The splendid wines of Virginia

By Bernard Lamb – London

(Originally appeared in Wine, Food & Friends, Issue #96, Winter 2010)

On the 10th June, the London Branch met at The Naval Club to taste 12 wines from Virginia, presented by Chris Parker. He is the founder and managing director of New Horizon Wines, specialising in Virginia wines. He was an excellent speaker and the wines were all of very high quality.

In 1607, Jamestown’s settlers had a rule that each household had to cultivate ten grape vines. Thomas Jefferson at Monticello tried to grow European varieties, but the real advances have been in the last 30 years. Today 160 wineries have about 3,000 acres between them, producing about 450,000 cases a year. They get excellent advice from the 25-year-old Enology Department of Virginia Tech, one of the top American agricultural colleges.

The first and last wines had been requested by me as organiser of the event after loving them at the London Wine and Spirit Fair in May 2010. The Virginian wines were “discovered” by Brenda Lamb at that wine fair in 2009 when she tried the viogniers.

The Williamsburg Winery Chardonnay Reserve 2007 was a really rich and satisfying wine with a great bouquet, flavour and length, in a very classy Burgundian style. Then we had three very enjoyable Viogniers to compare: Barboursville Vineyards Viognier Reserve 2008; White Hall Vineyards Viognier 2008; Breaux Vineyards Viognier 2008. The last was my favourite, from a warmer region in the Blue Mountain foothills. It had an intense bouquet, a lot of body and a huge, complex flavour, with honey, stoned fruits and spices; 13.8 percent alcohol, $20.

Cabernet franc fruits very well in Virginia, ripening more fully than in the Loire Valley. We tried Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008; Veritas Winery Cabernet Franc 2008; Williamsburg Winery Trianon 2006 (predominately cabernet franc) and Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007. These were all delicious, with the last one being a great and serious wine, with real depth and lots of fruit (13 percent alcohol; $24).

The next wine was the first pure petit verdot which most of us had tasted: Veritas Winery Petit Verdot 2008. It was delightful, deep black-purple, fully ripe, with soft tannins ($29). The last three wines were Bordeaux-type blends: Boxwood Winery Boxwood 2007(cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot; $27); Barboursville Vineyards Octagon 2005 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; $40) and Williamsburg Winery Adagio 2007 (40 percent merlot, 40 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet franc; $65). The first two were excellent in all respects already, dark black-purple, very fruity and complex, with good ripe tannins, while the last had great potential but needed longer to mature.

The wines are not cheap, but they were hugely enjoyed and good value. Several people said that it was one of the best wine tastings that they had been to, and all agreed that the wines of Virginia deserve to be much better known as they are world-class.