I am admittedly quite unfamiliar with East Coast wines, especially when it comes to the little state of Maryland. So when Roy Albin of Royal Rabbit Vineyards invited me to taste his wines, I was both enthused and curious. Flipping through books and scouring the internet, I had trouble finding any solid, reputable information on Maryland as a wine country. So I turned to Roy, not just for a wine tasting, but for a bit of terroir background as well.
According to Roy, 40 years ago most of Maryland was considered a zone 6, meaning temperatures could hit -10F or lower during the winter, altogether killing buds, “or worse with some European varieties,” he adds. Today, he says, most of the state has transitioned to a zone 7, which has significantly increased the success of wine production in Maryland. “In 2000 there were but 14 wineries in the state, just 17 years later, Maryland now boasts 92. I believe we have hit critical mass,” says Roy, “we can discover the grapes and areas that will make for uniquely Maryland wine, but we are still in the discovery process.”
Maryland is still considered quite cool — and damp, receiving 35 to 45 inches of rain each year. So, grape growers are not depended on irrigation and can also maintain more biodiversity between the vine rows, ultimately attributing to the health and success of the vines.
Roy explains that Maryland has two AVAs in addition to the state appellation. But, just as in California, there are a number of sub-regions that showcase geographic and climatic differences throughout the greater AVAs. Royal Rabbit Vineyards is located on what is called the Piedmont Plateau to the Appalachians in Central Maryland. This area is characterized by heavier clay soils as well as its hot, often humid summers and cold enough winters that see some snowfall and, as Roy mentioned, subfreezing temperatures.
Royal Rabbit Vineyards is fairly young, having officially opened their doors in 2011. Previous to that Roy and his wife Linda enjoyed making wine recreationally — something Roy had enjoyed for much of his life, but really honed the skills through participation in a medieval recreational organization dedicated to teaching old world crafts.
Of the wines I sampled from Royal Rabbit Vineyards, it was the Barbera that truly struck me: Light, delicate, yet no shortage of flavor — this wine is truly reminiscent of the humble wines from Italy’s countryside.
About the Wine: The Royal Rabbit Il Barone 2015 Barbera is made from 100% Barbera grapes harvested from Royal Rabbit Vineyards estate vineyards. Grapes are harvested by hand, sorted and cleaned in the vineyard. Each lot engaged in primary fermentation separately in 1/2 to 3/4 ton vessels, with final fermentation and aging taking place in 50, 70, and 80 gallon barrels. The wine is hand bottled, hand corked, and hand labeled.
Flavor Profile: Out of the bottle comes a distinct smell of that strawberry fruit leather mom tried to pass off as a fruit snack. Surrounding that fresh-ish scent is dank oaky wood and a subtle umami, reminiscent of Worcestershire sauce. On the pour and in the glass, this Barbera is a really pale brownish-red — the color of that strawberry fruit leather if it was spread so thin as if to make a window pane out of its stretchy mass.
Initial aromas are of funky ocean air with just the thinnest line of acidity. Note: This wine needs to be swirled straight-away to get any distinguishing aromatics from it. So…
Swirl and sniff again, release the sweet scent of maraschino cherries, dried strawberries, wet grass, old oak barrel, over-ripe raspberry, and — as you pull away — a kind of fruit-punch candy that’s been dropped and covered in dirt.
The palate of the Royal Rabbit Il Barone 2015 Barbera is extremely light bodied with a medium to high level of acidity that envelopes the tongue and the roof of the mouth, most dominantly during the finish. There are little to no tannins, yet there’s a dryness to it. Read: this wine is not as fruity or jammy as you may have initially suspected. Indeed, the fruits here are actually quite mellow and meld together seamlessly. Primary flavors are of soy, strawberry, black cherry, cardboard, with a lingering flavor of cherry cola.
For those unfamiliar with this varietal, I casually say to you, it’s almost like an extremely light Pinot Noir. But this wine is so uniquely it’s own that I hesitate to make that comparison. It’s a very “old world” style wine that simply is what it is through and through with clean, clear flavors and an overall refreshing quality.
Food Pairing: I paired the Royal Rabbit Il Barone 2015 Barbera with a baked chicken on top of a fig salad, garnished with carmelized onion, feta, and dried cranberries and dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. What I loved was the sweet and salty elements of the salad contrasted the fruit elements in the wine, creating an almost ground zero on the palate and thus becoming the perfect thirst quencher.
This light bodied red wine is so versatile, it could go with a wide array of cuisine. I would certainly pair this wine with this dish again, but wouldn’t hesitate to pair with something with more domineering flavors, confident that the wine will still hold its own.
More Info: I received the Royal Rabbit Il Barone 2015 Barbera as a sample for review. (Cheers Roy!) Retail: $25. For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Royal Rabbit Vineyards website.
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