Virginia wine lovers now have two excellent vintages for white wines: 2014 and 2015.
The 2014 vintage was cooler and drier than most, yielding white wines with marked freshness, delicacy, vibrant fruit and fine natural acidity. They will continue to bring refreshing drinking pleasure through this summer and fall.
The 2015 growing season got off to a wet start in spring, but was followed by a hot dry summer. Hurricane Joaquin complicated the harvest for red varieties, but almost all white varieties were brought in before the rains came in late September, and fruit was clean with good varietal character and acidity.
2015 white wines are now being released on the market, and by and large they’re just as good as wines from 2014, and in many cases, better. There was more ripeness and full fruit character in many cases, without being over-ripe or “hot”.
In particular, viognier and aromatic white grapes are shining from the 2015 vintage. Before a list of some highlights, Early Mountain Vineyards has released a few of its 2015 wines (the chardonnay will officially be released in May), and I tasted through them with winery staff in mid-February.
Rose, Pinot Gris and Five Forks (blend)
of new 2015 releases from Early Mountain
All the 2015 wines I tasted had been made by Ben Jordan, who joined Early Mountain as Winemaker last year. All are fresh and vibrant.
- Early Mountain Pinot Gris: Ben explains that this is a balance between the fresh, crisp “grigio” style and the more extracted, riper “gris” style, with fruit harvested at different times from adjacent blocks. In fact, it’s an excellent and skillful balance, giving the forward crisp citrus acidity you expect in a grigio, but with ripe and round apple and pear fruit on the mid-palate and finish. Dry but with a good yin/yang tension of crisp and round texture, along with vibrant fruit. This is a versatile wine for aperitif sipping or matching with a wide range of foods and cheeses.
- Early Mountain Rose: A dry Provencal style rose made from 77% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, 8% syrah and 3% malbec. The packaging shows the tendril trademark of the winery silk screened on the bottle without a paper label, which makes it stand out in a classy way. This a popular product and production has been growing each year. Nose: very gentle, subtle watermelon and red cherry notes. On the palate, the wine is juicy and vibrant, dry but refreshing with white cherry and strawberry flavors. Will be popular for light fare and as an aperitif from now through early fall.
- Early Mountain Five Forks: a new product, named after a town in Madison County but which also has five grape varieties. Packaged like the rose with silk screened graphics and a screw cap closure, this is a proprietary off-dry aromatic blend with viognier as the dominant grape, and by and large drinks like viognier but with brighter fruit and firmer acidity. The blend is 44% viognier, 22% petit manseng, 13% sauvignon blanc, 11% muscat, and 10% pinot gris. Nose: wonderfully fragrant and aromatic, with white flowers and peach, then very floral muscat with oranges and tropical fruit. On the palate, lively acid with fine balance of all elements. Almost dry (0.17% residual sugar), fruity but vibrant. Elegant and original, will please viognier fans and anyone who likes dry but fruity and aromatic white wines, and will be a fun, versatile food wine.
- Early Mountain Chardonnay: This regular chardonnay will be released in May with a reserve to follow in the fall. This wine is made from a mix of clones, especially the musque clone #809. The wine is barrel fermented in mostly neutral oak, but extended lees contact without oaky flavors make this a fairly complex chardonnay for a regular release. The nose is complex with bright lemony creme brulee, and a hint of toasty hazelnut. On the palate, the wine has vibrant lemon acidity, but a round cream and nuttiness mid-palate to finish. Although just bottled, this chardonnay is already drinking well and showing a lot of style. It will be a versatile crowd-pleaser, especially matched to delicate cuisine.
Other 2015 new white releases I recently tasted include:
- Williamsburg Winery Viognier: This is the first release of Virginia’s signature white grape, and it’s a great debut. The nose has orange-colored citrus and tropical fruits, with honeysuckle aromas. On the palate, the wine has vibrant orange citrus fruits (tangerine, kumquat) and some tropical fruit balanced with tangy acidity. Very promising.
- Glass House Viognier: As with the previous wine, this one has exotic floral, citrus and tropical fruit elements. On the palate, vibrantly fruity with fine zesty acidity and lingering fresh fruit in the finish. The best viognier yet from this winery.
- Keswick Vineyards LVD Viognier: an off-dry style viognier that is neither too cloyingly floral or flabby and flat. On the nose, brilliant tangerine and white peach aromas. On the palate, full, round, rich and juicy with like flavors. Some lees contact gives depth which balances the slight (almost imperceptible) residual sugar. Versatile and fun.
- Keswick Vineyards “V2”: a blend of early-picked viognier and verdejo. Much like the LVD viognier: fruity, juicy and round, this wine has a yin/yang tension between white peach viognier and leaner sauvignon blanc-like acidity and green apple and herb elements from verdejo. Can be enjoyed on its own as a dry aromatic white or matched with any seafood and most chicken dishes.