Sunday, March 11, 2012

Barrel Tasting at Delaplane Cellars

On Saturday, 10 March, I had the pleasure of being invited to Delaplane Cellars for a barrel tasting.  The event was hosted by owner and winemaker Jim Dolphin.  The guests included a group of local wine bloggers...great idea, invite some wine writers, introduce new wines, and let us run off to say nice things.  This idea matched perfectly with my cardboard sign I use while working the intersections in DC -  “Will work for food...with a nice wine pairing...a Bordeaux blend is preferred.”  Jim came through with a grand slam on the Bordeaux blend - so I am working.

This was my first opportunity to sample wine in a barrel tasting format.  Quite honestly, I did not know what to expect.  Would the tasting foretell of wonderful things to come (but not quite ready)? How would the wine taste in comparison to bottled wine?  Along with answering these questions, I learned a great deal at this event.  My number one takeaway was that Delaplane Cellars will soon be bottling wines that not only live up to the wonderful wines that have preceded them, but are pressing forward with releases that exceed past performance.

Here are the wines we tasted:

  • 2010 Delaplane (Merlot 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 33 13%, Cabernet Franc 16 ⅔%)
  • 2010 Williams Gap (Cabernet Sauvignon 31%, Merlot 30%, Cabernet Franc 27%, Petit Verdot 12%)
  • 2010 Springlot (Cabernet Sauvignon 29%, Cabernet Franc 40%, Merlot 17%, Petit Verdot 14%)
  • 2010 Syrah
  • 2010 Tannat (with a special appearance by the 2009 Tannat for comparison)
  • 2011 Petit Manseng Late Harvest

Each of the Bordeaux blends (first three) were exceptional.  However, both Chef Sue and I were in unqualified agreement that the 2010 Williams Gap was the star of the show.  If Jim had offered to accept my grossly overburdened credit card, I would have pre-ordered a case on the spot.  When Delaplane Cellars releases this wine, I encourage you to race to the winery and make your purchase.  Once the word gets out, this wine will sell quickly.

I have a couple of bottles of the 2009 Williams Gap in my cellar and am quite pleased with it.  However, the resemblance between the 2009 and 2010 Williams Gap ends at the name.  In my opinion, the 2010 is a far superior wine and a real pleasure to drink.  As I was enjoying it, my mind was already wandering to food pairing.  This wine is exceptionally food friendly with deep, silky rich flavors and well balanced acidity...a food pairing dream.

Another standout of the tasting, and quite possibly an equal to the Williams Gap (althought completely different flavor profile), was the 2010 Tannat.  I recently tasted the Delaplane Cellars 2009 Tannat and found it to be a wonderful wine.  However, with tannins still running a bit strong, I decided to let it cellar for a couple years with the promise of something spectacular.  The 2010 Tannat features more restrained tannins and is drinking well now.  Like its older brother, the 2010 will likely mature nicely over the next few years - if you can resist the temptation of a wine that is drinkable today.

In addition to tasting and learning about the upcoming wines from Delaplane Cellars, I learned a good deal from my fellow wine writers.  As we were chit-chatting and getting to know each other (and our slices of the wine pie) I found that I was in good company, but held a slightly different view of wine.  Most of the attending wine writers were honest-to-god oenophiles. Their depth and breadth of knowledge regarding Virginia wines, vintages, challenges, specific vineyards, aspect, alliances, grudges, politics, climate, etc., far exceeded my own and was quite impressive.  

In complement to their devotion, understanding, and reporting on the details of the Virginia wine industry, I focus on pairing.  While I certainly enjoy and appreciate this depth of understanding, my focus is that of finding great wines to pair with great food.  Don’t get me wrong, I love wine for its solitary beauty, but my holy grail is discovering the perfect match that sums to a combination greater than its parts.  Gratefully, my fellow writers appreciated my approach to wine as much as I appreciated their impressive knowledge.  They were each exceedingly pleasant and offered to assist in my search for the best of Virginia wines.  Stand by, I will be introducing my new friends in future posts.

Toward the end of the evening, I had the pleasure of spending a few moments talking with Betsy, Jim’s partner in crime and self proclaimed kitchen honcho (she used another term, but I have enjoyed some of her work, and will not let her get away with such self-deprication).  During our brief conversation, I mentioned to Betsy my appreciation of the seriousness they apply to their wine making - one aspect of which is reflected in an elegant and understated label.  Little did I know, but this minor compliment sparked a lengthy discussion of the difficulties associated with labeling.  I will avoid all the bloody details, but I learned a great deal of the difficulty in producing a wine label that adheres to the standards of integrity at Delaplane.

In short, all of Delaplane Cellar’s wines are named and labeled with the vineyard that produced the fruit.  This stands in stark contrast to wineries that do not make clear the source, or possibly even import fruit or juice from around the country or the world while not informing the consumer.  Delaplane cellars also labels with the percentage of each varietal used in their blends...not a common feature (particularly for those who have something to hide).  I came away with a new appreciation for the difficulty (mostly regulatory) in producing a wine label with the standard of integrity at Delaplane Cellars.  I appreciate the cost and effort, and hope the regulators will mature into a reasoned approach that allows Virginia wineries to be forthright with consumers while not imposing undue burden.

Finally, I would like to thank Jim and Betsy Dolphin (and of course Jacqui!) for a wonderful evening.  It was educational, fun, and most of all, very tasty.  Thank you.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


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