While I stand by what I said in the previous posts about 2019 being the best vintage since 2001, it doesn’t mean we should overlook or dismiss other very good vintages that may still be around. While 2015 was good in Northern Virginia, 2016 was even better, and was pretty good in Central Virginia, but these are mostly gone from the retail scene (the exception will be the late-released top wines like Barboursville’s Octagon or Linden’s Hardscrabble, both Meritage-style blends). With rare exceptions, the less we say about 2018 reds, the better.
The 2017 growing season was better than average across the state. According to the 2017 commercial grape report, precipitation was a bit lower than average while temperatures were a bit higher than average. There is a consistent vintage “flavor” I’ve noticed across the state for 2017; I would describe it as ripe black fruits, even a bit “roasted”, with spice and pepper notes, with very ripe, smooth tannins. On top of this, yields were above average, so there was a lot to be happy about!
Some white wines, like varietal Petit Manseng, benefited from the long dry season for acids to drop a bit (look to the Michael Shaps version now on the market). 2017 is definitely a very good red wine vintage, and some like varietal Merlot and Cabernet Franc will be starting to drink at peak this winter. Others (varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat or Petit Verdot, as well as reserve Meritage blends) will take from 2-4 years to reach the start of their ideal peak; and could last another decade or more. Here’s a sneak preview:
** White Hall Vineyards Cabernet Franc $22
Nose: classic for the vintage, roasted black fruits with clean forest floor and pepper/spice. On the palate, ripe black fruits, smooth tannins, no “veggies”, long finish, drinking well now through the end of the year.
Afton Mountain Vineyards had what I thought was a clever strategy; they released the light 2018 reds before the rich 2017 vintage, which they’re now (mostly) putting on the market. Most of the other Virginia ’17 reds are gone, and the ‘19s are coming out but are still quite young; Afton Mountain’s 2017 reds are individually styled to the varietal or blend, but as a group they offer full-bodied, ripe reds that will start to satisfy from the start of this winter to many years from now.
***Afton Mountain Merlot $35
This wine won a silver in the Governor’s Cup competition. Black cherry, cedar and smoke notes on the nose. Palate: ripe black fruits, chewy, good integration, fairly hefty, will hold at least 5 more years but you could start enjoying by December if you decant it first.
**Afton Mountain “Bacco” $35 (41% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Tannat).
For me, this is the most forward and drinkable now of the four Afton Mountain 2017 reds, driven by the red cherry flavors and spice of the Sangiovese. The palate is medium-bodied, with a punchy Sangiovese spice and tannins from the Tannat on the finish. Fun, original, good and versatile for food, from roasted chicken and vegetables to a variety of meats. Still needs 1-3 years to reach optimal peak. To be released next summer, will be hitting its optimal stride by next fall. If this sounds tempting, make notes or call the winery to be notified about its release.
***Afton Mountain Tradition $55 (41% Merlot, 37% Petit Verdot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon)
A Governor’s Cup gold medal as well as being in the Governor’s Case (12 top wines of the competition). Nose: spice and violet notes of Petit Verdot. Palate: gutsy, full-bodied with oak, tannin and fruit well balanced with a big volume. Could start drinking soon but best after 2-3 more years, should hold up until 2027, possibly beyond.
***>*Afton Mountain Petit Verdot (to be released Nov. 1st). $42
Nose: some violets and black fruits, still evolving and integrating with the oak (four years in oak, mostly neutral French), but elegant. Palate: chewy but dense ripe black fruits, pepper and spice, smooth texture and tannins. Stylish, still a bit young but promising, should be decanted until 2024, will last at least another five years.
Pollak Vineyards just a few miles east of Afton Mountain Vineyards has several reserve wines from 2017 that are not on the regular tasting menu or currently listed for sale on their website, but would be worth making inquiries about.
***>*Pollak Meritage $45 (60% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 16% Petit Verdot).
Nose: ripe black fruits, spice and forest floor typical of the vintage. Palate: chewy, ripe black fruits, big pepper and spice, large volume on mid-palate, full-bodied, just opening, will drink well for the next 4-5 years.
****Pollak Cabernet Franc Reserve $75
Pollak doesn’t make a reserve Cabernet Franc every year, but when they do, it’s worth tasting, and talking about. The 2014 vintage ($40 at the time) inspired me to design an industry workshop on the topic. Nose: new French oak is forward, followed by vintage character black fruits and spice in the background. Palate: rich, concentrated, almost intense version of the ’17 Meritage, but rich, plush, smooth ripe fruit and tannin, no coarseness at all, very hedonistic. Could drink now (after decanting) or hold, for the next five years or so.
***Pollak Merlot Reserve $60
Nose: scented red and black cherry and new French oak; faint, needs time. Palate: good integration, fresh acidity, big volume, French oak and tannin balanced with red fruits. Elegant yet rich and full, still needs 2-3 years, then will drink for another 5-8 years.
****>*Pollak Cabernet Sauvignon $75
Nose: subtle but ripe red and black cassis; no obvious oak. Palate: rich, dense, concentrated fruit with oak, tannins and acid in balance. Impressive for the purity of fruit and its dense, plush texture; it’s the sexiest texture for a Cabernet I can remember! Start drinking in 3-4 years, could last 20.
***Pollak Petit Verdot $38
Nose: black fruits, violets and lavender, and French oak. Palate: new French oak, full ripe black fruits and smooth tannins, fresh clean finish. Young but stylish, rich and full-bodied. Needs 2-3 more years but very promising and stylish.
***>*DuCard Triskele 2017 (39% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 33% Petit Verdot).
This tasting note was first posted in May of 2020. The blend was aged 14 months in 50% new French oak. This is DuCard’s reserve red, and it still needs a little air and time in the glass to open up. Once open, lovely aromas of black and red fruits, baking spices and garden herbs. Palate–Wow! Dense, lush and smooth but still fresh and lively, typical DuCard freshness, some French oak notes on the finish. Needs 4-6 years, but worth the wait. Otherwise, decant for a half hour and keep tasting until it’s at your desired volume.
Ratings key: * = good, ** = very good, *** = excellent, **** = exceptional, > = will increase in quality with time.