Black Ankle Vineyards, Mt. Airy, MD – October 18th, 2013

Black Ankle Vineyards, Mt. Airy, MDRight on the heels of my Linganore visit, was a stop by nearby Black Ankle Vineyards after a short, ten minute drive. A long, winding lane snakes through scenic rows of Syrah vines on either side before emptying out in front of Black Ankle’s tasting facility, a beautiful Mediterranean looking villa.

Black Ankle has established itself as a serious producer of terroir driven wine. Unlike Linganore, Black Ankle currently only sells four wines. All reds & all harvested on site. And they have garnered a lot of hype. The word that I got on the street was “Best reds in Maryland”. That creates a lot of expectations for visitors, particularly biased red wine lovers who may or may not be visiting four other wineries the same week. Just saying.

Black Ankle's gorgeous tasting roomThe tasting room opened in 2008, the same year that Blank Ankle’s wines became available for sale to the public. The inside area has a very European feel, a stoic & serious wine tasting bar. In comparison to our last stop, although not unfriendly, the ambiance of the place seemed more suitable for austere wine tasters.

Charlene with the magical elixirThe hostess at the bar, Charlene, greeted us warmly and asked if we would like the featured tasting. She had a slight, knowing smile as she lined up the Riedel glasses on the bar. The wine here is good and the staff knows it. It didn’t disappoint, either.

1. Passegiata 2012 – Passegiata means “Evening Stroll” in Italian. This wine started out as 100% Syrah but evolved into a blend of almost every wine harvested from Black Ankle’s vines, including whites. Light & smooth in character, this unique yet complex wine is bursting with red fruit flavors. Aged in French Oak. $28/bottle $11/glass

Passegiata 2012 aka "Evening Stroll"2. Rolling Hills 2011 – The Rolling Hills is a blend of 76% Merlot & 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. Soft on the tannins, this wine had more dark fruit character than the Passegiata, and heavier on the oak. Another smooth, easy drinker yet complex enough to complement a variety of red meat dishes. Notes of baking spices & tobacco. $32/bottle $11/glass

3. Syrah 2011 – My favorite wine this afternoon. Black fruits on the nose & palate, evolving into a smooth, complex cornucopia of black cherries & tobacco flavors. A fantastic red wine for seasoned red wine drinkers. $38/bottle $12/glass

4. Terra Dulce III – Black Ankle’s Port Style offering. The Terra is fortified with grain alcohol, as evidenced by an ABV of 19%. A blend of twelve grapes, this Port like wine works well as a post meal treat. And a cigar if you’re so inclined. Rich, sweet and complex with notes of dark fruit that just last forever in a silky finish. Nicely done. $45/bottle $14/glass

Truffles available at the barThere were a variety of truffles available to enjoy along with the wines. Salted caramel, dark chocolate and cayenne pepper for sale on the bar. A nice touch, we tried all three.

Unfortunately, the 2010 Crumbling Rock was completely sold out at the time of our visit. Not a part of the tasting, this is Black Ankle’s signature, award winning blend of Merlot, Cab Franc & Petit Verdot. A very intense wine from a great year and suitable for aging. I regretfully cannot comment on the experience of tasting it personally. $52/bottle SOLD OUT

Rows of Syrah greet visitors to the tasting roomAcoustic entertainment was featured today, and there was a steady stream of visitors. A comfortable environment to enjoy the top notch juice produced on this magical slice of Italy. If I didn’t know better, I never would have thought we were just south of the Mason Dixon line. It feels more like Abruzzo. Or so I’m guessing, it’s on my bucket list.

Lu & Joe'sIf you remember my burger rant from Linganore, it was finally time to put my craving to rest. My restaurant savvy sister recommended that we stop by Lu & Joe’s, a busy gastropub & bar. The charcoal scented bacon cheeseburger really did the trick after an afternoon of tasting some of Maryland’s best wine. Lu & Joe’s looks kind of plain on the outside, but the combination menu of Thai & pub food here has a lot of variety and is fantastic. This is the place the locals don’t want you to know about.

In case you’re wondering how Black Ankle got their name, they explain it here.

Stay tuned, we’re going to do it all over again tomorrow. I love vacation.

Links:

Black Ankle Vineyards
Riedel – The Wine Glass Company
Lu & Joe’s – Mt. Airy, MD
Maryland Wine

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Josh Cellars Merlot 2011

“A wine I made for Josh, my dad and my hero.” – Joseph Carr, Winemaker

Josh Cellars by Joseph Carr WinesNormally, I don’t participate in everyday wine reviews. Outside of very localized selections, you can Google almost any wine out there and get at least a handful of ratings on just about anything in the liquor store. And I estimate that I see a new wine app being released every week or so, always claiming to offer more complete features than the last one.

So, since I’m shrouded in the industry, I get to taste a fair amount of wine. And lately I consider not only the cost and quality, but if the wine has a story it makes it more appealing to me. I buy locally quite a bit, and wine from producers that have passion and conviction. And not only about their wine but a desire to pay it forward.

Joseph Carr, WinemakerJoseph Carr of Joseph Carr Wine has been slated as “A producer to watch” from the New York Times. Mr. Carr served as a well sought after Sommelier for ten years before moving on to a role as a wine industry executive on an international level for another ten. He fulfilled his dream of creating his own family-owned wine label in 2005. He has a great desire and proven knowledge for producing world class wine.

His newest project is called Josh Cellars, his second label. Josh Cellars uses sustainably farmed & organically grown grapes. The label is named Joseph Carr’s father, who was his lifelong hero.

Josh Cellars Merlot 2011The 2011 Merlot is a big wine, made with North Coast grapes from Sonoma and Mendocino. Black cherries and spice on the nose with powerful, dark fruit flavors and smooth tannins. This Merlot has presence & complexity,a touch of French oak and a nicely balanced finish. It goes great with steak and other grilled meats. And at $14.99, it’s priced very competitively for a Merlot of this quality.

All of Josh Cellars wines are produced using classic French techniques. Along with the bold Merlot, the Josh Cellars lineup includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Operation HomefrontStarting today, November 1st, Josh Cellars will donate $1.00 of every bottle of their wine, up to $50,000 to Operation Homefront through the end of 2013. Operation Homefront supports military heroes & their families. Josh was a soldier and this cause is very dear to his son, Joseph.

If you want to support a great cause this holiday season, and take advantage of some affordable, high quality table wine, give Josh Cellars a shot. Their wine is available in wine shops, restaurants, liquor stores and grocery outlets nationwide. Click here to find Josh Cellars wine near you.

Links:

Joseph Carr Wine
Josh Cellars on Facebook
Josh Cellars Wine Locator
Operation Homefront

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Linganore Winecellars, Mt. Airy, MD – October 18th, 2013

Linganore Winecellars, Mt. Airy, MDNorthern Maryland, Day 1.

The plan was to head south from Westminster to nearby Mount Airy to visit two local producers today. The first stop would be Linganore Winecellars, by far the biggest on my list. It holds the title of Maryland’s largest winery. The winery and vineyard (aka Berrywine Plantations) are on a sprawling 230 acre estate.

As I contacted each winery the week prior to get a feel for them, I found out that the signature tasting at Linanore was sixteen wines for five dollars and for an additional five, food pairings were provided. This is the most substantial tasting I’ve participated in to date. I’m thinking I could probably skip lunch.

Chaz, our bartender this afternoonThe food & wine pairings have a changing monthly theme, October is Mediterranean month. Our host for the tasting was Chaz, a young, well spoken gentleman who provided us with six delicacies to try interchangeably with the wines per his suggestions. The tasting was supposed to last about 45 minutes.

So top to bottom, here we go. Let’s get started.

Dry whites:

1. Chardonnay/Roasted Peppers – This lighter bodied Chard is aged in oak for five months. It contains 0% Residual Sugar(RS) and has a nice vanilla character and citrusy finish. This wine would pair very nicely with poultry dishes. $16.51/bottle

2. White Raven/Artichoke Dip – This estate bottled wine made from Cayuga grapes is reminiscent of Pinot Grigio. Fruity & crisp w/ 0% RS. The artichoke dip drys it up a bit. $11.01/bottle

3. Terrapin White/Artichoke Dip – The light, semi-dry Terrapin White is similar to Sauvignon Blank or a drier Riesling. Some other fruits were extracted into this to give it it’s character. It stands at 2% RS, which is on the higher side for a dry wine. $11.01/bottle

Dry reds:

Our spread for the tasting4. Black Raven/Black Olives – Light bodied, lightly oaked table wine that resembles Pinot Noir. Hints of cherry & blackberry. $12.84/bottle

5. Bacioni/Roasted Peppers – Bacioni means “big kiss” in Italian. This versatile blend of Chambourcin, Barbera, Cab Franc & Cab Sauv is a great table wine. $14.68/bottle

6. Chambourcin/Roasted Tomato & Salami – Fuller bodied w/ more oak than the Bacioni, this was my “Red Bias pick of the day”. Subtle hints of red fruit. Big wine but not overpowering. The tomato sweetened it up a bit. $16.51/bottle

7. Red Skins/Salami & Roasted Tomato – Linganore’s driest red. Red Skins won multiple awards & is only available at the winery. To dispel any outrage from local Ravens fans, this wine is so named because it has the longest fermentation exposure to the grape skins. 0% RS. $19.27/bottle

Plenty of juice on hand, something for everyoneAt this point, I concentrated primarily on the wine itself versus the food provided. The artichoke dip in particular was overpowering to me, though my sister loved it. Sixteen wines is a lot and I wanted to make sure each one got a fair representation. As far as lunch was concerned, I think I’ll need a burger after this.

Ok, back to business.

Sweet Whites:

Bacioni aka "Big Kiss"8. Traminette/Feta Cheese – Full bodied white with a very floral character. Spicy on the nose w/ some spice on the mid palate as well. Pairs well with Asian cuisine. 7% RS. $16.51/bottle

Sweet Reds:

9. Steeple Chase/Black Olives & Artichoke Dip – The semi-sweet Steeple Chase has raspberry notes, as raspberries are actually added to the fermenting process. The olives make it drier on the palate. This would go great w/ chocolate. 12% ABV & 6% RS. $11.01/bottle

Fruit Wines:

10. Peach/Feta Cheese & Artichoke Dip – Light-bodied & semi-sweet. Oozing with peach flavor. Made 100% from peaches w/ no additives. 6% RS. $12.84/bottle

11. Blackberry/Artichoke Dip – 100% produced from blackberries. Rich & medium bodied dessert wine. A real treat when mixed w/ sparkling wine. $14.68/bottle

For the remainder of the tasting, Chaz jumped around with the wine styles a bit.

12. Sweet Chessie/Roasted Peppers – This award winning, sweet white is a late harvest wine, similar to ice wine. Well balanced with tropical notes. 10% RS. $14.68/bottle

Linganore's serene, welcoming environment13. Indulgence/Black Olives & Feta – Full bodied, sweet red. Candy in a glass. Exudes lots of chocolate flavor, try it with brownies. $14.68/bottle

14. Abisso – This estate bottled Port style dessert wine is fortified with grain alcohol. Serve chilled or at room temperature. 18-22% ABV. $23.85/bottle

The last two wines are Linganore’s holiday wines.

15. Spiced Apple/Roasted Pepers – This is a cider based offering made with apples from western Maryland. Spiced w/ cinnamon & cloves. $11.01/bottle

16. Spicy Regatta/Any of the samples left from the first 15 pairings – This spicy & sweet red is also fortified with cinnamon & cloves. The cloves are very prominent in this. Can be served heated during the holidays or chilled in summer. $11.01/bottle

Anthony Aellen, Linganore's WinemakerLinganore’s long time winemaker, Anthony Aellen was kind enough to show us around the production area. The winery & grounds have grown steadily over the years and in 2011, they were awarded Baltimore Business Journal’s ‘Green Business of the Year’.

The Aellen family planted their first six acres of vines in 1971 and opened the winery five years later. Anthony now produces over thirty wide ranging varieties of wine.

Be sure to stop by Linganore if you are in the area. They can accommodate any wine lover’s taste with their expansive selection of locally grown & produced wines. Did I mention the Honey Mead and the Dandelion wine? I want to thank Anthony for the friendly, welcoming environment that his family has brought to Northern Maryland. The staff here is knowledgeable and very helpful as well.

Now if you don’t mind I have one more stop before I devour a well deserved burger.

Links:

Linganore Winecellars
Linganore on Facebook
Frederick Wine Trail

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Allegro Winery & Vineyards, Brogue, PA – October 17, 2013

Allegro Winery & Vineyards, Brogue, PAThis year has been a challenging one for coordinating vacation time in my household.

Busy work schedules for my wife & I plus planning a trip to Italy in 2015 have provided enough motivation to keep it simple his year. If you consider a couple of day trips and a wine tour through Northern Maryland simple, that is.

Today we kicked off the tour with Allegro Winery in rural York County, en route to visiting family in Westminster. Allegro has a well established reputation for making consistently high quality, Pennsylvania wine. Their highly touted Reserve Red blends were my main motivator for venturing off the beaten path to see this place today.

Carl Helrich, Allegro's WinemakerAllegro’s winery & tasting room sits back off the road in a nondescript facility surrounded by a generous quantity of outdoor seating. There is a covered picnic pavilion which would have been perfect for lunch, if we had the foresight to bring some. Unfortunately we were miles from the nearest Wawa or 7-11. Next time.

The plain looking building opens up into a gorgeous tasting room. Allegro’s owner/winemaker Carl Helrich was manning the front, taking a break from his more demanding duties. Allegro is still very much in harvest mode, evident by the bustling staff in the production area behind the tasting room.

Carl is a tall, jovial guy who says what’s on his mind. I personally find that refreshing. He provided us with tasting sheets and the pouring of the juice commenced. Here are some of the highlights:

2012 Riesling Traminette2012 Riesling Traminette – a sweet but mild blend of these two estate grown grapes. An easy drinker perfect for summer or Thanksgiving dinner.

2011 Chambourcin – This bold & distinct wine is a favorite of mine. Though 2011 was a challenging year for local wine producers with lots of late season rain, the Allegro Chambourcin came through nicely. Carl uses this varietal primarily for blending, but this raw ‘PA Zin’ remains a favorite of mine.

2012 Claret – Aged for ten months in French Oak. The Claret is a Cab Franc blend that is a very versatile table wine that stands great on it’s own.

Raw Chambourcin grapes!2012 Merlot – My pick for today. This Merlot is fantastic with great presence. Fruit forward with lingering tannins. As a side note, Carl felt that the Merlot grape should be grown more in Pennsylvania. Hybrids like Chambourcin has been a popular staple for winemakers in PA for years, but could there be a shift to more Vinifera grapes like Merlot? We will see.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – Smooth & powerful. The Cab is tougher to grow in this area. It’s a site specific varietal and takes about two to three weeks longer than Merlot to mature.

As I mentioned above, Allegro has a reputation for their fantastic Reserve Reds, which I found out were not available for tasting. The latest is their 2010 Cadenza, in it’s 13th vintage and is nearly sold out. The fullbodied Bordeaux blend is comprised of Merlot, Cab Franc & Cab Sauv aged for twenty-two months in oak and according to Allegro … “Unfined & unfiltered, this wine represents the finest in Allegro winemaking”. I have no doubt. Though I have not tasted it, I bought a bottle for my cellar. Carl says it could age twenty years but I guarantee it won’t last that long. My friend Vic did a thorough video review earlier this year, check it out:

Allegro Vineyards 1980 Cabernet SauvignonAs I visit these places, I continue to be amazed and sometimes a little intimidated by the brilliance of winemakers. They have to be farmers, scientists, expert tasters and often public relations experts. And in every scenario, it’s evident that they love what they do. Carl Helrich is no exception and he had some interesting opinions on the culture & future of the local wine community.

Carl took some time out to give a tour of the place, which is always a cool experience. Allegro is outgrowing their current structure, which is a good thing. He showed off his collection of vintage Allegro wines dating back to 1980, which they use when hosting twice-a-year Library Tastings. Overall, the winery has a very active event calendar which includes Winemaker’s Dinners, Friday Happy Hours & art exhibits at their York Wine Gallery and participation in local wine festivals and promotions.

A small section of the vast wine archives at the wineryAllegro’s wine is available locally in York & Harrisburg at eateries, Giant & farmers markets. It can also be found at fine restaurants as far east as Lancaster & Philadelphia.

The word is out, Allegro wine is helping to put PA Wine on the map. Stop by the tasting room and tell him that I sent you. And you probably should eat first or pack some food.

A worthwhile trip, I’m glad we ventured off the beaten path to experience it.

Links:

Allegro Winery
Mason Dixon Wine Trail
Vino Vic

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