Virginia wineries are now releasing their 2020 white wines and rosés. I recommend seeking them out and enjoying them as long as hot summer weather lasts in September into October.
I enthusiastically reviewed the early-released 2019 red wines, and some whites, back in February. The 2020 vintage was very different from 2019; some would say that the best you could say was that “It wasn’t 2018.” Some areas of the state from Albemarle County in the Monticello AVA to Lake Gaston in the southeast were hammered by two sets of frosts in April and May that wiped out much of the crop in specific areas. Spring was cool and damp while summer was very hot and humid, followed by rain in the fall.
And yet, I’m digging the 2020 white wines I’ve been tasting, especially in this (still) very hot weather. They are fresh and bright, with vibrant acidity and fruit character. Right now, I prefer them to the 2019 whites for freshness and intensity of varietal character and matching with food in hot weather. Here are some highlights:
**King Family Vineyard “Verde” 2020 ($24).
This is a low-alcohol (8.5%) fresh, easy-to-quaff Chardonnay for a summer’s afternoon or for enjoying with raw oysters. A little added C02 makes it very refreshing. It tastes of green apples, has firm acidity but is not coarse, and easy (maybe too easy) to drink.
***Casanel Pinot Gris “Elliana” 2020 Estate Middleburg AVA ($22)
Nose: gentle, with a subtle hint of canteloupe. Palate: round, fresh, medium acidity, very versatile and drinkable but still fresh, with gentle melon flavors. The texture is deftly balanced between fleshy and fresh on the finish. A great starter wine for hors d’oeuvres or cheese or light fare. Frankly your hand will keep reaching for the bottle, its’ so user-friendly but elegant.
**>*Horton Vineyards Viognier 2020 Barrel Select ($35).
This Viognier is very* different from the usual and is driven by acidity. It was made from only four selected barrels, and is the most complex, multi-dimensional Virginia Viognier I’ve tasted, and is much more like a white Burgundy, with mineral notes and bright acidity. On the nose, an intriguing, complex mix of mineral, floral and fruit components with a touch of oak and spice. Palate: the wine coats your tongue, typical of good Viognier, and makes you think of ripe fresh apricot. The finish on this wine is long and impressive. This wine is best experienced decanted since it’s young and tight and would be best starting next spring but will reward patient cellaring for up to five years. A very classy food wine.
**>*Casanel Chardonnay Reserve 2020 Estate Middleburg AVA ($24).
This is a very Chablis-like firm, steely dry Chardonnay. After a stainless steel fermentation, the wine was aged half in stainless steel and half in one-third new, two-thirds neutral DAMY French oak barrels. No malolactic fermentation took place. Subtle hints of mineral and lemon on the nose yield to high, bright, fresh acidity with a hint of lemon, then just a touch of roundness on the finish. A classically dry, fresh non-malolactic style, this wine will be more integrated by next summer but is great for a warm summer evening with raw or steamed oysters.
***Blenheim Albariño 2020 ($23).
Estate grown, whole cluster pressed, all stainless steel aged. Loads of grapefruit and passion fruit on the nose and palate, assertive, lots of acidity.
**>*Pippin Hill Petit Manseng 2020 ($35)
This is a very full-bodied and fruity wine but has firm acidity and mellowing from lees contact. If you like spicy seasoning with oysters, this is your ticket. Nose: subtle tropical fruit. Palate: great combination of ripe tropical fruit, firm acidity, a hint of oak all mellowed by lees contact to tie it all together. Stylish and versatile, ideal for oysters with remoulade sauce.
*Philip Carter Rosewell Rosé 2020 ($29)
Made from Chambourcin, this is a full-bodied, very dry, robust rosé that is best matched with food, especially ham. The nose has pomegranate and sage notes. On the palate, smoky red berries with herbs and very firm acidity. Not a light Provençal style, also better for fall/winter, best with turkey, ham or barbecue.
Ratings key: * = good, ** = very good, *** = excellent, **** = exceptional, > = will increase in quality with time.