There’s good news on the Virginia wine scene: the very good (some would say “great”) 2019 vintage is coming on the market. Whites, rosés and light reds like Cabernet Franc have been bottled and will be released soon.
This is good news because the 2018 vintage was a crummy one and although some of the white wines were surprisingly good with zesty acidity and vibrant fruit, many were not. There were very few red wines made at all that vintage.
I’ll also give a shout-out to the fine 2017 reds now on the market. With this rotten winter weather, this is a good time to order your favorite Virginia reds online and have someone else deliver them, while making plans to seek out the 2019 whites and light reds when spring comes. My blind tasting notes on t he red wines will be released in a few days.
The 2019 Vintage in Virginia
After taking it up the ah, trellis in 2018, a vintage where it rained double the annual average in the state, 2019 provided a welcome contrast to Virginia growers. There were no killing frosts in spring, and the growing season was warm and dry, allowing late-ripening varieties to develop ripe smooth tannins. To show how unusually ideal the vintage was, the photo below shows purple-ripe Cabernet Franc harvested in October at Early Mountain Vineyards; note the lignified rachis (brown-colored stems). This happens most of the time in California and other hot, dry growing regions but rarely in Virginia. If you want to get a preview of the great 2019 reds, snap up the 2017 reds for a preview. “If the initial results are any indication, it should be a stellar vintage,” wrote Dr. Tony Wolf, state viticulturist in the 2019 commercial grape report of last April.
2019 whites can be juicy and forward, but in this evaluation I didn’t taste any that were flabby. Some seemed like they could have benefitted with even more time on the vine before harvest, showing firm acidity. Some of the notes here show that the wines will be even better in a few months. The reds are usually rich and ripe but balanced with deep varietal flavors, well-ripened tannins but enough acidity to balance. Most of the bigger reds (some Meritage blends, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot) are still aging and won’t be bottled until the summer, but this mid-winter alert gives you in idea of what to expect when these wines come on the market.
Rating Scale: one star is “good” and equates to a bronze medal; two stars is for “very good” and equates to a silver medal; three stars is “excellent” and equates to a gold; four stars is for “outstanding” and equates to a high gold medal. The plus sign is used to indicate young wines that have the potential to improve beyond my current tasting notes.
Tasting: wines were grouped as closely as possible stylistically, and were tasted blind (an assistant put them in bags and in a random tasting order within the flight). References to winemaking notes were taken after the wines were tasted and identified, as most wineries had sent technical notes.
Some of these wines had some oak at some point but were in a stylistically lighter group than those in a more reserve style, which had lees-stirring and longer time in oak. Quality in the Chardonnay varietal class in both style groups was consistently high; 2019 will be a banner year for balanced, elegant Virginia Chardonnay.
***Zephaniah Vineyards (southern Loudoun Co.): Very subtle nose but elegant with hints of pear and lemon. Palate: very stylish with pear and lemon flavors, a hint of lees and a concentrated plump texture. A zesty fresh lemon finish, will improve.
***The Winery at LaGrange (Prince William Co.): Nose: richly buttery but fresh and well-integrated with lemon notes; stylish. Palate: well-balanced flavors of lemon, lees/butter, with good integration and a fresh finish. Very impressive use of malolactic fermentation which still leaves a fresh, balanced finish.
**+Cana Vineyards (southern Loudoun Co.): Nose is light but with nice integration of lemon, mineral and apple notes. Palate: fine zesty acidity, lemon, apple flavors and a mineral touch, and a pleasingly plump mid-palate. Young, stylish, will improve.
**+Casanel Vineyards (southern Loudoun Co.): The nose is very closed at first, with just hints of clean mineral and lemon. The palate is plump and round (the wine was on the lees in barrel for a few weeks, with gentle lees stirring, before being racked off the lees).
Richer Chardonnay (oak, reserve style)
***King Family Vineyards (Crozet, Albemarle Co.) Nose: delicate, elegantly nuanced mix of oak, yeast and a hint of lemon. Palate: firm acidity but gentle malolactic and oak hints in the background. An elegant, understated style of oaked chardonnay with finesse and balance.
**+ Pippin Hill Vineyards Reserve (Albemarle Co.) Toasted oak bass notes on the nose with fresh lemon in the background. Palate: good integration, firm acidity, well-integrated smoky oak/lemon notes and a fresh finish. Likely to improve with a few months of aging.
**Ingleside Vineyards Bourbon Barrel-Aged (Northern Neck) Nose: well-integrated malolactic and oak notes, a bit forward but not coarse. Palate: smoky malolactic yeast notes, but with balanced acidity and a surprisingly fresh finish. The hint of smoky vanilla from the bourbon barrel is well integrated and not as dominating as you’d expect. Stylish.
*+Fox Meadow Vineyards (Fauquier Co.) Nose: light, closed at first, then subtle hints. Palate: nice integration of lemony acidity and yeast, but very young. Largely closed on the nose and palate, needs time but has a well-balanced texture. Promising, likely best from this summer.
Virginia’s signature white grape is from the northern Rhone Valley in France, and has been grown here for nearly 30 years. Virginia has the right climate to ripen the delicate floral and apricot aromas and flavors of this esoteric grape, without burning these esters off with too much sunshine and heat (as long as vineyard managers are careful to harvest when the grapes are ripe but not too ripe).
**+Horton Vineyards (Orange Co.): This was the first winery to grow and bottle a Viognier in Virginia, which put it on the map for connoisseurs and the Rhone Rangers in California in 1993. They have been in the forefront of defining a fresh, fruit-forward varietal style for Virginia and this wine is an example of that. The nose has impressive light floral and honeysuckle notes, with fresh apricot. On the palate, it is delicate, with fresh apricot flavors, gentle acidity and good typicity.
**+Veritas Vineyards (Nelson Co. in Afton): Nose has fresh cut apple notes. Palate has good definition with fresh cut apple flavors and zesty acidity; stylish.
*+King Family Vineyards (Crozet, Albemarle Co.): A hint of white flowers, fresh apple and pear on the nose. Palate: dry but fresh, with tart apple flavors and firm acidity, almost like a Riesling. Needs time.
*Zephaniah Vineyards (southern Loudoun Co.): Nose is faint with a hint of vanilla followed by honeysuckle. Palate: ripe but balanced, good acidity, plump mid-palate, no real fruit flavors but delicate white flowers instead.
This obscure French grape from the Jurançon region grows well in Virginia, because it has thick skins to resist fungal disease, and high acidity along with tropical fruit flavors. Many wineries blend a little of it with Viognier to improve the acidity and fruit definition in the final wine, but it is a versatile grape, made from dry to dessert styles.
**Cana Vineyards (southern Loudoun Co.) Nose: faint lemon/lime and mineral. Palate: plumb with nice residual sugar to balance acidity. Hints of orange and pineapple fruit flavors. Well-balanced.
**The Winery at LaGrange (Prince William Co.): Nose: lovely ripe juicy tropical fruits, also some yeast and oak? Palate: Round but juicy, good integration of all elements. Fresh citrus fruits on the finish.
*+Reynard Florence Vineyards (Orange Co.): Nose: light hints of grapefruit and yeast. Palate: zesty acidity with lemon/lime citrus flavors. Racy, very dry, high acidity, needs more time, OK if you can do with out the grape’s typical tropical fruit on the palate. Probably will be more enjoyable from this summer.
*+Pearmund Cellars (Fauquier Co.): Nose: fresh red apple, peach and apricot. Palate: zesty lemon/lime, high acidity, needs time, OK if you’re not looking for the grape’s typical ripe tropical fruit.
This high acid grape from northwestern Spain is kind of like a cross between the Austrian Gruener Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc. It is racy, with lime or grapefruit notes and mineral tones, though it can have a surprisingly broad and fleshy mid-palate in ripe years like 2019. This is a perfect wine with seafood and for refreshment in hot, humid summers.
***Horton Vineyards (Orange Co.): Nose: lovely fresh cut lime and white grapefruit aromas! Good varietal typicity; aromas keep opening in the glass. Palate: lively racy citrus/mineral notes, concentrated, vibrant, clean. Excellent typicity and vibrant fruit/acid balance.
**53rd Winery (Louisa Co.): Nose: tight, closed, then hints of lemon/lime and mineral. Palate: good fruit/acid balance, solid lime flavor and tart texture, subtle but well-integrated and stylish.
*+Ingleside Vineyards (Northern Neck): Nose: faint, delicate white flowers, lemon and mineral. Palate: broad but with firm acidity, especially on the finish. Hint of ripe grapefruit flavor. Needs more time but promising.
With the introduction of new grape varieties like Traminette and Petit Manseng, or blending Viognier and Chardonnay, some Virginia wineries like to produce a signature blend that is also particular to Virginia.
***+Cardinal Point Vineyard “A-6” (Nelson Co.) Cardinal Point Vineyard was one of the first Virginia wineries to introduce a standing white blend, in this case Chardonnay and Viognier in varying ratios depending on the vintage. This one is sixty percent Viognier, forty percent Chardonnay. Nose: an elegant yet complex blend of white flowers, apple and pear notes. Palate: pleasing mix of apple, white peach, white flowers but with good integration, pleasing viscosity and nice fruit/acid balance. One of their best of this blend.
Other White Wines
***Horton Vineyards Nebbiolo Rosé (Orange Co.): A boldly original and stylish dry varietal Nebbiolo rosé. Color is pleasantly deep pink. Nose: good typicity, with roses and truffles and damp forest floor with a hint of fresh strawberry. Palate: juicy but with firm acidity, solid ripe strawberry flavors. Original, brilliant job with this interpretation of Nebbiolo.
**53rd Winery Chardonel (Louisa Co.): This grape is a hybrid of Chardonnay and the French white hybrid Seyval Blanc. Nose: faint notes of ripe pear. Clean ripe pear aromas grow in the glass. Palate: juicy but dry, zesty, delicate pear flavors, plump mid-palate but refreshing and stylish.
**Trump Winery Sauvignon Blanc (Albemarle Co. Note: this winery is owned by Eric Trump). Nose: faint but light notes of grass and lemon, subtle and elegant. Palate: dry but elegant, not the in-your-face New Zealand style, more of a Loire Valley style, subtle, fresh, understated but with good varietal typicity.
*+Horton Roussanne (Orange Co.): This usually thick, heavy white Rhone grape is made in a fresher style by Horton this vintage. The nose is light, with faint mineral notes. On the palate, elegant pear notes, fresh and lively but plump mid-palate. Subtle, well-integrated and versatile; better with time.