Hot Wine Tasting at Monticello

As we stepped off the buses and onto the grounds of Monticello, it was so hot they were grilling crab cakes on the garden walls.

But seriously, it must have been 98 degrees at 6 pm when 300 wine bloggers arrived for a Virginia wine tasting, buffet, and tour of the home of founding foodie Thomas Jefferson. Talk about a tough tasting climate.

A large tent was set up on the grounds where tiny electric fans struggled to throw a breeze into the windless space. Winemakers from 30 wineries dripped into their buckets as they poured and cajoled wine bloggers, most of whom had never tasted heat like this before. The Virginians themselves said they had never seen it so hot.

To survive, Bill and I decided to stick with chilled white wines, even though the red wines were also on ice. In an oven like that, Viognier snow cones would have been perfect.

Notes were recorded on my iphone using a handy little app called Memorable Wines. In addition to offering categorized check boxes, location fields and a note box to type into, the app prompts you to take a photo of the label and to add a voice memo. With an iphone in hand, who needs a notepad?

Here are the wines we tasted, with my almost-verbatim voice memos.

Glass House Winery, 2010 Viognier, Monticello AV. Very tropical nose, ripe mouthfeel, pineapple, vanilla

Gadino Cellars 2010 Viognier, Mid-North Virginia region. Rich, round and apply with a note of oak, but well balanced.

King Family Vineyards 2010 Viognier, Monticello AVA. Oaky nose, well balanced, big apples, oaky finish.

Chatham Vineyards 2009 Church Creek Steel Chardonnay, Eastern Shore AVA. Nice green apple, a touch of saltiness, juicy finish.

Pippin Hill Farm 2010 Viognier, Monticello AVA. Very juicy fruit, with apple, melon, citrus. Yum!

Potomac Point Winery 2010 Viognier Reserve, George Washington Birthplace AVA. Pretty apricot notes, smooth, round and full bodied.

Prince Michel Mount Juliet Vineyards 2008 Petit Manseng, Central Virginia region. Spicy floral, exotic nose. Crispy, lively mouth with very exotic tangerine notes.

West Wind Farm 2010 Pinto Gris, Blue Ridge region. Peppery nose, herbal, grassy, citric on palette.

White Hall Vineyards 2010 Viognier, Monticello AVA. Pretty melony nose, tropical fruit, peppery.

Gabriele Rausse Chardonnay, Monticello AVA. Apply nose, crisp mouth, not too oaky, good balance. Yum!

Finally, we got large pours of Barrel Oak 2009 Stainless Steel Reserve Chardonnay from co-winemakers Sharon Roeder and Rick Taggs, whose wines I tasted at the winery back in April. The wine is full bodied, spicy and steely with nice acidity on the finish and it paired nicely with most of what was on the menu.

We had lump crab chesapeake cakes with bacon bits, sweet corn chowder topped with fire roasted corn, grilled Poly Face Farms rib-eye sandwich, and herb roasted fingerling potato, carrots, roasted squash and zucchini.

The rib-eye would have been better with an elegant petit verdot, but I just couldn’t face the tannins, chilled or not.

Because we avoided the red wines, my only regret was not trying the new, 2009 Chrysalis Reserve Norton, which Tim Vandergrift told me later, “rocked my world.” I thought, hmmm, their 2006 Norton barely nudged my world and now I’ve missed out on the 2009!

After noshing and drinking, we headed to the mansion which was – surprise! – air conditioned. We had to park our glasses at the door which was ok, but the ban on photography bummed me out. The interior was so lovely and the light was so pretty, especially in the windowed dining room. I could have sat down and talked to the docent all night about what the third president ate.

She said Jefferson introduced waffles to America, and as I stood admiring the square dinner table, beautifully set with period china and crystal, I turned and muttered, “waffles!” to a person behind me. And it was Jancis Robinson, Britain’s queen of wine, wino to the Queen, Master of Wine!

I couldn’t say another word, thinking of how much I’d drunk in the past nine hours and my relative chances of saying something stew-pid to the day’s keynote speaker, whom I actually did want to have a sober conversation with. Instead, I just oohed and ahhed alongside Her Wineness throughout the mansion’s main floor, wondering if she was reminiscing about Virginia as a British Colony.

My favorite architectural touch was the wine bottle dumbwaiter that ran from the cellar up to the parlor along the fireplace’s butt walls. I imagined the president stomping three times for Bordeaux, twice for Burgundy and then stepping to the mantle where, Voila! Une bouteille!

We saw the downstairs view of the dumbwaiter in the vast, cool Dependencies below, as well as the wine and beers cellars, the slaves’ rooms, and Jefferson’s kitchen, considered modern for its time.

It was just starting to cool off when we had to leave at 9pm. Only 94 degrees, maybe. The tent lights glittered and the mansion glowed and I kind of wished the party were just beginning. But we had to leave to get to another tasting, so we bid adieu to Monticello and hoped to return again someday. When it’s cooler.

Read more about Virginia Wines:
Speed Tasting the Wine Bloggers Conference
Tasting Virginia 4 – Barrel Oak Winery
Tasting Virginia 3 – Chrysalis Vineyards
Tasting Virginia 2: The Winery at La Grange
Tasting Virginia: Paradise Springs Winery

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.