February brings colder weather which makes us want to snuggle up with that special someone with a glass of red wine by the fireplace. And then comes Valentine’s Day - an evening when we wine and dine our significant others. For such a romantic holiday, there are so many choices to make - which restaurant to go to, what to order, what to pair our meal with. Or you are like I am with my wife, and stay home and prepare a really special meal. I keep the decision making simple by calling it tradition. I always make surf & turf (a really nice marbled steak and lobster tail paired with sparkling wine because it pairs with so many flavors), so my decision making was complete years ago! But for those of you without a Valentine’s tradition, you have some decisions to make. So for this blog, we are going to talk about wines that pair with traditional Valentine’s Day meals - this will be a good guide for you whether you are dining in or if you are selecting an amazing local restaurant to take that special someone to.
So for starters, I usually go with a rosé. The words appetizer and rosé go hand in hand. I honestly cannot think of a first course that does not pair with rosé. From charcuterie and cheeses, to salty fried food and healthy salads and even dishes with a bit of elegance - rosé always seals the deal. Our rosé is quite affordable at Williams Gap and is sure to wow your significant other as you pair courses with wine by the glass at home. A rosé from France is sure to do the trick, as well, if you do not have the Williams Gap Rosé on hand.
For the main course, let’s start with seafood! I love mussels, especially when they are steamed with white wine. This is a staple at many restaurants on Valentine’s Day and if you are cooking at home, it is super simple. They are so easy to make, and just look completely gorgeous. Lots of crunchy bread in attendance to sop up the juices makes this dish perfect. And pairing it with wine, takes it to the next level. If you are going the shellfish route, a light-bodied, high acid, crisp and dry white wine works beautifully. So for those of you who know our lineup, Vidal Blanc would be perfect. The lemon and lime notes that bounce off of the acidity play perfectly with all types of seafood.
If you are ordering at a restaurant, Albariño is a great second choice, if they have one. Albariño is exactly what you want to drink when you’re having seafood like mussels, a platter of oysters or even fried seafood. The good news is that there’s amazing Albariño coming to the US from Rías Baixas in northwest Spain as winemakers get serious about region-specific bottlings. Rías Baixas has the perfect climate for producing vibrant wines, thanks to its craggy soil and proximity to the Atlantic. Cold ocean breezes preserve acids in grapes and even give the wines a little salinity. Fun fact, we have Albariño growing on site at Williams Gap, however at the time of writing this blog, the vines are too young to produce wine.
What is more romantic than pasta? Lady and the Tramp anyone?! My uncle makes this incredible Browned Butter Fettuccine Alfredo and this summer, we paired it with the Williams Gap White Blend and it was divine! I took every bottle of wine we produced at WGV on this trip and this pairing was everyone’s favorite. The fruity components of apricot and peach play beautifully with the nutty, rich flavors of the browned butter sauce. This dish is super indulgent and the wine just livens everything up a touch.
The Italian restaurant that you are taking your husband to doesn’t have a Browned Butter Fettuccine Alfredo? No problem - I am sure they have a cream sauce that would be very similar. And if you didn’t take a Williams Gap White Blend to have opened at the restaurant, stick with the Italian vibe and go Pinot Grigio. That being said, it is easy to pick a Pinot Grigio that is on the sweeter side and if you want to steer away from that, ask your server or sommelier for a wine from the hilly regions that are in the northeast. This is the area of Italy that is by the Dolomite Mountains. Part of what makes this region better for these grapes is that the mountains help to protect the vines from winter’s harsh winds. The breeze that comes in from the Adriatic Sea is warm and this also helps to encourage the grapes to ripen quicker. The most popular white wine grapes come from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, the Veneto region (this actually stretches from the Dolomite Mountains all the way to the Adriatic Sea), and the Alto Adige region. The Pinot Grigio wines that are produced here are characterized by a crisp texture, fruity aroma, acidity and also possess a light to medium body. This is exactly what you want.
Going Asian-inspired for Valentine’s Day this year? Go with a Spicy Tuna Roll to pair with Petit Manseng from Williams Gap. You could go with heart-shaped sushi, but hand rolls are hands down a lot faster to make, and every bit as delicious. The spice from the Thai chiles, shaved radish and ginger that are mixed in with the tuna are quite hot but that’s where the Petit Manseng comes in to save the day and cool everything down. Sushi a bit ambitious for your culinary skills or palate?! Go with a spicy Thai dish like Tom Kha Kai or Pad Thai. But what is similar to Petit Manseng that you could order out? A Vouvray or Riesling would be comparable. Just ask your server or sommelier for a wine with a bit of residual sugar that is off-dry. Off-dry Rieslings and Vouvrays have a touch of sugar. Not enough to make the wine sweet like some dessert, but enough to give it body and make the fruit jump out and to help it pair with many hard-to-pair foods, like spicy Asian cuisine, or richer dishes. So all three choices here will do wonders for spicy dishes.
When it comes to red wines, most of our current lineup at Williams Gap currently is light to medium bodied. This includes the Mountain Valley Red, the Round Hill Red, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. So with the lighter styles, I would go with a red sauce pasta or pork dish. Or you could do both with a Pork Ragu - this dish is extremely flavorful and makes exceptional leftovers. We serve our ragu at home over a bed of pappardelle, but you can choose any pasta you like, or even polenta! I love making a Braised Pork Ragu Pappardelle because it really is pretty simple and to top it off pork shoulder is pretty inexpensive, so buying a couple pounds won’t break the bank! But say you do not have one of our light to medium bodied reds on hand to have uncorked at the restaurant of your choosing, there are some good options out there that compare. Great pork and red sauce pairings would include Pinot Noir, Grenache, or Barbera for lighter styles. If you are looking for something with a little more oomph, go Merlot, Shiraz, Tempranillo, or Nebbiolo.
Finally, let’s talk about big behemoth reds. For us at Williams Gap, those are the Red Blend and Fieldstone. We are talking dark fruit, complex flavors, full bodied, heavy tannin and lasting finishes. These are steakhouse wines - perfect with a beautiful cut and your favorite side. At home, these can be seared in a cast iron on the stove or grilled. Those tannins we talk about so often - those are molecules found in red wine that soften fats in the meat, helping to release the taste of beefy goodness. The fat, in turn, softens the astringent qualities of the wine, helping to mellow the beverage and produce a juicier, more fruit-forward flavor. So the wine benefits the food and the food benefits the wine. If you are forced to deviate from the Williams Gap big reds for dinner, I would go with a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Syrah.
We have talked about a lot of wine and food in this blog and how to pair the typical Valentine’s Day meals with our wines here at Williams Gap, as well as wine from around the world. Even if you aren’t serving a meal at home for Valentine’s Day, there are a lot of restaurants that will allow you to bring your own wine for a small corkage fee. Some will even waive the fee if you present a Virginia winery receipt. We partner with a restaurant group that offers this service and their restaurants include Magnolia’s at the Mill, Tuskie’s, and Fireworks. Wherever you are visiting for Valentine’s Day, make sure to call ahead and ask if you can bring a bottle from a local winery to enjoy with your meal and then you can have your favorite wine with an incredible meal. Reading this on Valentine's Day? No problem, we are open from 12pm - 7pm. Drop by and pick a few bottles up!
Happy Valentine’s Day and we hope you have an incredible time no matter what you are eating and drinking! Cheers, friends.
When we discuss or pour Merlot in the Tasting Room, a lot of guests immediately respond (before tasting, I might add) that they hate Merlot. All Merlots are created differently and Merlot can be made in almost every winemaking region, so I ask myself how these guests hate a wine that can be made in so many different ways. My mind immediately went back to that beloved wine movie, Sideways. Miles Raymond, played by actor Paul Giamatti, proclaimed “If anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any … merlot.” And there we have it - everyone started to hate Merlot. But it does go deeper than that in my opinion.
When we think Merlot in the United State, we think Californian Merlot. Merlot in California wasn’t really a popular grape or wine until the late ’60s when it began to be experimented with as a blending variety to Cabernet Sauvignon, which was quickly becoming a very popular vine in the area. And it wasn’t until after the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and in 1980 when the first AVA was awarded to California in Napa Valley, that Merlot started really making a name for itself. Cabernet Sauvignon was so popular, and Merlot was such a great blending variety, Merlot was everywhere. People started making Merlot on its own as a variety itself. With the softness and fruity character, Merlot took off in the United States wine market.
So then come the ’80s and it kept gaining popularity, and by the 1990s, Merlot became one of the most popular wines on the market. It was one of the most popular glass pours in America during this time. By 1992, there were about 8,000 acres of Merlot under vine in California. By 1995, there were 26,000 acres of Merlot under vine in California. And then in 1999, a gentleman named Rex Pickett was writing a book (which eventually became a movie) about two guys rolling around in wine country in Santa Barbara. For research, Rex went out to a plethora of California wineries and noticed the people that were working the tasting rooms weren’t really a fan of Merlot. At this time, Merlot had saturated the market so much that wineries had started mass-producing Merlot. It went from being one of the most popular varieties to a variety that was so poorly made to keep up with the demand, that people looked for other reds to fill their glasses with. And then the Sideways movie came out to further the belief that Merlot is terrible. Merlot is not terrible - some winemakers of the 90’s treated it terribly in the vineyard and cellar. So let’s taste 6 amazing Merlots from the United States to clear up all of that negativity. This is just a “taste” of what you will learn in the Wine 101: Merlot from the States class on November 14th!
First, I would like to introduce you to the Peirano Estate Vineyards Six Clones Merlot. This California Merlot is really interesting because it is produced from 6 different clones of Merlot grown on the Peirano estate, including two rare French clones and a very rare Italian clone. They were the first winery to grow and produce wine from these rare Merlot clones. This wine offers pronounced perfumed aromatics of cherries, plum and licorice which join together in a single sensation of olfactory bliss. The juicy, fruit driven flavor profile is reminiscent of maraschino cherries, plum and fruit cake (believe it or not). Totally approachable!
Next, we are tasting the B.R. Cohn Merlot from Sonoma County. A fun fact about this winery is that it was founded by and is owned by Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers. This specific wine was sourced from various vineyards including their own estate, Patricka Vineyard, and a few additional sites in Sonoma and Napa. With it’s rusty appearance, this Merlot has one of my favorite aromatic profiles of this lineup - red currant and toasted spices. The flavor profile boasts layered vanilla and red raspberry flavors and possesses a well developed structure.
Bring it back home to our 2019 Merlot at Williams Gap! This incredible wine spent 10 months in oak - 33% New French Oak; 67% Neutral French Oak. This is a wine that shocks me every time I taste it - so complex and so silky. It is an age worthy wine that will continue to develop with time. Here in Virginia, our Merlot is a perennial favorite, approachable and yet complex. The Williams Gap 2019 Merlot offers aromas of vanilla, red berries and nutmeg with congruent flavors. Merlot from Williams Gap offers elegant flavors and medium acidity - perfect sipping wine, but also a conversation piece. We utilize our Merlot in our single varietal bottling, as well as in our blends. At this time, this wine is club exclusive and can be purchased by the bottle only. On November 14th, we are opening this up for all guests to enjoy in their flight, added to their seated tasting and by the glass and bottle for one day only!
Now, I want to present the Airfield Estates Merlot - this bottle is super affordable and a great bang for your buck! This Merlot is from a fourth generation family farm in the Yakima Valley cultivating a wide range of premium grapes and crafting estate grown wines of exceptional quality. This property operated as a training base for hundreds of Army Air Corps pilots during World War II. The pride, passion, and dedication of these heroes provide a great source of inspiration as winemaker, Marcus Miller strives to pay tribute to them with his wines. This Merlot delivers an inviting bouquet of black cherry and clove which leads to an abundance of bright cherry and soft toasted oak on the palate with a round mouthfeel and firm, lingering tannins.
Back to California as we taste the Flora Springs Merlot from Napa Valley. This vineyard draws on estate fruit from the sustainably-farmed vineyards in Oakville, St. Helena and Rutherford which Flora Springs has owned and farmed for decades. This single varietal spent 20 months in French oak barrels and delivers flavors of ripe blueberries and cherry liqueur layered with luscious notes of vanilla wafers and dark chocolate. There’s a hint of chaparral that adds freshness to the palate along with warm traces of cardamom and cinnamon. The elegance that this wine offers is unparalleled. It is one that I tasted the one ounce I was poured and had to revisit just to experience it again.
And finally, we finish with the Prisoner Wine Company’s Thorn from the acclaimed Hudson and Stagecoach Vineyards in Napa Valley, California. This family of small vineyards offers vines of varying ages and regionality which lends to layers of character and complexity. This wine is about preserving Napa Valley Merlot! The Prisoner Wine Company brand name is inspired by the classic sketch “Le Petit Prisonier” by 19th century Spanish artist Francisco Goya. The sketch is part of Goya's series entitled, “The Disasters of War”, created to be a visual protest against the injustice and brutality of the Spanish War of Independence in 1808. From the founding of this popular winery, The Prisoner Wine Company has stood in solidarity with the fight against racism, mass incarceration and the systematic oppression of Black communities. They are committed to educating themselves and guests, embracing diversity and creating an inclusive environment where all feel safe, respected and valued. This alone excited me to taste this wine and it did not disappoint. Deep purple in color, releasing aromas of black cherry with hints of cedar and pencil lead. Dense flavors of dark fruits and rich plum are framed by velvety tannins and a lush finish - the epitome of Napa merlot.
Now that I have gotten you excited about these six wines, I hope you will join me on Sunday, November 14th for our Wine 101: Merlot from the States class at Williams Gap Vineyard. We will be discussing Merlot at it’s core, tasting each of the six wines mentioned in the blog and learning much more about their origins in the cellar and vineyard, as well as a little 101 on tasting wines and making aromatic and flavor distinctions while doing so. Thanks for reading along with me and I will see you at Wine 101. Visit our website to purchase your tickets today. Cheers!
One of my favorite things to do is analyze wine - whether I am at home with my wife having a glass, chatting with guests at Williams Gap, or if I am having a shift glass with the team at the end of the day. One of the primary ways to analyze and talk about wine is by discussing a wine’s body. All liquids have a specific weight, determined by the presence of fats, alcohols, sugars and more. Wine is no different - this weight is what we call the body of a wine. The easiest way I can describe it is to think about the way milk feels heavier on the tongue than water, and you're on the right track to understanding how to determine a wine's body. But then there is a scale - light bodied, medium bodied and full bodied. So using milk as an example, fat free milk is light bodied, 2% milk is medium bodied and whole milk is full bodied. The reason I wanted to touch on this topic this month is that red wine season is upon us and we get asked a lot of questions about the body of our wines.
There are many factors that can contribute to a wine’s body and one of the main factors is alcohol. Alcohol is what gives a wine its viscosity and is responsible for either the heavy or light mouthfeel we experience when we sip a wine. There is a tasteless substance called glycerol derived naturally from fermenting grapes that increases the perception of wine body (just a fun geeky fact to pull out while you’re out wine tasting). Because of this substance, we call a heavily viscous wine full-bodied and a low viscosity wine light-bodied. This brings us to another interesting point - about 1/4 of our guests bring up “the legs” - let me debunk this point for you. Despite what you may have heard, wine legs or ‘tears’ are not an indication of quality of wine. It’s actually a scientific phenomenon that can tell you key information about the alcohol level in wine. Legs mean one of two things: either the wine has a high ABV or it has higher residual sugar. High alcohol wines collect a higher density of droplets on the sides of the glass than low alcohol wines and sweeter wines are more viscous, so the tears will flow slower down the sides of a glass.
Ok, let me jump off of my soapbox - back to the body of wines. There are a few general rules regarding the alcohol content to help you decide before drinking if the wine is light, medium or full:
Wines under 12.5% alcohol (the alcohol percentage should always be written on the wine’s label) are said to be light-bodied. These are generally the white wines we think of as crisp and refreshing. A good example that hits close to home is our Vidal Blanc - the 2019 vintage comes in at 12.3% ABV. A worldly example would be Vinho Verde or German white wines.
Wines between 12.5% and 13.5% are considered medium-bodied. Good examples of these wines around the world are French Burgundy (white or red). Most of Virginia’s wines are going to come in around 13%.
Finally, any wine over 13.5% alcohol is considered full-bodied. Some wines that are normally over this alcohol level and considered full-bodied are Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and bold red blends. Wines from Williams Gap that would fall into this category (just barely) are our 2019 Red Blend, the 2020 Round Hill Red and the 2019 Fieldstone. Interestingly enough, our 2019 Petit Manseng also falls into this category (it is a full bodied wine because of the ABV and the sugar content).
Alcohol and sugar are not the only two factors though! Grape varietals play a huge role too. Certain grape varieties produce more full-bodied wines and some are simply lighter-bodied varietals. Typically Cabernet Sauvignon’s are full and Pinot Noir’s are light. Cabernet Franc is known for being a medium bodied wine. Oak aging can change the body of a wine as well. Think of Bourbon - when you age Bourbon in brand new barrels, the final product often tastes more full-bodied. Same goes for wine; the newer the oak used, the more tannin is imparted to the wine and thus, the wine tends to be fuller bodied. The last big factor is the climate type. As a general rule, grapes grown in warmer climates tend to produce richer, more full-bodied wines and the opposite goes for grapes grown in cooler climates. Virginia is considered right down the middle when it comes to climate, meaning we traditionally create medium bodied wines that we can manipulate to be heavier with the vessel it is aged in or how much sugar we leave in the finished product.
What type of wines do you enjoy? If you like a lighter style, go for our Rosé, Vidal Blanc or Mountain Valley Red. Like it heavier and bolder? Our Round Hill Red, Fieldstone and Petit Manseng might be right up your alley. And finally - the medium bodied lovers, we have a couple options for you too. Our Cabernet Franc and White Blend are very popular wines in the Tasting Room because they both appease a group’s pallets (those that enjoy heavy and those that enjoy light). I hope you have learned a little bit today through our blog and thanks for checking it out! Now it’s time to pour a glass and analyze it a bit. Cheers!
Tasting Room Manager
Hey everyone! It’s almost fall, and it is really starting to feel like it in Northern Virginia. As I am typing this blog, I am sitting in the pavilion at Williams Gap on the first cool evening we have had this season. We are gearing up for a release of three new wines and I have the pleasure of tasting through them tonight. I could not be more excited to uncork the Mountain Valley Red, the Round Hill Red, and I have to tell you, I am most ecstatic about the Fieldstone. So obviously for this blog, we are chatting about red blends.
When I think of blends, most of the wines from antiquity until now and around the world that we drink are blends from Chianti, Bordeaux, Champagne. And wine of the old world usually has a lot of rules to follow, as well. For example, check out the laws for Chianti. Since 1996, the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico has been 75 - 100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Chianti Classico must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak, while Chianti Classicos labeled riserva must be aged at least 24 months at the winery, with a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5%. The harvest yields for Chianti Classico are restricted to no more than 7.5 t/ha (3 tonnes per acre). For basic Chianti, the minimum alcohol level is 11.5% with yields restricted to 9 t/ha (4 tonnes per acre). There are plenty of other laws regarding release date, where the fruit for the wine can be grown and more.
Here in the United States, we really only have a few laws regarding how we make our wine and not one of those laws has to do with what our blends can/must contain, aging requirements, yield restrictions, alcohol content or release dates. So just to give you a brief history on how the American Red Blend came into existence, I did some research and a winemaker by the name of David Phinney continually came up. While I have had his wines, I have not done any research on the guy until now. About 10-15 years ago, this idea of the “red blend” in America really took off. And now, the red blend is looked at by a very large portion of American consumers to be the same thing as asking for a Merlot or asking for Cabernet - it’s a unique category. We are talking about a new category of wine - a category of wine that is treated the same as if a consumer were to say they like to drink Zinfandel. And actually, that’s what’s really interesting - the introduction of the American Red Blend started the death of Zinfandel in America.
The American Red Blend essentially started as a replacement to Zinfandel and was Zinfandel-heavy because Zinfandel was losing popularity on the market. Not to mention that ripping up vines and replacing them is quite expensive. So a lot of intuitive winemakers took quality Zinfandel fruit and blended it because American wine preferences had changed. The main winemaker on the scene was a guy named Dave Phinney from Napa Valley. He purchased the Zinfandel fruit no one wanted and made a Zinfandel heavy blend called The Prisoner. I am sure you have had it, or at least heard of it - it became a bit of a cult wine and the following kept increasing. And now Dave had a very successful product, so he sold it to another winery. And in selling that wine, he was not allowed to make a blend of wine, red blend of wine based on Zinfandel for eight years. After that eight years concluded, he released a red blend called Eight Years in the Desert and sold it through his personal label, Orin Swift. Orin Swift makes a lot of red blends and for a lot of consumers, the American Red Blend hits everything they’re looking for. It has that power, it has the plushness. This American wine category became popular without the help of the wine industry - it was the consumers. Interestingly enough this wine category really has no definition - red blends can be a light everyday, easy-drinking style or it can be a big, bold, age worthy wine. Which is the perfect transition into our new blends at Williams Gap.
We have three new blends - the Mountain Valley Red, the Round Hill Red and Fieldstone. The first two are aged much like our 2019 reds (10 months in French oak), while the Fieldstone is the highest-end wine we have produced. We aged this wine a total of 10 months in 100% French oak (40% new, 60% neutral). Then the individual varieties were blended together to age as a blend in all neutral French oak for additional 10 months (20 months total aging).
I am sipping on the Mountain Valley now which is even lighter than our 2019 Cabernet Franc. This wine is subtle and showcases aromas of star anise, which translates to red currant on the palate. It simply reminds me of fall in a glass. The varietal make up is 33% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Tannat.
Next up, is our medium bodied Round Hill Red which is a similar blend but a totally different wine. We blended 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Tannat. This wine showcases aromas of smoky sage, which translates to black raspberry on the palate. Super silky and begs to be sipped on by a bonfire or in front of the fireplace.
And finally, the pièce de résistance - our 2019 Fieldstone. Our 2019 Fieldstone is a blend of 60% Petit Verdot, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Tannat. This is the most luxurious, full bodied and longest aged wine we have made thus far. This wine showcases aromas of a freshly toasted barrel, which translates to dried fig and baking spices on the palate. The word that comes to mind is "elegance" and it makes me really desire to appreciate this wine by dissecting every flavor and aromatic compound. This wine is so complex and I honestly cannot wait to take another sip. For those of you reading this blog, you may be thinking, “how can I taste this wine?”. Well, we aren’t making it easy for you - and it’s not out of malice, I promise. The case production of this wine was limited and we want to watch age over the next decade. As such, it is currently club-exclusive and only available by the bottle. Not yet a club member? Head over to the Wine Club tab of our website and check out the benefits. Next time you are in, ask for a beautiful bottle of Fieldstone and it is all yours!
Thanks for reading along with me and I hope you are able to enjoy all three of our new blends as soon as possible - you won’t regret it! Cheers!
Tasting Room Manager
Hi again! Today we are talking the best meal of the day: BRUNCH! When I think of Sunday, I think of brunch and my mind immediately goes to mimosas. If you can drink a mimosa for breakfast, then wine for breakfast is quite alright with us. In fact, I could probably make a pretty strong argument to leave the juice out and just drink wine. You can drink sparkling for a special occasion, dinner, a light lunch and even breakfast and no one thinks twice. That is why when I enjoy brunch, I pop a beautiful breakfast bottle - and it’s usually not sparkling. I wanted to discuss wine pairings and brunch with you today as we gear up for our first Wine Club Pick Up, “Flights & Bites: Brunch Edition” on July 11.
While you can enjoy any beverage your heart desires for brunch, I want to focus on our white wine lineup here at Williams Gap and pairings that Chef Marium Caternolo and I thought would pair beautifully. A great food and wine pairing creates a balance between the components of a dish and the characteristics of a wine. After tasting through the three Flights & Bites: Brunch Edition pairings, I have never agreed more.
First up, our 2019 Vidal Blanc! Vidal Blanc is often just called “Vidal”, especially in the tasting room at Williams Gap. This is a white wine grape that is grown primarily in the northeastern US and Canada and is a French hybrid. The grape was "created" by pairing two different grape parents. This is sort of like breeding a poodle and a golden retriever and creating a goldendoodle. In the case of Vidal Blanc, the varietal was created from the parents Ugni Blanc and Seibel. I love talking about this to guests, as Ugni Blanc is also known as Trebbiano and is a white grape used in Chianti blending. Yes, the Italians sometimes blend white white into red wine and it still produces a red wine. It was once so widespread there that it was used in Tuscany's famous red wines. This practice was so common that the authorities were forced to endorse it in the appellation laws. “As of 2014, Trebbiano Toscano was still permitted (up to 10 percent of the blend) in red Carmignano”, according to Wine-Searcher. The French version, Ugni Blanc, is grown mostly in the Charentais (Cognac) and Gascony (Armagnac). On this Atlantic side of France, it is used to produce vast quantities of light, crisp, white wine which is distilled into brandy. So what is the big story on the other parent, Seibel?! This grape is another mutt (or if you want to jump back on the goldendoodle train - a “designer” grape). Seibel was hybridized by Albert Seibel in the 1950s. His creations went on to hybridize French varietals all over the world.
Back to Vidal: Vidal Blanc is best known for the hardiness of the vines, and is usually grown in locations that are too cold for "well known" grape varieties. Here at Williams Gap, we don’t struggle with the cold temperatures as much but this varietal does brilliantly on our estate. Our bone dry Vidal Blanc showcases herbaceous aromas which translate to bright citrusy notes on the palate. The stainless steel aging regimen allows for this grape to sing - we only focus on the Vidal with this wine and I love that. We also fermented this wine so that no sugar was left - just that beautiful, citrus heavy white wine. This vintage provides mouthwatering acidity that begs me to take another sip. As for pairing this crisp wine with brunch, Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a homemade biscuit with local ham and local cheese. This creates a “contrasting pairing” which is a pairing that creates balance by contrasting tastes and flavors. The creamy cheese and salty ham balances the bright acidity in the Vidal wonderfully.
Next on the list is our 2019 White Blend. This is my favorite white wine on our current lineup and is a blend of 75% Petit Manseng and 25% Vidal Blanc, but we will get to the Petit Manseng in a bit. With 1% more alcohol than the Vidal Blanc and a touch of French oak, this wine showcases a bit more weight and a lot more complexity. 75% of this wine is aged in stainless steel and the rest in neutral French oak barrels. As to not dive into the barrel discussion this blog, I will just give a quick note on why we used a neutral barrel here. Neutral simply means that we have used it a few times so the oak will not impart as much flavor to the wine. Aging wines in neutral oak tends to soften wines without adding the extra flavors. For this specific wine, we chose neutral oak to maintain the fruit qualities while still getting some of the other benefits of aging in oak. If a wine is aged in 100% new oak, it will likely be very bold, rich, spicy and of course, oaky. We did not want this profile for the White Blend, as we wanted to showcase those fruity, floral characteristics. Back to neutral oak - wines pull these flavors out of barrels relatively quickly. After the first year of use, a barrel loses much of its flavoring ability and after three vintages, the wine has extracted most of the oak's flavors, thus it is considered neutral oak. Our 2019 White Blend showcases aromas of melon rind, which translates to crunchy white peach on the palate. This wine is smooth and complex and Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a pomme avocado toast, which is a crispy, savory potato pancake topped with avocado, seasoning, and an egg. Again, you will notice some contrast with this pairing - this vegetal, herbaceous dish contrasts the floral, fruity flavors of the White Blend.
On to the beloved 2019 Petit Manseng. Petit Manseng has always been very interesting to me. I have visited over 130 Virginia wineries and I love to see their vineyard and cellar’s expression of this grape. According to the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, “Quickly gaining critical acclaim in Virginia, Petit Manseng makes distinctive dry white wines and, due to its loosely packed clusters, is also well-suited to survive late into the growing season to make fine off-dry and dessert wines." As you have probably seen right here in Loudoun County, our region produces this wine in so many different styles. A little history on Petit Manseng: this grape is a variation of the black Manseng grape, Manseng Noir and it gets its name from its small berries. Most Petit Manseng feature rich aromas of candied fruit and spice which are often complemented with flavors of honey, nuts, and pineapple. This varietal originates in the Southwest France regions of Gascony, Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. It’s perfectly suited for the climate in these parts of France and across much of Virginia due to its naturally high acidity that helps to maintain flavor and balance in the warmer late summers and fall. Petit Manseng is naturally very high in sugar, which lends to a bit more alcohol, residual sugar after fermentation and luscious, vibrant tropical flavors. This grape is one of our most hands-off grapes in the vineyard with loose bunches that help with airflow and prevention of mold and mildew, especially in wetter growing seasons. In fact, sometimes wetter seasons are best for this grape variety, especially later in the season as wetter days help to balance some of the grape’s natural high sugar content and acidity. While 2019 was pretty dry in Virginia resulting in a 2% residual sugar in our Petit Manseng, 2020 was a little wetter towards harvest. Spoiler alert: our 2020 vintage has much less residual sugar, which we are excited about in the tasting room. Our 2019 Petit Manseng is off-dry and showcases aromas of tree fruit, which translates to tropical pineapple on the palate. This vintage offers lively acidity to balance the sugar and Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with chicken and waffles with a spicy honey drizzle. The ideology here is for the wine to offer relief from the heat. The Petit Manseng will almost cleanse your palate with this pairing.
I hope this blog helped you plan your next Sunday Brunch and for our Wine Club Members, make sure you purchase your Flights & Bites: Brunch Edition tickets before July 6th by visiting this link: Wine-Club-Events. If you have any issues purchasing your ticket, send me an email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Tasting Room Manager
Hi again! Thank you for visiting our Williams Gap Blog. If you follow us on social media, you probably are already very excited for our Rosé Boarding Pass Event in June. We are getting “on board” with the rosé craze across the planet and releasing our first Williams Gap Rosé and featuring 5 rosés from around the world, too! For much of the 20th century, rosé was dismissed as an unserious wine, but that view began to shift in the 1970s when cult importers like Kermit Lynch started introducing dry rosés to the United States market. The rosé style didn’t become popular among Americans, however, until the early 2000s, when French rosé started becoming popular. In the past four years, consumption has spiked dramatically, transforming both the perception of rosé and its marketing. American sales of rosé wines grew to 18.7 million cases in 2018, an increase of 1.2 million cases since 2015, according to Shanken’s Impact Databank. While the category has been seeing impressive growth, some may wonder if rosé wine’s upward trajectory will continue.
Today, we are not talking about the rosé you once knew - the dreaded White Zinfandel. We are tasting 6 dry rosé wines from around the planet. As I sit at the vineyard typing this blog post, I am tasting our Rosé Boarding Pass lineup. This is a great time for you to grab a glass of rosé too, as we taste together and pull out some of those amazing summer-like flavors and aromas from the wonderful wine category - rosé!
First stop - Sobrado, Portugal! I am currently tasting the 2020 Arca Nova Vinho Verde Rosé. This wine is produced in the Vinho Verde DOC region in Minho (northwest Portugal) where the quality of the wines made here are so fresh and light that they earn the moniker verde (“green”). This wine is produced with 50% Espadeiro and 50% Touriga Nacional and is beyond fresh in nature. I can tell from the aromas, that this wine will be super fruit-driven - tons of candied watermelon on the nose that also translates to the palate. This wine is slightly effervescent, a trademark of Vinho Verde, and leans more on the fruit than anything. For me, rhubarb and papaya are speaking the loudest on the palate and I cannot stop sipping. This wine is really fun and exciting. Chef Marium Caternolo who is our featured chef for our rosé club event recommends pairing this wine with a chilled green gazpacho.
Next, let’s open the Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses Rosé from Languedoc-Roussillon, France. This is a beautiful bottle with a rose imprint on the punt and the cork is made of solid glass - a definite eye catcher when perusing the wine aisles at the wine shop. This southern area of France is known for rosé production and this wine does not disappoint. They selected Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah for the 2020 vintage which produces a beautiful “ballet slipper pink” hue in the glass. At first sniff, I notice an explosion of white spring blossom and grapefruit. That grapefruit carries over to the palate which is so refreshing. When I think rosé, this is where my mind takes me - easy sipper, balanced acidity and citrus. Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a brie grilled cheese with asparagus and crispy prosciutto.
Now we come to our layover in California - Santa Cruz to be exact. Let’s open the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare. I have had this wine many times with a close friend of mine and enjoying this wine always takes me back to incredibly fun times with her and her family on their boat in the river. Let’s talk about aroma - for me the aroma is screaming fresh strawberries. That does translate to the palate but this time, it is more of whisper. This wine is so different from the first two - it’s a blend of white grapes and red. So those red grapes are pretty evident and translate their tannin a bit. I am noticing them on the finish as I taste the slightest hint of a hibiscus tea. Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a golden beet salad with watermelon and feta on a toasted crostini.
Now, we are coming home just for a quick visit and tasting our 2020 Williams Gap Vineyard Rosé. This wine is made of 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon, but you would never know from the color in the glass. The nose is reminding me of orange blossom and mint, while the palate is all about the citrusy acidity. I am tasting this lineup while it is 87°F outside and this wine is what I will be drinking after the blog is completed. Perfect summer day rosé! Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a pita topped with grilled lamb, tzatziki, cherry tomatoes and mint. This acid would cut right through the lamb fat to create an undeniably balanced wine and food experience.
Let’s take flight to Yakima Valley, Washington - home to over 120 amazing wineries. I am opening the 2020 Lone Birch Rosé and this wine has a much deeper color than the other 5 rosés with equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah. The winemaker at Lone Birch touched on his production method mentioning that after pressing, the juice was settled out for 48 hours and racked clean to begin fermentation. Using carefully selected yeast that allows the four varietal characteristics to shine, this rosé was fermented at low temperatures ranging from 55-58°F. Having a cold and slow fermentation allows for maximum ester production that gives this wine very bright fruit notes and a clean, crisp finish. The aromas showcase an herbal mint and citrusy characteristic that totally changes when you sip. I am tasting more Rainier cherry with this wine, and maybe a bit of ripe crab apple. What I love about this wine is that it totally coats your entire palate with flavor. If you know Allie in the tasting room, she would call this wine a mouth-hug. It’s not often (maybe ever) that I have used that descriptor, but it suits the Lone Birch. Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a barbecued chipotle pork shoulder.
And finally, we are finishing our trip in Marlborough, New Zealand, which you might know for their Sauvignon Blanc, with The Ned Pinot Noir Rosé. This wine is made entirely from Pinot Noir and it shows. The fruit is so consistent from the nose to the palate, I almost thought this wine had a touch of residual sugar - but I was wrong. It is completely dry but very focused on the fruit. For me, it was all about strawberry jam with The Ned. The New Zealand 2020 vintage had a very consistent period of hot, dry weather; the driest Marlborough has seen in 88 years, which lends to a riper style whether we are sipping white, red or rosé. Chef Marium recommends pairing this wine with a savory basil citrus dessert and I can not think of a better way to finish this tasting.
All month during the month of June, we will have all 6 of the rosés we tasted here by the flight, tasting, glass and bottle. Our educated tasting associates have so much more information about how these wines were farmed and produced, too! I hope you will stop by Williams Gap to taste through this line up and let me know what you think. Let’s keep this rosé trend going this month - cheers!
Hi everyone and welcome back to the Williams Gap Vineyard Blog! If you came out to the vineyard for opening weekend, you probably noticed that “spring has sprung” at WGV. We had Bud Break earlier this month which means grapes are on the way. The most common question the tasting associates and I are asked in the Tasting Room is, “how is this vintage going to be?” or “how is the vineyard this year?”. So, this month, I wanted to tell you about our vine growing calendar, so you know what you are looking at in the vineyard each time you visit us.
Let’s start with the winter. One of the most important activities in the vineyard at Williams Gap, other than harvest, of course, is winter pruning. Our vineyard crew works incredibly hard to cut back the prior year’s canes and they choose the best canes to grow new shoots. The type of pruning system used is determined during the vineyard design. So, for us at WGV, this is something Jack designed when he planted our vineyard in 2006 and he made the important decision to cane prune rather than spur prune. With that being said, it is possible to change the way vines are trained from season to season if overproduction or underproduction is an issue. How could overproduction be an issue? More grapes = more wine, right?! We will get to that, later.
Jump to spring! During April & May, the first signs of life occur. First, we will see the sap rise and then the beautiful buds or flowers begin to break – this is what we call Bud Break. The buds are extremely delicate during this time, so weather can be an issue, unfortunately. What we see here in Virginia is spring frost or even hailstorms. Both of the mentioned weather threats can destroy the buds or flowers. For example, in 2020, a lot of Central Virginian vineyards lost large percentages of their fruit, if not all, due to the Mother’s Day frost of 2020. So, while Bud Break is very exciting, it is also a bit of a frightening time, as we watch the weather reports and hope for the best.
On to the glorious summer! In June and July, young clusters begin to materialize. These clusters will ultimately become berry bunches. Whether you are looking at a red grape, like Merlot or a white grape, like Petit Manseng, they will look very similar at this time. They are small berries, earthworm green in color and very stiff. But that all changes in mid to late summer. The little green berries start to change color and ripen. Those little earth worm green balls turn into gorgeous yellow, pink, red or purple. The color depends on the varietal, or type of grape. This period is called vérasion and is the most beautiful time of the year at Williams Gap. Just before vérasion begins, some vineyard managers will green harvest their vineyard, or “drop fruit”, as most vineyard managers call this process. We do this at WGV to remove additional weight from the vines. We call this weight the superficial grape bunches and we drop fruit so the vines can put all of their effort into the grapes that will make the best wine when we harvest in the fall. So, less grapes = better wine.
Now onto the busiest time of year for our vineyard manager, vineyard crew and winemaker – the fall! If you have friends and family in the wine industry, you learn very quickly to plan important events way before harvest. The grapes continue to ripen and sugar levels rise through the end of summer and into fall. In Virginia, harvest usually occurs sometime between late August to early October, when the grapes reach their complete ripeness. We measure this ripeness a few different ways including measuring brix (sugar levels) and pH (acid levels), as well as taking a look at the pips (or seeds) of the grape. Green pips = under ripe fruit. Brown pips = ripe fruit. Our vineyard manager and crew work around the clock to pick the grapes in time. Timing is essential with grapes as these lovely, little berries are different than other fruits, in that they do not continue to ripen once picked.
We will finish off the season very drearily in late fall and winter. At this point, the vine has stopped producing carbohydrates from the chlorophyll in the leaves. The leaves then lose their color and fall to the ground, just as most vines, plants and trees do during this time of year. Guests seem to worry when they see bare vines during the cooler months, as they often ask if the vines are dead. Grape vines are similar to other plants – they go dormant in the winter. When this happens each year, our crew gets right back out there and prunes back the vines and the process starts all over again.
Now you have a really good understanding of a year in the life of a vine at Williams Gap Vineyard and a better understanding of why our main focus is our vineyard. With every visit to WGV take a look at the vineyards as you drive up Sexton Farm Lane to the Tasting Room. Each time, you will notice a bit of variation in the vines, leaves, fruit and crew activities.
Cheers everyone and we hope to see you at the vineyard soon!
Hi everyone and welcome to the Williams Gap Blog! My name is Bridgette Smith, and I am the Tasting Room Manager at WGV. I am WSET Level 2 Certified, and I am passionate about teaching others about wine, whether we are chatting about what is going on in the cellar, in the vineyard or right there in your glass. I type that, assuming you are drinking Williams Gap wine while checking out our blog. Not too late to pour yourself a glass - the blog will be here when you get back. I was asked to write a monthly wine blog for Williams Gap Vineyard and am really excited to discuss Wine Glass Selection for our first blog post. When I came on board at Williams Gap, one of the first decisions we made for the Tasting Room was our wine glasses. While this is not the most important decision to make, it is something we are passionate about at WGV.
I have done so much research on the perfect wine glass because each glass performs differently than others. While wine glass research might seem a little geeky, this research is important for our Tasting Room because we are providing beautiful Virginia wine right from our vineyard and we want to showcase the quality in the best way possible.
Let’s start by discussing wine aromas. Vapors carry the aromatic compounds from the wine to your nose. A wine's "aroma”, or "nose”, is the smell of the wine in the glass. The aroma can be fruit driven (green/red/black fruit, citrus fruit, stone fruit, tropical fruit, dried/cooked fruit, etc.), floral (acacia, honeysuckle, chamomile, elderflower, geranium, blossom, rose, violet, etc.), herbaceous, herbal, spicy, earthy, or any number of familiar scents depending on the grape variety used and the winemaking process implemented.
When it comes to smelling and tasting wine, I am sure you have heard that the nose is incredibly important – some say more important than your tongue. We are gifted, as humans, to differentiate between thousands of unique scents, while the human tongue is limited to sensing the following categories: salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. With that background, we can now understand that we must use our nose first to truly taste a wine.
So, aromas are important – how do we get the maximum aroma from a wine in a glass? A lot of this has to do with the vessel you choose to taste wine from. There are so many glasses to choose from and you will find that certain wine glass shapes are better for enjoying specific types of wine. When selecting stemware, you have to keep in mind that the glass shape collects aromas and deposits them to both your nose and your mouth, so what shape works best? The first, and maybe most important component is space – you need plenty of space above the wine to collect aromas and transport them.
For whites, I have noticed that a smaller bowl preserves floral aromas, maintains cooler temperatures and expresses more acidity in the wine. So, for those crisp, clean, lighter wines, you may want to stick with a smaller glass. But do not forget to leave room on top of the wine. For fuller bodied whites, like our White Blend, a larger bowl better emphasizes the creamy texture because of the wider mouth.
For reds, I like to alleviate tannic bitterness and mitigate spicy flavors to deliver a smoother tasting wine. In my opinion, red wines tend to taste smoother from a glass with a wider opening. Larger glasses with plenty of room between the wine and your nose/mouth tend to deliver more aromatic compounds. When you have a smaller glass, the alcohol burn is more noticeable since it is closer to your nose. A wide glass diameter offers larger surface area to let the alcohol aromatics evaporate. Higher alcohol wines from warmer climates or spicier wines also tend to be softened due to the flavors hitting your tongue more gradually.
With all of this in mind, while at home, you may have glasses for every type of wine, but that is quite the task for a tasting room. We selected the Riedel Degustazione Wine Glass. This glass offers a universal experience for most wines, and definitely the wines at Williams Gap Vineyard. According to Riedel (and we happen to agree), “this glass is the perfect glass to suit a variety of wines. The glass helps to release the aromas of the wines, emphasize fruit and balance compounds”. When you visit us at Williams Gap Vineyard, take notice of your glass and we encourage to take your time differentiating aromas and flavors. Williams Gap Vineyard’s main focus is producing the best grapes and providing an unmatched setting to enjoy them. We work together to make sure everyone has the best possible experience, whether it’s enjoying a glass of wine, tasting through our wine line up or sharing a bottle and board with friends.
Cheers to you and we hope to see you at Williams Gap Vineyard.