Stinson Vinyards is a family-owned estate in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Their publicity material is emblazoned with the slogan "Life is best savored in small batches." It's a catchphrase worth remembering, and one to which they adhere. Small-batch wines with a flair for the French is their specialty.
The father/daughter team of Scott and Rachel Stinson get inspiration from the garagistes of. France, and they implement that inspiration literally. Their small winery is located in a three-car garage. Rachel, the winemaker, tinkers with the wines minimally, preferring to let the grapes put their feet on the gas.
It's fitting that the Stinsons take a cue from French wine, since their vineyards and winery are located in the Monticello AVA of Central Virginia. Thomas Jefferson was a great fan of French wines, and tried his best - without success - to make wine in Virginia. I am sure he would be proud that they have been able to do with Virginia grapes what he could not.
Quoting from the Stinson website, "The first vines at Piedmont House [built in 1796] were planted over 40 years ago by the 'Father of Modern Virginia Wine,' Gabriele Rausse. Primarily consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the vineyard fell into disrepair through multiple changes in owners. After tearing the disease-ridden vines out on the recommendation of renowned viticulturist and vineyard consultant Lucie Morton, the long neglected soil has been returned to a growable state."
Five acres of the 12-acre estate are planted to grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat. Fruit sourced from other Virginia growers adds the complexity of different terroirs and microclimates to the wines.
This blend of Bordeaux grapes is 35% Merlot, 25% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. All four grapes come from growers in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and the label bears the Virginia AVA. The wine carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv and retails for $26. Aging took place in French oak over 14 months and about 30% of that oak was new. 260 cases were produced.
The winery says the 2011 vintage was difficult, with rain from tropical storms delaying ripening. These grapes from the northern part of the valley - a cool, dry microclimate - received less of that effect.
The Stinson Meritage is a deep ruby delight which wears its cool-weather markings proudly. The nose features blueberries riding all the way from Bordeaux on a worn leather saddle, and the longer you sniff, the more the leather has its way. A trace of funk winds in and out, but quite pleasantly. Take a sip and it's dark fruit, for sure, but throw in some black olives and anise for savory's sake. There is a smokey note on the fruity finish that lingers nicely.
This wine presents itself in fine fashion, with the tannic structure for steak and the complexity for sipping. Big aromas, big flavors, mouth-watering acidity and limited production make me scratch my head in wonder that it doesn't cost twice as much. The Stinsons say that it could benefit from a few years resting, and I suspect they are right. It's certainly good enough for my glass right now.
This wine is 100% Chardonnay grapes, which are French Dijon clones grown near Stinson Vineyards - at Mount Juliet Vineyard, a 50-plus acre plot. The fruit was plucked from the vines at two different times due to ripening inequality in separate vineyard blocks. None of the grapes were overly ripe at harvest, and minimal intervention was employed during vinification.
The wine has a restrained alcohol number of 13% abv and received partial malolactic fermentation. Aging took place over six and a half months in French oak, and only one-fifth of it was new. The wine was aged with the spent yeast still in it. Sur lie aging imparts more texture, weight, aromas and flavors to wine, only 200 cases were made and it sells for $22.
Monticello Chardonnay is a rich golden color. Its nose offers up a bouquet of flowers, but don't just think of roses or violets. These posies are stemmy and herbal with pineapple and an undertow of vanilla - quite a complex set of aromas. The flavors run from pears to apricots to fennel, with a distinct earthy quality weaving the palate into a tapestry of terroir. The crisp acidity is sufficient to make pairing with light dishes a natural.
It is not California Chardonnay by a long shot - not the soft buttery kind, nor the angular sort that lacks the softening power of oak. This wine brings those two sides of Chardonnay together in the middle, a product of its place. The longer I sip it, the more it reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc.
This rosé is made from 100% Mourvèdre grapes, soaked on their skins for 72 hours, fermented and aged in steel tanks. The wine is aged for three months on the lees (spent yeast) which imparts body and creaminess to the wine. A Rhônish 13% abv in alcohol, only 220 cases were produced, in keeping with the artisanal concept of the winery. The wine sells for $17 per bottle.
Intermittent rain during the 2012 harvest made ripening difficult for red grapes. The Mourvèdre - from Horton Vineyards in Virginia's Madison County - was harvested in early October, when the weather cooled and rains let up. Vineyard owner Dennis Horton is well-known to Virginia wine lovers. He planted some of the first Rhône varieties in the state in 1988.
Stinson Vineyards says their Monticello Rosé is styled after the pinks of the Southern Rhône, Bandol in particular. They're not just whistling La Marseillaise, either. It looks, smells and tastes like a Rhône wine. Strawberry and cherry aromas are filtered through a significant funky earthiness, while the flavors are soaked in minerality, too. The acidity is a delight, and the finish carries a bit of smoke with it. This is a serious rosé - there is certainly no mistaking it for White Zinfandel. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.
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