WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

USA: Virginia Barboursville, Boxwood, Breaux, King, Veritas, M Shaps, White Hall, Williamsburg. New York Riesling: Brotherhood, Dr. Frank, Boundary Breaks, Lamoreaux Landing, Red Newt, Fox Run, Sheldrake Point. Oregon: Primarius Pinot Noir...

Barboursville Vineyards
For non-Americans reading this whose US geography is about as good as mine, the state of Virginia is on the east coast surrounded by, to the north, Maryland and D.C (Washington isn't far from vineyards in the far northeastern corner), North Carolina and Tennessee to the south and Kentucky and West Virginia to the, erm, west! There's some wine-growing history here, as apparently the first vines were planted back in the early 17th Century. That slightly famous Virginian enophile Thomas Jefferson farmed European grape varieties here as part of his various adventures in all things vines and vino (although he didn't actually make any wine I'm told), although it was wines made from native American varieties that took off in the 19th Century. After a long period of decline (Prohibition and all that), a handful of new wineries were set up in the 1970s; nowadays there are 220, and the industry is still growing placing Virginia just into the US top-five of wine producing states. Putting it in context though, total vineyard surface area comes to about 3000 acres or 1200 hectares, which is minuscule compared to e.g. California's half a million (200,000 ha).
My key to grape varieties featured in the wines and wineries below is: Merlot = M, Cabernet Franc = CF, Cabernet Sauvignon = CS, Petit Verdot = PV, Viognier = V, Malbec = Mc, Nebbiolo = N (link goes to my archive Italy page including a couple of Virginian/other American/Australian Nebbiolos buried in a huge Barolo report), Petit Manseng = PM (that marvellous white variety from Gascony, southwest France), Pinot Gris = PG, Chardonnay = Ch, Traminette = Tr (cross of the hybrid Seyve and Gewurztraminer according to wikipedia). These are listed in brackets in descending order, i.e. the first one is the lead variety in the blend or varietal (doh!). Other grapes planted in Virginia include Albarino, Barbera, Chambourcin, Norton, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Rkatsiteli (?!), Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Syrah, Tannat, Touriga and Vidal Blanc. So, they've got the whole wine world covered there then!
Half-a-dozen AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) have been mapped out in Virginia based on the different terrain and climate zones: Eastern Shore, Monticello (where Jefferson had winemaking pretensions), North Fork of Roanoke, the splendidly named George Washington Birthplace and Rocky Knob, and Shenandoah Valley. More info about all this on www.VirginiaWine.org, where you can download their 2012 Winery Guide (and where I copied the photos used on this page). They seem very geared up for wine tourism, with various wine trails and organised tours and wineries with restaurants and accommodation. It's certainly a pretty state to visit boasting lovely rolling countryside, mountainous areas (you probably remember that irritating song by Laurel & Hardy about the Blue Ridge Mountains!), and historic cities such as Richmond and Charlottesville or coastal resorts like Virginia Beach. The climate is obviously Atlantic influenced (less so inland), although summers can be hot and humid; humidity is cited as the main problem for grape-growing here (can allow mildew to flourish and cause rot).
The eight wineries showcasing at the London Wine Trade Fair last month had a fair few bottles of Viognier to try, which is becoming one of the most popular white varieties. And you can see why, as they appear to be coaxing generally impressive, expressive yet quite refined wines out of this can't-just-plonk-it-anywhere grape. Petit Verdot, which struggles to impress in Bordeaux's vineyards unless they have very favourable vintage conditions, also looks promising in Virginia; even managing to make some good varietal wines from it, which they'd never attempt to do in Bordeaux. Same goes for Cabernet Franc perhaps. And I think Nebbiolo is another potential star; there were only two (very different styles to say the least, see below...) on tasting from Breaux Vineyards, but Barboursville makes a good one too (look at the bottom of that Nebbiolo/Barolo feature mentioned above).
I've added approx US retail prices as a guide; in the UK, you can get some of these Viogniers for £15 to £20, red varietals and blends for about £20 to £25 and premium wines tend to be dearer still. So, the Virginians have got their work cut out to be competitive over here; but they definitely are making some very good wines with a bit of character and a different story to tell. And stylistically, you could say the wines hint at bridging the 'gap' between Europe and California? The importer and wine travel company (well, to Virginia at least!) New Horizon Wines seems to have cornered the market in Britain, which is selling to independent stores such as Roberson's and Wholefoods Market in London.

Barboursville Vineyards
Gianni Zonin, of the Veneto family wine company fame, acquired the land here, about half an hour from Charlottesville, in 1976 and planted a vineyard (that explains the Italian grapes); although Barboursville has a much longer history starting in the 1820s, when the original country house was built by James Barbour, designed by Thomas Jefferson (now a handsome ruin thanks to a fire). The winery, run by longstanding winemaker Luca Paschina (from Piemonte, explains the Nebbiolo then!), also has an on-site restaurant called Palladio and accommodation available at their 1804 Inn.

2007 Octagon (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot; 12 to 14 months in new French oak, 14% alcohol) - pencil oak tones layered with plum, cassis and red pepper; firm and structured vs lush and powerful palate, quite tight and fine on the finish. Lovely wine. $40
2010 Viognier (100% V, 13.5% alc.) - pineapple peach and apricot aromas / flavours, tighter palate than the nose suggests with yeast-lees intensity and a bit of oomph, more 'mineral' on the finish vs that 'sweet' fruit (but the wine isn't). Good. $22

Boxwood Estate
John Kent Cooke commissioned high-profile viticulturists and architects to design this 16 acre vineyard and winery in historic Middleburg; winemaker Adam McTaggart now works with Bordeaux consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, hence the focus on the three reds they produce (and not forgetting the rosé!). They also own four wine bars / shops called The Tasting Room in Virginia and Maryland (five including the winery).
2009 Boxwood (CS, M, PV; 12 months in 30% new French oak, 13.5% alc.) - showing touches of smoky development, quite rich concentrated and extracted with ripe blackcurrant/cassis vs fresher berry fruit; good bite and grip with lingering red pepper notes vs a darker side ("use the Force Luke"), attractive style. $18
2010 Boxwood (CS, M, PV; 12 months in 30% new French oak, 13.5% alc.) - touch more PV this vintage and only 700 cases made, from vineyards planted in 2004 so young vines. Elegant Bordeaux style nose and palate, blackcurrant vs a lusher side vs firm dry tannins dusted with light chocolate texture; the oak is fairly chocolatey at the moment although this is well-balanced and -made and still young too. $25
2010 Topiary (CF, M; 12 months in 30% new French oak, 14% alc.) - from a vineyard in the north lying between two mountains. Subtle coconut oak with plum and spicy peppery edges, has a little punch on its concentrated mouth-feel, attractive berry fruits mingle with light toasty oak. Very good, needs a few years to come out of its shell. $25. 
£24.95 for the 2007 at Roberson's.
Boxwood Estate
Breaux Vineyards
Breaux is shaped by 100 contoured acres of vineyards - the overall estate is four times that size - featuring 18 grape varieties spreading out majestically from near Purcellville (about an hour from Washington DC) and gently up the slopes of Short Hill Mountain. Owned and established by real estate tycoon Paul Breaux in the 1980s, the winery is run by daughter Jennifer Breaux Blosser, husband Christopher M. Blosser and winemaker David Pagan Castaño.
2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve (100% CF, 16.4% alc. due to drought vintage, 50% new French and American oak for 30 months) - pencil oak vs leafy red pepper vs lusher dark side, quite extracted and firm vs developing savoury edges and a tad peppery too. Surprisingly balanced with that alcohol level! $32
2007 Meritage (CS, M, Mc, PV, CF; French and American oak for 32 months, 15% alc.) - dusty pencil shaving oak vs quite rich berry cocktail of black and red fruits, firm solid mouth-feel with light coconut grain texture vs ripe fruit vs maturing savoury edges; again shows nice balance actually. $32
2005 Nebbiolo (100% N, 3½ years oak ageing, 14% alc.) - mature 'cheesy' aromas underlined by dried red fruits, liquorice and light coconut oak; has vanilla touches on the palate too vs lovely delicate 'sweet/savoury' style, firm and dry vs enticing maturing tobacco-edged fruit. Has a bit of class. $38
2010 Nebbiolo 'Ice' (100% N, 12% residual sugar, 14% alc.) - not a typing error, this is a red ice wine style! 'Volatile' complex red fruit nose, lush sweet palate with concentrated dried fruits vs nice fresh cut and length. Different for sure, yum!
2010 Viognier (100% V, half of the wine spent 3 months in French oak, 14% alc.) - aromatic honeysuckle aromas with apricot and peach, nice full and rounded mouth-feel with rich ripe fruit vs weight vs again steelier finish adding balance. Good. $26

King Family Vineyards
David and Ellen King started planting their vineyard in Crozet in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1996; they're aided and abetted by sons Carrington and Stuart and wives, winemaker Matthieu Finot (from Crozes-Hermitage) and vineyard consultant Christopher Hill, among various others on the team. Pretty Roseland farm is also home to stables and regular polo matches.
2010 Viognier (100% V, 30% of it French oak fermented, 14% alc.) - lightly toasty lees-y notes vs 'fat' exotic fruit, nice bite vs rounded and powerful, quite restrained though with tasty finish. $25

Veritas Vineyard & Winery
You'll find the truth (ho ho) on Saddleback Farm near Afton lying at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which was opened by Andrew and Patricia Hodson in 2002 and is run with their winemaking daughter Emily. They hold a variety of events at the winery and can lay on picnic lunches sandwiched around a tour and tasting.
2010 Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 4th Edition (100% PV, aged in 80% French and 20% American oak, 13.5% alc.) - quite toasty oaky on the nose vs lush and concentrated; a touch extracted and oaky but it's very young, difficult to taste at the moment? $35
2009 Kenmar Dessert Wine (100% Tr, 13.6% residual sugar, 14.5% alc.) - fragrant spicy pineapple lychee and rose water notes, very sweet and rich with complex vibrant honeyed fruit vs some underlying freshness. Pretty sweet but has nice aromatic fruit. $35
2011 Viognier (mostly V, PM; aged in neutral oak, 13% alc.) - fragrant floral nose with pineapple and apricot, juicy tasty palate with nice zesty orange blossom tones, again an attractive refreshing and balanced style. $22

Virginia Wine Works / Home of Michael Shaps Wines
Located in the former Montdomaine winery twelve miles south of Charlottesville, Virginia Wineworks is an unusual operation offering custom winemaking facilities. These two wines are sourced from leased vineyards grown under the supervision of Michael Shaps and Philip Stafford.
2009 Petit Verdot (100% PV, 18 months in French oak, 13.5% alc.) - minty herby notes vs quite lush and dark cherry / berry fruit, concentrated and firm with subtle oak texture vs rich cassis fruit and hints of smoky development, a touch of freshness too on the finish. Very good. $28
2009 Viognier (100% V, 13.5% alc.) - slightly more tropical profile with juicy subtle lees texture, nice dry bite and balance with bright fruit and reined-in vs lush style. $24

White Hall Vineyards
Also found in the Charlottesville area, "the wine capital of Virginia" as it's become known, the winery is gently perched at 800 feet altitude (an elegantly lofty 250 metres) and was created by Tony and Edie Champ in 1992, expanding from six acres then to 45 nowadays. Winemaker Mike Panczak studied and has worked for several wineries in California.
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (mostly CS, PV; 10 months in American and French oak, 13% alc.) - perfumed cassis with light cedar-y edges, sweet fruit and chocolate oak on the palate, grippy structured finish; the oak's a little overwhelming though. $15
2009 Petit Verdot (mostly PV, CS, M; 15 months in American and French oak, 13% alc.) - pretty smoky oaky vs quite dense and extracted, dark lush fruit with a chocolate layering; it's concentrated but again I found the oak a bit too much. $18
2010 Pinot Gris (mostly PG, PM; fermented in neutral oak, 13% alc.) - honeyed flowery and spicy, fatter rounder palate with a bit of bite, nutty and oxidising on the finish. Different, not sure though. $18
2011 Viognier (mostly V, PM; part-fermented in neutral oak, 13% alc.) - aromatic peach and apricot nose, zesty lively palate with lees bite and 'mineral' undertones, rich vs quite crisp and long. Yum. $18. £16.95 for the 2010 at Roberson's.

Williamsburg Winery
Patrick and Peggy Duffeler purchased 300 acres of land to the south of Williamsburg in 1983, to then discover that vines probably date back here to the "Twelfth Acte of 1619 requiring landholders to plant vines for their own consumption," as the original settlers did. The team also includes Patrick D II and winemaker Matthew Meyer; and the farm also houses a swanky country hotel and tavern called Wedmore Place.
2010 Acte 12 Chardonnay (mostly Ch + dash of Tr, two-thirds barrel-fermented, 13% alc.) - elegant peachy fruit with buttery touches, milky lees notes with subtle toast vs clean crisp side, a little weight and roundness too; attractive style. $18
2010 Vintage Reserve Chardonnay (100% Ch, fermented and aged in French and Hungarian oak, 14%) - creamier and toastier with lightly exotic fruit, quite toasty palate and texture vs oomph and bite; a tad charred in character perhaps but it's concentrated and rich. $28
2009 Adagio (mostly PV, CS, CF; aged in French American and Hungarian oak, 13.5%) - understated nose, ripe and maturing vs tightly structured, dry tannins vs dark fruit with enticing herby undertones. Nicely done, needs a few years to open up. $65
2007 Gabriel Archer Reserve (CF, PV, M, CS; French American and Hungarian oak, 13.5%) - smoky maturing nose with lovely mix of tobacco, cassis and peppery notes; still pretty solidly structured vs developing fruit, touch of oak grain vs good depth of fruit vs dry drip. Good stuff. $32
2007 Virginia Trianon (mostly CF, M, PV; French American and Hungarian oak, 13.5%) - quite soft and mature with subtle concentration and grip, again the oak is nicely in the background adding texture; falls a touch short perhaps but has memorable dark vs savoury profile. $32
2007 Merlot Reserve - attractive plummy fruit with savoury edges, dry vs rounded mouth-feel, quite elegant and mature now.

LATEST US WINE FEATURES:

March 2014: New York State RieslingClick on the title above to read about seven NY wineries and nine racy Rieslings made by: Brotherhood, Dr. Frank, Boundary Breaks, Lamoreaux Landing, Red Newt, Fox Run and Sheldrake Point...
A few "wines of the mo":
Primarius Pinot Noir 2011 Oregon (April 2015)
To follow: Charles Smith Riesling, Washington State, and Buena Vista Zinfandel, Sonoma County...

1 comment:

  1. Thank your the great review. I have posted this on my blog - winesofvirginia.blogspot.com

    Regards,

    Chris Parker
    New Horizon Wines

    ReplyDelete