I expect many of you are cruising the Web today since Winter Storm Jonas has immobilized the Mid-Atlantic, and I expect most of you are either drinking a glass of robust red wine or port, or planning on doing same sometime soon.
Accordingly, I’d like to help you in that endeavor with this blog post on Virginia wines I recommend for deep winter hunkering down.
Library Vintages From Your Cellar
You may have laid down some reds from fine vintages in the past. Big, ripe, hot vintages will yield red wines that are big and rich but with mellow and smooth tannins, after a few years of age. Vintages I recommend if you want to enjoy big bold reds to match a harsh winter’s night, include 2002, 2007, 2010 and 2012. While some tannic reds from 2010 and 2012 may still improve, this is a good time to give them a try.
The Best Varieties for Robust Reds
Here’s what the strong suits are for your big robust Virginia reds: cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, tannat, any blends of the same, barbera, and nebbiolo.
Here some of the wines from one or both of the above categories that I personally recommend:
Muse Vineyards “Clio” Meritage 2010 Shenandoah Valley: Normally meritage blends in Virginia are dominated by merlot and cabernet franc. This one is equal parts of the two cabernets, merlot and petit verdot. This was my favorite Virginia red wine that I tasted in 2015. These are the notes from my previous posting:
“Opaque, almost black in color, the nose is complex with ripe black fruits, rich oak tones, and hints of herbs, pepper and clove. On the palate, the wine has huge volume (14.4% alcohol), but is ripe and smooth, with loads of smooth tannins to match an opulently rich blend of black fruits. This blend of Muse (four equal ratios of the two cabernets, merlot and petit verdot) has worked brilliantly two years in a row in very different vintage conditions, and could be a model others learn from. This is my favorite red wine of the year and is on a par with any other Virginia red wine I’ve tasted.”
Stinson Vineyards Tannat 2011/12: Stinson has a consistent house style of elegance and finesse that I really appreciate. The 2011 tannat was from a tough vintage but the grape is thick-skinned and resistant to rot so these grapes ripened after the early rains passed and the wine was clean. Even though the tannins were not as big and full as they would have been in a warmer vintage, the wine was still robust and varietal in character, with clean black fruits, a bit of clean earth and meat. This wine placed in the Governor’s Case in 2014. The 2012 version will be even better.
Barboursville Vineyards Nebbiolo 2010 Monticello: On the nose, huge spicebox; cardamom, jasmine and black fruits with mahogany tones. On the palate, high alcohol and massive tannins, but with a solid fruit core that needs another five years for a classic balance, but you can decant it now for two hours and keep tasting it until it comes around, and then enjoy with braised beef, game, onions and porcini mushrooms.
Michael Shaps Wineworks 2012 Tannat, Nose: clean but closed. Palate: layered fine tannins, not harsh for a straight varietal but surprisingly elegant. Rich, young, needs time but stylish, shows great potential for this grape as a varietal.
Veritas Vineyards Petit Verdot 2010, Monticello, VA. Nose: smoky, complex black fruits with a touch of game. Palate: firm acid, solid black fruits, tastes like a two year old wine still. Young, needs time but huge dimension and well-balanced.
Linden Vineyards “Hardscrabble” 2012, 100% estate, VA. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. 14.4% alc. Nose: closed at first but elegant spice hints. Palate: ripe red cassis, smooth tannins, elegant and polished, young but will open nicely with decanting. Firm acids balance rich red fruits.
For late night sipping with a winter wind blowing the snow around outside, nothing beats fine port-style dessert red wines that are sweet, spicy and zesty. Note: for a decade now, thanks to bilateral trade agreements between the U.S. and the E.U., new wineries who want to use the term “port” on the label to denote a dessert-style sweet wine must instead come up with some other term, since “port”, like “champagne”, is a geographically branded and therefore protected name. The exceptions are those who are “grandfathered” in with pre-existing approval. This is why you’ll see a lot of red dessert wines with non “port”-sounding names. Here are some favorite Virginia port-style wines of mine:
Bluestone Vineyards “Dry Dock” 2012 Shenandoah Valley. Dry norton port aged in bourbon barrels. Nose: richly ripe, dark, and spicy with damson plum and boysenberry fruit. Palate: high alcohol (18%) but also firm acidity. Dry, with vibrant fruit and firm acid; needs time. Best with ripe cheese or bittersweet chocolate.
Glass House Winery Bellezza. Port-style; 75% norton, 12.5% chambourcin, 12.5% cabernet franc. 17.5% alc. Monticello, VA. Nose: touriga-like spice and plum, with toffee and caramel hints on the palate and firm acid balancing rich ripe fruit and heady spirits. A candidate for the best of Virginia’s growing class of norton-based ports. Very stylish.
Stinson Vineyards “Imperialis” NV: Very popular in the tasting room, this 100% tannat-based port-style wine is much as I described the table wine above, only sweeter and with a lot more spice and rich black fruit with lots of smooth tannin, which makes me think of dark chocolate and black cherries, and some other things I can’t describe here. J
Cooper Vineyards “Noche” NV: This is the first norton-based chocolate Virginia dessert wine I’m aware of, and it’s always been a class act, with the juicy plum black fruits of the norton deftly balanced with dark chocolate into an original, stylish and quaffable (!) Virginia dessert wine.
Veritas “Othello” 2012: In 2011 they did not make this wine but they made a multi-vintage blend that was a hit. Then in 2012 they returned to the single vintage style. The Shakespearean allusion points to the role of petit verdot and tannat, two very dark-colored wines, in this product. I quote from the Veritas website:” This year’s Othello is a blend of 75% Tannat and 25% Merlot. Round and ripe plum, blackberry and hints of vanilla, coffee, caramel, raisin. Othello will show dominant fruit tones in its youth and develop beautiful complexity each year in cellaring. The wine shows a full mid-palate and a long, round finish warming you to the core.”
King Family Vineyards “7”: This port-style wine began as a straight petit verdot, changed to all-merlot, and now is back to all-PV again. Nose: bright red and black fruits with a hint of whisky from bourbon barrels. Palate: juicy, zesty red and black cherries with bright acid and firm tannins; nicely balanced.
Ankida Ridge “Vin Doux” NV: This charming and complex port-style wine is based on the French hybrid chambourcin, and has forward, bright red cherry fruit and zesty acidity, which transitions to reveal oxidative complexity from aging in oak, adding vanillin tones and a rich, round texture with a lingering finish.
This sets up a good segue to let you know that now that you’re in the mood for warm, rich sweet red port on a harsh winter’s night, there’s just the event to help you learn more about port as a category of wine, in the most pleasing of places and circumstances. Ankida Ridge Vineyards in Amherst County (not far off Rt. 60 about 15 minutes west of Amherst) is hosting a “Pleasures of Port” tasting, with instruction provided by this writer, on Saturday Feb. 6th from 3-5 p.m. Attendees will learn about the port classification of wine, taste one white and several red ports, all paired with carefully selected cheeses and chocolates. Guaranteed to be a worthwhile reward for the palate, the mind and the social soul, with an opportunity to purchase author-signed copies of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines. For more information and registration, visit http://ankidaridge.com/events-2/.