Claude DelFosse is a retired French businessman living in Virginia with a visually impressive mountainside vineyard in northern Nelson county. I just tasted through his current product line yesterday. Understandably for a European, DelFosse looks to Europe for stylistic direction and believes “Virginia wines are much closer to Europe than to the West Coast; even Californians say so.”
The white wines are subtle and nuanced with good acidity; even the fruit-forward and perfumed viognier is refreshingly light compared to others in Virginia. The reds have an elegant Bordeaux style, though the “Cuvee Laurent” is mostly chambourcin, juicy, fresh and vibrant. While his cabernet franc is one of Virginia’s best (fruit-driven fragrant black cherry, with minimal oak), his malbec is a welcome addition to the product line, and is more cool-climate and interesting than the plethora of two-dimensional malbecs from Argentina on the market.
In the current product line, the stand-out wine for me was the Grand Cru [legally meaningless in the U.S.] Olivier 2007, Monticello AVA. While the wine legally qualifies (and is labeled) as a meritage (having at least 2 Bordeaux grapes), it is boldly original in having 36% touriga nacional (other grapes 51% cabernet sauvignon, 13% petit verdot). This is the first I’ve ever seen such an original, outside-the-box blend still labeled a meritage.
As with petit verdot, even 36% of touriga can have a dominating influence on the wine. The nose was clearly driven by the bright red fruits and spicy perfume of touriga. On the palate, the flavors are muted at first, then the very long, smooth cabernet and petit verdot tannins kick in, giving a chocolate-like finish, then back to the juicy fruitiness of the touriga on the finish; flavorful with a fun spicy twist.
This wine was aged for only 10 months in oak, and was aged a full year in the bottle before release. Although it will drink with pleasure now (I recommend decanting for 20 minutes first), it will develop more flavor and dimension over the next few years. A great example of New World creativity and imagination married to Old World style, with Virginia terroir.
I asked Claude how he and his winemaker Paul Mierzejewski came up with the blend ratios. He just laughed at the suggestion of a grand plan and said “Well, we had to put the touriga somewhere!” It’s a good thing they put it in this blend. What a fun, original example of fine Virginia wine from a great vintage.