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Monday, January 25, 2016

Maryland's Winter Wine Showcase

There was a time when it was thought Maryland would become the wine-producing powerhouse in the mid-Atlantic region. Based on my recent observations, that prediction might still come to pass. There may only be 77 wineries in the entire state, but the elimination of political hurdles has cleared the way for expansion. In 2000, there were about a dozen Maryland wineries. Today there is a total of 77 and more than twenty of those opened in the last year. I think that qualifies as rapid growth.

I was invited by the Maryland Wineries Association to attend their Winter Wine Showcase on January 21st. The event was held in Baltimore at the B&O Railroad Museum, which is on the National Register of Historic places and is the oldest surviving railroad station in the United States. It is an amazing venue filled with railroad artifacts and the world’s largest collection of 19th-century locamotives. The museum is well curated and and filled with spectacular dioramas and displays. It made a perfect backdrop for showcasing Maryland wine.

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The Roundhouse at the C&O Museum 

Of course, a fabulous backdrop does not guarantee success. I have to give great credit to the Maryland Wineries Association for the organization of the actual event. It began with a sparkling wine reception spread throughout the Museum's anterooms. The quality of the sparklers set the tone and heightened anticipation of the main event. When the doors finally opened for the Roundhouse Tasting, visitors were ushered into a space what was planned and executed with thought given to every detail. Tables were at the center of the space and wines were poured at tables around the perimeter. Carving stations and hors d'oeuvres were interspersed among the tasting stations. A light jazz ensemble provided music. It lacked any semblance of a wine festival atmosphere.

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 Sparkling wines on ice.

I want to emphasize that the event was a “showcase” in the true meaning of the word.  Wineries were asked to submit their best wines. Each wine was then evaluated and 37 of the states finest examples, produced by only 17 wineries, were selected for presentation. So the Winter Wine Showcase demonstrated to all in attendance the level of quality that can be achieved in Maryland. All of the wines were simply exceptional with many bordering on world class.

There were too many wines to review and, in any case, I did not take detailed tasting notes. I attended in an effort to capture an impression. I hesitate to mention specific wines at the exclusion of all the others that were equally amazing. I will say that there were a few things that stood out simply because they were unusual. During the reception, I tasted sparkling Albarino from Old Westminster Winery, Vidal Blanc from Crow Vineyard, and Chambourcin Rose from Knob Hall. All of these get extra points for being out of the ordinary. Among the still wines Black Ankle Vineyards was pouring a Gruner Veltliner and Old Westminster Winery was pouring their Albarino. These were each great wines, but the big surprise for me was a Vignoles from Linganore Winecellars. I had no idea that hybrid was capable of such a complex and balanced white wine.

 Wine against a railroad backdrop.

Among the reds, I tasted several excellent Cabernet Francs. Other real standouts were the Thanksgiving Farm Reserve Heritage and the Crow Vineyard Barbera Reserve. The biggest surprise of the night was the Malbec from Big Cork Vineyards. I have tasted a few from the mid Atlantic and all tended to be on the light side. This one was big like an Argentine Malbec and easily the best example I have tasted on the East Coast. I could go on and I realize that I have overlooked some equally great wines, but I think you get the picture.

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 Guests enjoying the evening.

The event was a bit pricey at $65 dollars for the Roundhouse Tasting and another $15 for the reception. Having said that, the price seemed to limit the crowd to serious oenophiles and there were no public displays of drunkenness. In the end, the tasting was open to anyone willing pay the price and everyone appeared to enjoy themselves. All that aside, did I mention the wine? I will tell you that I came away a fan and I am inspired to explore and write about Maryland in greater detail over the next few years. I was telling a wine-writer friend in Los Angles about the event and she was surprised to learn that they made wine in Maryland. Let me say for the record that they are not just making wine, they are making great wine. If you have not tried it, it is time you did.