There are so many high-quality, delicious, diverse wines coming out of Virginia, more so year after year. If you don’t already know this, are you sure you like wine?
I have a complex relationship with Virginia wine, having tasted it for about a decade (and reviewed hundreds of Virginia wines, more than from any other state spare California). I’ve tasted a lot of bad or mediocre but overpriced wines from Virginia – a lot.
But, if you stick with some tried-and-true producers (Barboursville, Linden, Glen Manor, King Family, Veritas, etc., etc.) and keep an open mind to exciting new producers, you will find serious and delicious wines, and a thriving wine scene that offers a lot of excitement and diversity.
And with hundreds of wineries, it can be a bit daunting if you’re looking to get into Virginia wines. Luckily, each year, the Commonwealth makes a big deal about their wines with the Virginia Governor’s Cup. It’s a huge wine competition, judged by an experienced and highly-respected panel, and they release a Governor’s Case each year, the top 12 wines from the blind-tastings. I’ve been tasting these wines for five or six years now, and it’s always a fun and enlightening experience, a refresher on what’s going on in Virginia wine country. Some of my favorite Virginia producers don’t submit wines to the competition, but these 12 wines still represent some of the best Virginia has on offer.
These 12 wines are also a good way to dissect some of the “trends” in Virginia wine. Like the emergence of varietal Petit Verdot wines as serious contenders for best red in the state. The honing and perfecting of Bordeaux red blends, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc continuing to do very impressive stuff. And then there are the dry and sweet versions of Petit Manseng (perhaps my favorite grape in Virginia). There’s a lot out there.
If you want more information on the Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition and the case, here’s their site.
2016 Horton Vineyards Viognier - Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County
Rich yellow color. Aromas of mango, bruised apple, some spiced tea, honey butter and flowers. Creamy texture with medium-low acidity and a waxy texture, balanced quite well though. Honey, butter and nougat on top of bruised apples and pear, mixed in with some cinnamon, vanilla and floral potpourri. Tasted blind, I’m convinced I would’ve guessed Chardonnay, but this is quite tasty. Includes 6% Petit Manseng. (87 points)
2014 Valley Roads Vineyards Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Deep purple color. Nose shows tart black currants, smoky black cherries, along with pepper, tar, campfire, anise and espresso. Medium+ bodied, the tannic grip is there but fresh acidity makes it silky. Tangy black cherries and currants, delicious, ripe but crunchy, and the fruit is laced with smoky charcoal, anise, coffee, wet soil and asphalt notes. There’s some deep mineral tones underneath, and while the flavors are bold, there’s such a pretty, smooth mouthfeel. I wager this will improve for five to eight years. (89 points)
2014 Ingleside Petit Verdot - Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Northern Neck
Rich purple color. Beautiful aromatics of black cherries, roasted plums, currant compote, along with waves of violets, potting soil, leather, spicy clove and coffee – Serious grip to the tannins but the wine is moderated by vibrant acidity, which keeps it balanced with the crunchy blackberry and boysenberry fruit. Lots of leaves, leather, clove and charcoal elements, some violets and pencil shavings as well. Long time ahead for this wine, but very impressive and it really opens up with air. Aged 18 months in French and American oak. (89 points)
2014 Veritas Vineyard Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 6th Edition - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Very dark ruby color. Aromas of spicy pepper, bay leaf, oregano, on top of tart black currants and black cherries. Medium-bodied on the palate with some sturdy grip to the tannins and medium acidity. Tart black currants and black cherries mix well with graphite, charcoal, anise, black pepper, sweet vanilla. Tangy but rich, sturdy but fresh, I like the combination of earthy spice and floral tones on the finish. This has years of improvement but shows well in its youth. Aged 15 months in 45% new oak. (88 points)
2014 King Family Vineyards Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Very deep ruby color. Smells like tart but sweet black currants, laced with cocoa, anise, violets, magic marker, dark chocolate and vanilla. Nice grip on the tannins, vibrant acidity frames the wine, and it’s packed with tangy black cherries, blueberry skins and tart plums. Mix in some smoky charcoal, coffee, graphite, loam, mineral tones, and this is a bright but deep PV with solid aging potential. Aged 21 months in 50% new French oak. (89 points)
2014 Jefferson Vineyards Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Dark ruby color. Smells like crunchy red and black currants, mixed with cola, black pepper, anise and deep earthy tones. Medium+ body with solid tannic bite and refreshing acidity. The black currant and lingonberry jam fruit blends nicely with spiced coffee, charcoal, black licorice, roasted herbs. Great structure for at least five years of improvement, this is tart but deep wine that would both be great with a steak, while the acidity would help this cut through lots of lighter foods. (88 points)
2014 The Barns at Hamilton Station Cabernet Sauvignon - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Light purple color. I get aromas of currant jam, raspberries, sweet cola, anise cookies. Surprising tannic grip on the palate with medium acidity. Tart plum and currant fruit mixes with tobacco, earth, charred wood. A bit austere, could use some time to unwind, but a tasty Cabernet. Aged 15 months in French and American oak. (85 points)
2012 Breaux Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Medium purple color. Aromas of crushed blackberries, spicy currants, along with tobacco leaf, sage, dusty earth, incense. Grippy tannins mix with vibrant acidity on a medium-bodied frame, accessible but structured well. Black cherries and red/black currants are juicy but showing a little bit of age (in a good way), with more subtlety. The fruit is emblazoned with chewing tobacco, mint, eucalyptus, coffee, some (but not too much) charred wood. I also get some earthy, mineral tones. The fruit will fade before the tannins do but this has time ahead of it for sure. (40% Merlot, 40% Malbec, with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. (90 points)
2014 Michael Shaps Meritage - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Medium purple color. Aromas show waves of currants and plums, clove and menthol, and a great mix of charcoal, clay soil, violets and anise – wow, these aromas evolve and shift wonderfully with air. Gorgeous balance on the palate with sturdy tannins and crisp acidity, along with fresh but deep black currant, plums and cherry fruit. I love the complex anise, menthol, charcoal, earth and spice rub elements. I also get some cedar/coffee, deep violets. Complex, gorgeous mouthfeel, I love this now but it’ll be stellar in five to eight years. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 22 months in 50% new French oak. (92 points)
2012 Barboursville Vineyards Paxxito - Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County
Golden colored. Rich aromas of glazed apricot, orange marmalade, sweet yellow flowers, honey, some lamp oil – great stuff. Plump texture, richly sweet with a bit of acidity to help keep it together. Orange and apricot jams, glazed yellow apples, juicy and delicious with notes of honey, mint, sweet tea, hints of caramel and floral perfume. Really well-rounded stuff, quite complex, a seriously good Virginia dessert wine. Made from a blend of Moscato Ottonel and Vidal grapes. (88 points)
2014 King Family Vineyards Petit Manseng Loreley - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge Foothills
Golden orange color. Aromas of peach nectar, honeycomb, floral shampoo and olive oil. Plump and sweet on the palate but some moderating acidity (always nice from this grape), balances it out quite nicely. Creamy pear, apple pie, orange marmalade flavors, backed up by candied ginger, lemon meringue, almond bars and brown sugar. Lovely example of the quality of Petit Manseng dessert wines coming out of Virginia. 10% residual sugar, 13.5% alcohol. (88 points)
2014 Veritas Vineyard Petit Manseng - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Deep gold color. Aromas of honey, nougat, sweet yellow raisins, daisies, baked apple tart – really lovely-smelling stuff. Plump texture on the palate with flavors of yellow raisins, yellow plums, honey, sweet tea, graham cracker and cinnamon. The flavors all work so well together, as does the rich texture and sweetness with the bright acidity that is key with this grape in Virginia. A lovely example of a style of dessert wines that I hope more people begin to recognize. 14.2% alcohol. (89 points)
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.