So first, let me take back the complete and total write-off I made of the 2018 vintage in Virginia recently. Nobody will dispute that as far back as we can remember, this vintage was the pits, for the inches of rain and crop loss either due to poor fruit set in May or rot in harvest. Emily Pelton, winemaker at Veritas Vineyards, reported that she normally has 35 inches of rain annually at her Afton location; this year, she had 80 (during the growing season; it has continued to rain vigorously since). I also heard that the state rainfall average is 46 inches, and we reached that already by the end of August.

However, what I failed to take into account was that anyone who has been making wine in Virginia for more than two vintages knows that we have no “typical” vintage, and we frequently have one extreme (the great 2017) followed by a disaster (2018). The same thing happened in 2002/03, 2006/07 (in reverse), and 2010/11.

Winemakers here have to be able to think on their feet, drop any planned model they might prefer and go with what the fruit and the numbers (brix, acidity, pH and tannin ripeness) present. Like sea captains, they must be able to navigate based on a solid schooling in the skills and technology, changing weather conditions, have good instincts for getting through a storm when you can’t read the instruments, and have good communication with their crew and vineyard managers.

This week I visited six wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail and tasted both white and red samples of the infant 2018 vintage, as well as bottled whites and barrel samples of the great 2017 vintage. Good news abounds; the 2018 vintage is light, but the experienced winemakers did what was necessary in sorting fruit, following the style they felt the wines wanted to be, and the results are MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED!

For 2017, I was rewarded with delicious wines both red and white, but I was also pleasantly surprised by how elegantly balanced the wines are showing. The last “great” vintage was 2010, and although there were a lot of long-term aging whites, the heat and rapid ripening meant a lot of wines with low acid and hot texture. In 2017, August was cool and dry (perfect for the whites), then we had a heat spike in September (perfect for the reds), and everything has balance, finesse, and the reds have seductively smoooooth tannins! (Did I say “smooth”?)

Favorite 2018 White Wines (either tank or barrel samples)

  • **Veritas Vineyards Viognier: barrel sample from new acacia (black locust) barrel. Pelton and also Matthieu Finot at neighboring King Family Vineyards prefer how acacia interacts with Viognier contrasted with oak; it’s less of a clash of vanilla and bitter almond, and blends more harmoniously while allowing the natural floral aromatics of Viognier to shine. Nose: lovely white flowers, bass notes of acacia wood that marry well. Palate: great integration, finesse, clean, bright floral notes, fresh apricot fruit. Lovely and well-integrated for a two-month old wine of this vintage.
  • Veritas Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (barrel sample): a classic Loire Valley-like flinty nose with gunpowder hints, and fresh green plums. On the palate, high acidity but solid ripe pear flavors, firm acid and some tannin on the finish. At 12% alc., this will be an impressively classic French style.
  • Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (tank sample): Nose of passion fruit, lemon rind and pear, also big pink grapefruit pith. Palate: chewy, some tannins, lots of grapefruit pith, high acidity but vibrant fruit, will be dynamite!
  • King Family Vineyard “Crosé” (in small 4-pack cans): based on merlot, but as occasionally in the past, has an aroma of grapefruit-like sauvignon blanc. Aromatic, crisp and bright, will be a great summertime white.
  • King Family Vineyard Chardonnay (barrel sample, 3 year old French): nose: clean fruit, lots of nice dairy notes but clean, then apple/pear fruit. Palate: high acidity, but vibrant and clean with lemony acidity. Will be a contender for a New World white Burgundy.
  • King Family Vineyard Viognier (acacia barrel sample): Nose: nice spread of floral high notes, acacia bass notes. Palate: ripe white peach flavors. Impressive start!
  • Glass House Winery Signorella (Traminette), 25% Petit Manseng Nose: waxy and spicy. Palate: lots of pineapple, long finish, well-knit, promising and lively!
  • Glass House Winery Viognier: For such a lousy vintage, this is successfully true to Glass House’s benchmark style. Nose: white flowers and white peach with fresh apricot. Palate: juicy, fresh, pure apricot. Nice job!
  • Glass House Winery “Pink Drink” N: bright, clean red cherry and strawberry notes. Palate: juicy, fresh and dry. Will not disappoint.

Favorite 2018 Red Wines (either tank or barrel samples)

  • *Early Mountain Vineyard Blaufränkisch pet nat: This ancient, rustic style of sparkling wine is made at EMV by sparkling specialist Maya White. It has to be bottled under crown cap while still fermenting, and is drunk when the vintage is concluded. I’ve had the syrah pet nat, but this one takes the cake. Despite the firm acid and low alcohol, the juicy, grapey purple fruit is forward, quaffable and thirst-quenching. Anyone who hasn’t tried pet nat before and is wondering, this is the one to try, though it may only be available through the wine club.
  • *Veritas Malbec (a blend of barrels): Deep color for this vintage. N: leafy, but not “veggie” as in green pepper. Fresh (varietally typical) boysenberry notes. Palate: very good, claret style w. moderate alcohol, clear, clean fresh berry fruit, nice acidity, bright, but not edgy. Impressive!
  • Veritas Cabernet Franc (clone 8) Nose: bright pink cherry and raspberry, no “veggies”. Palate: fresh plum, black cherry, nice acid balance; pretty good for ’18.
  • King Family Vineyard Cabernet Franc (neutral oak) N: raspberry, bright and clean. Palate: bright, fresh, clean raspberry fruit.
  • King Family Vineyard Petit Verdot: Opaque violet color! Nose: violets and black bramblefruits. Palate: rich, juicy, full-bodied with ripe tannins. Promising and true to varietal.

Next: Tour Favorites of 2017

Rating scale: * = very good, ** = exceptional, *** = outstanding