I’ve been tasting the Virginia Governor’s Cup wines for a few years now, and the 2016 winners are the best bunch yet. This year, judges winnowed their top 12 from about 430 bottles for the Virginia Governor’s Cup Case. The current batch of winners provides a great tool for discovering what’s happening in this dynamic wine-producing state.
While some of my favorite producers do not submit wines for the competition (Linden, RdV), there are plenty of intriguing and delicious Virginia wines in this tasting.
This case demonstrates, in my view, two important takeaway points about Virginia wine. 1) Meritage blends, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot are the raw materials for some really solid wines that offer a unique patch to the quilt of American wines made from Bordeaux grapes. 2) Petit Manseng (made in both dry and sweet styles) is the most exciting white wine being produced in the state, and Virginia seems like the perfect place to unpack this grape’s richness and bracing acidity.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
Review: 2014 Michael Shaps Petit Manseng Honah Lee - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
A vibrant gold color in the glass. The aromas in this wine are rocking my face off: lemon curd, candied orange peel, honeyed tea, and a salty meets floral combination that I love. A bold texture the palate (14.6% alcohol) but the acid screams across the palate and keeps this wine precise and vibrant. Orange marmalade meets lemon curd meets white peach, and then there are these complex elements of apricot jam, honeycomb, creamsicle, not to mention the crunchy sea salt and floral perfume notes. So complex, so balanced, an absolutely delicious and fascinating wine, and one of my favorite wines from Virginia. Fermented in 1/3 new French oak barrels, no maloactic fermentation. (91 points IJB)
Review: 2014 Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng – Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County
Light gold color. Smells of chunky mango and pineapple, but also some bright honeysuckle, dandelion and a hint of waxy nuttiness. Medium-plus-bodied this is a chunky, almost chewy wine in terms of mouthfeel, but the acids sweeps in and cleans the wine up (love this about Petit Manseng). Rich flavors of peach, pineapple and melon, topped with honey, orange marmalade, spiced tea and mint flavors. Complex, straight delicious, but also vibrant and clean. Long, rich, yet crisp finish with flavors that remind me of Sweet Tarts. Another great example of why I continue to be thrilled about Virginia Petit Manseng. (88 points IJB)
Review: 2014 Bluestone Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Grown - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Pale lemon color. Bright and lively aromatics with lemon curd, orange peel and limes accented with richer elements of honeysuckle and graham cracker. Medium-bodied with a round and creamy texture but crisp acidity for balance. Lemon meringue blends with papaya and pineapple in this juicy display, and notes of nougat and honeyed white tea round it out. Fermented and aged in French oak (20% new) with maloactic fermentation. (87 points IJB)
Review: 2014 Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino Reserve - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Light straw color. Bursts with aromas of white peach, green apples and lime zest, lots of floral and sea salt aromas mixed in as well, is a bright and breezy but interesting aromatic display. Medium-bodied at 13% alcohol, this has refreshing acidity but a generous mouthfeel (slightly creamy, slightly waxy). Flavors of white peach, green melon and lime zest combine with elements of white tea, honeysuckle, raw almond and crusty sea salt. This is a delicious but seriously intriguing white wine. Served blind, this would excite and confuse many a wine nerd with its complexity and diversity of elements. Worth seeking out for the adventurous white wine drinker. All stainless steel with lees stirring over the course of eight months. (88 points IJB)
Review: 2014 Cardinal Point Cabernet Franc Clay Hill - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Deep ruby color. Smells of spicy tobacco, clove, sage and red pepper on top of red and black currants and tart plums. Medium-plus body, solid tannic backbone but a fine edge and medium-plus acidity. Cool red currant and plum fruit is rounded out with pepper, sage, loam and leaves. Dose of vanilla cola and sweet coffee, too. A silky, rounded wine despite the strong structure. Aged one year in American and French oak (25% new). (88 points IJB)
Review: 2012 Fabbioli Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Deep ruby color. Juicy, slightly jammy red fruit on the nose along with sweet roses and strawberry-rhubarb pie. Medium-bodied with lots of structure here and fresh acidity, giving this wine a lighter feel at 12.5% alcohol. Tart red and black currants play off of juicy black cherries, and I get a range of woodsy and earthy tones, along with clove and vanilla. Good concentration and length, this will improve in the cellar. Structured but tart and vibrant throughout. Aged 12 months in mostly new Hungarian oak. (87 points IJB)
Review: 2014 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve - Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of black cherries, juicy blackberries, the fruit is ripe but tart, and accented with lovely tobacco, pine resin and clove. Full-bodied with some solid tannic grip, but the mouthfeel is velvety, backed up by such refreshing and vibrant acidity. Juicy black and red cherries glide across the palate, and I love these grilled bell pepper and mushroom notes. Balanced levels of vanilla and cedar. Long, seamless finish. This is such a solid Monticello Cabernet Franc! Matured 10 months in French and American oak. (88 points IJB)
Review: 2013 Glen Manor Vineyards Hodder Hill - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Saucy purple color. A really cool kick of hay, black walnut, soy and leather on top of the juicy black and red currants. Medium-to-full-bodied with a sturdy tannic structure, this is a densely concentrated wine but some mild acidity keeps it relatively lively. Deep plums, roasted figs, black cherries, the fruit is juicy but seriously concentrated. Complex elements of tobacco, sage, eucalyptus combine with hazelnut, cedar and vanilla, which are woven in expertly. Intriguing minerality pervades the wine. One of the most age-worthy wines in the bunch, this will do a whole lot more in the decanter or, preferably, after three or four years in the cellar. A blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. (90 points IJB)
Review: 2010 Granite Heights Vineyard Evening Serenade- Virginia, Northern Virginia, Fauquier County
A kind of dull ruby color. Tart red fruits on the nose (raspberries, cranberries) with juicy black cherries and notes of tobacco, violets and mushroom. Medium-plus-bodied with medium acidity and a dusty/velvety tannic structure. Black cherries galore along with cranberry sauce and currant tea. I get a loam and tar elements that spices up the cedar and coffee flavors. Nice balance, presents itself well, but still enough concentration for a few years in the cellar. A blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc aged 15 months in American and French oak. (87 points IJB)
Review: 2012 Naked Mountain Petit Verdot - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Blue Ridge Foothills
Dense purple color. Concentrated aromas of blackberry and black currant, as air coaxes out some tar, graphite and roasted coffee. Surprisingly vibrant on the palate with a medium-to-full-bodied approach, fleshy tannins and crunchy acidity. Flavors of dark currants, blueberries and plum skin, the fruit is dense but maintains a tart edge. Smoky tar elements last onto the finish, and I get some earth and roasted coffee as well. Tightly-packed, this will develop in the cellar, but it has a vibrancy to it that makes it easy to sip now. Includes 11% Merlot and 11% Tannat. (86 points IJB)
Review: 2013 North Gate Vineyard Meritage - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Deep ruby/light purple color. Love the aromatics here, right out of the bottle, but they get even more complex with air: black cherries and dark, crunchy plums with mocha, charcoal and dark chocolate shavings. The palate shows medium tannins that provide a good backbone for the pleasant acidity. Black cherries and dark plums abound in this ripe but crunchy wine. Notes of cedar, smoke, dark chocolate, vanilla and black licorice are blended in well to the overall package. A blend of 60% Merlot, 22% Petit Verdot and 18% Cabernet Franc. (88 points IJB)
Review: 2013 Stone Tower Winery Hogback Mountain - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Deep purple color. The nose is juicy, deep and lush with suave blueberry and blackberry topped with mocha, vanilla, toasted coconut and scorched earth. Full-bodied with sturdy tannins and moderating acidity, this is a mouth-filling but velvety wine. Saucy black and blue fruit, concentrated but smooth, laced with smoke, toasted nuts, coffee, violets and vanilla. Quite complex and deep, this needs time in the cellar to show its full potential. 69% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remainder Merlot, this is aged 18 months in new and used French and American oak. (89 points IJB)