Virginia wines and more

One month ago, I spent 4 days in the balmy, thick air of Charlottesville, VA. The Wine Bloggers Conference of 2011 was held in this lovely city (home of my alma mater) on quite possibly the worst weekend possible.  The 110+ temperatures on Friday were the hottest in over 11 years we were later told. Sadly, that did not make up for the fact that we were there to taste and learn about wine, and being ridiculously uncomfortable and sticky makes it difficult to concentrate or learn just about anything. But determined to triumph, the bloggers mowed through tasting after tasting, thankful for air conditioning, enjoying the hospitality of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Rather than go through tasting notes and descriptions of all the wines I tried, I will instead share the nuggets of wisdom I took away from it all.

1. Virginia wine ain’t bad!
My memories of Virginia wine are actually very pleasant ones: sipping (probably more like drinking) wine at a sorority function in one of the vineyards near University of Virginia. I didn’t know much about wine back then, nor did I care. I was among friends and having a blast. But from what I’m told, Virginia wine has come a long way in the past 13 years.  One reason is that they have started to focus on varietals they do well, namely, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (Despite this trend, the best red wines I tried, from Keswick Vineyards, were both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.) The Petit Verdot coming from this state is pretty cool stuff – it is distinct and different. Dense, packed with fruit and age-worthy to boot, this grape handles the humidity, which is in Virginia to stay, so has great potential. On the white side, Viognier is the grape of the moment. Ripe and rich, many of the wines are BIG, some a bit over-the-top. Granted, most I tasted were from 2010, a very hot year, so I take that into consideration. Worth seeking out to taste, if you find a bottle. Some great wineries to note are Keswick Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, Blenheim Winery, Virginia Wineworks, Williamsburg Winery (Chardonnay) and Veritas.

2. Alternative Packaging on the rise!
I admit it, I am a sucker for alternative packaging. I like finding new ways (greener ways!) to enclose wine rather than the standard bottle. I’m not saying I want to see Chateau Haut Brion go the way of Tetra Pak, but for my certain wines, I love to see less waste in my recycle bin. A couple I discovered this weekend include CalNaturale, who is putting some yummy organic grapes into a Tetra Pak (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon). The Chardonnay is crisp and bright and a perfect pack to put in my stroller’s cup holder. Am I allowed to say that? The other great pick was the Climber pouch, made by those behind the Clif bar, which is already a good in a bottle, but is quite fascinating in a pouch. This particular “pouch,” which looks like a giant Capri Sun, holds  a magnum of wine, but weighs as much as a standard glass bottle. After it’s opened, it stays fresh for about 30 days and is perfect for campers or a party. Great packaging and lower footprint.

3. Heat and Humidity make enjoying wine difficult
I wish I had more wines to write about – our delightful jaunt to Monticello was dampered by 100 degree heat and the same level of  humidity. It was pretty incredible to tour Monticello again, but I do wish being outside had been more enjoyable – I would have I’m sure enjoyed many more wines. Even those pouring their wine, trying to look enthusiastic but drenched in sweat, seemed put out.

So, from my few takeaways: try a Virginia wine if you can find one, you may be surprised. Grab a tetra pack or octavin (we love these) for your fridge. And when it’s hot and humid outside, find a pool and drink an ice cold beer!