For the past few years, I’ve been tasting my way through Virginia wine with the state’s wine guru, Frank Morgan, host of Virginia Wine Chat (#VAWineChat). We’ve focused on many of Virginia’s finest wineries (Keswick, Horton, Michael Shaps), highlighting the diversity and quality of Virginia wine and fighting back against the out-dated notion that Virginia wines suck. They don’t, and these four wines are further evidence.
A few weeks ago, I tasted through four wines from different Virginia wineries and found a few seriously good bottles, which I’ve detailed below.
Winemaker Kristy Harmon has been making this Chardonnay since 2008, but the vineyard was planted in 1999. She said she tries to limit maloactic fermentation to keep the wine zesty, but the Chardonnay does spend about nine months in oak. For my palate, this is an exciting Virginia Chardonnay whose style aligns with my preferences. As someone who tastes a whole lot of VA Chard, this is high up there
2014 Blenheim Vineyards Chardonnay Blenheim Farm - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Medium yellow color. Brisk aromatic appeal: fresh yellow and green apple, along with kiwi and lime, and the fruit is backed up by a fresh floral and seashell note. Medium-bodied with zesty acidity and a slightly creamy note, balanced nicely but definitely a bright style. Lime, kiwi, juicy yellow apple, the fruit is topped with notes of raw almond, sea shells, honeycomb and chalk. Nuanced, fresh, not woody or clunky. A surprisingly vibrant and mineral-laded finish. This begs for oysters and crab cakes. And for the money, this blows most California Chards out of the water. (89 points)
Ingleside dates back to the early days of the modern Virginia wine industry. This producer’s first vineyard was planted in 1978 in Virginia’s Northern Neck, a peninsula formed by the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. The history goes back even further though — Charles Flemer bought the estate in 1890, and today his great-great grandson runs the winery.
2014 Ingleside Plantation Cabernet Franc - Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Northern Neck
Juicy dark ruby color. Smells of tart red currants and cherries, lots of smoke, bell pepper, black pepper and rustic farm notes. Medium-bodied with silky tannins and crisp acidity. Tart red currants and cherries mix with smoke, sweet menthol, pepper, scorched earth and toasted oak. Pleasantly bright and goes down easily. All estate grown fruit, this is 75% Cab Franc with the rest an even split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. (86 points)
Wife-husband duo Aimee and Todd Henkle are one of those couples who realized their dream of purchasing a vineyard. In 2012, they bought Loudon County’s Lost Creek Vineyards. The prior owners had planted estate Cabernet Sauvignon in silt and loam soils in 1997. Provenance, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend debuted in 2000. Unlike many regions, Cabernet Sauvignon in Virginia frequently takes a back seat to Cabernet Franc. The two are very frequently blended together, and Cab Sauv can help flesh out a Cab Franc and add more structure and grip. I’m always excited with winegrowers who spend the time and effort to get Cabernet Sauvignon right. “If you focus on your vineyard,” Lost Creek co-owner Aimee Henkle tweeted, “you can make a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon in Virginia.” Provenance proves it.
2014 Lost Creek Vineyards & Winery Provenance - Virginia
Deep ruby color. Aromas of sweet red and black cherries, gushing but bright fruit, and I get a lot of rose and violet notes along with some red licorice, coffee and clove. Medium+ bodied, medium tannins provide structure but the wine is smooth and the acidity keeps it fresh. Black cherries and sweet plums mix with notes of roasted chestnut, toasted oak, sweet coffee and clove. I start getting some black tea and lavender notes in here after a few hours of air. A bold, jammy presence on the finish. Rich, tasty stuff that should unwind nicely over the next few years. A blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon 25% Cabernet Franc and 13% Merlot, 13.5% alcohol. 60% estate fruit, 40% from the Shenandoah Valley. (88 points)
Petit Verdot isn’t often bottled as a varietal wine, as its density and concentration lends it well to blending with other Bordeaux varieties. But in Virginia, Petit Verdot is popping up on labels across the state, and Afton Mountain’s Reserve bottling is a very impressive one. Owner Elizabeth Smith explained that the grapes for this effort come from loamy clay soil on an exposed south slope about 950 feet in elevation. She said the 2012 vintage is likely their lightest and brightest version of this generally dark and deep grape. But I found this wine to be fascinating, balanced, complex and straight-up delicious.
2012 Afton Mountain Vineyards Petit Verdot Estate Reserve - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Deep ruby/light purple color. Vibrant but suave aromas of black cherry, tart blueberry and black currant – along with waves of pepper, baking spices and rich earth. Medium-bodied with structured but fine tannins and a some tangy acidity. The mouthfeel is very pretty and the wine, while spreading out over the palate, feels clean and vibrant. Black cherry and dark currant fruit shows plenty of ripeness but maintains a crisp/crunchy aspect. Notes of sweet tobacco, black pepper, soy, roasted coffee and mint add significant complexity. Finishes with an integrated oak note. Very nice now but I’d love to try this again in 3-4. I’m impressed with this wine, and while I love some more dense versions of Petit Verdot, I really like this brisk, vibrant vintage. (88 points)