This is part two (red wines) for my blind tasting report on the very good 2019 vintage now being bottled and sent to market.

Whites, rosés, and light to medium-bodied reds like Cabernet Franc and some Meritage blends have been bottled and will be released soon. This tasting even includes early-released Petit Verdot and Tannat wines.

The 2018 vintage was a crummy one due to near-constant rain and resulting rot in the crop. Although some of the white wines were surprisingly good with zesty acidity and vibrant fruit, many were not. There were very few red wines made at all that vintage.

I’ll also give a shout-out to the fine 2017 reds now on the market. With this rotten winter weather, this is a good time to order your favorite Virginia reds online and have someone else deliver them while making plans to seek out the 2019 whites and light reds when spring comes. My blind tasting notes on the red wines will be released in a few days.

The 2019 Vintage in Virginia

After taking it up the ah, trellis in 2018, a vintage where it rained double the annual average in the state, 2019 provided a welcome contrast to Virginia growers. There were no killing frosts in spring, and the growing season was warm and dry, allowing late-ripening varieties to develop ripe smooth tannins.

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. Some 2019 reds are fresh and elegant. Some Petit Verdot, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and even two Tannats that have already been bottled were submitted for this tasting and are reviewed. Most of the bigger reds (some Meritage blends, Merlot, reserve-style Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot) are still aging and won’t be bottled until the summer, but this mid-winter alert gives you an idea of what to expect when these wines come on the market.

Rating Scale: one star is “good” and equates to a bronze medal; two stars is for “very good” and equates to a silver medal; three stars is “excellent” and equates to a gold; four stars is for “outstanding” and equates to a high gold medal. The plus sign is used to indicate young wines that have the potential to improve beyond my current tasting notes.

Tasting Methodology: wines were grouped as closely as possible stylistically or by grape variety and were tasted blind (an assistant put them in bags and in a random tasting order within the flight). References to winemaking notes were taken after the wines were tasted and identified, as most wineries had sent technical notes. For quality, I look for varietal typicity, balance, harmony, and flavor.

  • Cabernet Franc

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.

*53rd Winery (Louisa) Nose: complex, scented black cherry and garden herbs. Palate: tannic, also firm acidity, needs time to integrate, not much flavor now but has potential best based on the aromatics.
*Cardinal Point Winery Clay Hill (Nelson Co.) This is a single vineyard bottling. It is fresh and delicate on the nose with red cherry notes reminiscent of Pinot Noir, and a hint of oak and spice. The palate is tannic, with hints of red cherry. Firm tannins and acids needs time for fruit to flesh out.

  • Meritage

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.

  • Petit Verdot

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.

  • Tannat

This grape from southwest France shares the same root as the word “tannin”. Like Petit Verdot, it’s looking to be a game-changer on the Virginia wine scene. In this climate, if well-ripened, the tannins are smooth with ripe black fruits and a hint of baking spices. Some have started blending Tannat into their otherwise Meritage blends; some are making varietal wines, and some are blending it with Petit Verdot for a uniquely Virginia-style vinifera blend.

From the varietals and blends I tasted for this review, I’m very impressed with how vintners are handling Tannat in Virginia today. Last week I opened a Tannat from 2010, which had won medals then. I was surprised to see it was only 13% alcohol, and tasted quite ordinary, even after decanting. By contrast, all of the Tannat-based wines below from 2019 were riper and showed much more fruit and potential. I drank half a bottle of the Philip Carter Tannat last night; it was unsurprisingly a little raw but I liked the ripe briar fruits, lively acid, and tannin. I was surprised to see that the alcohol was 15.8%, but some grape varieties can carry high alcohol better than others. The wine did not taste hot or out of balance and was more pleasurable than the 10-year old Tannat at only 13%.

***+Philip Carter Winery (Rappahannock Co.) A deep purple color. Nose: surprisingly elegant, scented blackberries with a hint of baking spices. Palate: juicy, intense fruit/acid balance of ripe blackberry with dense, ripe, and very smooth tannins. Elegant with balance and finesse.

***Rosemont of Virginia Vineyards (Mecklenburg Co.) Nose: ripe black fruits poured over slate, with a hint of rare roast beef. Palate: rich, ripe, smooth tannins with dense black fruits and a hint of licorice. Stylish.

  • Other Reds

***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. Could drink now but will be better by September for autumn/winter drinking.

**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.

Call your favorite wine retailer to see if these wines are in stock, or you can always order online direct from the winery.