Field Trip: Naked Mountain Vineyards

I’ve visited a ton of Virginia wineries over the years.  But I’ve only been writing this blog for a few short months, so I’m gradually revisiting favorites, not so favorites, and new wineries so I can blog the experience.   According to Virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in Virginia.  Visiting all of them is starting to sound like Mission Impossible.  But I’ll do my best . . . 

DSCN5021Drink Naked!  It’s just a suggestion, but it’s easily one of the best winery slogans ever.  I mean, if your winery is named Naked Mountain, you gotta have some fun with it, right?

Last week, self-proclaimed cellar rat, Aaron Menenberg, invited me to come out and do a tasting with him and Naked Mountain winemaker, Seth Chambers.  Being able to taste wine and bend the ears of cellar rats and winemakers is a unique tasting experience, so it didn’t take any arm-twisting to get me out there.  That said, it had been years (maybe even double-digit years) since I’d last tasted at Naked Mountain. The first vines were planted at Naked Mountain in 1976, but in the last 3 years, Naked Mountain has seen both the arrival of new owners (Randy and Meagan Morgan), and a new winemaker (Seth Chambers).  Seth came to Naked Mountain in 2011 via Pearmund Cellars and Phillip Carter Winery.

There is an actual Naked Mountain in Virginia — it’s one of the peaks of the Blue Ridge, and it has an oxygen-rich elevation of 1,470 ft (450 m).  The Mr. Armchair Sommelier is from the west coast, so he’s quick to remind me that the Blue Ridge are hills, not mountains.  But don’t worry, Blue Ridge, you’ll always be mountains to me!

John Marshall, the 4th Chief Justice of the United States, is rumored to have once owned part of the Naked Mountain property.  The genealogist in me would love to investigate further, but in the interest of getting this post published before the next presidential election, I need to let it rest.

But, the former history teacher in me is compelled to share this gem of a story from the Supreme Court Historical Society:

When the Court met in Washington, the Justices stayed in a boardinghouse – – the trip was too long, the session too short for their wives to accompany them — and Marshall’s geniality brightened their off-duty hours.

Justice Joseph Story handed down a tale still told at the Court. On rainy days the Judges would enliven their conferences with wine; on other days Marshall might say, “Justice Story, step to the window and see if it doesn’t look like rain.”  If the sun was shining, Marshall would order wine anyway, since “our jurisdiction is so vast that it might be raining somewhere.”

I think Justice Marshall and I would have gotten along just fine.  And I’m pretty sure he’d approve of grapes growing on Naked Mountain.  But enough with historical tangent.

Back to the winery . . .

The tasting room at Naked Mountain was designed to mimic a European ski chalet . . . and they totally nailed it.  I half expected to see a ski lift out the tasting room window.  There’s a lovely wrap-around deck with outdoor seating, as well as several other areas around the property where you can relax and enjoy a wine picnic.  Naked Mountain has plans to expand and redesign the tasting room in the very near future, so keep an eye out for changes.

With the new owners came a redesign of the Naked Mountain wine label.  The new label retains the hawk from the original label, but gives him a sleek makeover.  The straight lines of his wings represent rows of vineyards, and the center of the hawk is a wine glass silhouette.  I love both the simplicity and the symbolism.

The tasting fee is $10 at Naked Mountain, and here’s the line-up . . .

Petit Manseng 2012 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
100% Petit Manseng.  Right out of the starting gate, this is an impressive wine.  Tropical nose, banana dominates.  Crisp and bone dry, there’s a sherry quality to it that I just love.  Finish lingers and lingers.  Really, really digging this wine.  Enough to take 3 bottles home with me.  $24.

Interesting side note:  Seth says there’s been an increase in demand for Albariño in Virginia.  I know Chrysalis does an Albariño, and I believe Ingelside does, too.  But keep your eyes peeled for that variety to show up with more and more regularity at Virginia wineries.

Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/87
100% Chardonnay.  Chardonnay is Naked Mountain’s flagship wine.  It’s widely distributed throughout Virginia — you can even find it at Costco. Goldilocks oak on this wine — not too much, not too little . . . just right.  The oak enhances the wine, rather than clobbering it.  Soft and buttery, flavors of apple and pear.  $21.

Chardonnay/Riesling 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
75% Chardonnay, 25% Riesling.  Interesting — here’s a blend I don’t run across very often. Color me curious.  Typical Riesling notes of stone fruit and mineral peek through the tropical wave of Chardonnay.  $22.

Chardonnay Reserve 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/88
Single vineyard, Middleburg AVA.  They didn’t make very much of this wine, and it’s not usually available for tasting.  Seth pulled this out of his secret winemaker stash for us to taste. Beautiful, restrained use of oak.  Loaded with apple, pear and almond notes.

I asked Seth about single variety vs. blends in Virginia red wines.  Seth says there’s not one single grape that really shines on its own in Virginia, so, as a winemaker, his focus is definitely red blends.

Catamount Run Red 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/85
59% Cabernet Franc, 37% Merlot, 4% Norton.  A lightweight red, reminds me of a Beaujolais Nouveau.  Definitely a gateway red — for those who are just dipping their toes into “real red” waters.  Carbonic maceration.  Green pepper notes, spice and raspberry finish.  $18.

Cabernet Franc 2011 ⭐⭐/84
80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot.  Seth reminded me that 2011 was a “challenging” vintage for Cab Franc in Virginia.  Medium body.  Aaron had the quote of the afternoon with this observation:  “Cab Franc is a wine that doesn’t lie about where it’s from.”  Cranberry and tar, tar, tar.  $22.

Cabernet Franc 2010 ⭐⭐⭐/88
Seth pulled another bottle out of his secret winemaker stash for me to taste, and Oh My Bacchus, what a difference!!  The 2010 Cab Franc is full and soft and round.  This could be a master class in the difference vintage can make!

Raptor Red 2011 ⭐⭐⭐/88
43% Cabernet Franc, 19% Petit Verdot, 19% Tannat, 13% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A Bordeaux-style blend.  The heaviest of the reds we tasted, yet tame tannins.  Cherry and pomegranate flavors.  I’m certain this wine is even better with food.  $26.

Old Vine Riesling 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
100% Riesling.  The 38 year old vines that are used for this wine are all tapped out.  They’ve been removed and replanted, so if you’re hoping for more of this wine, you’ll have to wait a few years for the babies to grow.  Light and decently balanced.  3-4% residual sugar.  $22 for 375ml.

SOAR ⭐⭐⭐/85
This is a Solera style dessert wine.  Solera is a style of blending where wine from older vintages is saved and blended with wine from newer vintages.  Half is bottled and half is saved for the next year.  It reminds me of a sourdough bread-starter concept — use a little, save a little. Very port-like, with coffee & caramel flavors.  $35.

Naked Mountain has four wines in their popular Drink Naked line.  The wine names are a fun play on the Drink Naked theme, and they are designed to be super-approachable, light and easy to drink — think patio wines.  All four of the wines lean to the sweet side, and because my palate tends to reject sweet wines, I only tasted two of the four — and I didn’t rate them.  But I predict all 4 will be big sellers this spring and summer.

Birthday Suit
73% Chardonnay, 20% Seyval Blanc, 7% Videal Blanc
I didn’t taste this one, but I’m told it’s light, easy and the driest of the bunch.  $18.

Skinny Dipper
90% Vidal Blanc, 10% Chardonnay
I didn’t taste this one either, but it’s fun to say Skinny Dipper, isn’t it?  $18.

Make Me Blush
79% Cabernet Franc, 9% Vidal Blanc, 8% Merlot, 4% Norton
An off-dry Rosé, definitely more toward the sweeter side of the Rosé spectrum.  Strawberry and watermelon . . . uncomplicated.  $18.

Red Light Red 2012
33% Norton, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Tannat, 12 % Merlot.  Definitely sweet.  Cranberry with a kick.  Would rock a batch of Sangria.  $20.

Naked Mountain may not be the biggest or the flashiest winery in Virginia, but it’s clear they have a renewed energy and commitment to winemaking as craft.  Pull up a chair, grab a glass of wine . . . and sit a spell.

DSCN5011

Salud! 

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