The top honor for the wineries of the Monticello AVA, the Monticello Cup, was revealed by competition organizer Frank Morgan at 7:20 on April 26th, to be the “Nineteen” Meritage blend by Wisdom Oak Winery, owned by Jason and Laura Lavellee. The Nineteen blend is 50% Petit Verdot, 25% of each of the Cabernets.

Cup competition organizer Frank Morgan presents the 2022 Monticello Cup to Wisdom Oak owners Jason and Laura Lavellee.

Jason explained that the wine that made “Nineteen” was blended from individually selected barrels of the component wines. On the palate, the wine is juicy and forward with dark fruits but also plump and smooth in texture with ripe tannins. It reminded me of a Late Bottled Vintage Porto (with lower alcohol) in a table wine format; juicy but well-structured underneath the ripe fruit and smooth tannins.

Over seventy wines were entered in the competition this year, all from member wineries of the Monticello AVA and with wines made by fruit grown there.

Reds from 2017 and 2019 Dominate Gold Medals

In a competition dominated by red wines from the excellent 2017 and outstanding 2019 vintages, only three of the gold medal wines went to white wines which were: Trump Winery 2017 blanc de blancs (sparkling), Michael Shaps 2019 Petit Manseng, and Jefferson Vineyards 2019 Chardonnay. Of the 19  remaining gold medals, only 4 were not from the 2017 or 2019 vintages.

Vintage Character: Black vs. Red Fruits

I’ve found the 2017 vintage to be excellent for Virginia red wines, with a consistent vintage character of ripe black fruits, a touch of forest floor, and long smooth tannins. The 2019 vintage is even better, with juicy, forward bright red fruits, then smooth tannins and fresh acidity on the finish. The 2017 vintage reds are drinking well now but will improve; the 2019 reds are drinking more forward now than you would expect but the more tannic and reserve style reds will be better with another year or more of age, and will last up to 20 years.

Some of My Favorite Reds

The 2014 Octagon, Barboursville Vineyards’ signature reserve red, showed how the ’17 and ’19 reds will reward patient aging, with ripe, smooth black fruits, hints of pencil lead, and fine integration of fruit, acid and tannin.

In the 2017 vintage, I liked the Veritas Petit Verdot and Reserve blend, very much, but my favorite was the Stinson Meritage, with 50% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 15% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The wine was delicate and elegant at first, then grew on the palate with smooth finesse on the finish. I also was touched by winemaker Rachel Stinson’s including a cute painting of her daughter Wells on the label.

In the 2019 vintage, I didn’t find anything I didn’t like. Some of my favorites: Barboursville’s Nebbiolo, with more rose petal and juicy fruit than I’ve seen yet in this grape; Jefferson’s estate Merlot, about as good as varietal Merlot can get; Cardinal Point’s Clay Hill Vineyard Cabernet Franc, and Keswick’s Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Block 7. This is a rich ripe Cabernet with NO vanilla or coconut aromas from new oak, deep rich fruit, and firm long but ripe and smooth tannins. Typical of the vintage, it is surprisingly approachable now, but will reward patient cellaring (Note: this wine has not been publicly released yet). For a detailed description of how Keswick’s Cabernet evolves over time, read my recent blog post on their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon as my “Wine of the Week.”