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Purcellville's Otium Cellars: My "Find" of the Year


Joe H
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Virginia wine.

German red.

2011 Vintage in the Mid Atlantic.

Purcellville.

What other simple description can I offer to characterize a wine and a winery where several words create an image that people are not inclined to move forward from?

Yesterday my wife and I deadheaded to Bluemont Vineyards which, arguably, has Virginia's most spectacular view:  50+ miles halfway up the side of a mountain with the Monument, on a clear day, in the far distance.

I made a wrong turn.  Somewhere on a backroad which Virginia describes as a "scenic byway" I saw a sign for Otium Cellars.   Having already made several wrong turns we thought we'd make another one and at least take a look at it.  My wife googled their website on her I Phone http://www.otiumcellars.com/  and they described themselves as a "hillside vineyard."  Very few pictures, little information-nothing to really sell me on visiting it, other than we were only a few miles away.

And, at least I could ask for directions if nothing else.

Otium Cellars is a year old winery outside of Purcellville owned by a Bavarian.  His passion is wine, his wife's passion are horses.  We didn't meet either of them...but we tasted his wine.

Dornfelder is a German grape that is now common in Germany.  At its best it is a medium bodied, smooth red at a modest price point.  Having travelled heavily in Germany for several decades it is also a grape that several friends have introduced me to when I suggested there was no such thing as a good German red.  Perhaps Reisling or TBA but not a red.

Besides, Bayern Munich sells E 7 a bottle Dornfelder in their gift shops.  One of their gift shops is only a few doors down from the Hofbrauhaus which is perhaps the largest beer hall in the world.  A common American perception is that one should drink beer in Germany.  Certainly not red wine.

In Baiersbronn my German friends proved me wrong.  With several bottles.  Of red.

The owner of Otium transplanted Dornfelder rootstock to Virginia several years ago believing that it would make a good red wine given the challenging conditions.  He also built an absolutely beautiful winery with a remarkable open sided wine bar literally in the middle of his vineyard.  You can sit and sip his Dornfelder around a fire pit with grapes growing only several feet away.  You are out in the open surrounded by vines.  I felt that I could almost reach out and pick a cluster of grapes...

I actually preferred this to the 50 mile view at Bluemont which we went to later in the afternoon.  Bluemont is breathtakingly beautiful but there is something to be said for grapes almost at arm's length. Especially with a glass in the hand at the end of the other arm.

His Dornfelder:  a $32 wine (15% case discount from this) that with 15-20 minutes opens to a very smooth, silky, fruit forward medium bodied wine.  Only 12.5% alcohol but absolutely delicious.  Truly a velvety texture that I am sipping as I type this.  For everything that is suppose to be wrong about a German red grape in Virginia in a terrible vintage this wine, 18 months in barrel, is disproving.  When the bottle is first opened there is a hint of the Virginia herbaceous terroir but this almost vanishes after a few minutes.  My wife who usually hates the big jammy, alcoholic wines that I typically love actually asked me to pour a second glass.  She could drink it!  It really was that smooth.  In fact the thought occurred to me that I should have bought another bottleor two of Dornfelder on our German visits instead of all of the big Spanish and Veneto wines which she wouldn't take a second sip of.

The next day I opened another bottle and let it sit 20 minutes.  Every bit as good.  In fact a good friend who usually resists my big reds enjoyed it, too.

I believe it is the most surprising wine that I have had this year.  The only negative is that there were only two glasses left for me...

I am passionate about Delaplane, Glen Manor and Linden and now add Otium to my list.  We have close friends who last week visited from Ohio.  We spent the afternoon at both Linden and Delaplane with dinner at the Ashby Inn.  (RDV was on an August vacation...) When our friends return in the Fall I will introduce them to Glen Manor...and Otium.  Linden Avenius, Delaplane Williams Gap, RDV Lost Mountain and Glen Manor Hodder Hill all speak well for Virginia red (or anyone's red) as does '09 Barboursville Octagon.  In its own unique way with Shenandoah and Bavarian influences I am now adding Otium Dornfelder to that list.

And, if you sip it by the firepit in the middle of the vineyard....

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Only 12.5% alcohol but absolutely delicious.

I don't understand why a 12.5% wine being delicious is a surprise? This is an honest question, I know we don't have the same taste in wines, but does higher alcohol really equate to better tasting in certain wines?

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I don't understand why a 12.5% wine being delicious is a surprise? This is an honest question, I know we don't have the same taste in wines, but does higher alcohol really equate to better tasting in certain wines?

When I'm buying a wine that I don't know, 13% is the beginning of my upper-bound alcohol limit (assuming I don't get assurance from the salesperson that the wine is "light on its feet.") I really think alcohol begins to dominate the flavors at 13% (I know that sounds arbitrary, but based on many years of experience, that has evolved as my personal threshold), 13-14% is the warning zone, and over 14% ... it better be Amarone or Port.

Just to put it in perspective, I've never had a Sine Qua Non that I wanted to finish a single five-ounce glass of.

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When I'm buying a wine that I don't know, 13% is the beginning of my upper-bound alcohol limit (assuming I don't get assurance from the salesperson that the wine is "light on its feet.") I really think alcohol begins to dominate the flavors at 13% (I know that sounds arbitrary, but based on many years of experience, that has evolved as my personal threshold), 13-14% is the warning zone, and over 14% ... it better be Amarone or Port.

Just to put it in perspective, I've never had a Sine Qua Non that I wanted to finish a single five-ounce glass of.

Ditto. What he said.

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Ditto. What he said.

The Dornfelder was a kind of wine that I typically would not favor:  medium bodied, lower alcohol, somewhat fruity and was not jammy or mouth coating.  (i.e. syrah, shiraz, better CA cab or WA cab, etc.).  For VA my single favorite wine in the entire state is Delaplane's Williams Gap.  Second is the '08 Petit Verdot from Glen Manor.  Both are around 15% alcohol-both big, take over the moment kind of wines.  Breaux Nebbiolo is like this, too. (This is one of my favorite wines by the way, almost unknown and only available at the winery.  The negative is that it is $58.) Then, I would have the smoother more blanced, perhaps somewhat restrained Hodder Hill, Hardscrabble, Octagon, RDV Lost Mountain '09.

Dornfelder is different, just a really enjoyable sipping wine that I liked.  Part of my reaction is that I had not expected to like it at all.  There was just too much going against it.  Yet a half hour after opening and into my second glass, I thought this was a wine which had won me over.

I must confess the setup at Otium is special:  the open firepit with the encircling wine bar and absolute lack of any walls:  you are literally seated on sofas or standing under a wood frame roof that is wide open to weather, temperature, perhaps a nearby horse that wants to gallup by.  There was character in the vineyard-a place to sit and spend a bit of time in.  Sipping on an easy going wine, the Dornfelder.

To be honest:  a place in time; all was right with the world.

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I don't understand why a 12.5% wine being delicious is a surprise? This is an honest question, I know we don't have the same taste in wines, but does higher alcohol really equate to better tasting in certain wines?

It is to Joe H who likes his wines big and full-bodied (in the wine world, body tends to refer to the alcohol content so full-bodied is high in alcohol). ;)

Don said it very well, so I'll just say that alcohol levels are a personal preference. New world wines (CA, NZ, Australia, South Africa, etc.) as a general rule tend toward higher alcohol and more fruit from grapes that are more fully ripened at harvest so if you like those styles of wines more than European wines I would say for you higher alcohol equates to better tasting wines. But many people find those types of alcohol levels overwhelming. Your palate can get fatigued and the wines are less likely to pair well with food.

I agree overall with Don's numbers. One thing you also have to keep in mind is that the number on the bottle isn't necessarily accurate. Alcohol levels vary in wine throughout the process so that number is essentially a snapshot. Quite often the level is even higher than what's on the label.

Having said all of that, thanks for mentioning this place Joe H. I am going to put it on my radar as a place to check out.

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It is to Joe H who likes his wines big and full-bodied (in the wine world, body tends to refer to the alcohol content so full-bodied is high in alcohol). ;)

Don said it very well, so I'll just say that alcohol levels are a personal preference. New world wines (CA, NZ, Australia, South Africa, etc.) as a general rule tend toward higher alcohol and more fruit from grapes that are more fully ripened at harvest so if you like those styles of wines more than European wines I would say for you higher alcohol equates to better tasting wines. But many people find those types of alcohol levels overwhelming. Your palate can get fatigued and the wines are less likely to pair well with food.

I agree overall with Don's numbers. One thing you also have to keep in mind is that the number on the bottle isn't necessarily accurate. Alcohol levels vary in wine throughout the process so that number is essentially a snapshot. Quite often the level is even higher than what's on the label.

Having said all of that, thanks for mentioning this place Joe H. I am going to put it on my radar as a place to check out.

By the way, did you know that the owner of Delaplane visited Black Ankle seven or eight weeks ago?

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