My experience tasting wines made in the U.S. state of Virginia is very limited. I first tasted Virginia wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) we attended in Portland several years ago. It was our first WBC and I was overwhelmed by the variety (and sheer number) of wines we tasted during the event, not to mention the number of people we met. So, I don’t have a detailed a recollection of those Virginia wines.
Being the curious wine drinker that I am, I welcome most opportunities to taste wines I’m unfamiliar with. Enter #VAWineChat, an online chat featuring Virginia wines. Participants are sent tasting samples, then gather together to view a live video of the conversation between host Frank Morgan, (@DrinkWhatULike on Twitter), and the winery whose wines participants are sipping. Recently we shared our comments and impressions on Twitter using #VaWineChat as we sipped three wines from Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg, Virginia. The conversation was fast moving and wide ranging.
2016 Stone Tower Winery Sauvignon Blanc — pale yellow-green in the glass with aromas of fresh-cut oat hay and ripe melons. Fresh-cut oat hay, tangerine and Honeydew melon flavors marry nicely with a lingering minerality. The wine carries a bit of weight and roundness in the mouth and nice acidity. Flavors last a long time. 13.5% abv. $40
This Sauvignon Blanc is more tropical than grassy, which appeals to my palate. I appreciate the roundness in the mouth, which is not that common in my experience with Sauvignon Blanc and, while the acidity is adequate, it is not a searingly-acidic Sauvignon Blanc. The key to this wine’s complexity lies in the vineyard and winemaking details.
Stone Tower estate Sauvignon Blanc is planted over seven acres to eight French clone-rootstock combinations. The 2016 vintage is blended with 10% Sémillon and fermented in a combination of stainless steel tank and oak barrels. 70% was aged in oak ( a combination of French and American, mostly used) and 30% in concrete egg. So, not your average stainless steel fermented/aged Sauvignon Blanc.
There are plans for a 2016 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. 250 barrels were held back to be aged 18 months in neutral oak barrels before bottling. Bet that will be an interesting wine.
2016 Stone Tower Winery Viognier — light yellow in the glass with primarily dusty minerals, hints of spice and vanilla aromas. The flavors are delicate with primarily white flowers, dusty minerality and hint of citrus pith and vanilla. The wine carries a bit of weight and finishes with juicy acidity. 14.1% abv. $40
Viognier must have a special place in the hearts of the Huber family, the owners of Stone Tower Winery, it is the first vineyard they planted in 2009. This Viognier contains 3-4% Roussanne, added to augment the flavor profile of Viognier. Skin contact (24 hours) aids in flavor and texture development along with barrel fermentation and aging. All French oak is used, about 30% new, to contribute complexity. Lees aging with monthly bâtonnage is performed for good measure.
I don’t often drink Viognier because I find them highly variable in quality and mostly not very interesting. This Stone Tower Viognier is a happy exception to my usual experience, however. It really is delicious. Sip it on its own or pair it with something creamy and rich.
2014 Stone Tower Winery Wind Swept Hill — dense ruby-garnet in the glass. Complex aromas of leather, red fruit and smoke are followed by red and dark fruit flavors, leather, tobacco and damp earth. Bright red fruit flavors and tobacco flavors linger along with tannins that have a bit of grip, but are integrated with the flavors. The finish is moderate in length and the body is on the lighter side of medium. 14% abv. $65
The Right Bank wines of Bordeaux are the inspiration for this red blend. 31% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Petit Verdot are fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak. Aging takes place in 80% French oak and 20% American oak for 20 months.
I appreciate the relatively low alcohol level of this lovely red wine and find it easy to sip on its own. I am not much of a red wine drinker in hot weather, but this red wine would be perfect on a warm afternoon. It has plenty of depth and complexity but not the heaviness that comes with many red wines. Beef stroganoff over cauliflower rice was a delicious pairing for us.
The Take Aways
Stone Tower Winery has a relatively short history, but a lot has been accomplished in a short period of time. The current 200-plus-acre farm now has two tasting rooms along with event spaces in addition to the country home which was the only structure present in the early 2000s when the project began.
The property is located on Hogback Mountain an area that is hilly, rocky and windy which is beneficial in a region that received a significant amount of precipitation. The Stone Tower Winery website lists 12 varieties that are currently planted, and at least one more variety was mentioned during the chat that is not on the list.
The goal at Stone Tower has always been to produce estate wines so, with that goal in mind, soil specialists and viticulturists were consulted before the current 70 acres of vineyards were planted beginning in 2009. Ultimately about 100 acres will be planted. Every attempt has been made to match the aspect, slope and soil type with the most appropriate grape varieties.
The quality of all three of these wines is very good. I was surprised by the cost of the wines, however. $40 for Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier is a tough sell, even for someone like me who is a white wine fan, and $65 for the Wind Swept Hill puts these wines in the special occasion category rather than the everyday drinking category for me.
These are well-crafted wines made with attention to detail in the vineyard and the winery. French oak barrels are expensive. Some vintages 2/3 of the fruit is green harvested (a process of fruit thinning that drops a portion of the fruit to concentrate the vine’s efforts on ripening a smaller, but higher quality crop.) These practices can increase quality, but decrease the amount of wine that can be produced.
Stone Hill Winery also produces a range of value wines called Wild Boar Cellars made from non-estate grapes.
If you are curious about wines made in Virginia the wines of Stone Tower Winery are a good place to start. All three of these wines are delicious. Like it says on every cork, “Joy in Every Bottle!”