Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 18

Poetry gives me a headache.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love literature, but poetry as a genre just isn’t my glass of vino.  College ruined poetry for me.  It was never enough to simply read poetry.  Poetry always came with a requirement to analyze and interpret what the author meant, or didn’t mean.  And I always got it wrong.  Every time I wrote a poetry analysis, it would come back with a big, ugly C written (in the red pen of unhappiness) across the top of it.  It took me three semesters of college English to figure out that all I needed was a more esoteric (read as: bullshit) approach to my interpretation, and, just like that, my grade turned into a vowel.

Today’s words come from English poet, Ernest Dowson, who wrote under the umbrella of something called the Decadent Movement, which emphasized “aestheticism and symbolism over the natural world.”  I have no idea what that means.  Also, Decadents had some kind of connection to Edgar Allen Poe [scratching my head].  Dowson was a raging alcoholic (a complete slave to the Green Fairy) who, by all accounts, drank himself to death at age 32.  But his official cause of death is listed as tuberculosis.

Even if you’re not a poetry connoisseur, you’ll probably recognize Dawson’s words (at least the days of wine and roses part):

days of wine and roses

The title for the 1962 movie, Days of Wine and Roses, (a movie about descent into alcoholism) came from Dowson’s poem.  Someone (not me) should write a thesis about that irony.

Here’s the full, 8-line text of Dowson’s poem:

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam
The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.  ~Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Put on your thinking beret . . . let’s interpret.

Interpretation for my English professor:  This is an aesthetic commentary on the condition of human transience and mortality.  It is both hopeful and sad.  It’s brevity and meter symbolize the shortness of life.  The Latin title foreshadows the ephemeral human condition.  The days of wine and roses are but a temporary happiness that both generates from and fades into a dream of reality.  Yep, totally making this up.

Interpretation for me:  Life is short.  Carpe Diem.  (You see?  I can use Horace, too).

Incidentally, Margaret Mitchell got the title for Gone with the Wind (one of my favorite books of all time and ever) from a Dowson poem, so I suppose I should thank him for this:

Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind,
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

But, I have absolutely no idea what this means.  Something about an artichoke (Cynara is the Latin word for artichoke) and love.  But I’m glad Margaret Mitchell understood it.

Did you notice wine makes not one, but two appearances in Cynara?  But I’m gonna let you interpret . . . I have a headache.

I’ll leave you with a toast . . . May all your days be of wine and roses.


There’s No Place Like Napa

Today is the day!  Carpe Vinum (the wine club I’m part of) is back in session after our summer hiatus.  And I’ve really missed it.

The recent Napa Valley earthquake pulled our focus, and our wallets (we’re doing our small part to support recovery) west.  There are many grapes grown in Napa Valley, but there’s only one grape to rule them all — Cabernet Sauvignon.  So, each of us is bringing a bottle of Cabernet from a different Napa Valley sub-appellation, and a food to pair with it.

And we’ll attempt to answer this question:  Can you taste a difference between Napa Valley sub-appellations?

Silverado_view a

I took this photo from the terrace at Silverado Vineyards.

I’ve done a lot of reading over the last couple of days about Napa Valley terroir, and it’s pretty much unanimous — Napa Cab tastes like Napa Cab.  But can anyone really tell the difference between an Oakville Cab and a Rutherford Cab?  This is the subject of much, much debate among winemakers and wine-lovers alike.  There’s a lot of intense discussion about nature vs. nurture — where and how heavy the hand of a winemaker should be.  I read some arguments (mostly by guys named Pierre and Jacques) that California doesn’t really have terroir because it’s too much — too much power, too much fruit, too much alcohol.  I don’t like/buy that argument . . . because it’s that congruence of things that makes Napa, well, Napa.

If I distilled any kind of wild generalization for Napa Valley terroir (at least for Cabernet Sauvignon), it boiled down to this:  Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley floor tends to be more powerful and fruit forward.  Cabernet Sauvignon from the mountain area AVAs tends toward a leaner style, with great acid and savory and spice elements taking center stage. I’m excited to put that generalization to the test.

But first . . . I need a Napa Valley refresher.

Napa Valley is the most well-known wine region in California.  But Napa produces only 4% (that’s barely a drop in the spit bucket) of all the wine produced in the state of California.  Over 45,000 total acres of grapes are planted in Napa — and that’s only the third largest planting in California (after San Joaquin and Sonoma).  Dusting off what I remember from Econ 101 —  Napa’s limited production, coupled with a high demand, drives prices up.  Have I paid $100+ for a bottle of Napa Cab?  Guilty.  I don’t love the price tag, but I still get out my wallet. Because people will pay what the market will bear.  Enter the Napa cult wines.  Screaming Eagle costs $1,000+ a bottle because people are willing to pay $1,000+ a bottle.  Not me, people . . . but people.


From the Armchair Sommelier photo vault . . . here I am inhaling the Nectar of Bacchus at Mondavi, circa 2005.

History:  George Yount was the first to plant grapes in Napa Valley, sometime around 1838. The first commercial winery in Napa was established either by John Patchett or Charles Krug (depending on who’s telling the story), sometime around 1860.  And today there are over 300 wineries in Napa Valley, most of them family owned.  Winemakers in Napa have always been a resilient bunch.  The triple-whammy of phylloxera, prohibition and the Great Depression nearly wiped out winemaking in Napa Valley.  But slowly, Napa recovered.  And in 1976 at the now infamous Paris Tasting, Napa fired a warning shot across the bow of the Wine World — Napa can (and will) play with the Big Dogs.

Geography:  Napa isn’t a big piece of real estate.  It’s 30 miles long and only about 5 miles wide. By way of comparison, this is about 1/8 the size of Bordeaux.  Napa is flanked by mountain ranges on both sides — the Macaymas Mountains to the west, and the Vaca Mountains to the east.  The mountains protect the valley from the cool breezes off the Pacific Ocean.  And, at the southern end of the Napa Valley, the San Pablo Bay pulls some very important fog into the valley, keeping overall temperatures significantly cooler in the southern part of the valley.  The Napa River runs north-south through the valley, and soils vary depending on how close or far away from the Napa River they are.

Bottomline:  It’s a lot cooler in the southern parts of Napa Valley, and warmer in the northern parts.  It’s counter-intuitive, but true.


Napa Valley is an AVA in and of itself, but there are also sixteen sub-appellations in Napa Valley.  In advance of our tasting, I thought I should review the Napa Valley sub-appellations. I’m hoping that between this awesome map from Wine Folly and some help from the emojis, I can keep it all straight in my head.

🌁 = Fog influence
🌅 = Warm days, cool nights
🗻 = Mountain/Altitude influence

Here are the Napa Valley sub-appellations, listed in order of creation:

🌁  Los Carneros (1983) — The Napa Valley anomaly.  A cooler, wetter microclimate because of its proximity to San Pablo Bay, it’s too cool for Cabernet Sauvignon here.  Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the backbone of Carneros.  It’s also home to many of the sparkling wine producers in Napa.

🗻  Howell Mountain (1983) — Vineyards here are planted between 1,400 and 2,200 feet above sea level.  Altitude serves as the cooling element — days are warm and sunny, nights are cool.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel flourish here.

🗻  Wild Horse Valley (1988) — Most vineyards are planted between 600-1,900 feet, so they miss out on the cooling effects of valley fog.  Moderation comes from altitude and winds coming off the Suisun Bay.  Soils are thinner, so the vines are stressed — this reduces yield, but increases concentration and quality.

🌁 🌅  Stags Leap District (1989) — Named after a legendary stag who, while being chased by hunters, made a bionic leap between two mountain peaks.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the signature grape.  Moderated by cool breezes and fog from the San Pablo Bay.

🗻  Mount Veeder (1990) — The highest peak in the Macaymas Mountains, at 2,700 feet.  Vineyards are planted at up to 2,630 feet, which puts them mostly above the fog line.  Days are warm, nights are cool.  Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, but Merlot and Syrah have a foothold.

🗻  Atlas Peak (1992) — The Foss River is the terroir driver here.  Vineyards lie above the fog line.  Soils are volcanic and porous, which leads to lower yields and higher quality grapes.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the stars of Atlas Peak.

🗻  Spring Mountain District (1993) — Moderated by Pacific Ocean breezes.  Most vineyards are scattered on peaks and planted at 400-600m above sea level.  The dominant grape is Cabernet Sauvignon.

🌁 🌅  Oakville (1993) –  Home to some of Napa’s most famous wineries — Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Robert Mondavi.  Moderated by San Pablo fog, and a little cooler than it’s neighbor, Rutherford.  Cabernet Sauvignon is King of Oakville, and Oakville Cab flavor profiles often include eucalyptus, mint, sage, and black currant.

🌁 🌅  Rutherford (1993) – Warmer than it’s neighbor Oakville, grapes ripen a little quicker, producing more tannic wines, capable of aging.  Cabernet Sauvignon is King of Rutherford.  The flavor profile is often called Rutherford Dust, and includes plum, cherry, herb and mint descriptors.

🌁 🌅  St. Helena (1995) — Vineyards are located where the Napa Valley narrows significantly.  It’s home to some of the region’s most famous wineries — Joseph Phelps, Turley, Duckhorn and Beringer.  There’s less fog and wind than in more southern AVAs.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape, but because it’s farther north (and away from the fog), it’s warmer and also well suited to Zinfandel.

🗻 Chiles Valley (1999) – One of the smallest AVAs in the US.  Vineyards planted at 800 to 1,300 feet.  Winter and spring are cooler here, so harvest comes later than on the valley floor.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are the most successful grapes.

🌁 🌅  Yountville (1999) – Moderated by maritime influence and fog.  Most vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

🗻  Diamond Mountain (2001) — One of the northernmost AVAs, moderated by Pacific Ocean breezes.  Soils are mostly volcanic and rocky.  Dominant grape:  Cabernet Sauvignon.

🌁 🌅  Oak Knoll District (2004) — Warm, but not hot — fog lingers a little longer here.  Cabernet Sauvignon , Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling (!) are planted here.  Note to self:  Get ahold of an Oak Knoll Riesling.

🗻  Calistoga (2009) — Warmer and less humid than wineries on the valley floor.  Soils are mostly volcanic and rocky.  The dominant grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

🌁 🌅  Coombsville (2011) — Napa’s newest AVA, established in 2011.  There’s a maritime influence because of its proximity to San Pablo Bay.  Dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, but some Pinot Noir is planted in the lower, cooler areas.

That’s a lot of information (and I feel like I should be writing it on the bottom of my shoes).  But I think I can go to Carpe Vinum now and contribute something that will at least sound semi-informed.  Stay tuned for our wine selections and food pairings.  And the answer to our question — Can you taste a difference between Napa Valley sub-appellations?


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 17

It’s still National Bourbon Heritage Month . . . and I’m not done drinking bourbon observing just yet.

This week’s words come from William Faulkner, often considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.  When you can decorate your metaphorical mantle with a Nobel Prize for Literature and two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, you earn that consideration.  But, Faulkner also earned consideration as a notorious drinker, perpetually marinated, and usually in bourbon.  Faulkner hailed from Mississippi, so it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you his favorite muse was a southern staple — the Mint Julep.

Did Faulkner write drunk?  Probably, but there’s disagreement about whether he drank while he wrote or after he wrote.  Faulkner was once asked about the meaning of a particular sentence in The Sound and the Fury, and he responded with, “I have absolutely no idea of what I meant . . . I always write at night, and I keep my whiskey bottle within reach.”1  I’ll let you decide.  What scholars do agree on is that Faulkner was a binge drinker, and he almost always set off on a multi-day (or even multi-week) bender after he completed a work.

A few weeks ago, I was eating lunch with a girlfriend at The Whiskey Jar in Charlottesville, Virginia — a place I’d visit much more often if I lived a smidge closer to Charlottesville.  They specialize in southern inspired local food, and . . . whiskey.  What’s not to love about a place with an entire wall of whiskey?

bourbon wall

And hanging on a brick wall directly behind our table were these words:

What a great sentence!

It’s tough to find a civilization, ancient or otherwise, who didn’t figure out a way to ferment or distill nature into some kind of alcohol.  Archaeologists have found beer jugs dating back to the Neolithic Period.  Wine appears prominently in Egyptian pictographs.  The Babylonians made beer.  The ancient Chinese made and used wine.  The Greeks and Romans made tons of wine, and each worshipped gods and goddesses of wine.  The list of civilization and distillation goes on.  And on.  Alcohol played a role in almost all civilized life, whether it was religious, medicinal, therapeutic, commercial, or social.

If you’re interested in reading more about the union of alcohol and civilization, David Hanson, Ph.D., has written a very detailed and fantastic essay:  History of Alcohol and Drinking Around the World.

While I was down the rabbit hole of research for this post, I discovered an American poet, John Ciardi, once made an observation similar to Faulkner’s:  “Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.”  I had to Google Ciardi, because I’d never heard of him (you’ll recall I’m mostly allergic to poetry).  A more than competent poet himself, Ciardi also translated Dante’s Inferno from its original Italian.  I cannot begin to imagine how much fermentation that required!

The lives of Faulkner (1897-1962) and Ciardi (1916-1986) overlapped for 46 years.  Did one comment imitate the other?  Cue dramatic music.

I found this great photo on Pinterest of Faulkner’s Mint Julep cup — it’s on display at the William Faulkner House in Oxford, Mississippi:julep

I’ve never been a fan of the Mint Julep myself — it always makes me think of Scope mouthwash.  But, in observance of National Bourbon Heritage Month, I might just give it another whirl.  I’ve never tried writing with a Mint Julep muse . . .



1Inge, M. Thomas. Conversations with William Faulkner. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 1999. Web.

Field Trip: Chrysalis Vineyards

I spent the first day of school at a winery.
Despite what the back-to-school Staples commercial would have you believe (it’s the most wonderful time of the year), moms always worry on the first day of school.  Will they have someone to sit with on the bus?  At lunch? Will there be an explosion of drama when they walk through the door?

And you know what’s a good distraction from all that worrying?


So, my girlfriend and I packed a picnic and met my brother and his partner in Middleburg, Virginia.  I had never been to Chrysalis Vineyards before this visit.  I’d heard a lot about it, though.  And Chrysalis is a bit polarizing.  You either love it or you hate it.  And most of the discontent has to do with two points — bathrooms and children.

1)  Bathrooms (or the lack of bathrooms).  On the weekends, the only bathroom facilities available are porto-potties down the hill.  However, if you go on a Monday morning (like we did), and ask nicely, you get to use their inside bathroom.  I was told the reason they don’t open their bathroom on the weekends is because it’s on a 30-year old septic system. And 30-year old septic systems don’t handle crowds well.  Understood.

2)  Chrysalis’ policy on children:  No tiny humans allowed inside the tasting room or on the patio/deck.  Before you even get out of the parking lot, you’re greeted with this sign.  And then this one.  And this one.  Kids aren’t allowed inside the tasting room, or on the patio.  There is a fenced off “kiddie corral” (that I forgot to take pictures of) where kids must remain, with an adult, at all times.  Kinda makes me wonder what kind of Dennis the Menace incident prompted this policy.

I have mixed feelings on this issue.

Warning.  I’m about to get on my soapbox.

I’ve seen kids do some terrible things at wineries.  And if I owned a winery, I’d absolutely want to keep the potential for terrible things down to a bare minimum.  But that doesn’t mean wineries aren’t a place for children.  Wineries aren’t a place for out-of-control children. You know how kids get out of control at a winery?  Their parents get liquored up and start not watching their children.  And that’s when little Lucifer starts hanging from the downspouts and playing hide and seek in the barrel room.  Parents . . . you’re at a winery, not Chuck-E-Cheese. The winery is not your babysitter.  Kids at a winery are going to be bored.  Plan ahead.  Bring them something to do.  And watch them.  If you don’t think you can do that, leave your kids at home.  Or go to Chuck E Cheese.

That said, I find most wineries in Virginia are generally welcoming to kids.  We’ve been dragging our kids to wineries since they were infants.  They’re old enough now to stay home, and believe me, given a choice, they stay home.  We’ve been to a handful of wineries that gave us the side-eye and a mild Dolores Umbridge vibe, but this is the first time I’ve seen a winery go full Draconian and roll out what some would (and do) argue is unwelcome mat.  And when you roll out an unwelcome mat, you make people feel . . . unwelcome.  And unwelcomed people tell their friends.  Seriously.  I checked Yelp.

Here’s the bottom-line — we’re all guests at a winery.  We have two choices — follow the rules, or go home.  My advice?  If you want to bring your kids (or your dog, or even outside food) to any winery, call or check the winery’s website before you go, so you don’t have any surprises.

Off my soapbox and on to the wines . . .

The tasting room at Chrysalis is small, we’ll call it intimate.  But they have barstools, which is nice.  They did tell us they are renovating, and building a new, state of the art tasting room that will open sometime in 2015.  Perhaps it’ll have indoor bathrooms?


BTW, that’s not me or my brother in the photo below.  I’m just trying to show the tasting room — there’s space for 8 tasters inside.  And there’s a beautiful stone fireplace, which they use to . . . sell potato chips.  It’s directly across from an industrial sized refrigerator with various meats and cheeses for sale.  I didn’t think it was the best use of space, but I’m not an interior designer — this could be Feng Shui basic for all I know.

The tasting fees are $5 for the regular tasting, and $10 for the reserve tasting. The regular tasting gets you 7 wines, mostly whites and semi-sweets.  The reserve tasting gets you the regular tasting plus five reds.  And you get to keep the glass.  [Eyeroll]  Honestly, I think I should get a credit for not taking the glass home with me.

A word about Norton:  Chrysalis considers itself an (the?) ambassador for the Norton grape. First introduced sometime around 1830 by Dr. Daniel Norton of Richmond, Virginia, Norton is often considered Virginia’s native grape.  And, Norton is a very polarizing grape.  You’re either on Team Norton or you’re not.  Chrysalis has the largest single planting of Norton in the world at 69 acres.  Chrysalis is so committed to Norton, they have a registered trademark — Norton: the Real American Grape!®  The whole time we were at Chrysalis, I kept picturing that old Cocoa Puffs commercial with the Sunny the Cukoo Bird, screeching, “I’m Cukoo for Cocoa Puffs!!”  Only, I heard, “I’m Cukoo for Norton!!”

All the grapes are estate grown at one of two Chrysalis vineyards:  Locksley and Hollin. Chrysalis has done an excellent job listening to their terroir and planting grapes that grow and thrive here in Virginia.  Kudos for not trying to force a Pinot Noir!

Albariño 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
This is a variety that’s popping up in Virginia more and more.  As far as I know, only Chrysalis and a handful of others (Ingleside, Willowcroft, and Paradise Springs) are doing one.  Dry and crisp, with flavors of apricots and green apple.  Loads of pear on the finish.  Refreshing, yet complex.  My favorite of all the wines we tasted.  Chrysalis also makes an Albariño Verde, but it wasn’t available as part of the tasting.  $24.

Chardonnay 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/85
Aged entirely in stainless steel.  Lean and light, reminds me of a Chablis.  Green apples and mineral notes.  Heavy on purity, light on complexity.  $17.

Private Reserve White 2011  ⭐⭐/84
This wine is only available to VIP Club members, and yet it’s part of the tasting.  Smart or sneaky marketing move?  57% Viognier, 23% Petit Manseng, and 20% Albariño.  Aged in stainless steel and oak (part aged, part neutral).  High acid, flavors of peach and apple.  Long finish, but slightly bitter on the back end.  $25.

Traminette 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/86
Traminette is a cross between Gewürztraminer and the hybrid grape, Joannes Seyve 23.416.  It’s a cold-resistant grape, and I’m seeing it pop up at Virginia wineries more and more.  Here’s the mark of an astute tasting room host — the Traminette is not on the tasting menu, but they had a bottle open from a VIP Club tasting the previous night.  Our host said, “you guys seem to know what you’re doing”, and offered us a taste.  That’s great awareness and customer service. The Gewürztraminer nose is always present in a Traminette — lychee and roses.  Decently balanced at .2% residual sugar.  Would be great with Asian or Indian food.  $20.

Viognier 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
Fermented sur lie and aged in French oak.  Lean and less tropical than some other Virginia Viognier I’ve tasted, definitely not as plush.  Lemon and almond flavors.  Spice on the back end. Good balance and acidity.  $29.

Mariposa 2012 ⭐⭐/84
Modeled after a Spanish Rosato wine.  I’m starting to pick-up on a Spanish theme here at Chrysalis, too.  An estate grown grape blend of Tinta Cão, Tannat, Fer Servadou, Viognier and Norton (for color).  The wine is very dark for a Rosé.  The nose is light and reserved, but it’s a little odd — almost tannic.  $15.

Sarah’s Patio White 2013 ⭐⭐/84
This is a blend of Vidal Blanc and Traminette, and Chrysalis’ best selling wine.  4% residual sugar.  Why is it always the sweet wines that sell the best?  We were told SPW used to be sold in a brown bottle, and when they switched to a blue bottle — sales tripled!!  People love blue bottles?  Not my cup of tea, but I get why it’s their best seller.  Think sweet Gewürztraminer.  $14.

Sarah’s Patio Red 2013 ⭐⭐/84
100% Norton.  Whole-cluster pressed and tank fermented.  A semi-sweet wine, with 4% residual sugar.  It’s crushed and then the skins are removed for fermentation.  We were told it’s the “white wine that’s red”.  Lots of cherry flavors slight effervescence. Again, not my thing, but it would be great in Sangria!  $14.

So who is this Sarah, anyway?
Sarah Girtrude Lynn, the “patron saint” of both Patio Reds, is buried just outside the tasting room.  Sarah’s parents were once owners of the property where Chrysalis stands today.  Sarah died of tuberculosis at the age of 16.  I love the nod to genealogy.  Hats off to Chrysalis for taking such good care of history.


Estate Bottled Norton 2011 ⭐⭐/84
100% Norton.  I really struggle with Norton.  It’s my I’m-just-not-that-into-you grape.  I’ve had so many folks say, “You gotta try Chrysalis’ Norton”.  So finally, I’m trying it.  Usually, Norton tastes like grape jelly in an ashtray to me.  But I will say this Norton is definitely less aggressive and grapey than my usual Norton experience.  Flavors are cherry, chocolate, vanilla & plum.   It’s BEGGING for food.  Lamb or game would be ideal.  I don’t hate it.  That’s progress.  $17.

Rubiana 2011 ⭐⭐/84
A blend of Tinta Cão, Tannat, Fer Servadou, Petit Verdot and . . . Norton.  Kind of similar to a Tempranillo — there’s that Spanish influence again.  Heavy on the black pepper.  $17.

Petit Verdot 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
Our tasting room host called this Chrysalis’ Cowboy Wine.  The nose is über-funky, but the taste is much softer and lighter.  Flavors of mineral, cedar, tobacco, and earth.  Would love to see how this one ages.  My favorite of the reds we tasted.  $35.

Papillon 2012 ⭐⭐/84
A blend of Fer Servou, Tannat, and (wanna take a guess?) Norton.  I made a tongue-in-cheek comment about Norton being in everything at Chrysalis, and our tasting room host responded with, “We like to sneak it in wherever we can.”  Well played.  This one is hugely tannic, some distinctly rough edges, flavors of earth and black pepper.  13.5% ABV.   $35.

Locksley Reserve Norton 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/85
All grapes are from Chrysalis’ Locksley Estate.  A blend of 70% Norton, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Tannat, and 5% Nebbiolo.  Definitely the most complex Norton I’ve ever had.  Slightly aggressive, but nothing a big plate of meat couldn’t solve.  Nice pipe tobacco finish.  13.1% ABV.  $35.

Chrysalis sells a port-style wine called Borboleta, but it’s not available for tasting.  It’s 80% Norton (what else?) blended with Catoctin Creek (a local distillery) whiskey and aged in 20-year old Cognac barrels.  $33.  I bought a bottle of this on my way out . . . curiosity is killing me.

After our tasting, we bought a bottle of the Albariño and (since we were sans kids), went outside on the patio to enjoy a picnic lunch.

So where do I fall on the Chrysalis Polarization Scale?  Honestly, I’m Chrysalis neutral.  Chrysalis has a full complement of very decent wines and a beautiful setting.  But so do a whole host of other Virginia Wineries.  So what sets Chrysalis apart?  I’d visit for their Albariño, and to experience the novelty of Norton.  But I’d consider leaving Der Kinder at home.


Disclaimer:  Sometimes a winery will invite me to come out and do a tasting, which is a very different experience than visiting a winery as an anonymous taster.  If I’m invited, I’m often afforded a few minutes with the winemaker, and given an opportunity to taste wines that aren’t usually available as part of a public tasting.  And often, the tasting is complimentary. And as much as I enjoy that experience, I won’t solicit that experience.  If a winery invites me, I will gladly come.  But I also enjoy visiting wineries anonymously.  I don’t call ahead, and I don’t mention I write a wine blog. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that just because I write a wine blog, wineries should give me free stuff.  The fact that I write a blog should be irrelevant to customer service — if you run a business, you should treat everyone who comes through your door the same way.  After all, anyone can jump on Yelp and write a review.  Most of the time, an astute tasting room host will be able to hone in on your level of interest and knowledge, and encourage it by offering more information, history, or even a wine not on the tasting menu.  So, the point of this rather long paragraph — if I’m invited by a winery, or visiting anonymously, I will disclose that information.  Either way, I’ll be writing about it.

I visited Chrysalis Vineyards anonymously.

Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 16


Behold, the ice sphere . . .

My father-in-law is a scotch drinker — a loyal Johnnie Walker Black Label guy.  I always thought his scotch smelled like lighter fluid, and I never understood why anyone would want to drink it.  (He still jokes with my husband that he only drinks scotch to keep it out of the hands of the kids).  And I always assumed bourbon was the same flavor of brown liquor. Until one winter, at a very cold football game (for which I was woefully underdressed), a friend handed me a glass of bourbon and said, “Stop with the shivering. Drink this.”

There’s nothing like hands-on learning.
And that day, I learned three important things:

  1. I like bourbon.
  2. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
  3. When it’s 3 degrees outside, being warm trumps looking cute.  No one gives a crap what you look like.  Wear a hat.

Bourbon is a truly American spirit.  In 1964, the US Senate declared (they love to declare stuff) bourbon a “distinctive American spirit”.  This means no one else in the world can make whiskey and call it bourbon.  And, in 2007, the US Senate declared September National Bourbon Heritage Month.  And it’s September!

The provenance of the word bourbon comes from the French House of Bourbon, but after that point, people disagree about whether the drink’s name came from Bourbon County, Kentucky or Bourbon Street in New Orleans (both are named after the French House of Bourbon). Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US, but it’s roots are Southern, particularly Kentucky. In fact, there are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky (4.7 million) than there are people (4.3 million).  My money is on Bourbon County, Kentucky.  After all, New Orleans gets to claim Southern Comfort.

I still get all the whiskeys confused sometimes, so I made myself a cheat sheet (with emojis, because my tween says you can never go wrong with emojis):

🇺🇸 🌽Bourbon is made in the USA and must be made from at least 51% corn.  Other requirements:  Bourbon must be distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV), and aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years.  The only thing that can be added to bourbon is water, to bring down the proof (other whiskeys can add colors and flavors).
🎸 Tennessee Whiskey is made in Tennessee from corn, and uses a charcoal filtering process.
🍀 Irish Whiskey is made in Ireland from unmalted barley.
🌲 Scotch Whisky (no “e”) is made in Scotland and is made from malted barley.  (There’s no Scottish flag emoji, so I had to use the closest thing I could find — a Scotch pine tree).
🍁 Canadian Whisky (again, no “e”) is made in Canada from rye.  (And really, why the heck isn’t there a Canadian flag emoji?)

You don’t have to work very hard to connect bourbon to US history (think six degrees of separation, but with bourbon instead of Bacon).  Set your DeLorean for November 1863. Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the US Army, was plagued almost his entire career by rumors he was a raging alcoholic.  This is a topic of lively cocktail party debate among Grant scholars– was he an alcoholic, or was his drinking simply part of the cultural norm of the time? I’m happy to let the Grant scholars hash that one out.

Critics of General Grant complained bitterly and endlessly to President Lincoln about Grant’s excessive drinking.  Lincoln was well known for his sense of humor, and is rumored to have silenced Grant’s critics with this remark:

lincolnVarious versions of these words are all over the Internet — on credible and dubious sites alike. The New York Herald published a version of these words in their November 1863 issue.  But that doesn’t necessarily make them true.  There are more than a few Lincoln scholars who argue the quote is probably untrue.  But I’m not a Lincoln scholar, and I rather like the words. We’ll probably never know for sure, and I’m OK with that.

If you’re wondering, Grant’s favorite whiskey was Old Crow, a Kentucky bourbon that’s still made today.  I’ve never tried it myself — it’s mostly found on the bottom shelf of liquor stores — a shelf that has generally frightened me since college.

I found this great Civil War era Old Crow ad on Etsy.  According to the Old Crow entry on Wikipedia, the crow is supposed to symbolize the bridge between the north and the south. Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War and never seceded, but I’m not sure I get the crow as bridge symbolism.  I love the “fine print” on this wartime ad.

old crow 1

So . . . here’s to bourbon!  I like mine over ice (spheres, in particular) — the ice draws subtle flavors out of the bourbon.  That, and it doesn’t taste like fire when I drink it.  My husband says one of the reasons he loves me is because I drink decidedly un-girly drinks.  Whenever we’re at a business dinner, wedding reception, etc., he can order my drink at the bar without having to hemorrhage man points (yes, Appletini, he’s looking at you).

Do you have a favorite bourbon?  Do you prefer your bourbon solo, or in a cocktail?


Vin Nouveau: La Troisième Partie


It’s gotta be the shoes . . .

This is part three in a four-part series of new-to-me French wine regions, brought to you by the Tour de France.

The first two parts of the series can be found here:

Vin Nouveau:  La Première Partie (wines of Jura)
Vin Nouveau:  La Deuxième Partie (wines of Savoie)

The Tour de France is squarely in the rearview mirror now, so I will give you a neophyte cyclist (that’s me) update.  The Mr. Armchair Sommelier and I continue to go out on our tandem bike a couple of times a week.  I think things are getting serious now, because he bought me a pair of fancy cycling shoes and clipless pedals for my birthday.

If you’re an experienced rider, clipless pedals are like tying your shoes — you don’t even think about it.  If you’re a rookie rider, clipless pedals feel like someone soldered your feet to your pedals — it’s definitely a new level of commitment to the bike.  Clipless pedals are supposed to work like ski bindings, and somehow magically pop off if you crash.  And we did have a minor crash (call it a little captain-stoker miscue — all part of the tandem clip-in learning curve), and exactly one of the fancy shoes popped out of it’s clipless prison.  But maybe you have to crash with more velocity.

Onward to France!  The next new-to-me French wine region on my Tour de France is Jurançon. This wasn’t an easy region to research.  There’s not a whole lot of information out there, and what there is, is pretty brief.  Case in point —  in my copy of the 820-page book, Exploring Wine: A Complete Guide to the Wines of the World, there is exactly one sentence on Jurançon:

Gros and Petit Manseng grapes are used to produce sweet and dry white wines.

And there you have it.  I considered making that sentence my entire post, but decided to try and dig a little deeper . . .

Jurançon is an AOC located deep inside a small pocket of southwest France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains.  Jurançon is only about 60 miles away from the Atlantic Ocean, and that proximity brings higher than average rainfall to the region.  A dry wind (called fohn) blows in from the Pyrenees Mountains, keeping the area dry and warm during the fall months (think Indian Summer).  These conditions are ideal for the sweet wines of Jurançon, allowing the grapes to dry and concentrate while still on the vines.  Soils in Jurançon mostly tend to be clay and sand, but some can be fairly rocky, full of conglomerate rocks called poudingues (the French word for pudding), because the little pebbles all mashed up in the cement-like rock resemble a Christmas pudding.  I’m having a vision of fruitcake in pudding form.  Shudder.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia

Jurançon has produced wine since the mid-14th century (right about the time of the Black Death in Europe).  Sometime in the late 14th century, the Parliaments of Béarn & Navarre (a couple of medieval kingdoms) introduced the first attempt at classifying wine in France — waaaaay before the French AOC system of the 1930s.  Whether that makes Jurançon the world’s first appellation is still up for debate, especially with folks in the Tokaj region of Hungary.

Jurançon trivia:  When the future King Henry IV was christened in 1553, his lips were rubbed with a clove of garlic (to ward off evil stuff like the plague) and a drop of Jurançon wine (I’m guessing the sweet kind).  The combination was supposed to give him “lifelong vigor”. Even today, this practice endures at some local christenings.

If King Henry IV was full of vim and vigor, I’m betting the cause was less garlic & wine and more fancy ruffled collar:

henry iv

The vigorous King Henry IV.

Jurançon produces exclusively white wines, but is perhaps most well-known for its sweet wines.  Wines in Jurançon are made with these grape varieties:

  • Gros Manseng — closely related to Petit Manseng, produces dry wines with fairly high acidity.
  • Petit Manseng — thick skinned cousin to Gros Manseng, naturally high in sugar, used in the sweet wines of Jurançon.
  • Petit Courbu — translates to “little curved one”, typically blended with Gros and Petit Manseng.
  • Camaralet — a grape on the verge of extinction, only half an acre remained in southwest France in 2000, used as a blending grape.
  • Lauzet — another grape on the verge of extinction, grows only in southwest France, used as a blending grape.

There are three styles of wine in Jurançon:

  • Jurançon (sweet) — usually made with Petit Manseng and/or Gros Manseng.  Oak aged wines, golden color with notes of tropical fruit and spice; great acidity.  Grapes are harvested at 247 grams of sugar.
  • Jurançon Vendanges Tardives (very sweet) — must be made with only Petit Manseng and/or Gros Manseng.  Grapes aren’t harvested until they are at a level of 281 grams of sugar.  The grapes are allowed to dry on the vine, concentrating the sugars and then they are hand picked.
  • Jurançon Sec (dry) — can include up to 50% Courbu, Camaralet and Lauzet.  Usually aged in stainless steel.  Grapes are harvested at 187 grams of sugar.

Jurançon isn’t the easiest wine to find on the shelf at my local wine store.  Total Wine is the biggest (convenient) wine store I have in my land, and I struck out there.  The sales guy looked at me like I had three heads when I asked for Jurançon wines.  I mentioned Jurançon is from an area in extreme southwestern France, and then his eyes lit up, and he tried to sell me some Bordeaux.  So, I ordered a bottle online.  In fact, I ordered two bottles — one sweet and one dry.  Well, I thought I ordered one sweet and one dry.  It turns out I ordered two bottles (two identical bottles) of dry wine.

Charles Hours Cuvée Marie Jurançon Sec 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/85
90% Gros Manseng and 10% Courbu.  Really lean, but neutral nose.  Maybe too cold?  A serious vein of acidity, with flavors of green apple, almond, and rocks — whether they are pudding rocks, I couldn’t tell you.  Contrary to the lean nose, this is a pretty full bodied wine.  It reminds me of a lighter style Viognier.  The moment I tasted this, I thought, “Damn.  I should have sat on this one for a few years.”  And then I remembered I own another bottle of this very same wine, so I’m gonna pretend that was my plan all along.

I made pasta with a pesto cream sauce (trying to use my bumper crop of basil) for dinner the night I opened the Jurançon Sec, and the pairing ended up working quite well.  The acidity cut through the creaminess of the sauce, and the leanness of the wine complimented the basil pesto.  I’m calling it a win!

I’m kind of bummed I didn’t get to taste a Jurançon sweet wine, but I have to leave something for our trip to France next summer . . .

Stay tuned for La Quatrième Partie:  Bergerac.


Hudson Valley Rock Stars

True Confessions:  Outside of the Finger Lakes region of New York, I’ve never given much thought to New York wines.  There’s not exactly a huge New York wine presence here in Virginia.  A few years ago, a wise wine friend gave me some advice:  “The wine world’s a big place, don’t drink the same thing all the time. Go taste something new!”  And over the years, I’ve become more and more attracted to new-to-me wine regions and grapes.  So, when I got word the Hudson Valley was the theme for this month’s #winechat, I heard that voice again:

Go taste something new!


Wish you were here!

For the uninitiated, #winestudio is a live, 4-week long, wine tasting and education series that takes place each Tuesday evening from 9-10pm EST on Twitter.  It’s hosted by  Protocol Wine Studio, and usually focuses on a singular theme, but wines and/or wineries change each week. Wine Studio participants are always well-prepared and enthusiastic.  Special thanks to Debbie Gioquindo of Hudson Valley Wine Goddess for serving as our official tour guide this month.

Here’s the Hudson Valley Highlight Reel:


Not even a little bit close to China.

History & People:  The Hudson River is named after English explorer, Henry Hudson, who “discovered” it in 1609 (Hudson discovered the Hudson River in the same way Al Gore discovered the Internet).  Hudson had been looking for a passage to China when he ran into the Hudson River. When Hudson arrived, the area was already home to Native American tribes, the Algonquins and the Mahicans.  You see why discovered is the wrong word.

Fast forward 170ish years . . . the Hudson River played a key role in determining the outcome of the Revolutionary War.  The British wanted to control the Hudson River to cut off New England from the rest of the American colonies.  But the Americans weren’t going to give up control of the Hudson without a fight.  The Battle of Saratoga, fought on the shores of the Hudson River, would be the turning point of the Revolutionary War.  Colonist victories there convinced the French to enter the war on the side of the Americans, and spurred the eventual British surrender.  That really doesn’t have anything to do with wine, I just like history. Well, wait.  General George Washington’s favorite wine was Madeira.  And I don’t think I’d be going out on much of a historical limb to say he probably indulged in a glass or six of Madeira after receiving word of the British surrender at Saratoga.  There.  Now they’re connected.

French Hugenots were the first to plant grapes in the Hudson Valley, in 1677.  But it was a Quaker named Robert Underhill who first cross-bred native and European grapes, making them hearty enough to survive the harsh Hudson River Valley climate (sometime around 1827).  [Raising a glass of thanks to Mr. Underhill!]

It’s important to note the Hudson River Valley began as an agricultural community, and remains so today.  In our first #winestudio chat, Dutchess County Tourism pointed out, “Agriculture is a driving economic force in the Hudson Valley, and a way of life.  There are farms around every corner, some owned by the same family for generations”.

Geography & Climate:  The Hudson River Valley was created over 14,000 years (at the end of the last Ice Age) when ocean levels rose and flooded the valley floor.  This created a long finger of water, running over 300 miles from north to south.  (I wish I could see that on time-lapse photography).  The southern half of the Hudson River is an estuary, mixing fresh water with ocean salt water.  The flow of the Hudson River changes direction every six hours, due to the pull of ocean tides.  That’s something the Mahicans surely noticed, since their name for the river was Muhheakantuck, which means, the river that flows both ways.  By way of comparison, Hudson means Son of Hud.

Hudson Valley winemakers have done a great job listening to their terroir, and planting grape varieties that can not only withstand, but thrive in the harsh weather conditions of the valley. Winters freeze hard in the Hudson River Valley, and summers tend to be hot and humid, which can cause problems with mold (the bad black rot and mildew kind, not the good botrytis kind). However, the Hudson River captures ocean breezes from the south, which help to moderate temperatures in both summer and winter.  Vines are planted on hillsides to maximize sun exposure, and ultimately, ripening.

Geology:  Hudson Valley soil is composed of glacial deposits of shale, slate, schist and limestone.  That soil profile gives the wines a distinct mineral taste — abundant in all the wines we tasted.

Three types of grapes are grown in the Hudson River Valley:


  • Chardonnay – the most widely planted vinifera grape in the Hudson Valley.
  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay Noir


  • Seyval Blanc – the most widely planted white grape in the Hudson Valley.
  • Baco Noir
  • Vignoles
  • Vidal Blanc

Vinifera-Hybrid Crosses:

  • Frontenac – a cross of the hybrid Landlot 4511 and cold-hardy Vitis riparia.
  • Traminette — a cross of the French-American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416 and the German Vitis vinifera Gewürztraminer.

Over the course of our month-long #winestudio session, we tasted wines from three different Hudson River Valley wineries:


White Cliff Vineyards White Rose White Wine 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/85
That’s White Rose, not Rosé — the little accent makes a big difference.  This wine is named after the White Rose rock-climbing route on the Shawangunk (say that three times fast) Ridge. It’s a field blend of 25% Gewürztraminer and 75% Traminette.  During the #winechat, I asked White Cliff if it was a true field blend, in that you get what Mother Nature gives you, or if they tried to control the output.  White Cliff told us, “there is minimal interference, but I do practice my winemaking protocols to make sure the product is consistent and clean.”  And clean it is! Wow, the nose on this wine!!  I think perfume girls are giving out samples of this at the mall. The Gewürztraminer signature very present.  Lychee building to a crescendo of lemon.  Bone dry with a mineral finish.

Brotherhood Sparkling Chardonnay NV ⭐⭐⭐/86
Brotherhood Winery has the distinction of being the nation’s oldest continuously operating winery.  You could win Final Jeopardy with that little bit of knowledge, so file it away somewhere safe.  Brotherhood has been making sparkling wines since the 1800s, releasing their first vintage in 1839.  Produced using the Charmat method, the Chardonnay is very present in this sparkler.  Loaded with flavors of green apple, lemon and yeast.  And there’s that mineral edge again.  Marzipan lingers on the finish.  Trivia:  Brotherhood’s Riesling is on the White House Wine List.

Millbrook Winery Tocai Friulano 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
Tocai Friulano is a grape variety native to the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, grown mostly in the southern and western foothills of the Alps.  Only small quantities have found their way to the US, and Millbrook has some!  In 1995, Tocai Friuliano lost a legal challenge in Europe over its name, and is now known simply as Friulano.  But, Millbrook is in the USA, not the EU, so they don’t have to play by Europe’s rules.  This wine is a perfect salute to the end of summer!  Refreshing, with super acidity.  Pear, grapefruit and melon flavors, and there’s those rock notes again.  Ever wonder what would happen if Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling got married and had a baby?  That’s this wine!  Will definitely seek out more.

Millbrook Winery Cabernet Franc 2012 ⭐⭐/84
Blended with 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A wallop of tannins up front, but mellows with exposure to air.  Flavors are bing cherry and green pepper.  Some spice and pencil shaving notes (hello slate!) on the finish, with a little surge of acid that’s pulling my focus. It’s begging for food — wish I had some grilled meat — that might soften the edges a bit.

All of the Hudson Valley wines we tasted are solid, well-made wines — all expressions of a unique terroir.  One distinct characteristic revealed itself in all of the wines, and it’s one of my favorite things to find in a bottle of wine — rocks!  From here on out, it’ll be tough for me to think of Hudson Valley wines as anything other than Rock Stars!