Maryland wine. Say it.. “Maryland wine.” Most people shudder or follow up with “oh, hell no”. I was one of those people to be quite honest. The only wine I had encountered from Maryland was produced concentrate or grapes from outside of the state or had enough sugar to make a diabetic quiver. After long overdue plans had finally solidified with our good friends Katey and Dan, they had made arrangements for a tour and tasting (appointment required) at Great Frogs Winery of Annapolis. We were very open to the experience as, quite frankly, we could have had a root beer tasting and had a good time.
After driving down some windy roads and passing lavish sub divisions, we pulled up to the winery. The vineyards stretched along the road leading you up to the parking area alongside their tasting room and production facility. The property that Great Frogs sits on was a former farm that surrounds the current tasting room, which was a tobacco barn at one point in time. The property itself is actually surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay, which benefits the vineyards with a nice ocean breeze to protect their vines from frost and humidity and provides them with a sandy loam soil. The vineyard itself was planted back in 1999 with Bordeaux varietals. Onsite, there are about 10 acres under vine while a second vineyard in Easton contains about 2,500 vines worth there. Additional plantings of Syrah, Roussanne, Viognier and a few other varietals have been sprinkled in as the estate plantings as well. As for the owners and winemakers behind the scenes, Nathanael & Andrea O’Shea are originally from the Midwest and moved to California before settling in Maryland. They have applied their family’s farming history and passion into each and every aspect of their winery.
As we made our way from the parking lot into the restored tobacco barn, Andrea met us at the door and welcomed us inside. Rustic, but elegant (my favorite environment), the old dilapidated barn was fully restored and absolutely gorgeous inside. Several restored wood tables with cast iron milk can seats were open to visitors with blankets available for those who were chilly and heaters pumping in some warmth on this late Fall day, which provided a gorgeous backdrop to an amazing experience. Andrea offered any of the open tables to sit at for our experience or we had the option to go into the wine shop area. We decided to take a peak in the wine shop area, which also contained a long restored wooden table surrounded by chairs. The decor on the wall crafted using broken down wine barrels and separated slats to provide a very unique setting. This place was simply stunning. An enormous cheese and charcuterie board was awaiting to begin the tasting, compliments of our friends Katey and Dan (such great people). The tastings were conducted very differently. Much like a brewery provides flights of beers, Great Frogs presented their flights the same way (see Early Mountain). The small stemless glasses presented us with an array of whites, reds, and dessert wines divided out into three flights.
We pecked away at the cheese and charcuterie as we began our tasting with their 2013 White wine line-up (White Squall & Chardonnay) that was highlighted by their White Squall. The White Squall ($25) is a white blend consisting of Traminette, Chardonnay, Marsanne and Viognier. Aromatic with toasty apple and nutty qualities that set the stage for a clean, smooth, & soft palate highlighted by butterscotch notes. Citrus fruit pitter patters across the front of the palate while crisp apple whisks the flavors away showing integrated acidity that shows ripe and juicy and finishes off smooth and dry with a medium structure. Hopping around a bit, we jump to the red selections. First up is the 2013 Waterman ($30), a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 23% Syrah, 17% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Very fruit forward and showing off rich tart cherry flavors that are towed along with vanilla cream notes and tight dusty tannins that coat the entire mouth while hints of spice and earth character soothe out the dry, lengthy finish. Next up is the 2012 Meritage ($35), which is by far my favorite red on their tasting and consists of a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. With a nice, weighted structure and concentrated profile, this red blend shows off copious amounts of blackberry, spiced dark fruit, and toasted oak. Tight integrated tannins that gain weight towards the finish in an almost chewy manner carry the back palate tossing in hints of cedar and blackberry that smooth out the mouth puckering finish. The last of the reds was a great treat and had me scratching my head a bit – The 2013 Estate Syrah ($40). Elegant structure packed with copious amounts of dried dark fruit aromas while the palate shows off ripe red berry and cherry notes, integrated tight tannins and mouth watering acidity. A suprising wine for this region of the world and one to absolutely try upon visiting.
The last portion of our tasting consisted of three dessert wines, but one that really stood out as a favorite was the 2013 Full Sail. This fortified blend of Chardonnay, Marsanne, Viognier and Traminette is packed with layers that disperse from front to back. Beginning with lush lychee and orange blossom spruced up with hints of pine nut, it explodes mid palate with a zesty citrus onslaught that is concluded with tangy acidity. A great wine, and one I was lucky enough to receive as a Christmas gift from my friend, Katey. After finishing up our tasting, we headed over to pick up a few selections and then to tour the production facility. Located just next door in a garage warehouse style building, the production facility opened up with stainless steel fermentation tanks lining the walls and mingling with stacks of racked wine barrels. I happened to notice a few barrels of Tannat in the production room and obviously inquired. Time will tell if a Tannat hits the store front as a stand alone selection or ending up in a blend, but I will be sure to keep you all posted. Overall, this winery was a breath of fresh air in a state where the wine scene is slowly progressing and estate grown is a rarity. If you are looking for that rustic farm environment with 100% Maryland produced wines, this place is it. Be sure to mention you read about them on the Virginia Pour House Blog!
Great Frogs Winery
3218 Harness Creek Road
Annapolis, MD 21403