Annapolis wine festival, Basignani, Boordy Vineyards, East Coast wine, Great Frogs Winery, Great Shoals Winery, Maryland wineries, Solomons Island Winery, St. Michael's Winery, The Hideaway Odenton, wine
I don’t judge wine based on price. I’ve had plenty of good wines that cost less than $15, and even some that were under $10. But regardless of price, I expect the wine I drink to taste good, to have balance, body, and complexity, and above all, to not make me gag.
Sadly, most Maryland wine I’ve tasted does not pass this test. Living in DC, the only opportunities for me to drink local wine are to visit Virginia and Maryland. I wasn’t impressed with Virginia, as you can read about Virginia Wine Country if you missed it. The Annapolis Arts, Crafts & Wine Festival was held June 6-7, so my husband and I decided to check it out and experience some Maryland wines.
The festival is held in a grassy area adjacent to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium parking lot. It’s every bit as picturesque as you might imagine a parking-lot-adjacent field would be. There was no shaded area, aside from immediately under the vendor tents, and no seating area. So it wasn’t the most welcoming atmosphere.
It also was not the best environment for thoughtful evaluation of wines. The lines at each winery’s tent were excessively long. The pourers want you to get through your wines as quickly as possible so they can move on to the next group waiting behind you. I had to make mental notes as I was tasting, and then write everything down while we were standing in line for the next winery. All in all, it was a challenging tasting experience.
Our first stop was Great Shoals Winery, which wasn’t actually offering any wines, but rather ciders. This turned out to be a good thing, because the ciders were among the best things we tasted all day. Their Hard Peach Cider has just a hint of peach, but I found the finish to be a bit too acidic. The Hard Pear Cider was much better. It had just the amount of sweetness you expect in a cider, and you could really detect the pear aromas. The Whiskey Barrel Hard Apple Cider, which is fermented in used Bourbon barrels, was also very good and had a classic cider-y taste. I didn’t care for the Fresh Hard Apple Cider because it was overly sweet and too much like apple juice. But the Ginger Hard Apple Cider was delicious – probably my favorite of the bunch. It had just the right amount of gingery tang and bite, offset by the sweetness from the apples.
Next up was Basignani. I wish we had skipped this one. The wines were all terribly sweet. Their Vidal was essentially simple syrup – I really felt like I was just drinking sugar water, and not in a good way. If you like Riesling that tends toward the sweeter side (which I do not), then you would likely enjoy Basignani’s Riesling. It’s very honeyed and fruit-forward. The Monkton Moon is their blush offering, but I found it to be bland and unexciting. And the Marisa Dolce is a sweet red wine, three words that should never be put in a sentence together, and a wine that I hope never to put in my mouth again.
Great Frogs Winery fared somewhat, but not a lot, better. Their Pinot Gris tasted bitter and out of balance. The White Squall, which is a blend of Traminette, Vidal, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, was “not pleasant,” according to my notes. With no dump buckets provided, I had to dispose of that one onto the ground rather than take another sip. Their Chardonnay is unoaked, so I had a moment of hope, but it was bland and unflavorful. Same with Quiet Waters, which is a Merlot/Petit Verdot blend. How you can make a bland Petit Verdot is beyond me, but they succeeded. Their single-grape Petit Verdot was borderline appealing. It had nice tannins like you would expect from a PV, but I’ve had many significantly better Petit Verdots in my day. The last wine I tried was by far their best. It’s called Watermen and is a blend of Merlot, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. It was well-balanced and flavorful, with nice fruit and subtle tannins. One of the best wines I tasted all day.
After taking a break to wander around and look at the various arts and crafts, we found ourselves at the booth for St. Michael’s Winery. In this case, the first wine I tried was the best they had to offer. Their Pinot Gris had a good nose and was pleasant to drink, but it wasn’t as robust or flavorful as I would like a Pinot Gris to be. Their St. Michael’s White, although labeled semi-sweet, was really quite sweet, but nothing compared to their Gollywobbler Peach, which was basically peach nectar. Chilled and combined with sparkling wine, it would make an excellent Bellini. On its own though – no. My husband, who is a fan of Port, tried the Chocolate Zinfandel and deemed it not bad. It had overwhelming aromas of chocolate – I could smell it just standing next to him – and was syrupy sweet.
At this point in the day, we didn’t have high hopes that we would taste anything spectacular, but our last two wineries raised the bar somewhat. Solomons Island Winery started with a Sauvignon Blanc that really wasn’t bad. It had good crispness and acidity, and was pretty well-balanced. Their White Merlot was, unsurprisingly, too sweet. It’s possible to make a white or rosé wine from a red grape and not have the result be sweet. But apparently their White Merlot is aimed at the same people who like White Zinfandel. Blech. Solomons Island’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were both very drinkable. They were balanced and had nice aromas and the right level of tannins. The winery also had a line-up of sweet wines that we didn’t go anywhere near. But their dry wines were a pleasant surprise.
Our final winery was Boordy Vineyards, which we have actually visited before. On our first visit, we bought a bottle of their Pinot Grigio, which they weren’t tasting at the festival. We did, however, buy a bottle of their SCV – Seyval/Chardonnay/Vidal Blanc – which makes Boordy the only Maryland winery we’ve ever liked enough to actually take some home. They are the winner! The SCV has a sweet rose scent on the nose, but it doesn’t taste sweet. Rather, it is crisp and shows good fruit on the palate. Their Riesling also is very pleasant on the nose, but tends toward the sweet side with lots of honeysuckle. It’s a well-made Riesling, just not my style. I found the Rosé bland, and the Chambourcin/Merlot blend much too sweet. The Shiraz had good balance and a nice finish, with a little woodiness to it. Their Cabernet Franc is heavily tannic, as you would expect, but the overall wine was decent.
In summary, if you like sweet, nearly cloying wines, then Maryland is a great choice for you. Don’t ever come drink wine with me though, because I will judge you relentlessly. I would never, ever buy Maryland wine at a store. Why would I when there are so many other wonderful choices out there? But if Maryland wine were my only option (and thankfully I can’t think of any circumstances in which that would be the case), it’s good to know that there are a handful of wines that wouldn’t make me run for the hills.
After the festival we had dinner at The Hideaway in Odenton, which I highly recommend if you’re looking for really good barbecue. I mean really good barbecue. It’s reassuring to know I don’t have to go all the way to North Carolina to sate my pulled pork appetite. If you’re anywhere in the Baltimore/Annapolis/DC area, I recommend you check it out!