Is There Hope for Maryland Wines?

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Where? | Posted on 08-04-2011

Last week while we were nervously reviewing last minute details for our WSET Advanced Exam, I mentioned to a couple of my classmates that I had spent the weekend in Maryland – dining at Volt restaurant in Frederick and visiting several nearby wineries.

“So, is there any hope for Maryland wine???” – Classmate

“Well, one was really fun and surprisingly good.” – Me

“You must be talking about Black Ankle.” – Another Classmate, overhearing us from across the room

It’s true. The trip to Black Ankle was definitely the highlight of our winery stops. I’d tried their wines at an event in DC last year and also read the September 2010 New York Times article about Maryland wines, which mentioned them and others. Since then I’d been curious to check out the Maryland wine experience.

Below are my impressions:


1) Black Ankle Serious, Yet Innovative & Friendly

Tasting Bar @ Black Ankle

The tasting room at Black Ankle is surrounded by gently sloping hills covered in vines. The landscape here is more of an experience than the other places we visited, likely because Black Ankle grows all their own grapes right on the property. The tasting room is inviting, social, AND really cool — ~90% of the materials used for the building were sourced on site. For example, they used their own clay & wood…and even the bar countertop is made from their grape vines. Very cool idea and a way to make the new place feel very much a part of the terroir. Although the tasting room was relatively busy and crowded, the service was smiling, informative, and friendly.

Now, onto the wines, which were more deliberate and serious with more of an old-world style. Here are a few highlights of what we sampled:

  • 2010 Gruner Veltliner – spicy white pepper and a musky scent, light and refrshing on the palate; short, but refreshing finish.
  • 2010 Passeggiata – my favorite of all the wines – I wish I’d bought more than one bottle, especially because mine was corked when I got home :(; light and cinamonny on the nose, soft tannins, a wonderful earthiness, and fresh ripe red berries on the palate; “passeggiata” means evening stroll in Italian and I could easily imagine grabbing a lightly chilled glass of this and ambling around.
  • 2008 Crumbling Rock – their flagship wine, but I actually liked the less expensive Passeggiata best; black currants, plum, and cab/merlot characteristics on the nose; more earth, leather, and a slight herbal note on the palate. A well-balanced wine with good acidity that potentially would improve with age.
  • Terra Dulce I – boozy wine (my DD boyfriend had to pace himself on this one) with a kazillion grapes – Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Chardonnay, Albarino, Gruner V, AND Muscat!!! Produces a wine with raisin, blackberry, and carmelized brown sugar.

2) Loew Vineyards Old American & Endearing

Loew Vineyards has a small tasting room that has a very antique, quilts-hanging-on-the-wall, dog-taking-a-nap in the corner feel. There probably weren’t any quilts, but you know what I mean. The tasting room staff reminded me of kind, down-home grandparents.

Adding to the Americana vibe of the tasting room, we found that many of their wines, both sweet and dry, were made from the American vitis labrusca or from fruits other than vitis vinifera grapes. I don’t have specific tasting notes on our samples, but these were wines that your grandparents, who aren’t huge wine drinkers, might enjoy: light, fruity, and with incredibly soft tannins. Even the wine that, according to our tasting guide, “begs for a steak” was quite mellow. We brought home a bottle of their Apples & Honey wine, partly out of curiosity, partly because we just couldn’t say no to the sweet grandparents.

3) Elk Run Laidback and Local

As we walked into the Elk Run tasting room, a local husband/wife singing duo was setting up their stools and guitars to provide music and entertainment for visitors. A small crowd had gathered around them, relaxing at tables with bottles of Rose and glasses. Elk Run makes a LOT of wine and seems to be in the experimentation stage, with several promising tries. We didn’t end up bringing any bottles home, but I’d definitely visit again. Many of the wines adhered to more old-world profiles and I think would be fun to pair with food.

    Thanks for a fun trip, Maryland!

Comments (2)

  1. I think you assessment is spot on about Elk Run. They produce a lot of wines, some are better than others. I particularly like their Riesling, but maybe because it reminds me of Finger Lakes versions from New York or semi-dry attempts from California.

  2. Great post! I think Loew Vineyards wines, although sweeter, fly a little under the radar. I’m glad you enjoyed Black Ankle – they no longer pour at festivals, so you can only taste at the winery – but then, a bottle of Black Ankle isn’t much of a gamble.