As Donald Trump began to ascend in the polls, my heart began to sink. Yes, yes, for all the usual reasons shared by many fine and erudite observers of politics, but not for those alone. I had another cause for dread, for as The Federalist’s resident booze reviewer I knew, with the assurance of an Old Testament prophet, that the day would come when I’d be asked to review Trump’s wine.
Yes, there is a Donald Trump Winery. Of course there is. Wine is both terrific and classy.
So when Ben Domenech (publisher of The Federalist and possible Dark Lord of the Sith) asked me to review Trump Winery, I was not surprised. Indeed, I had taken the liberty of resigning myself to the task months beforehand.
This allowed me some much-needed perspective. I brooded on it, as I am wont to do, and realized something that will be very important for you to understand if you’re going to enjoy this article: it’s not about Donald Trump.
The Trump paterfamilias doesn’t even own the 1,300-acre estate nestled in the picturesque hills near Charlottesville, just down the road a piece from Monticello. He acquired it, sure, and unsurprisingly he got a terrific bargain. However, it belongs to his son, Eric Trump—who is incidentally just three days older than I am, and about $358 million richer.
Virginia Wine Has Improved in Two Centuries
Now, whatever Trump’s political shenanigans, they have nothing to do with the people working at Trump Winery. These individuals are concerned with making good wine, and the product of their labor deserves a fair assessment. I resolved to put aside my vehement distaste for Trump the man, and endeavored to sample Trump the wine in as impartial a fashion as I could.
It’s worth noting that Virginia wine has been a project of centuries. Its initial booster was none other than Thomas Jefferson. He was convinced that if properly cultivated, the wine of Virginia could rival that of the Old World. To give you an idea of how that went, when he died the only thing in his wine cellar not imported from France was a bit of Scuppernong. Today, Virginia’s wine is still not quite at the level Jefferson envisioned. Nevertheless, it has come a very long way in just the last 30-odd years, and Charlottesville is the place to experience the best wine Virginia has to offer.
For this review I was accompanied by Mrs. Dewing, since by happy coincidence our eighth wedding anniversary fell around this time. It’s our custom to visit a winery each year to celebrate the fact she hasn’t wisened up and given me my walking papers yet. She had previously enjoyed a particular bottle from Trump, and was curious to explore their other offerings.
We drove to the Trump Winery tasting room, which happened to be packed to the rafters with the sort of people who rent buses to carry them and a dozen friends between different wineries. I believe a bridal shower was there, as well. These things did not deter us. We elbowed our way to an open spot at the counter and got down to business.
The staff were extremely busy, but they were unfailingly polite, pleasant, and knowledgeable about the product they poured. The wines I sampled were of fairly good quality. They were reasonably priced, so even a wino on a budget could grab one of these and make dinnertime great again. With one exception, I was able to find something to like about each of the wines I tried.
So, is Trump Winery any closer to achieving Jefferson’s dream of a Virginia wine that can go toe to toe with the likes of Chateau Latour? Well, closer than Jefferson ever got.
Below is the tasting list for that day, with my notes and an entirely subjective numerical score which I’m not sure will be of much use to you. To reiterate: this is strictly about the wine, not Donald Trump.
Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2009
Those of you who read the backstory I linked to will note that this vintage dates to the time before the vineyard was Trump’s, but no matter—it’s a good offering. This brut-style sparkling wine was made in the méthode champenoise entirely from Chardonnay, hence the “blanc de blanc.”
I expected it to be drier than it was, but won’t knock it for that. It has a bright flavor with pleasant hints of crisp apple, and its effervescence is zeroed in. It would be a suitable aperitif. Score: 3/5
Sparkling Rosé 2009
Another effervescent from the Kluge days, the Sparkling Rosé was produced in the traditional méthode champenoise from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The result is sweeter than the blanc de blanc, with a strong taste of strawberries.
Sparkling wines usually have muted aromas, but this had an odd nose that I couldn’t really sort through. Was it yeasty? The most distinctive thing about it was a pleasant creamy mouthfeel, a sensation associated with exposure to yeast cells. I could be wrong. Either way, don’t let it put you off.
They recommend serving it on a hot day with “fruit or fowl.” I can see the appeal, and recommend giving it a try, but it’s not something I’d typically reach for. Score: 2/5
I disliked this one rather intensely. Start with the nose, which immediately called up the bright pink liquid hand soap they put in public bathrooms. I am not exaggerating for effect or attempting to be cruel. I sampled the aroma multiple times, assuming some malfunction on my end, but each time I was transported to a reasonably clean rest stop.
Once past the lips, I’m sorry to say the situation did not improve. The wine was watery and insubstantial. This may be a reflection of my bias against aging in steel casks. The majority of the 2014’s aging took place in steel, whereupon it was transferred to oak to finish up. I think they’d have done better to pour it down the drain, as I did. Score: 1/5
Now that bit of unpleasantness is done, I’m happy to pivot to a wine I genuinely enjoyed. As a man who categorically rejects moderation in most things, I’m typically not a fan of rosé. But this rosé, made entirely with Merlot grapes, is different.
The nose is sweet, almost buttery, with notes of strawberry and rose petals that come through strongly. The flavor is refreshingly light and fruity. Perhaps I was getting carried away at this point in the tasting, but I described it as a very “intentional” wine. Reviewing my notes later, I couldn’t decide what the hell I meant by that. At any rate, I do know I became very “intentional” about having another bottle of it later, and so we bought one to take home.
The Trump Rosé 2014 would be quite good paired with barbecue at a summer cookout. Nota bene: Rosé is not just for women. That is an outmoded prejudice we must strive to overcome. Men can and should drink this wine without shame. I will. Score: 4/5
The Meritage 2013 is a Bordeaux-style blend. It’s 33 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 26 percent Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. In the glass, I was picking up something like a sweet, buttery sugar cookie in addition to the notes of black cherry.
Upon tasting, I noted this wine is kind of busy. A bit lighter in tannin, it has a smooth, smoky, heavy, assertive quality to it, very fruit-forward, with some cocoa.
It’s a brassy, cocksure wine that practically demands you sip it and explore what it has to offer. It would stand up well to meat dishes. I’d like to see how it ages. Score: 3/5
New World Reserve 2012
Trump Winery’s flagship red is another Bordeaux-style blend aged for 14 months in oak barrels, which means I was predisposed to like it. The 2012 is primarily Merlot (about 42 percent) and Cabernet Franc (33 percent), rounded out by Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
The aroma of this one is expansive and intriguing. It stings the nostrils, though not unpleasantly. I was able to pick out black currant, plum, and molasses on the nose.
The taste is similarly bold, with big fruit flavors alongside balanced notes of oak and earth, and a slightly peppery finish. I’d serve it with lamb, duck, or other strongly flavored dish. This is a complex, well-rounded wine that I recommend unreservedly. Score: 4/5
This unique offering from Trump Winery is a fortified Chardonnay, made entirely from fruit grown on the estate. The grape juice is mixed with grape brandy, then aged for a year in bourbon barrels. This gives it 14 percent residual sugar, 18 percent alcohol, and considerable appeal to my wife.
I’m a fan, as well. Flavors of pear, honey, and (of course) bourbon swirl around on the tongue as clearly as all that residual sugar does in the glass.
It’s definitely sweet, but not sickeningly so. The good news is that if it’s a bit much for you, you needn’t drink it straight. CRU is a fine aperitif, but it can also be used as a cocktail mixer (see below). Because of all that alcohol and sugar, it will keep for six to nine months after opening. No need to drink it all at once, not that it’s any of my business what you do with it.
As far as Trump’s offerings go, this is the standout. Its distinctive flavor appeals to both casual drinkers and veteran boozers, and its multiple applications mean you can find novel ways to enjoy it. Score: 5/5
The good folks at Trump Winery kindly provide a list of cocktail recipes to go along with the CRU. Here’s the one with the best name.
A Mazer Rackham is something you can dash off very quickly, then either sip or swig. Up to you. Your ingredients are:
2 oz. CRU
1 oz. whiskey
3 splashes Orange bitters
In a rocks glass with a large chunk of ice, mix all the ingredients and stir. Garnish with an orange wedge. Terrific.