Wine Reviews: Virginia Governor’s Cup

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-18-2020

I love Virginia wines, and not just because a lot of Virginia wine country is close to my home in Washington, DC. It’s been difficult to keep up, however, with Virginia wines, as more and more producers keep popping up, year after year.

For the past seven years or so, I’ve enjoyed sampling some of the Commonwealth’s best wines through the Governor’s Cup Case. For the 2019 Governor’s Cup competition, wineries submitted more than 500 entries. An esteemed group of wine experts blind-tasted their way through them all, narrowing the winners down to 12.

This year features some well-known producers, and some that I was not as familiar with. Stalwarts like Horton and Barboursville make an appearance, as does King Family, whose wines frequently feature in the winning dozen. And Early Mountain’s Eluvium blend wows again.

But winemaker Michael Shaps really ran away with this in the 2019 Governor’s Cup. He makes wine in Burgundy (under the Maison Shaps label), and some excellent Virginia wines under the Michael Shaps Wineworks moniker, three of which made it into this case. He also works as a consulting winemaker for more than a dozen Virginia wineries. Two of those wines also made it into this case.

These wines were received as part of an online tasting organized by my friend and Virginia wine whiz Frank Morgan. They were tasted sighted.

2017 Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino ReserveUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Light yellow color. So fresh with its aromatic display of wet rocks, mountain stream, crushed shells, wild green herbs, honeysuckle, over lime and crunchy apricot fruit. Vibrant, gorgeous acidity on the palate meets a waxy mouthfeel, and the balance is superb. Juicy lime, apricot and papaya fruit blends well with river rocks, fresh rain, wet slate elements, and I get these cool notes of mint, verbena and honeysuckle. I’ve loved this wine before in other vintages, but this one is extra special. Gorgeous stuff, and great value. (91 points IJB)

2016 Michael Shaps Petit MansengUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Almost neon yellow color. These aromas are hedonistic as hell, with rich nougat, almond butter, orange marmalade, lemon cake, graham cracker and candied ginger. Plump texture on the palate, this is bold and waxy but sports lively acidity. Hard-punching fruit (baked apple, glazed pear, candied orange), and mixed with flavors of cinnamon cake, peanut brittle, orange creamsicle, honey and graham cracker. There are some salty, white tea notes. Still a lively wine, but I feel some of the nuances of the fruit are masked by oak. (88 points IJB)

2016 Horton Vineyards Petit MansengUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Orange County
Rich gold color. A bright and attractive nose of sea salt, white tea, waxy-oily tones and honey, on top of lemon curd and kiwi fruit. Rich textural depth on the palate, but ripping acidity (which I love), and the balance is on point. Tropical, a burst of lime, kiwi, green melon, but there’s a rush of underlying chalk dust, minerals, and sea salt that keeps it racy, lively, complex. A well-deserved spot on among the Governor’s Cup winners. (90 points IJB)

2016 Early Mountain Vineyards EluviumUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
Deep purple color. A dark aromatic core of blackberry and black cherry, with loads of pepper, anise, magic marker, a saucy and spicy nose. Sturdy and well-built, with solid tannic grip but moderate acidity, set against a core of blackberry and currant fruit. Lots of smoky, earthy, tar notes, with anise, black pepper glaze, accented with coffee and vanilla elements. This needs three years or so to show it’s best, but with air and time, it has a lot to show. Very good stuff again from Early Mountain. Merlot and Petit Verdot. (91 points IJB)

2015 Glen Manor Vineyards Cabernet FrancUSA, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Medium purple color. Smells lively and fresh, with black cherries, wild blueberries, along with plenty of mesquite, barbecue sauce, black pepper glaze, sweet violets and coffee. Medium/full-bodied with solid tannic grip, moderate acidity, this is pieced together nicely. Vibrant black cherries and blueberry fruit blends well with complex smoky, menthol, barbecue sauce and leather notes. A riper, darker style of Cab Franc, but very well done. Dark chocolate and coffee grounds elements are woven in well. This could really use four or five years, but it’s a beautiful Virginia Cabernet Franc. (90 points IJB)

2016 King Family Vineyards Mountain PlainsUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Medium purple color. On the nose, there’s a solid core of currants, black cherries, red plums, with violets, sage, menthol, fallen leaves, cedar shavings. On the palate this wine shows solid grip but crisp, focused acidity. Crunchy currant fruit mixes well with complex elements of campfire smoke, grilled meat, violets, tobacco leaf, graphite. Notes of roasted coffee and vanilla are woven in expertly. This is really, really good, and deserves five years of time in the cellar to show its best potential. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. (91 points IJB)

2016 King Family Vineyards MeritageUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Light purple color. Beautiful aromas of crushed raspberries, juicy black currants, and a complex host of tobacco leaf, sweet violets, mint, loamy earth, espresso and cedar. Medium/full-bodied, crisp acidity balances out the sturdy tannins nicely, and the freshness is gorgeous. Crushed black cherries, raspberries and currants, the fruit is laced with notes of racy minerals, graphite, smashed rocks. Tobacco, mushroom and fallen leaves add complexity, while cedar and coffee notes mix in well. This is beautiful stuff that will age for a decade easily. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. (91 points IJB)

2015 Michael Shaps TannatUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Deep purple color. On the nose, a deep core of tart currant and black cherry fruit, mixed with lovely mesquite, incense, pepper, cocoa, tons going on but it needs a lot of air. Full but fresh on the palate, solid grip, this is young but balanced. Tangy black cherry and cassis mix with lots of complex barbecue, anise, pepper, grilled herbs, and dark chocolate notes. The freshness is really attractive, and the wine finishes with deep mineral and graphite elements. I’d love to see this with five to eight years of age on it. (90 points IJB)

2015 Paradise Springs MeritageUSA, Virginia, Northern Virginia
Deep purple color. So peppery and leathery on the nose, with grilled steak and campfire smoke, mixed with blackberry compote. Fresh acidity frames the wine nicely, structured but smooth tannins, with velvety, suave currant and blackberry fruit. Significant oak signatures (chocolate chip, vanilla, espresso), but they’re woven in well with elements of tilled soil, graphite, leather, pepper and grilled steak. This could use a year or two to open up, or a good decant. Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. (88 points IJB)

2016 Hamlet Vineyards ElthamUSA, Virginia
Medium purple color. Smoky aromas of mesquite, grilled steak, coffee and anise, on top of tangy red and black currants. Medium-bodied, zippy and fresh acidity, structured tannins, but they have rounded edges and are integrated well. Crisp black cherries, crunchy plums and cranberry fruit, topped in pepper, soy, menthol, violets and leather. Fruity yet vibrant with integrated coffee and oak elements. Fresh but not simple, this is my first time tasting from this producer, and it’s a good introduction. 50/50 Merlot and Petit Verdot. (88 points IJB)

2014 Upper Shirley Vineyards Zachariah ReserveUSA, Virginia
Deep purple color. Deep and spicy nose with a dark core of blackberry and dark plum, mixed with tobacco, charcoal, magic marker. Full-bodied with solid tannic grip, medium acidity. The dark, crunchy currant and plum fruit is blended with smoky, beefy, menthol tones, violets, with coffee and cocoa tones. The oak signature is heavy, here. A bit intense, this could use some age, as it took a while to open up. Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Tannat. (86 points IJB)

2016 Michael Shaps Raisin d’EtreUSA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello
Deep orange color. Such bold, rich, inviting aromas, with guava, candied orange peel, lychee, glazed pears, roasted nuts. The texture on the palate is sweet and lush with gorgeous depth and vibrant, crisp acidity – the balance is superb. Honeyed pears, apricot, the fruit is mixed with graham cracker, peanut brittle, cinnamon crumb cake, but also these salted almond and crushed shell tones. Delicious, complex, harmonious, this can age a long time. Petit Manseng grapes dried in tobacco barns, this has 13% alcohol and 7% residual sugar. (91 points IJB)

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