Camp for adults – what could be better?

In early May, a group of about 40 wine enthusiasts descended upon the Loudon County area of Virginia to taste a LOT of wine and chat with local winemakers during 2012’s TasteCamp.

TasteCamp is an annual event which brings wine bloggers to a lesser known region to help increase the knowledge of that area. The organizers were Lenn ThompsonRemy Charest and Frank Morgan. These guys did a tremendous job of coordinating the weekend even when some of us didn’t follow directions well … apologies again for being the worst bus buddy on earth …

Loudon County is about an hour outside of Washington DC. The proximity to the city combined with the beautiful scenery makes this a must-visit area for wine lovers, or for anyone just looking to get out of the city for a day.

Our trip included multiple vineyard visits and two grand tastings where wineries from both Loudon and Charlottesville came to pour. This was my second visit to Virginia’s wine country within the past year and I walked away with the same impression both times:  there are some good wines, some really good wines, and then there is the rest.

I see a couple of challenges with the Virginia wine region. Many wineries appear to still be figuring out what works for their site.  At the same time, the prices are relatively high. A lot of the wine we tasted retailed between $20 and $40. Given the economics of a small winery, the prices aren’t surprising however the quality of many of these wines don’t hold up to wines from other regions at this price point.  Here are the wines I recommend seeking out:

Rappahannock Cellars: The 2009 Meritage offered a glimpse into old world Bordeaux. My favorite was the fruity 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc, thankfully absent of underripe vegetal notes. Plus these guys are just fun to talk with!

Boxwood Winery: This winery has just opened a tasting room onsite for visits. Check out their 2011 Boxwood Rosé ($14), recently named Best Local Pick by Washington Post Lifestyle. Boxwood Topiary is worth seeking out as well ($18). And they ship to Massachusetts – hooray!

Ankida Ridge: After tasting the Pinot Noir ($35) and Chardonnay ($28), I just could not believe that 2011 was the first vintage for this winery.  With grapes grown on a steep eastern slope of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, these Burgundian style wines really stood out. I just signed up for their wine club and look forward to receiving my first shipment!

Whitehall Vineyards: Located just outside of Charlottesville, this vineyard’s 2011 Viognier was one of the better ones that I tried. It was light and refreshing, not over the top like many are. Petit Verdot seems to grow very well in Virginia, and Whitehall’s 2010 PV was wonderful for $18.

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard: A likable father/son team poured lovely reds, including a 2008 Cabernet Franc ($25) that was blessedly non oaky and a 2010 Chambourcin ($20) that left many saying, wow, I actually like Chambourcin.

Fabbiolo Vineyards: I’m not usually one for fruit wines, but the Pear Wine ($95) here was just fun. Beautifully presented in a unique bottle which is placed over the Asian pears as they are growing, this makes a lovely aperitif which isn’t too cloyingly sweet yet expresses the fruit well. Great for a gift or enjoying with a group.

Tarara Winery: Definitely a leader on the quality front. The 2010 Leap XII wine was my favorite, a blend of 50% mouvedre, 40% syrah and 10% grenache. Although this wine was one of my favorites of the weekend, it did not stand up to the $50 pricetag. The 2010 Cabernet Franc was well balanced even though it clocked in at a whopping 16% ABV! Other highlights from Tarara included the 2010 Boneyard Red and 2011 Petit Manseng.

Linden Vineyards: By far, the highlight of the trip. In addition to the beautiful scenery and informative chat with Jim Law, the wines were the best of the weekend. The 2011 Avenius Sauvignon Blanc had nice acidity that would pair well with food.  The 2008 Avenius Red ($36) was rustic with tannins that needed a bit of taming. My favorite was the 2008 Hardscrabble Red ($39), a Cabernet heavy Bordeaux blend with soft strawberry notes.

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