9 Great Virginia Mountain Wines
By Betsy Andrews
The story of vinifera in Virginia begins—and, for a couple
of centuries, ends—with Thomas Jefferson. A Francophilic wine buff, the third
president planted imported vines that failed, blighted by the parasite
phylloxera. Contemporary winemakers have been more successful, while retaining
Jefferson's Continental bent. Indeed, it's surprising how many Europeans you
meet at wineries in the Piedmont and other mountainous Virginia areas—until you
check the weather report. "The difference between a good and a great year
in Bordeaux is when and how much rain comes," says Jay Youmans, head judge
of the Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition. "Bringing over Europeans
with experience with those conditions makes a lot of sense." Where 30
years ago, red wines here had a vegetal quality, today trellising and other
methods that help grapes ripen and inhibit mildew have resulted, in particular,
in polished, food-friendly Bordeaux-style blends.
RdV Lost Mountain 2009 ($88) The celebrated new kid on the
block, this Northern Virginia winery has worked with a consultant from
L'Université de Bordeaux to create stunning blends in the manner of that French
region. This intense cabernet sauvignon-driven red smacks of liquorice and ruby
port; it would be dynamite with a steak au poivre.
Trump Monticello Rosé 2011 ($14) A blend of cabernet
sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot goes into this crisp, minerally rosé. An
aroma of fallen leaves and underbrush along with a Bing-cherry, slightly floral
flavor makes it a lovely bottle for Thanksgiving; it can pair successfully with
the turkey and fixings as well as the pumpkin pie that follows.
Potomac Point Richland Reserve Heritage 2009 ($29) The
winemaker is Italian, but the blend (nearly half merlot, with cabernet franc,
cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot) is all Bordeaux in this soulful red from
the banks of the Potomac. Its bacony, meaty character makes it a great wine for
Barboursville Malvaxia Passito 2007 ($32) Modern Virginia
winemaking started here in 1976 when an Italian wine scion, Gianni Zonin,
established a vineyard (and, later, an inn) on an estate graced with the
picturesque ruins of a Jefferson-designed stately home. This lush dessert wine
is made with a white Mediterranean variety that is air-dried for four months to
concentrate its richness. It tastes deliriously of ripe apricots.
Bluestone Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($30) From the Shenandoah
Valley on Virginia's western border comes this beautiful cabernet, whose
character is in perfect poise between bright acidity and dark, oaky tannins;
between velvety, stewed-fruit flavors and smoky spice. It would be wonderful
with a slow-cooked winter stew, especially if you save a few sips to enjoy with
a chocolate dessert.
Barboursville Octagon 2008 ($50) Perhaps Virginia's most
prominent bottle, Barboursville's flagship wine deserves the attention it gets.
A big but balanced Bordeaux blend in which the cabernet sauvignon really stands
out, it's full of the energetic black fruit, chocolate, and coffee notes that
pair so well with beef.
White Hall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($20) Though it might
surprise wine drinkers who think of gewürtztraminer as a cold-climate grape,
the aromatic white variety does well in temperate Virginia. This
Charlottesville-area winery blends in petit manseng to lift the wine's acidity.
It's less flinty than Alsatian-style gewürtztraminers, but more versatile: Its
subtle, lychee-flower sweetness and hints of sage and spice make it a match for
many dishes on the Thanksgiving table.
King Family Meritage 2010 ($28) Having worked throughout his
native France, winemaker Matthieu Finot makes Meritage, one of Virginia's signature
Bordeaux-style blends, with an experienced hand. It shows in the bright, red
berry flavors, toasty vanilla tannins, and delightful barnyard funk of this
Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2010 ($35) It's a tough grape to
grow under wet conditions, but this vineyard pulls it off, creating a
light-bodied pinot noir that strikes a balance between jammy California fruit
and earthy Burgundian flavor. It's a great wine for pork.
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