Maryland Wine Travel Guide
This is part two of our piece on the 2013 Drink Local Wine Conference held in Baltimore. Part one covered our experience at the conference and gave an overview of the MD wine scene. This article looks at which wineries to visit in MD.
From a tourist perspective, one might be most attracted to those Maryland wineries on the Eastern and Western shores of the Chesapeake Bay, but our experience suggested that those seeking the very best of MD wine should instead focus on Western Maryland, specifically the areas around Frederick and Westminster. With few exceptions, our favorite wines all came from this area, mostly at the convergence of the Frederick and Carroll Wine Trails. In addition, there are some interesting wines to be found in the Piedmont area north of Baltimore.
Heading south from the town of Westminster down MD-27, you’ll find two of our favorites, just miles apart. First up is Old Westminster, a new entry to the scene that generated quite a bit of buzz at the conference with their well-made reds and even better-looking family employees.
Not much further down the road is Serpent Ridge, who had one of the strongest conference showings. Their Basilisk, a blend of Cab Franc and Sauvignon, was lighter in style, but aromatic and crisp and perfect for a wide variety of foods. Serpent Ridge’s Vintners Cab (95% Cab Sauv, the rest Franc) was also one of our favorites of the show, with well-integrated oak and ripe fruit.
Continuing towards Frederick via MD-27 and then MD-26, you’ll find Black Ankle Vineyards, the winery with perhaps the state’s best reputation. As mentioned in part one, Black Ankle’s Ed Boyce knows his stuff, and was by far the most compelling speaker at the conference portion of this event. That said, neither of us was blown away by his wines; the 2010 Crumbling Rock, a Bordeaux-blend, was over-oaked, with vanilla and spice covering up any fruit, and the Albarino was a bit too austere, but that didn’t stop it from winning the prize for the show’s best white wine – proving we may not know what the heck we are talking about!
Just down a winding country road from Black Ankle lies Linganore Winery, and our best-in-show value ($11), the Terrapin White, a crisp, delicious, Alsatian-style wine that not only showcases Anthony Aellen’s mastery of winemaking, but also his understanding of the Maryland climate and marketplace. Considering he’s been making wine from this vineyard since the early 70s, it’s certainly no surprise.
About a half-hour south of Frederick, but certainly worthy of note, is Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, producer of EVOE!, a Bordeaux blend that took home best in show red honors – this one we agreed with – as well as an excellent Pinot Grigio. (Yep, you read that last part right.) Below is a video conversation with SMV owner Mike McGarry we recorded during the tasting:
Though admittedly we aren’t too familiar with the city of Frederick as a tourist destination, surely a great way to cap off a day of wine tasting in the region would be dinner at Volt, the highly-regarded restaurant from Top Chef-finalist Bryan Voltaggio, followed by a faceplant into the pillows of some local B&B.
Baltimore & Points North
Not far from the true center of Maryland wine – otherwise known as Robert Parker’s house in Monkton, a half-hour north of Baltimore – you’ll find Millstone Cellars, a producer of artisanal meads and ciders. Not wine per se, but interesting and different. For what it’s worth, Millstone seemed to be the booth that had the longest line throughout the conference tasting, although the young men pouring these beverages may have had something to do with that. (I found them dreamy.) In fairness, they did receive a best in show award for alternative wine, the Ciderberry Raspberry Cider.
Just up i83 from Monkton lies Woodhall Wine Cellars, and one of the more surprising standout wines of the conference – a Pinotage. This red grape, which is rarely found outside of South Africa, is often considered to be an acquired taste due to its unique ashy flavors, and is thus odd to find in a place like Maryland (which already has enough problems with perception). That said, winemaker Chris Kent told us that he wasn’t familiar with South African Pinotage when he initially started making the wine, so he just went on instinct, with no preconceived notions. What resulted is a lighter wine, featuring bright notes of strawberry and red cherries, and maybe just a touch of ash on the finish. Woodhall also poured a nicely made Port-style dessert wine.
On the western side of i83 lies Basignani Winery, and an even nicer Port, the Sinistra (which means “left” in Italian – the “port” side of a ship – get it?), which was quite smooth despite the high ABV. Basignani’s reds also showed promise, though we didn’t enjoy them as much as the velvety, integrated reds from Boordy Vineyards, located about equidistant from i83, i95 and i695 in Hydes, MD, about 20 minutes southwest of Monkton. (Also located in Hydes, about 2 minutes from Boordy, is DeJon Vineyard, who did not participate in the tasting.)
In conclusion, please do keep in mind that this guide is based on a tasting event we attended (in Baltimore) and the quality of wines at that event, not on visits to the wineries or their tasting rooms. Please be sure to check the website of each winery you plan to visit and confirm hours, dates, etc. before setting out.
Have you visited any Maryland wineries? If so, please share your experiences in the comments below.