I’ll start off my list of what I consider the top wines I’ve tasted in 2017 by listing the wines in the Governor’s Case, the top twelve-scoring wines in the Governor’s Cup wine competition. I am one of the judges for the final round in which these wines were picked (none of the judges knew the wines’ identity during the competition).This year cabernet franc made a comeback, as a varietal and in blends, while petit verdot, and meritage or red vinifera blends maintained their status as leading categories for red wine in Virginia.

2017 Virgina Governor’s Cup Case

Barboursville Vineyards 2013 Paxxito (white dessert wine)

Barboursville Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Franc

Breaux Vineyards 2012 Meritage

Breaux Vineyards 2014 Meritage

Cardinal Point Vineyard 2014 Union (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Tannat)

CrossKeys Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc

Horton Vineyards 2015 Viognier

Ingleside Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot

Jefferson Vineyards 2012

Meritage Jefferson Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot

King Family Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot

King Family Vineyards 2014 Loreley

King Family Vineyards Brut

Michael Shaps Wineworks 2014 Cabernet Franc

Michael Shaps Wineworks 2014 Meritage

Pollak Vineyards 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Sunset Hills Vineyard 2012 Mosaic

The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards 2014 Meritage

The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Upper Shirley Vineyards 2014 Zachariah (Red Vinifera Blend)

Valley Road Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot

Veritas Winery 2014 Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 6th Edition

Veritas Winery 2014 Petit Manseng

My Personal Top Wines of 2017:

WHITE **Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2015, Monticello (VA)I presented and spoke on this wine at the recent American Wine Society 50th conference in a seminar on petit manseng. Today, a number of Virginia wineries are making this obscure but game-changing varietal in styles from dry to sweet. This is for me the benchmark of the high-end dry style. This wine was barrel fermented and stirred on the lees in 33% new French oak for 10 months. A 15% addition of Roussanne was added to balance the alcohol and acidity. Nose: complex, with aromas of roasted pineapple, with other orange tropical fruits in the background, and yeast. On the palate, bright orange fruits like kumquat and tangerine are backed up by bass notes of yeast and roasted pineapple. The texture is slightly viscous at first, round and smooth like fine pinot gris, with a bright burst of acidity which lingers in the finish. This is probably the best (most appropriate food match with complexity) white wine for traditional Thanksgiving in the state.

**Blue Bee Harvest Ration: a Virginia cider made like a classic white port, and drinks like a high-end port with fruit, oxidation, acidity and oak in perfect harmony. Cider maker Manuel Garcia explains that this cider, made from bittersweet apples, is fortified with some of its own base that has been distilled (to 18% alc.), with 11% residual sugar, then aged in the barrel for a year before bottling. On the nose, a lively and impressive blend of components: apples, spirit, and barrel in fine balance. On the palate, an outstandingly successful port style cider, which delivers the acidity and tannin to balance the other elements. At $33/half bottle, it’s not cheap but if you want a category leader that is both original and classic, I recommend this for a Thanksgiving dessert (if there are no more than four people).

**Grace Estate “Adeliza” 2014: semi-sweet aperitif style (16.4%) petit manseng aged in 30 year old cognac barrels. This wine isn’t fortified, but fermented to semi-dryness with 3.5% residual sugar but only tastes semi-sweet. Nose: bright tropical fruit typical of the grape, with hints of high alcohol and spiciness of the cognac barrels. Palate: sweet and bright with pineapple and tropical fruit, but firm acid mid-palate to finish, with an intriguing complexity from the cognac barrels. Balanced and original.

**Whitecliff Vidal 2016 HRV, NY: Nose: racy, cool climate aromas of lime and mineral. Palate: riesling-like, fine fruit/acid balance, racy brilliance, green apple fruit, long finish. For varietal vidal, it’s world-class; a shame so many “grape racists” won’t give hybrids a chance, but this won top honors in the last Hudson Valley wine competition.

**Boordy Vineyards Albarino 2016: Nose: loads of citrus minerality like lemon juice and passion fruit poured on wet slate. On the palate, white flowers and passion fruit, only light and ethereal, not smacking your face the way that Marlborough sauvignon blanc does. Lemon/mineral and refreshing throughout, it’s the PERFECT accompaniment to Chesapeake Bay oysters and other delicate seafood like sole, if you can eat them without cocktail sauce. Best In Show; Best In Class; Double Gold Medal: 2016 Maryland Governor’s Cup, Best White Varietal; Gold Medal: 2016 Maryland Comptroller’s Cup.

**Old Westminster pet nat sparkling gruener veltliner 2016: dry, zesty and with more aroma and texture than you find in most still grueners. The nose was fascinating with lemon/lime and passion fruit aromas with some yeastiness, and the full palate was dry, with lots of volume finishing with creamy lemon.


**Pinnacle Ridge Pinot Noir Lehigh Valley 2015: I was a big fan of this pinot based on the 2007 vintage when I compared it to Chambolle Musigny, and I’m pleased to see that it’s performing on the same level in the same way, and is on a par with the best East Coast pinots. Nose: classic Burgundian style: bright red cherry and clean forest floor. Palate: young but balanced and classic with firm acidity to balance delicate fruit, will age at least another three years.

**Atwater Vineyards Syrah 2013 North Block Nine Finger Lakes. The nose is fully-ripened red and black cherry, clean and fresh, with classic white pepper spice and some licorice. On the palate, vibrant red and black cherry, a touch of bacon fat and pepper, very fresh clean finish, nicely mature with lots of varietal character without too much oak, funk or other distractions.

**Casanel Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: 20 months in 45% new French oak. Nose: hint of sandlewood and cassis. Palate: incredibly smooth, with silky texture of well-ripened tannins, with classic black currant flavors of cabernet sauvignon not masked by vanilla oak. If this were a piece of music it would be the Chopin nocturne in E flat. Also elegant at 12.8% alcohol. Needs time, but well worth waiting for!

**Glen Manor 2014 Cabernet Franc: An excellent 100% varietal wine from three one-acre blocks. Nose: classic-plus varietal style. Black cherry aromas with lots of fragrance and spice notes plus well-balanced oak; exotic but elegant. Palate: very intense flavor and rich texture; a “velvet hammer” of ripe black fruit, oak and spice, plush and finishes like velvet. Two stars: in the top league of varietal cabernet francs. $35 is a reasonable price for this.

**Pollak Cabernet Franc Reserve 2014. Nose: red and black cherry, hints of exotic spice and white pepper, subtle and draws you in like a fineChambolle-Musigny Burgundy, stylish but understated. On the palate, spicy and surprisingly concentrated red/black cherry flavors. The most impressive part is how the intensity of flavor grows, like the crescendo of an orchestra; intense but delicate, like fine Burgundy.This fine wine isn’t cheap, nor should it be at $50. If you spent $50 on Burgundy, you might not get as good of a wine as this. Get it while it lasts and then wait a year and a half if  you can.

***Farmer’s Reserve, Adventure Farm 2014(34% cabernet sauvignon, 33% tannat, 33% petit verdot). Nose: Wow! Rich, ripe black fruits, hints of violets and anise and new oak. Palate: superbly blended rich ripe black fruits integrated with smooth tannins, enough but not too much oak. Fine lingering flintiness from tannat on the finish. I like how this wine is rich but doesn’t taste like a street brawl in my mouth. Outstanding example of the “New” Virginia red blends which use both tannat and petit verdot.

****Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2014: Grown at 1,800 ft. on a saddle between two peaks in Amherst County, this close-space, Dijon clone vineyard (pinot noir and chardonnay) is farmed biodynamically. I just finished a bottle of the 2011 and vibrant concentration of fruit and acid is a hallmark of Ankida Ridge pinot noir who have proved not only that pinot noir can be grown successfully in Virginia but that it can be world-class (they were invited to present at IPNC, the International Pinot Noir Camp held in Oregon, in 2015). Nose: still young at 3 years, there are aromas of fresh-cut hay, cherry blossom and bright red cherry. On the palate, the wine is nervy and almost electric with tight, bright red cherry flavors, complemented by vibrant acidity. It drinks like it was made last year, still very lively and with evolving flavors, but they will come right through whatever you’re eating, with the acidity leaving a refreshing finish. If you can source a second bottle it will last at least until 2020, likely to 2024. I’ll also give a shout-out to the Best of Category medalists in the Drink Outside the Grape and Best of New England wine competitions (disclosure: I run both events).

Drink Outside the Grape Best of Category Winners 2017:

Best Cider: Kaneb Orchards (NY) Cranberry Crisp

Best Fruit Wine: Flickerwood Wine Cellars (PA) “Bruises”

Best Mead: Laurel Highlands Meadery (PA) Chambourcin Pyment

Best Eaux-de-vie or Fruit Brandy: Ironworks Distillery (Nova Scotia) pear eau-de-vie.

Complete results online at www.drinkoutsidethegrape.com.

Best of New England Wine Competition Best of Category Winners 2017:

Best White Wine, Shelburne Vineyards of Vermont for their 2015 La Crescent;

Best Red Wine: LaBelle Winery of New Hampshire for their Amherst Vineyard Red 2015;

Best Rosé: Sharpe Hill Vineyards of Connecticut for their Dry Summer Rosé 2015;

Best Sparkling Wine: Cellardoor Winery of Maine with for their “Vendage” 2012;

Best Cider: Stowe Cidery of Vermont for their Dry Hopped Cider;

Best Fruit Wine: Copper Beech Winery of New Hampshire for their Country Crabapple;

Best Mead: Hermit Woods Winery of New Hampshire for their Three Honey Gold;

Best Dessert Style wine: Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard of Rhode Island for their Amrita 2014;

Best Specialty Wine: Aaronap Cellars of Massachusetts with  for their Forest Gold maple wine.

Complete results online at www.bestofnewenglandwine.com.

Happy New Year! If it’s anything like the last two, we’ll ALL need a lot of good wine to get through it.