Chenin Blanc definitely deserves its own day, just like Malbec. And good chenin blanc is amazing.
And so we begin Arterra’s second estate white wine release. Four wines made their debut today. Wine Friend 1, Wine Friend 2, and Wine Friend 2’s wife came with me. We packed lunches and got there shortly after opening so we could be sure to get prime seating/tasting.
Jason held this release tasting in the cellar. I love being down there with the barrels and equipment – it sets the right mood. He had the menu set up:
Winery business models fascinate me – Arterra runs relatively low production – probably in the neighborhood of 1000 cases per year, which doesn’t sound like much wine. But by focusing on high quality and quality assurance every step of the process, Arterra is producing very high quality wine at a reasonable price point. I bought a French chenin blanc at Wegman’s for $13, (and I will do a comparison with Arterra’s later), but I can’t tell you that the grapes were hand picked and looked over prior to pressing, fermenting, etc. Jason walks you through each step of the production, as well as talking about the growing season and his winemaking process, as you sample each wine.
The wines are, as is typical at Arterra, superb. The chenin blanc remains my #1 white wine they produce. The 2018 chenin presented with strong apple at the beginning of the taste, then fading into bright and crisp white fruit. I would love to have spicy thai food with this wine, or just drink it in the evening on the deck. This one tasted and felt a little more subdued than the 2017 did for me. Jason spoke about the impact of the super wet 2018 weather across all wines while we tasted, and I do wonder if that leads to some muting of the brightness? Jason also notes how hard it is to grow Chenin in Virginia because of the wetness, and Chenin is prone to rot. This wine is certainly worth the work!! Even though this was subtler than I recall the 2017 chenin (Jason, if you’re reading, a library tasting coming up would be amazing!!!), it’s still fantastic because it is crisp and that clean taste comes right through. While I thought I’d end up with a case, I did only bring eight home, because I thought I should leave some for the rest of you.
The second wine was the 2018 Roussanne. This is a grape that Arterra will expand. Jason notes that it is hardier than the Chenin, although it has to be planted at mid-elevations because of being prone to cold winter. This Roussanne had the same clear honey finish, although subtler than I recall (I still have one bottle of the 2017 so there will be another comparison tasting!). Throughout the sip there were subtle and pleasant flavors, although with the exception of the honey, I’m not sure I can name them. This is a white wine that I think will appeal to anyone, sweet, white or red wine drinker, because it really captures the best of all three without emphasizing any of them. That honey ending gives a hint of sweet that is very satisfying. Again, spicy food would rock this wine. Or vice versa. Four bottles came home with me.
The third tasting was the 2017 Chardonnay. I noted the most acidity in this one, but with plenty of bright fruit flavor. Like all of Arterra’s wines, that crisp and very clean fruit flavor comes through, which I now expect from them because of their low-intervention philosophy. Arterra’s Chardonnay is super-consistent and delightful from year to year. I enjoyed this one, and it remains one of my favorite Virginia Chardonnays. I didn’t bring any home this time, primarily because I know that the Chenin Blanc and Roussanne will sell out, and I want to get those in the collection – that chardonnay will continue to be on their menu into the fall. I feel that their 2015, 2016, and 2017 Chardonnay have all been outstanding, with consistent bright flavor and acidity.
The last tasting is the 2018 rose. Jason noted that there would be no cab franc or malbec from the 2018 harvest, as the wet season simply didn’t let those grapes express their potential. (Side note, he has teased a “Malbec Spritz” on instagram, which I cannot wait to taste! I was hoping it would be released now, but I suspect this waits until the fall reds). He shared that upon tasting the cabernet franc, he felt strongly that it would be a great rose, and he was right. This year’s rose is 82% cab franc, 9% petit verdot, and 9% petite syrah. This is a nice mix, with the pv and ps coming in nicely but the cab franc being the dominant grape in the mix. We had a bottle of the 2017 rose on the patio, as we love that malbec/pv mix too. The two are very different, the 2018 having lighter fruit flavors, but the crisp and clean taste you want after a hot day. Four of these came home with me for the late Spring nights on the deck, or for spending the weekend at the computer working on work work. There will be lots of this rose this summer, I expect.
WF1 and WF2 both bought plenty themselves. We all agreed that the Chenin was a big hit (though WF2 wife felt strongly that the chardonnay was the best white wine and successfully lobbied to take some home). I can honestly say that one of the reasons Arterra ranks so highly with me is that the price points for clean crafted wine are just outstanding – I’m happy to pay $30-$35 for this kind of quality. As we drove home and discussed other wineries, we stated that this was a big factor for us. While I have in the past mocked grocery store wine, I do feel that higher price points are reasonable for wine when you know more about process and quality levels.
So we grabbed a cold bottle of the 2018 chenin blanc and sat on the patio to enjoy our picnic lunches. The setting is so beautiful and relaxing. While storms were predicted, the sun did come out for a while so we could really enjoy the day. I think the Chenin and later rose cause some folks to do some namecalling like Grunty McSighPants, and I think those people may just need time to rethink their life choices. Just sayin’.
The art on display in the tasting room has rotated some and is showcasing some of the cool work Sandy is doing now too, featuring different takes on leaf bowls as well as the grape clusters, and some freehand drawings. Jars and vases continue to develop and show stems and vines pressed into them, giving some very cool texture. WF1 and I decided that we really do need to sign up for on of the art classes there so we can dig into that process too.
As these wines hit the tasting bar in the next two weeks or so, I urge you to get to Arterra and check them out. Be sure to bring your own lunch and enjoy it at the patio or picnic tables. Next time I also plan to take the walk in the woods back there too. The Chenin and Roussanne are likely to go quick, so get there soon if you want to have some of those. Both were gone by the late summer last year.
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