite. Once back in the U.S., Jefferson would write directly to the vineyards to acquire the wine to ensure their quality. At the time, wine dilution and blending once wines left the vineyard happened often. Wooden crates on display in the cellar show you how Jefferson would receive his shipments.
  • Wine Storage:  Excavation did not expose any remnants of wall attached wine racks so it’s thought the cellar used freestanding racks (similar to those now on display). The cellar also features the house’s only original double-thickness door. The door and iron bars over the window shows the importance of his collection.

While Jefferson’s dreams for Virginia wine were not realized in his lifetime, his love of wine can be felt and seen at Monticello and across Virginia and the now vibrant winescape of the Monticello Wine Trail.

* Special thanks to Monticello and Justin Sarafin for the reception and insight into the Wine Cellar. Photo credits: Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., photograph by Philip Beaurline.

Exploring Virginia Wine Country: The Birthplace of American Wine

Virginia, the fifth largest wine producing state in the U.S., now has over 193 wineries in production and 22 wine trails to explore. And what better place to start your tour than where it all began? In 1807 Thomas Jefferson, often called America’s first wine connoisseur, planted grapes at Monticello imagining his home state would make great wines to rival those of Europe. Now you can visit the Monticello Wine Trail around Charlottesville in central Virginia, the Birthplace of American Wine.

On Saturday morning 23 July, as part of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, we hit the trail. Attendees boarded numbered buses, not knowing their destination, to visit wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail. My bus #3 turned out to be a fantastic pick giving me the chance to visit two favorite wineries and a new discovery just 10 miles south of Charlottesville.

* Virginia Wineworks 

Our first stop was Michael Shaps and Philip Stafford’s warehouse in the country, home to Virginia Wineworks and Michael Shaps Wines. Michael, who trained in France and currently has a winery there, came to Virginia in 1995 as winemaker for Jefferson Vineyards. After five vintages he started consulting and began his own Michael Shaps label in partnership with King Family Vineyards before moving his wine making to Virginia Wineworks.

Michael and Philip started Virginia Wineworks in 2007 to meet the need for value oriented Virginia wines. They produce a Chardonnay, Viognier, Rosé, Cabernet Franc and Red (65% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon), and now the only ‘bag in a box’ wine in the state, equivalent of four bottles at a cost of $30. Michael’s Michael Shaps label is higher end Virginia wines. He believes ‘wine is made in the vineyard’ so he naturally ferments using no yeast. The label has a Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Meritage and Raisin d’Entre. No vineyards to see here. Michael believes in finding the best location for the right wine variety so they buy by the acre and work with the owners and growers.

The winery is also the first in Virginia to offer a custom crush operation allowing individuals and other wineries to produce their wines here. Of the 15,000 cases produced by the winery annually, 13,000 are custom crush.

In their rustic tasting room, so rustic in fact you can sip and spit right onto the floor drain, we had a good time as Michael tasted us through the full line of both labels. My favorites?

  • Michael Shaps Viognier 2008: great example of Virginia Viognier done well, $32
  • Wineworks Rosé: nice pink fruit forward picnic wine; blend of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot; $12
  • Michael Shaps Petit Verdot 2008: up and coming grape variety in Virginia; heavy tannins, earthy, floral; $32

You can visit their tasting room daily 11am to 5pm.

* First Colony Vineyards

For our second stop just down the road from Virginia Wineworks, Jason Hayman, the 26-year-old winemaker, greeted us for a tasting in their tasting room of six wines: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Petit Verdot Estate Reserve, 2008 Meritage Blend, 2010 Seyval Blanc and 2009 Chardonnay. The winery produced their first vintage in 2002, and after apprenticing here, Jason has made the 2009 vintages forward. My favorite?

  • Petit Verdot Estate Reserve 2009: 100% fruit from their vineyards; black pepper and wild blackberry taste; $24

Their welcoming tasting room is open Monday-Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am to 6pm.

* Blenheim Vineyards

Our last stop is my favorite winery! They rolled out the red carpet for us with a mid-day wine tasting, tour and lunch. Kirsty Harmon, Winemaker and General Manager, and her team happily greeted us at the barn with their fantastic Rosé and a snack of gazpacho with fresh made bread and goat cheese. The perfect welcome on a hot summer day!

Blenheim was started in 2000 by Dave Matthews (yes, the Dave) and the first grapes were planted in 1999. The winery and vineyard are a gorgeous! Dave and his mom, an architect, designed the a-frame wooden structure with upstairs tasting room and downstairs cellar. You can see the cellar’s barrels and tanks from the tasting room thanks to glass flooring. From the deck you can enjoy sweeping views of the Albemarle countryside. The winery makes 5,000 cases per year from their ten acres and they get 50% of their grapes from growers across the state.

Kirsty joined Blenheim in 2008. Her winemaking philosophy is to make wines that are approachable, balanced and drinkable now. She also introduced the screw top bottle to all their wines when she joined. After training in New Zealand and France, she was exposed to early 1990 wines aged in screw top that were all fabulous. No risk of cork tainting. She was sold.

Why is this my favorite? First, every wine I’ve tasted of Kirsty’s is great. You don’t often have that experience with a winery. No matter what you like, they have one for your taste. Second, Kirsty is super cool, knowledgeable, a University of Virginia graduate and apprentice of Gabriele Rausse, the father of modern Virginia wine.

We tasted six more Blenheim wines over a bbq lunch in the library with special guest Gabriele: the 2009 Blenheim Farm Chardonnay, 2010 Viognier, 2009 Seven Oaks Merlot, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and just bottled 2010 Syrah. My favorites?

  • Rosé 2010: 100% Merlot; bright pink color, fragrance of banana and rose with light, crisp taste, $14
  • Chardonnay 2010: aroma and taste of pear and honey, very little oak, $15

When on this part of the Monticello Wine Trail, you can also stop by Jefferson Vineyards.

While you’re here, why not make a weekend of it? Central Virginia, only 2 1/2 hours south of Washington, DC, is beautiful with over 20 wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail and Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia. I love to stay at the Boars Head Inn. The Omni is a central point close to great restaurants like Brookville Restaurant (225 Main Street) and Maya (633 W. Main Street). And definitely make time to visit Jefferson’s home, Monticello, the namesake of the wine trail. They have a great wine weekend itinerary on their site as well.

Two other clusters of the Monticello Wine Trail have great wineries worth visiting…King Family Vineyards, Veritas Winery and Afton Mountain Vineyards west of Charlottesville and Barboursville Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards and Horton Cellars to the north.

Cheers to Virginia, the Birthplace of American Wine!

* This is the second in a series of articles I wrote for Snooth as winner of their Wine Itinerary Contest held in July for attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference.

Aromas of Wine: Describing Aromas & Using Them in Tastings

Wine contains thousands of scents and only a handful of tastes so aromas play a big part in wine tasting. The Aromas of Wine workshop at the fourth annual Wine Bloggers Conference taught us the facts behind how we get aroma from a wine and how we to describe aromas and use them in tastings.

Many people have difficulty describing aromas. There are the general terms of fruity, woody, earthy, herbal. As Dr. Ann Nobel, who created the Wine Aroma Wheel in 1984, says it’s difficult to describe aromas as there aren’t “primary aromas” like there are “primary colors” (red, blue, yellow) and with wines, we don’t have visual cues to help us describe the aromas we are getting. But we can learn more about the types of aromas we find in wines which will help us more easily pick them out and describe them.

Types of Aromas

First, there are three types of aromas in wine.

  • Primary: the actual grape aromas or youthful aromas; usually specific to grape varieties (i.e. Chardonnay grape has specific aromas)
  • Secondary: vinification / fermentation / oak aging aromas (i.e. oak or buttery aromas)
  • Tertiary: aromas from bottle age (i.e. leather or smokey aromas)

Classic Descriptors

Second, there are classic descriptors for each type of grape, for winemaking processes and for maturation. These charts, used by Sheri Sauter Morano in the workshop, put it all together for me! Once you know these classic descriptors, it can help you discover more wines you like and help you if you ever do a Blind Tasting, like we did at the workshop.

Kits & Tools

Third, use different kits and tools to expand your wine aroma vocabulary.

  • The Wine Aroma Wheel: Using actual the actual item (a lemon, raspberry, piece of dark chocolate, etc…), you get the real smell and taste to go with the wine. Sheri Sauter Morano in our workshop used this process to lead us through a Blind Tasting (it paired with the facts above can make you a pro)!
  • L’Atelier du Vin Wine Tasting Kit: The Wine Discovery Kit is an illustrated tasting method with 40 wine aromas and 50 tasting. While focused on French wines its still a great resource for scents if you don’t want to get the real items every time.

In the end, all palates perceive wine differently. Our memory, experiences and expectations affect how we perceive wine as do our culture, age, gender and preference.  There is no right or wrong answer in wine tasting, but with a little more facts and practice in wine aromas, you can get more out of your tastings and look like a pro when tasting with your friends!

Cheers to the Aromas of Wine!


* special thanks to Sheri Sauter Morano for sharing her presentation so I could share more with you!

Aromas of Wine: The Fun Facts

As as wine lover, I enjoy doing wine tastings and learning more to ‘hone my palette.’ Whatever that means!?! 😉 I have two great wine tasting kits at home I’ve often used on my own and with friends to do wine tastings. They’re full of scents and we experiment to see what smell and taste we pick up in the wine. It’s a fun party game, but beyond that I haven’t mastered using the kits. Then a few weeks ago at the fourth annual Wine Bloggers Conference, I attended the Aromas of Wine workshop that put it all together for me!

This interactive workshop led by Sheri Sauter Morano, Master of Wine, and hosted by Winebow Wines taught us The Fun Facts behind wine aromas and How to Describe Aromas & Use them in Tastings. If like me, you’ve ever wondered what these scents were all about, read on.

The Fun Facts

When it comes to evaluating wine, our sense of smell is much more acute than our sense of taste. This is helpful as wine contains thousands of scents and only a handful of tastes. But to put it all together you need…

Smell + Taste + Touch

  • Smell: The receptor cells in our nasal lining (we have 350 different types) collect signals and send them to the olfactory bulb in our brain (the emotional part). The brain can recognize 10,000 different scents. Our sense of smell is hugely influenced by memory. Our ability to identify scents decreases with age, it increases with pregnancy.
  • Taste: The receptor cells on our tongue, aka taste buds, react to sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (or savory). We have 10,000 taste buds but we don’t all ‘taste’ the same. There are 3 categories of tasters…Supertasters (25% of us), Tasters (50%) and Non-tasters (25%). Taste is genetic. Women have more taste buds than men. Some people are more sensitive to sweet while others more sensitive to bitter.
  • Touch: The texture or mouthfeel.

= Flavor!

When tasting wine, we Swirl, Smell, Sip. Swirl to open up the wine, release more of the scents. Smell to take in the scents. Sip…when wine enters the mouth, it mixes with saliva which helps to vaporize the compounds and these compounds are not only tasted but also inhaled exposing more scents to our nasal lining receptor cells. So Smell + Taste + Touch = the Flavor you experience in a wine.

Next we’ll look at How to Describe Aromas & Use them in Tastings. Easier said than done!


* special thanks to Sheri Sauter Morano for sharing her presentation so I could share more with you!