Virginia Wines Deserve A Place At The Table

Food & Drink

It’s Virginia Wine Month—not that you need a reason or a season to try these sleek and savvy wines.

Winemaking and Virginia go a long way back but it wasn’t always a harmonious relationship. Early colonialist tried to cultivate first Virginia’s native vines and when that failed, imported French vines. Indeed, the 1619 state assembly passed a law requiring every Virginian male to plant “10 vines of the imported vinifera grapes for the purpose of growing and making wine.”

Attempts at importing a French winemaker to work the new world soil failed. Even noted gourmand and oenophile Thomas Jefferson (aka the first father of wine) failed at attempt to establish a thriving vineyard.

But fast forward some 250 years and Virginia is now a respected producer of quality wine in the United States with more than 300 wineries in 10 regions across eight American Viticultural Areas. The Virginia Wine Board likes to call the local industry “Old World Grace and Southern Grit.” The wineries are, by large, family owned and artisanal in nature. But the small scale has generated big business: In 2019, the state reported Virginia’s wine industry generates $1.73 billion annually.

To celebrate and promote the wines, the Virginia Wineries Association, in partnership with the Virginia Wine Board and the Virginia Vineyards Association, holds an annual “Governor’s Cup” competition, rewarding excellence and awarding medals. Here are picks from this year’s “case winners.”

50W Ashby Gap Red Virginia Blend 2019. Sustainable, low-impact farming was employed to make this juicy red-plum-dominant wine. Spicy, round and plush with crunchy red fruits like cranberry, this is a fun and pleasant medium-bodied wine perfect for weeknight drinking.

Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino 2020 Reserve. Clean, fresh and round, this is a smooth interpretation of a white that’s growing in popularity. Fermented in stainless to let the ripe pear tone shines, it also expresses apple skin, white flowers and lime blossom. This is an amiable wine that will pair with hard-to-pair vegetables like Brussel sprouts.

Cana “Le Mariage” Red Blend 2019, Middleburg. Though this is Cabernet driven (43%), Merlot’s plum character takes over in this juicy and plush blend that also has 14% of each Malbec and Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Lively saline-tinged minerality and a sharp dark-cherry finish with a little herbal note. Softly structured and sleek.

Cana “Unite Reserve” 2019, Loudon County. Petit Verdot drives this blend (65%) with Cabernet Franc contributing 29% and the remainder Merlot. Another smooth operator: plush and lush with sweet ripe fruits (plum is the major player here), a little spice and a hint of milk chocolate on the finish. Minerality is the subtext in this slick, mouthwatering wine that has it all.

Maggie Malick Wine Caves Albarino 2020, Loudon County. The vampy label belies the good intention of this well-made, tasty wine. Dry and fresh, crackling with citrus but putting out the round and juicy fruits. A weightier mouth feel makes this a good partner to food.

Michael Shaps Chardonnay, Wild Meadow Vineyard, 2019, Purcellville. Full bodied and fully expressive with round creaminess with hazelnut as an accent. Judicious use of oak lets the apple and pear fruit shine with a little tinge of lemon. Pretty on the nose and in the mouth, this is a slick and graceful offering from a Burgundian winemaker.

Pollack Vineyards Meritage, 2017, Monticello. Estate grown fruit in this deeply ripe and juicy wine smacking of plum and blueberry with a saline underlay. Modern, sleek style, silky tannins, 60% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot and 16% Petit Verdot. At 14.5%, it’s not a light pour, but it’s a pretty one.

Rockbridge “V d’Or” 2018 sweet wine. A blend of Riesling, Vignobles and Vidal Blanc, pressed frozen in this slick, full-bodied, complex sweet wine. Peach and apricot dance with honey, ginger and candied orange peel with a bit of a saline note. Intriguing mix of fruit and spice. Like any well-made sweet wine, high acid keeps it from being cloying.

Shenandoah Vineyards Reserve Red 2019. From the second oldest active winery in the Commonwealth, now helmed by Michael Shaps, this full-bodied Tannat-driven (40%) blend does a good job of taking the edge of an otherwise edgy grape variety. Helped by 26% Cabernet Franc and 25% Petit Verdot, this wine is packed with concentrated red and black fruits, has a tight structure and tannins, and a long finish.

Wisdom Oak Winery “Nineteen” 2019, Monticello AVA. From the cellar collection, this is a slick Meritage blend of 50% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc—all estate-grown fruit. Full bodied and showing all the rich characteristics you’d expect—cassis, a bit of coffee and dark chocolate, but in a lush modern interpretation. Seems breezier than its 14% alcohol would imply.

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