Stephen Barnard, Winemaker of Keswick Vineyards and Executive Director of the Monticello Wine Trail

On Friday, August 5th, the Monticello Wine Trail showcased the newly released wines of the 2021 vintage, at a group tasting held at Eastwood Farm and Winery south of Charlottesville.

Tasting The 2021 Vintage

The 2021 white wines were recently bottled and released. They are, on the whole, bright and fresh, but at the same time, full of zesty, clean fruit. Alcohol levels were moderate (most between 12 and 13.5%). Most were enjoyable now, but will “come together” more in the next couple of months. Some, although high in quality, will need more time in the bottle (at least until November) for the flavors and fruit to emerge. For a debut release, this tasting showed promise and satisfaction for white wines from the Monticello area.

Experiencing Climate Change Up Close

About the time the event began for the general public at 6 pm, the dark sky full of pregnant clouds finally burst forth in torrential rains. Until July, rainfall had been moderate and normal for a Virginia summer, but since then Central Virginia has seen rain, at times very heavy, about every other day. All the wineries had to move their tasting tables at least six feet in under the tent to keep servers from being drenched; hats off to the tent company whose product held up and kept us all dry.

My Personal Favorite 2021 Whites from the Tasting

  • Veritas Vineyards: winemaker Emily Pelton poured her new releases from 2021; Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and a new reserve blend called “The Momentarius Collection”. All three were outstanding but different.

***Sauvignon Blanc ’21: Like a Sancerre on steroids! Loads of flinty minerality and lemon/lime and pink grapefruit. Alcohol only 12% and not full of passion fruit like the NZ style, but this is still a mind-blowing Sauvignon with everything you want. Great now but will be fully integrated by next spring.

***Viognier ’21: The freshness of the ’21 vintage gives this Viognier lovely tangerine fruit on the nose with white flowers. On the palate, an impressive balance of fresh tangerine flavor and zesty acidity, with floral hints on the finish. Fresher than in other vintages; a lovely style.

**→*Momentarius White ’21: A blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Petit Manseng, with some oak. The nose is subtle, mostly closed now, with hints of tropical fruit flavors on the palate, but the texture is lush and dense, but with balancing acidity on the finish. This will be an excellent food wine especially for cream sauces or with roast poultry like turkey. It needs 2-3 more months for flavors to emerge, but will be worth the wait.

Keswick Vineyards: winemaker (and ED of the Monticello Wine Trail) Stephen Barnard poured three of his new ’21 white releases which, like those from Veritas, were diverse, fresh and high quality:

***Lydian ’21: Like the Veritas Momentarius, this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng. While the Momentarius is a rich, dense reserve blend, the Lydian is bright, fresh, fruity and fully enjoyable young. The Petit Manseng will enable it to age for a few years, if you can hold it that long. This is a versatile wine, good for summer appetizers or with light summer cuisine like shellfish.

**→* Chardonnay ’21: This is an elegant yet restrained Chardonnay, with fresh apple fruit and mineral hints, but aging in neutral oak allows some textural depth, and finishes fresh. The wine is good but young and will evolve well in the next several years. Buy several; some to enjoy while it’s still awfully hot, and some to lay down for next year or beyond.

**Viognier ’21: If you’ve been longing for Viognier that delivers delicate fruit and bright, racy acidity, this is the one for you. Fresh apricot hints on the nose are followed by a round, clean mid-palate and vibrant, fresh acidity on the finish. The perfect Viognier for the first white wine in a multi-course summer wine dinner.

Horton Vineyards was represented by Shannon Horton, the late founder Dennis’s daughter, and her daughter, Dennis’s granddaughter, and also current winemaker. Since the 2022 vintage will be the 30th anniversary of the first vintage of Horton’s (or anyone’s) Virginia Viognier, which caused a stir with the Rhone Rangers in 1993, and put the grape on the map for Virginia, the Horton women featured three Viogniers; their sparkling, on the lees for five years; the 2020 Barrel Select, and the 2021 regular.

**→*Barrel Select Viognier 2020: I tasted and blogged about this wine maybe last winter. At the time it was recently bottled and had very little flavor, but I could tell from the density of the texture that it had potential and would come around. Now, it finally is. There’s a tangerine/mango tropical fruit on the nose, a rich, dense mid-palate, but a fresh lively finish. I’ve never had a reserve Viognier driven by fruit selection instead of by oak etc. before, but this is just beginning to come into its own, and will be just hitting stride by Thanksgiving, but can lay down for 5-10 years more.

**→*Viognier ’21: The nose on this wine is crazy-intense tropical fruit and kumquat/tangerine, but the palate is still fresh. It actually needs more time to come together and integrate, but for a regular release, this is intense varietal style, and I think it has years of life ahead of it. Buy lots and enjoy one (at least) a year for 12 years.

Lovingston Winery just a mile to the west of Rt. 29 south of that town has new owners: Bill and Shelley Riley, and Tessa and Wes Roberts. The Roberts’ were just married at the winery in June, and were together at the tasting pouring their Seyval Blanc ’21.

Seyval used to be the workhorse white of the Virginia wine industry before the shift to white vinifera (European) varieties from the late 1980s on. Most of the early Seyval was coarse and unpleasant. However, it has become a heirloom variety for Virginia, with wineries like Lovingston and Rappahannock Cellars having learned how to handle it in the vineyard and winery.

**Seyval Blanc ’21: A wine like this proves that “grape racism” has no defense. There’s white grapefruit on the nose, and it resembles a Sauvignon Blanc or Loire Valley white blend very well, with zesty, fresh acidity and a long, clean finish. This was a great choice to stand out from the other white offerings at this tasting with a distinctive, quality white hybrid varietal. While you can enjoy it now, it may improve over the next year.

Valley Road Winery is the first winery on your right as Rt. 151 opens up with the great view southwest of Humpback Rock against the skyline. They planted their first vines and opened their tasting room in 2016.

**+ Destana ’21 is a proprietary blend. Like others here, it includes Chardonnay and Petit Manseng, but the difference is the third variety, the Rhone grape Roussanne. Both Petit Manseng and Roussanne have a rich, viscous mid-palate, but the first is high acid, and the second is low acid, so they make a rich blend, with the Chardonnay adding freshness. The wine is both tank and barrel fermented, but skillfully balance for a yin/yan palate experience. This is an original and intriguing food wine that can pair with a range of cuisine from colonial Virginia ham and oyster stuffing to moo shoo with hoisin sauce.

Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards in North Garden has some of the best views of vineyards and rolling hills in the Monticello AVA, and are also known as an elegant wedding venue. They are also partners in Michael Shaps Wineworks, so he makes the wines.

**Zero White ’21, named after their boutique hotel in Charleston, is an eclectic and fruity blend with a tension between tropical fruit and stone fruit, and acidity. The blend is 50% Vidal Blanc, 25% Traminette, 14% Viognier, 10.8% Petit Manseng and 0.2% Riesling. The wine is light and fresh with ripe but zesty fruit, an excellent appetizer wine or for summer sipping; stylish and original.

Ratings key: * = good, ** = very good, *** = excellent, **** = exceptional, + = given rating plus, → = will increase in quality with time.