Keswick Vineyards: There’s a Virginia Viognier for Everyone

January’s Virginia Wine Chat (#VAWineChat) hosted by Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like took us to Keswick Vineyards for a comparative tasting of Viognier, the state’s official white grape. Frank sat down with winemaker Stephen Barnard to talk wine, winemaking, Virginia and more.

Stephen hails from Cape Town, South Africa. In 2002 after studying wine, he came to America’s East Coast after the suggestion of many and talk of it as an up and coming wine region wine. Then he met a girl and went into her family’s business, Keswick Vineyards.

Keswick Vineyards is a family owned and operated vineyard on the Monticello Wine Trail outside of Charlottesville, Virginia on the 400-acre historic Edgewood Estate. They have 43 acres under vine and are producing about 5,000 cases per year only available  in their always lively Tasting Room and online.

Stephen is a down-to-earth guy, with a great accent. His winemaking philosophies…”What you smell and taste in the glass should be a product of the vineyard and vintage, not the winemaker’s hand.” And “If you grow it right, it will taste great right off the press.”

Of their 43 acres, 16 acres are Viognier, the focus of our evening’s chat and tasting. For those of you not too familiar with Viognier, it’s a challenging grape to grow but doing pretty well in Virginia. Stephen thinks it’s growing in popularity as it’s different.

We tasted three wines, all estate grown, 100% Viognier and each one distinctive in it’s own way.

  • 2012 Keswick Vineyards Viognier: Their house label is 70% tank fermented 30% neutral French oak.
    • Aroma: Apricot & herbal
    • Taste: Nice tropical notes with a balanced acidity and creaminess
    • Price: $24.95
    • Thoughts: As Stephen said this is “classic, text book Viognier.” A great stand alone wine.
  • 2012 Viognier Estate Reserve: Whole cluster pressed and fermented in neutral French oak barrels.
    • Aroma: Tropical fruit
    • Taste: Pineapple, mango, white pepper and vanilla
    • Price: $27.95
    • Thoughts: This wine has more body / texture from the oak. The group agreed this is a better food wine.
  • 2012 Signature Series Viognier: The Signature series is Stephen’s risky wine making. This is whole cluster pressed with nothing done to it, it’s naturally fermented in 70% French oak, 30% new oak.
    • Aroma: Pineapple and peach
    • Taste: Honey, vanilla with toasty citrus and herbal notes.
    • Price: $34.95
    • Thoughts: This wine is a great combination of the first two. And neat to taste what happens when you just let the wine do it’s own thing.

My personal favorite of the three was Keswick Vineyards Viognier…I like Viognier with only a touch of oak for a bit of creaminess.

The tasting was a great way to show that as Stephen said, “there’s a Viognier in Virginia for everyone.” And the best way to evaluate a wine, “do you like it or not.” “Know what you like, drink what you like…it’s made to be enjoyed

Thank you Frank, Stephen and Keswick Vineyards for a great evening!

Thanksgiving Perfect Wine Pairings

There are no shortage of wine recommendations out there for what to serve with your Thanksgiving feast. Rather than sharing a lengthy list (I stick by my list from last year), I thought I’d share what I’m serving (or bringing to friends, as is our tradition) this year.

Sparkling & Rosé

This is a great way to start the Thanksgiving festivities. My choice in both categories is my favorite Sonoma winery discovered last December, VJB Vineyards & Cellars. Both wines just arrived in their new tasting room when I visited again last month.

  • Sparkling: The new VJB Prosecco is produced in the Valdobbiadene district near Veneto, Italy and is imported directly. It’s a dry, light-bodied, sparkling wine with a refreshing aroma of apples, citrus and flowers and well-balanced acidity ($28).
  • Rosé: VJB Le Due Rosé, 2011 Tempranillo Rosé is full of strawberry and watermelon with nice spice and tannin. Not your typical Rosé, it’s perfect with Thanksgiving ($24).


Depending on your mood and preference, you can go with white wines…


Depending on your mood and preference, you can go with red wines…

  • Beaujolais Village: Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, this Louis Jadot 2011 has been aged. While still 100% Gamay grape variety, it has more structure with notes of dark red fruit and spice. And it’s a great value ($10).
  • Pinot Noir: This is my special wine for Thanksgiving this year, picked up in Oregon this summer, Pfeiffer Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Blue Dot Reserve. Pinot Noir is a perfect red for Thanksgiving, especially one that has aged perfectly. Pfeiffer’s 2007 is also called the Presidential Pinot as it was chosen to be served at Blair House as part of Obama’s 2009 pre-Inauguration festivities.

For more recommendations, here are resources I use…

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Virginia Wine Month: A Look at Virginia’s Official Grape, Viognier

It’s Virginia Wine Month! With nineteen days left in October, there’s still time to discover your local Virginia crush…which one of the 210 wineries AND which grape variety?

One of my favorite grape varieties is Virginia’s official grape, Viognier. A grape and wine variety originating in the French region of Condrieu in Northern Rhône, Viognier grows very well in Virginia’s climate and soil. Typically a dry or slightly off dry white wine with a lovely bouquet of tropical fruit, pear and honey in nose and taste. Horton Vineyards helped put Viognier on the map in Virginia with its first vintage in 1992 which received many accolades.

At last week’s Virginia Wine Summit, there was a panel discussion about Viognier…why this grape makes a great wine in Virginia and what the characteristics are. Wines represented on the panel were all lovely with slight variations…

Overall sentiments from the panel, which included Jennifer Blosser (Director of Sales and Hospitality at Breaux Vineyards), Matthieu Finot (winemaker at King Family Vineyards) and Stephen Barnard (winemaker at Keswick Vineyards), were this…

  • Viognier in Virginia tends to be closer to the French Old World style of the wine than the often heavier New World California style.
  • Aromatics express themselves very nicely thanks to Virginia’s climate and soil.
  • There’s lots of variation with the variety based on the year’s conditions which is a great thing for Virginia.
  • One of biggest challenges with the grape is acidity. Achieving balance in Virginia’s climate is tough, and all wineries agreed, they acidify the wine if needed. As Luca Paschina, Winemaker and General Manager at Barboursville Vineyards, attending the discussion said, “Why not add acid if the wine needs it? It’s like a chef that adds salt or lemon juice to a recipe if it needs it.”
  • Viognier is a great example of how Virginia wines are a bridge between West Coast wines and European wines.

Tasting the wines and listening to the discussion, you could see, taste and hear why this is a great official grape for Virginia, a distinguishing variety for the state.

As Jennifer Blosser put it best, “Viogner is like Chardonnay with perfume and heels.”

Get out their and discover your local crush!

July 4th Red, White & Blue Wine Line Up

It’s July 4th! Here in the U.S. that means a holiday for bbqs and celebrations!

Here’s the Red (okay pink), White & Blue (ok blue on the label) American wine choices for our festivities. AND had to add a sparkling that isn’t American but one of my favorites.

  • The RED: King Estate 2011 Pinot Noir Signature Vin Gris from Oregon. Strawberry and orange notes with crisp acidity. Perfect for cooling off in the late day sun!
  • The WHITE & The BLUE: Blenheim Vineyards 2011 Viognier from Virginia. It’s full of pineapple, mango and pear with honey and vanilla notes. Perfect with the bbq!
  • The Sparkler: Baby Prosecco from Italy. Fruit and floral aromas followed by green apple and tropical flavor with a crisp refreshing acidity. Perfect pairing for the fireworks!

Happy Birthday America! Cheers!

Arrogant Frog: This Cute French Frog Makes a Great Wine

Arrogant Frog is an estate-bottled wine from the Languedoc region of Southern France. I discovered it when living in Amsterdam and was so pleased to find it available in the U.S. last summer.

The label grabbed me in our Amsterdam wine shop. The playful art and fun names, like Ribet White (Chardonnay-Viognier), Lily Pad Pink (a Sparkling Rose), Lily Pad Noir (Pinot Noir) and Sticky white (Muscat), said this is a French wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And the price was great! I tried it and was hooked. They have fun AND produce a great value French wine…eighteen of them in fact available in thirty countries.

Jean-Claude Mas, the Humble Winemaker, started Arrogant Frog in 1999 at his family’s estate after working at other large south of France wineries. Generations of his family have tended to vineyards and made wine in the Languedoc region. Arrogant Frog is “old world vines with new world attitude” and their goal is to have original, creative and enjoyable wines that are a good value.

My two favorites from the U.S. line up as I’ve tried them over the last several months…

Savvy Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc

  • Grape Variety: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Aroma: Grapefruit, gooseberry, herbal notes
  • Taste: Fruity with hints of herb
  • Price: $9 range
  • My thoughts: If you like Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll like this wine! Also a great wine to take to parties…name & label make people smile!

Croak Rotie, Syrah-Viognier

  • Grape Variety: 85% Syrah, 15% Viognier
  • Aroma: Violet flower, blueberry, spice
  • Taste: Mellow, velvety black currants
  • Price: $9 range
  • My thoughts: A great combination of grapes make this a unique easy drinking red wine.

There are five varieties available in the U.S….in addition to the two above, Lily Pad White (Chardonnay), Lily Pad Noir (Pinot Noir) and Lily Pad Red (Cabernet-Merlot). To find them near you in the U.S., check out Palm Bay International’s wine locator or check with your local wine shop.

Cheers to the cute arrogant frog! 🙂