Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lunch and Tasting With Richard Leahy at Barboursville Vineyards

When one wants to really learn about Virginia wine, the first person they need to speak with is Richard Leahy. Richard has been involved in Virginia wine for well more than 15 years. As the East Cost editor of Vineyard & Winery Management and the organizer of Wineries Unlimited for more than a decade, Richard is in touch with many people.

These days he is the organizer of the extreme viticulture trade show which will be taking place up Minnesota or Michigan as I understand it next year. He's also doing some writing and editing for other folks, and has several other irons in the fires, as they say. As I said, Richard knows a lot of people.

I caught up with Richard at Palladio at Barboursville Vineyards just last week. Barboursville is easily one of the best wineries on the entire east coast. Certainly a First Growth caliber wine program. The winemaker, Luca Paschina, and the owner, Gianni Zonin (of Zonin winery fame) bring their old world knowledge to this new world winery. And of course, with Assistant winemaker Francesco Baravalle's help, their work has resulted in a tremendous success.
Luca Paschina

Richard went on to hold forth rapsodically about the explosion of the Virginia wine industry, and he could think of few places that would show all the best Virginia had to offer than Palladio Restaurant. There are now more than 180 wineries in Virginia, and the number would pop again in 2011. He was also quick to chime up their successes from national to internation acclaim in competitions, Virginia wines have continued to show well outside the state. And the state's economy is booming, because the state government has seen fit to partner with the wineries in an effort to help boost tourism - and business is good. Folks from Maryland, Washington, DC, Virgina, New Jersey, and other surrounding states, are making Virginia Wine Country a favorite culinary choice for mid-Atlantic tourism.

Of course we ordered a fabulous luncheon at the majestic winery, with the old Barboursville mansion ruins just down the road, and the opulent tasting room next door. The food was delectable, and of course, all made from local vegetables and produce. The dining room was a cross between French country and Italian rustica, with a touch of old time, hunt country Virginia. In short, the room was beautiful. And strangely in line with the winery's themes - they make Italian and French style wines. One can feel the old world influences everywhere, but with a real statement of Virginia as their home. That in short is Barboursville, where they take their heritage and their wine heritage seriously.

The first wine we had with our lunch was a 2002 Viognier. Viognier is one of Virginia's premiere white wine grapes, and Barboursville's version of it is among the very best. This wine had aged beautifully. It is almost a golden color, with heavy toes of melon, lots of floral bouquets, and a lusciousness that made the mouth water. Smelling it, you thought it might be sweet. On the contrary. Though the wine had obviously colored somewhat over he year (Viogniers usually being very light in color), the freshness of the fruit was still incredibly vibrant. An exceptional wine, proving hat Viogniers, especially Virginia Viogniers, are incredibly vibrant and long lasting. The wine was brilliant!

Next came the main courses, and out came two stunning wines - 2002 Cabernet Franc and a 2004 Octagon, two of Barboursville's best reds. These were both library wines, since Richard is a known commodity. The Cabernet Franc was easily, hands down, simply, the best Cabernet Franc I have ever drank. It had lots of stewed dark fruits, dark cherries, dark raspberries, and hints of vanilla. It was medium to deep red wine, with a fabulous color that hadn't dared yet to brown in the least. The fruit and the acidity were incredible. Sometimes with Cab Franc there is an herbaceousness, a weediness, that overwhelms the wine. Not here. No hint of weediness at all. A slight touch of pencil shaving...but only a hint. It was a stunning wine.

On the other hand, the Octagon was also a stunner. This wine, however, based on the concept of a Bordeaux style Meritage, this wine was mind blowing. If one closed their eyes, and smelled, and tasted the wine, their was no way you were going to tell me that this wasn't a first or second growth Bordeaux wine. There was the Bordelaise smell of cellar, of old oak, of age and time, and of stewed dark fruits - stewed plums and prunes, deep cherry, dark raspberry, a hint of mocha, and a whiff of leather or saddle. It had a big powerful whollop of fruit to lead off the attack, and then a big long finish with a fair amount of acidity an a nice dry pop at the end. Not too much of a pop, more of a subtle pop. Just enough to let you know it was there, like a boxers stinging jab, not a right handed round house. In short, it was one of the most elegant red wines I have had on the east coast. Absolutely incredible.

Richard and I later also did a tasting at the tasting bar.

The Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Grigio were both light, crisp, and refreshing. Exceptional accompaniments to fish, poultry, and fresh vegetable dishes. Great citrus notes and beautiful noses. Really wonderful wines.

The Chardonnay Reserve, not usually one of my favorites (I prefer naked chardonnays) has just the right blend of oak and fresh fruit, so as your are not chewing on oak when you drink it, but rather there is a hint of vanilla, and a complexity of fruit that make it a classic Burgundian-style chardonnay, but in the best sense, and with a delicacy and flair that is rare in the US. Exceptional.

Of course, then there were my favorites - the three Italian grapes - Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Sangiovese. These were incredible as well. The 2007 Barbera is one of my favorite examples of this grape in the world. It is a confection of raspberries and cherries in a glass, with hints of earth and vanilla. Again, if you closed your eyes, there is no way you would guess anything other than an Italian wine. And an excellent example of one at that. Next was the 2008 Sangiovese (which also has small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot), which was also an absolute knock-out. With plums and cherries, and a dash of smoke this wine is a deep, dark winner. Last but not least is the Nebbiolo, a tremendous 100% varietal with strong hints of forest floor, tobacco, earth, raspberry and dark cherry. And incredibly complex wine which absolutely soared.

There is no question that Barboursville Vineyards not only shines as one of the best wineries on the east coast, but certainly in the United States. With classic old world style, but harnessing their new world terrior, Barboursville is one of the absolute flagship wineries in the United States, bar none. If you like east coast wines, or if you just like great wine, then you will miss a tremendous experience, if you don't taste Barboursville before you die.