I’ve been tasting and making notes on the red wines of the great 2019 vintage in Virginia since late January. Some of the wines were made in a fruit-forward style and bottled and released early. Others were made in a more reserve style, with more oak and concentration, and released later. In either category, you’ll find glorious wines of ripe, clean, forward fruit, but with the reserve style you’ll also find great depth of tannin and texture, while the wines still carry themselves gracefully with poise and balance.
I was impressed enough tasting the early-bottled versions last winter. When I tasted the more reserve style at the end of August, I was blown away; I don’t recall ever tasting a group of young reds from the same vintage and region being so impressive, with such large volume of texture and flavor, but still being so graceful.
From where I’m standing, I call this the best vintage for Virginia red wine since the great 2001 vintage, so whether you want to drink them soon or lay them down, there are plenty of fine wines now on the market so get them while you can.
The stylistic differences are so great between the fruit-forward early-drinking style and the reserve style that I decided to make two blog entries, one for each style.
The 2019 Vintage in Virginia
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.
These 2019 reds are usually rich and ripe but balanced with deep varietal flavors, well-ripened tannins but enough acidity to balance them. This group of early-bottled reds for early drinking are fresh and elegant. I’ve grouped them by varietal or blend category.
Due to a favorable climate and lots of clay soil types, Merlot has thrived in Virginia, and stylistically points much more towards the Right Bank in Bordeaux (St. Emilion, etc.) than to the West Coast.
King Family Vineyards Merlot
16 months in French oak. Nose: juicy and forward, typical for the vintage but still elegant and restrained. Red and black fruits and herbs on the nose, palate juicy and ripe followed by BIG volume. Very smooth tannins, solid ripe fruit core. Sexy, stylish and forward, but can age.
This French grape is most identified with the St. Emilion district in Bordeaux and its satellite appellations, where it is blended with Merlot and some Cabernet Sauvignon. In the Loire Valley it makes a varietal red but is labeled for the village rather than the grape variety. In Virginia, thanks to planting new ENTAV clones from France, matching site to rootstock, and careful canopy management, Cabernet Franc has become world-class, either as a varietal wine or in a Meritage-style blend. I found the 2019 Cabernet Francs to be surprisingly tannic and they’ll probably need until this fall to come together in the bottle.
• King Family Vineyard (Crozet, Albemarle Co.):
Nose: rich, pure, scented black cherry and garden herbs. Palate: very smooth ripe tannins, plush velvety texture, pure black fruit flavors. Though young it has finesse with great integration and balance. Outstanding now but will improve. Note: this wine is a blend, with 76% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot.
• Hark Vineyards Cabernet Franc:
Nose: fragrantly fruity, typical of the vintage. with raspberry and red cherry notes, almost has the intensity of a Petit Verdot. Palate: like a mixed berry compote, juicy and smooth, like a cool-climate Zinfandel, and ripe smooth tannins with a hint of spice. Sexy!
• Stinson Vineyards Cabernet Franc:
Nose: vividly fresh fruit typical of the vintage, red cherry with nice oak spice notes in the background. Palate: solid black fruits followed by firm tannins. Still young, nice fruit/oak integration. A large style, full-bodied and flavorful. Hold until this fall, but can drink over the rest of this decade (see my previous entry on Childress Cabernet Franc 2004 as the “Wine of the Week.”) Stylish, a fine local interpretation of this grape that does so well in the East.
This is the American name for red blends made from 2 or more of the red Bordeaux grapes. Barboursville Vineyards in Orange Co. has made the Merlot-based “Octagon” their flagship wine for over 20 years. In the last five years, Virginia wineries have put more of their Merlot into Meritage blends instead of simply as a varietal wine. Combined with careful attention to oak choice, length of aging in barrel, and blend ratios, Meritage blends have become the top tier of Virginia red wine quality.
• Fox Meadow Vineyards (Fauquier Co.)
Nose: subtle bright red cherry with a hint of spice. Palate: fresh ripe cherry and plum flavors, with a fine balance of fruit, acid, tannins, and oak. Lively, fresh, and elegant.
• The Winery at LaGrange (Prince William Co.)
Nose: elegant; dried red cherries, then ripe black fruits with a nice oak hint. Palate: dense, rich but well-integrated red fruits, oak, tannin, and acids, with a bit of smoke on the finish. Stylish.
Like Malbec, this red Bordeaux variety has found its destined terroir in the New World. For Malbec, it’s the foothills of the Andes in Argentina; for Petit Verdot, it’s Virginia where this grape can ripen to much greater potential than it gives in Bordeaux. As both a varietal and a blend component, Petit Verdot is contributing a unique combination of ripe black fruits, velvety smooth tannins, and aromas of lavender to Virginia red wines.
• Pearmund Cellars Toll Gate Vineyard (winery in Fauquier Co., vineyard in Rappahannock Co.) Nose: Lovely, fragrant briar fruits, lavender, and garden herbs. Palate: fresh with lively fruit/acid balance, smooth tannins but fresh acidity, and flavors of zesty fresh briar fruits. Shows the potential of this grape for Virginia well.
• The Winery at LaGrange
Nose: an elegant, complex blend of smoky oak and briar fruits. Palate: young, but lovely smooth tannins, smoky oak over briar fruits. Impressive now but will improve.
• White Hall Vineyards Petit Verdot:
Color very dark. Nose: vibrant briar fruits like a lower alcohol Zinfandel. Floral notes like briar rose. Palate: zesty, fresh, vivid bright briar fruits, ripe but smooth tannins, a cooler climate style, fruit-driven. Still young, this will drink well while young. Very stylish in the White Hall way of fresh, fruit-forward wines.
• Carriage House Wineworks Petit Verdot:
Co-owner and winemaker Michael Fritze told us he entered this wonderful wine “against his better judgment” on the advice of wine friends who had tasted it. Most of the Petit Verdot wines from the great 2019 vintage hadn’t even been bottled yet, and he was concerned the wine would be too tight. His friends were right; although young, the silky smooth texture and ripe tannins, together with ripe pure black fruits, are a great showcase of small-lot, terroir-driven Petit Verdot in Virginia. On the palate, there are hints of fresh blackberry with lovely juicy frutiness. The texture is soft and smooth with pure Petit Verdot flavors. Carriage House Wineworks is a new, very small operation in Waterford, northern Loudoun County.
• Zephaniah Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
(southern Loudoun Co.) Nose: smoky oak and black fruits, then fragrant red fruits. Palate: juicy, ripe red and black fruits, firm tannins. Bold and juicy but ripe and approachable.
• Pippin Hill Vineyards Cannon Red (Albemarle Co.)
This fruity, medium-bodied red is an original blend (31% Cabernet Franc, 25% Chambourcin, 23% Merlot, 15% Tannat, and 5% Viognier) which is downright gluggable. Smoky black fruits on the nose evolve to ripe briar fruits, clean forest floor, and meaty aromas. Palate: complex, fascinating, zesty red and deep ripe black fruits. Ready to drink but will improve. Off-dry at 6.4 g/l or 0.64% residual sugar, this wine proves that table wines with some residual sugar can still be top-notch.
• Philip Carter Winery “Cleve” (Petit Verdot/Tannat blend).
Nose: black fruits, fresh and elegant. Palate: gripping tannins, young but fruit-driven, with ripe black fruits. Firm but impressive fruit/acid balance. Can start drinking now to enjoy in the autumn/winter.
• Casanel Vineyards Black Spark
(southern Loudoun Co.) Casanel was the first winery to make a methode champenoise Norton a few years back. This time, they’ve made a Lambrusco-style sparkling Norton in a semi-dry style (1.5% residual sugar). Nose: red and black plum with a hint of clean earth, as with Lambrusco. Palate: juicy, ripe red plum and red cherry, good balance between the residual sugar and the acidity. Original, fun interpretation of Lambrusco using Norton, and very versatile with a wide range of foods, a great party/picnic wine. Serve well-chilled.