February 23, 2023, Richmond Main Street Station
Governor Glen Youngkin presented the 2023 Virginia Wine Governor’s Cup to Michael Albers, owner of Delfosse Vineyards and Winery in Nelson County (within the Monticello AVA), for their 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage (red Bordeaux blend), bottled under the “Mountain & Vine” label. The wine was made from estate grown grapes, 50% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Malbec ($59.95). The winemaker is Andrew Bilenkij.
The Virginia Best in Show Cider Award was presented to Chuck Shelton of Albemarle Ciderworks for his Blush Cider (made from red-fleshed apple varieties); 7.5% alc., 1% residual sugar, total acidity 15.6 g/L. Apple varieties included 30% Brugeire Red-fleshed Crab, 30% Dolgo Crab, 30% Geneva Crab, 10% Redfield ($23).
This year, the Cup judges sampled 614 of pre-screened Virginia wines and awarded a record 142 Gold medals. The full list of medals winners may be viewed at http://virginiawine.org/governors-cup/awards. The top twelve-scoring red and white wines comprise the Governor’s Cup Case, and of these the highest scoring wine is awarded the Governor’s Cup (disclosure: this writer is one of the judges of this event).
The V Foundation (Victory over Cancer) hosted a silent auction, the proceeds of which go towards cancer research. Luca Paschina and Gabrielle Rausse helped Virginia First Lady Suzanne Youngkin create 199 the “Cornus Virginicus”, a red blend which will be sold to benefit the V Foundation.
Trends in the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition: New Varietals at the Top
The Twelve Wines of the Governor’s Case, 2023
This year, there are no dessert wines in the white wines of the caser, and one is a sparkling wine. Interestingly, the Barboursville Vermentino has been listed in the Governor’s Case every year since 2019, and before that, in 2015 as well, showing the potential of this classy Mediterranean variety (which, however, is cold-tender and needs a warm site). Also, the other two white table wines are both varietal Petit Manseng. One trend I’m spotting is the potential of this newcomer grape to push the established Viognier and even Chardonnay aside for top awards for white wines.
For the top reds (eight of twelve), there was an even split of four Meritage blends, and four varietal Petit Verdot, with no varietal Cabernet Franc, Merlot or others. Meritage has been at the top of the red wine category in the Governor’s Cup and Case in the last few years (six of the twelve Case winners last year were Meritage blends), but since 2021 we are also seeing several varietal Petit Verdot wines in the Case without the presence of other varietal red wines.
To be clear, the quality of Virginia Cabernet Franc, at least since 2015, has changed dramatically, due to planting of new French ENTAV clones, on appropriate rootstock and on better sites than were seen in previous decades. While I love Virginia Cabernet Franc dearly, mostly because of its combination of finesse, subtlety and elegance, I have to admit that Virginia Petit Verdot has also been increasing in quality and dimension.
Virginia is one of the few places on the planet where you’ll see it make up a significant portion of red wine production. Although it’s technically a red Bordeaux variety, as a monovarietal it moves into a separate realm, offering a great combination of New World juiciness and sexy silkiness with herbal, floral and chocolate elements with Old World finesse. With great vintages like 2017, 2019 and 2021 that keep showing up in the Governor’s Case (and other gold medals), we’re seeing that Petit Verdot could very possibly overtake Cabernet Franc as the leading red Virginia varietal.