In my last blog post, I explained how the 2019 vintage in Virginia produced the best red wines I’ve seen in nearly 20 years. The wines reviewed there were fruit-forward and juicy, for near-term enjoyment.

Now we’ll look at the more gutsy red wines of the 2019 vintage in Virginia, which I would summarize as being “big and bold but balanced.” Fruit was ripe and rich, tannins ripe and smooth, and oak and alcohol balanced and well-integrated with the rich fruit. We’ll organize these wines by varietal or blend category.

I’ve tasted a lot of wines in my 40 years in the business, but I don’t recall another tasting of wines of one region and vintage that I have been as impressed with as this “reserve” group of Virginia reds from 2019. These all need some time in the cellar to mature, from a couple of months to many years, but it also depends on how mature vs. young you like to drink your reds.

I’ve waived my usual star rating system; all these wines are from three to four-plus stars or from excellent to outstanding. Note that with all of the wines in this group, you should either cellar them for some years or decant them for a long time before you drink them.

Some gutsy big and bold wines of the 2019 vintage in Virginia: from left to right, Casanel Carmenere, Pippin Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Philip Carter “Cleve”.

Cabernet Franc

  • DuCard Reserve

This is only the second vintage DuCard has made a reserve Cabernet Franc. It was aged in all neutral French oak. Nose: ripe, clean black cherry, generous toasty oak. Needs decanting or the oak will dominate the flavor at this point. Palate: LARGE volume! Big all the way: black cherry flavors, lots of chewy oak, and Picante black pepper. This is more new oak than I usually prefer in a Cabernet Franc, and for optimal integration and enjoyment I would recommend laying this down for at least five years, but it could likely last a decade or more. Even then, I’d recommend decanting. Proprietor Scott Eliff has his staff “religiously” decant the 19 CF Reserve, and says “It changes a ton in about 10-20 minutes.”

  • 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.

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Pippin Hill Vineyards

Nose: subtle black currants, a hint of almond oak. Palate: flavors closed, with chewy oak and ripe, large tannins; dense fruit but needs time to emerge. Crisp, fresh finish. Promising but needs at least another 2 years for the fruit to emerge, best from 5-10 years. A wine made to lay down yet still elegant and balanced.

Meritage Blends

  • King Family Vineyards

Nose: complex, 47% Merlot, 28% Petit Verdot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec. Nose: black fruits, a complex Right Bank matrix of spice, pepper and garden herbs. Palate: fresh, ripe with BIG ripe fruit, full tannins that keep going on. Needs time, but could be enjoyed now if decanted for a few minutes. This is a ringer for a St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe. King Family is known for Meritage, but this could be their best one yet.

  • Early Mountain Vineyards Novum

This blend is 45% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot, 18% Tannat and 3% Petit Verdot. Nose: ripe black fruits and a hint of spice. Palate: impressive integration, lack of big new oak, ripe, fine, smooth tannins with a fresh finish. Very stylish, balanced and integrated, will start drinking well by this winter but needs decanting. Impressive for having 18% Tannat that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the blend.

Petit Verdot

Like the white Rhone grape Viognier, this obscure red Bordeaux grape has found as successful a home in Virginia. While sought after as a deeply- colored, rich yet smooth and seductive varietal wine, it is often used in Virginia Meritage blends to very successful effect.

  • Casanel  Estate, Middleburg AVA (Loudoun Co.)

Dark, vivid garnet color. Nose: clean, dark, subtle black fruits, no obvious oak. Palate: tight and taut, intense fruit with almond oak, tannin and acidity but deftly balanced. Lovely ripe black fruits, richly dense but with smooth, concentrated tannins. I think of the term “velvet hammer” when tasting this. Please don’t think of drinking this until the winter of ’22-’23, but ideal in 5-10 years in a cool, quiet cellar.

Non-Meritage Blends

  • Philip Carter “Cleve”, 50/50 Petit Verdot/Tannat (Rappahannock Co.)

Nose: rich, ripe black fruits with exotic baking spices. Palate: a serious bass note in a minor key, lots of black fruits and high acidity with big tannins to boot. Oak, pepper and spice on the finish, this wine is like a great bass opera singer and he’s only just warming up with a reciative! Wait five years if you can, but best from ten if you can keep it properly cellared.


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.

  • 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 Varietals

  • Casanel Carmenere Estate Middleburg AVA (Loudoun Co.)

Dark, opaque ruby color. Nose: rustic, earthy, typical of the grape, then tart cherry, white pepper and herb/spice notes as with Sangiovese. Palate: more spice than fruit, loads of white pepper, allspice, and garden herbs. The best varietal version I’ve tasted of this wine. A wonderful food wine for roasted meats/veggies or goulash, cassoulet and Rhone wine dishes. Still very young but could enjoy from the depths of this winter or cellar for 2-5 years. This is actually the most forward and least “closed” of the wines in this group.