Wine Reviews: Virginia Governor’s Cup Winners

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-18-2015

If you don’t yet take Virginia wines seriously, step up to the tasting table and get to work. Well-established and up-and-coming wineries are producing all sorts of exciting stuff.

The gold medal award winners of the 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup are a good place to start. Since 1982, the Governor’s Cup wine competition has been highlighting the best selections from the commonwealth’s diverse array of wines. And as the top 12 wines of the 2015 competition show, Virginia has so much to offer.

One of the common threads in this year’s batch of winners is the preeminence of Merlot in the Meritage blends. When I first started tasting Virginia wines eight years ago or so, it seemed like Cabernet Franc had designs on becoming the red grape of the commonwealth. While Virginia Cabernet Franc can be very good (it certainly adds a lot of spice and savory qualities to many Meritage blends), I’ve been more impressed by how well Merlot performs in Virginia. I was recently chatting with Virginia Wine buff Frank Morgan about what grape variety is the most underrated performer in Virginia, and we agreed: Merlot.

Petit Verdot is also gaining respect, as demonstrated by two of the varietal wines in this batch. And I was excited to taste a delicious Tannat from renowned Virginia winery Michael Shaps and a Touriga from Cross Keys. Virginia is home to some stunning Chardonnay and other white wines, but this year’s winners were dominated by dry reds. A couple dessert wines were included for sweet measure.

If there’s one thing that gives me hesitation about a lot of Virginia wines, it’s an overreliance on new oak. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effect of some new oak on a wine, especially a bold Bordeaux-style blend. But some the nuanced flavor profiles in these wines can be obscured a bit by the toasted oak elements.

That said, many of these Governor’s Cup winners display a uniquely Virginian appeal. And with more and more options from all across the state, there has never been a better time to explore Virginia wine.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Catoctin Creek Winery Meritage - Virginia
SRP: $26
Deep ruby-light purple color. Lots of spice on the nose (pepper, bay leaf, tobacco, spearmint). Medium-strength tannic structure, a chewy-dusty feel to the palate but the wine gets silky with air. Black currant, red currant, tart wild cherries and hints of red apple peel mix with a dusty soil element to the wine, also some bright rose and violets. Cedar and cherry wood shavings blend with a solid dose of peppery spice. I like the complexity of non-fruit elements in this wine. 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petite Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2012 North Gate Vineyard Meritage - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
SRP: $24
Light purple color. Nice tart fruit aromas (red and black plums, juicy black cherries), some coffee, dark chocolate, toasted oak and Brazil nuts. Tart and bright palate, impressive tang and punch from the tannins. Lovely tartness to the plum and cherry fruit, mixed in with sweet black licorice candy, Christmas tree and spicy oak. Stays fresh (13% alcohol) and never strays into goopy territory. Notes of clove, black pepper, spiced coffee add complexity. Food-friendly, nice spice to this wine. Finishes with smoky, toasted oak, a bit too much for my palate but it’s not overwhelming. 49% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc.  (87 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $60
Deep ruby-red brick color. Rich and sexy aromatics: juicy dark fruit, sweet cinnamon and cola, rose potpourri, notes of spicy cedar and eucalyptus. Full-bodied, big but velvety tannins, medium acid helps a lot. The rich blackberry fruit mixes well with tart red plum skins and currants. The tanginess of the fruit complements the richer elements of cherry cola, cedar, espresso, roasted fig and eucalyptus. Rich, mouthfilling (14.7% alcohol), but showing nuance, complexity and elegance.  This gets even more expressive with air, so it could easily benefit from 3-5 years in the cellar. A great example of Virginia Merlot-based Meritage, this wine helps you triangulate your palate to Bordeaux blends from Virginia (I find this wine falls somewhere between the richly earthy Mendocino aesthetic and the juicy, eucalyptus-accented feel of Margaret River.) A blend of 45% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Petit Verdot. Aged 30 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 King Family Vineyards Meritage - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $31
Deep ruby-light purple color. Nose bursts with juicy red fruit (cherries, currants, plums), a good dose of spicy (clove, pepper) and sweet (coffee, dark chocolate) elements. Medium-bodied, the tannins are supportive but not too grippy, moderate acid for balance. Red cherries and plums abound, the fruit is juicy but shows a crisp edge. Notes of toasted nuts, vanilla, dark chocolate shavings, the spice and earth elements need some cellar time to come out but this wine has a lot going for it. 13.1% alcohol, a blend of 42% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petite Verdot and 6% Malbec. Aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Narmada Winery Yash-Vir - Virginia, Northern Region, Rappahannock County
SRP: $28
Vibrant purple color. Deep, dark cherries and blackberries on the nose, violets and wet earth, coffee grounds, chewing tobacco. Medium-bodied, dusty tannins, refreshing notes from the acid. Bright approach with a crunchy red and black currant profile. A sense of smoke, coffee, earth and spices pervades the fruit. Notes of toasted nuts, spiced coffee and black olive add complexity. I’d love to re-taste this in a few more years. Interesting stuff for sure. 43% Merlot, 29% Petite Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2009 Muse Vineyards Clio - Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $65
Bold deep ruby color. Gorgeous nose of black cherries, cassis, plums, tangy yet sultry, a complex note of black pepper, chicory coffee, clove, hints of mushroom. Full-bodied, fine but firm tannins, I love how the acid sweeps in and cleans it all up. Waves of fruit, rich yet tart and crunchy, (blackberries, dark plums, blueberry, cassis), but the fruit is equally and perfectly matched with a complex web of coffee, vanilla, charcoal, mushroom, soy, pepper sauce, toasted oak. Long and full yet finishes fresh. I’d love to bury this for four or five years and see what comes out. A beautiful blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot), aged three years in French oak, 50% new, 14.8% alcohol. Naysayers about serious Virginia Bordeaux blends, please taste this 2015 Governor’s Cup winner. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Cross Keys Vineyards Touriga - Virginia
SRP: $46
Bold purple color. Dark and rich nose with blackberry compote, blueberry skins, dark plums, a richly earthy note of loam, rocks and moss. Fine-edged tannins, moderate acid, 12.5% alcohol, a bright and zesty approach. Plenty of tangy dark fruit (plums, blackberries, blueberries), tart and crunchy all around with notes of green coffee, cracked pepper, charcoal smoke, cedar shavings and mocha. Bold flavors but tart and complex, an exciting Virginia interpretation of this classic Portuguese grape. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Delfosse Vineyards and Winery Petit Verdot - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $45
Vibrant ruby color. Nose: cracked pepper, bay leaf, loamy soil and roasted coffee overtop of blackberries and fresh blueberries. Medium+ bodied, grippy tannic structure, medium to low acid. Really well built with blackberries, blueberries and black currants, mashed together with graphite, coffee, charcoal smoke and black pepper. Some toasted cedar and fallen leaves as well. Structured but gets silky quite quickly in the glass, showing off more nuanced earth and floral elements. Time to spare for the cellar. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Vint Hill Craft Winery Petit Verdot - Virginia
SRP: $39
Clear, deep ruby color but heavy sediment. A lighter and more floral aromatic approach on the nose than the Delfosse, this is like dried roses tossed together with some currants and black cherries. Medium-bodied, freshness from the acid, the tannins are structured but fined down a bit, less compact than the Delfosse, actually surprisingly silky. More black and red cherry fruit, a floral potpourri element set against some woodsy, earthy, spice and vanilla flavors. Not as complex or age-worthy as the Delfosse, but quite delicious and definitely interesting. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Michael Shaps Tannat - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $35
Dark purple color. Deep, dark and dense on the nose: crunchy black currants, intense blackberries, roasted figs, black coffee, campfire smoke. Bold and concentrated on the palate with firm and drying tannins, yet some medium acid comes in and tames it a bit. The blackberry, deep blueberry, roasted fig and prune fruit is rich but maintains a tart, crunchy appeal. I get lots of loam, pencil lead, black coffee, iron and olive pit flavors, in addition to a good dose of toasted barrel (perhaps a bit too much). Decant or bury for a few years, this wine has the goods to improve for a decade easily. All Tannat, 14.6% alcohol, aged 18 months in 50% new oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Michael Shaps Petit Manseng Raisin d’Etre- Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
SRP: $25/375ml
Deep gold, orange peel colored. Smells rich and enticing, like orange marmalade, apricot jam, candied ginger, candle wax, clover honey. Full-bodied and rich on the palate, but the acid actually cuts through and keeps the wine from feeling heavy. The fruit is a mix of orange zest, apricot jam, white grape jelly and dried mango, mixed in with elements of candied ginger, honeycomb, sweet blossoms, daisies and candle wax. Interesting and complex flavors, I love the freshness in spite of the richness. A blend of 83% Petit Manseng and 17% Riesling, 12.4% residual sugar, this wine is made by partially drying the Petit Manseng grapes and fermenting them in French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Rockbridge Vineyard V d’Or- Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
SRP: $20/375ml
Deep orange color. Deep but perfumed nose, with a rich mix of dried mango, orange peel, circus peanut and peach ring candies. Rich and creamy palate, medium acid keeps it from being cloying. Flavors of red apple peel, apricot jam, candied orange, mix in some honeysuckle, cut flower stems, white floral potpourri, a hint of quinine. Very rich but showing a lot of deliciousness and some freshness. 13% alcohol, 15% residual sugar, this is a blend of Riesling, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles, the grapes are put in a deep freeze before pressing and fermentation. (87 points IJB)

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