Last year, reflecting on widespread frost damage which left some vineyards with no crop, as well as a very hot summer sapping the acidity from the grapes followed by autumn rains, I thought that the best that could be said of the 2020 vintage was that at least it wasn’t 2018.
That’s still largely true as regards the red wines, but the vintage deserves some credit; in the hands of skilled growers and winemakers, they made wines that were brightly fresh, with vivid fruit and crisp acidity. I saw this well displayed at a recent tasting at the Wine Guild in Charlottesville. Ben Jordan, winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison County, poured a selection of wines, three from 2020 and two from 2019. Here are my tasting notes:
**‘Young Wine’ Vidal blanc 2020: Unusually for a Vidal, this wine underwent full malolactic fermentation, which gave it more depth and dimension than you usually see. The high acid of this vintage made this a good idea. The wine was complex and dry, with nice apple fruit, much like a Loire Valley wine. People who don’t think Vidal or hybrids can make a good, complex wine should try this. Best with food like roast chicken or pork. $19.99
***Madison County Chardonnay 2020: The nose struck me as very Burgundian, like a clean Pouilly Fuisse, with fruit, yeast, acidity and malolactic components all contributing and in balance. On the palate, the wine was balanced, dry and complex, with Burgundian acidity. $24.99
**+Shenandoah Valley Cabernet Franc 2020: I like that Early Mountain showcases regional labels of Cabernet Franc to showcase the versatility this grape demonstrates in Virginia. In a cool year like 2020, this cool region of Virginia yielded a fresh, delicate, mineral Pinot Noir-like style of Cabernet Franc that was delightful. It is said that Cabernet Franc is the “Pinot Noir” of red Bordeaux grapes, and this wine shows you why. This is one Virginia red wine you could enjoy in the summer, slightly chilled. $29.99
**EMV Quaker Run Rosé 2020: from old vine Merlot vines, single vineyard at 950 ft. in NW Madison Co. Although they already produce a lighter-colored rosé, this fine rosé is a bit darker in color. I think this is a good thing, because you also get more flavor and texture. This wine has a lovely fresh red cherry bouquet, with similar flavors and also some red plum. While it’s dry, I like the round, flavorful mid-palate with a bit more fruit flavor than you get in the pale, ultra-light Provencal style. I also find the acidity balanced and not as intense as with the Provencal style. Although it’s a single vineyard, old vine wine, its flavor is almost juicy while remaining dry, and you can enjoy it solo or with a wide variety of foods. Not yet released.
**>***Quaker Run Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2019: This is Early Mountain’s top vineyard, at 950 ft. elevation in northwest Madison County. This ripe, juicy vintage made this Cabernet Franc taste like the “sun” version of the grape compared to the “moon” version from the previous Shenandoah Valley wine of that grape from 2020. This wine is still young and closed in but is elegant and has great potential from its depth of fruit and tannin. Worth waiting 1-2 years to enjoy. $39.99
Wine of the Week:
***>****Eluvium Red Blend 2019: Eluvium is Early Mountain’s high-end (but not highest) red blend and, like most other Virginia high-end Meritage-style blends, it’s dominated by Merlot; 80% in this case, with 19% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. This wine is a fine showcase for the singular 2019 vintage. The nose is wonderfully rich, with ripe, varied red fruits and oak, well-integrated. Palate: Wow! Silky tannins, big dark fruits, firm acidity. An impressive example of this label and this vintage. It needs time (at least a year), but thanks to Merlot, is more forward than most 2019 Virginia blends now.
A shout-out to Barren Ridge Vineyards of Fishersville for making the best commercial, authentic German Glühwein! Angela Higgs, wife of General Manager Rob Higgs, is a native German and used her grandmother’s recipe for spices, and a light Barren Ridge red wine. It’s gently spicy, not really sweet, and versatile with things like bratwurst and Christmas cookies.