Wine Review: Virginia Specialties

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-10-2023

Sunrise over Shenandoah National Park

Sunrise over Shenandoah National Park

Virginia is for lovers, they say. And I’m a total Virginia lover. Growing up as a kid on the Jersey Shore, with family connections in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia was always a wild, exciting place to visit. We’d climb mountains, scramble on rocks, jump off waterfalls, catch bass, fend off ticks and ground wasps.

Later in life, when I fell in love with wine and moved to the DC region, I instinctively went to Virginia looking for wines and adventure. I’ve enjoyed following the region’s growth and evolution over these past 15 years. And I’ve been lucky enough to explore Virginia through long drives, hikes, climbs, camping trips, and other adventures.

When it comes to wineries, it should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that Virginia is home to some world-class producers. The scene is dynamic, with new winemakers or shifting teams making waves, while to the older wineries who helped establish this wine region are sticking around and continuing their legacy.

I recently tasted through the big winners at the Virginia Governor’s Cup, something I’ve been doing for a decade now. This prestigious competition has been judged people I respect, including some friends of mine, and I always find the top 12 provide a good overview of what’s currently up in the Virginia wine scene. This year (with more than 600 wines submitted) was no different, as the selections are really nice.

But there’s also a glaring trend worth pointing out – Petit Verdot taking charge. I’ve been stoked on Virginia Petit Verdot for many years. More and more, Virginia winemakers are making varietal wines from this traditional blending grape. And I’m a fan of this trend. The best Virginia Petit Verdots have this racy acidity that helps balance the grippy tannins. I do love how a grape like Merlot and Malbec can soften and add some padding to Petit Verdot’s sharp edges, but when done right, this grape shines on its own. Like the rare background band member that can, at the right place and time, break out into an awesome solo career.

Petit Manseng is another grape I love in Virginia, and have written about for many years. This grape does so well in the Commonwealth, and can be made in such a diversity of styles. We also have some a delicious Italian white variety that has found a home in which to thrive here in Virginia. And Virginia Meritage? Seriously worth checking out.

If you haven’t yet explored Virginia wines, the ones in this report will give you some good guideposts. But it’s beautiful country out there, and the best way to dig in is to visit. These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2021 Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino Reserve USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $23
Pale lemon color. A tart and crunchy aromatic display of lemon, quince, orange peel, laced with honeysuckle, dandelion, sea salt, and hints of white pepper. The palate is racy and light but sports a delightful depth of texture, with flavors of kiwi, orange peel, yellow apples. Beneath the fruit, it’s mineral city, with all these talc and crushed rock vibes, mixed in with white flowers and green herbs. Wonderfully crafted Vermentino, stainless steel, aged seven months on the lees. Awesome Virginia value, and an easy six-pack buy for summer oysters and beach trips. (91 points IJB)

2020 50 West Petit Manseng USA, Virginia, Northern Virginia, Middleburg AVA
SRP: $30
Deep yellow color. The aromas sport honey, pineapple, circus peanuts, over orange peels, some almond skin and hay elements. The palate shows a juicy, waxy texture balanced by racy acidity and flavors of kiwi, juicy orange, and pineapple chunks. I love the salty, chalky nuances, which balance out the juicy tropical flavors, and I get floral potpourri, some green herbs, and notes of honeycomb and dandelion. A lot going on here, and I’d like to see how this Petit Manseng ages. (89 points IJB)

2021 Jefferson Vineyards Petit Manseng USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $30
Deep yellow color. The nose shows a warm but bright mix of honey, glazed peaches, pear nectar, with orange peel, spiced white tea, sweet tropical flowers, and hints of sea salt. On the palate, this is really why I love VA Petit Manseng, it has this gorgeous depth and creaminess but the acidity is so racy and focused, binding the wine up perfectly. And these tones of white flowers, honey, almond butter, hay, with limestone and minerals – it all adds such a unique flair. A worthy spot on this list for sure. (91 points IJB)

2016 Trump Winery Blanc de Noir USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $55
Pale lemon color with fine bubbles. The aromas show crushed sweet tarts and chalk dust, with sweet raspberries, red apple, dried roses and sugar cane. The palate has a medium-bodied, zesty acidity vibe with sugar cane and crushed sweet tarts. The flavors of red apple peel, sweet raspberries, and spiced tea add some fun qualities. Pretty straightforward stuff, but it’s still nice. Maybe I’m missing something here, but this was the outlier in the bunch. 100% Pinot Noir aged four years on the lees. (85 points IJB)

2021 Mountain Run Winery Petit Verdot USA, Virginia, Northern Virginia, Culpeper
SRP: $45
Dark purple color. An inviting, deep nose of crunchy, saucy fruit (roasted figs, plum cake, wild blueberry) along with notes of smoky earth, tar, magic marker, violets, and black licorice. The palate is grippy but refined with lively acidity and a tart core of plums, black cherries, and blackberries. The notes of mesquite, graphite, black pepper, grilled steak, and anise add a lot to enjoy and contemplate. A big, dark wine but it stays so fresh and has a lot of nuance and delicacy. I’d love to bury this for five to eight years, but it’s delicious young as well. 100% Petit Verdot. (91 points IJB)

2019 Williamsburg Winery Petit Verdot Reserve USA, Virginia, Virginia Peninsula AVA
SRP: $49
Deep purple with a nose of wild blueberries, black currant jam, fig paste, along with beautiful notes of mint chocolate chip, mocha, violet potpourri, with anise and pencil shavings to boot. The palate has tangy acidity that keeps this bold wine skating over the palate despite the grippy tannins, with flavors of tart blackberry and blueberries. There are a lot of nuances packed in here, like a smoky, meaty, campfire, with notes of toasted oak, magic marker, black tea, and chocolate shavings. This really needs a few years to show its best, but this is legit Virginia PV worth checking out. (92 points IJB)

2021 Paradise Springs Petit Verdot Brown Bear Vineyard USA, Virginia, Northern Virginia, Clifton
SRP: $45
Dark purple color. A smoky, deep aromatic display of black cherries, plum pits, tangy blackberries, with a spicy-herbal mix that offers a lot to like: smoked meats, black pepper, cocoa nibs, tar, violets. The palate has refreshing acidity that keeps the wine lively and balances out the grippy tannins, combining for a bold but nuanced mouthfeel. Flavors of black cherries and dark plums mix well with tones of black olives, anise, leather, paprika, tobacco, there’s a lot to parse through. A tart but deep Petit Verdot that will age really nicely and continue develop all sorts of nuance and cool elements. A unique and delightful take. (91 points IJB)

2019 Barren Ridge Petit Verdot USA, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley AVA
SRP: $29
Vibrant purple color. A saucy aromatic display of roasted plums, black cherry compote, tart blueberry, along with magic market, cocoa, anise, and deep, rocky, loamy soil – really needs air to show its best. The palate is super grippy but balanced by tangy acidity, and the fruit is delicious (blueberries and blackberries). There are some nice gravelly, mineral, graphite tones, and notes of dried violets, clove, and pine tar. Needs air and time to show its best, I think, but a delightful Petit Verdot. Serious value, too. (89 points IJB)

2021 Mountain & Vine Screaming Hawk Meritage USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $60
Lively purple color. The nose shows a delightful mix of smoky, savory tones (mesquite, anise, black pepper, tar, roasted red pepper) over top tangy cranberries and red and black currants – really opens up with air and time. Tart acidity and grippy tannins make for a solid structure, with flavors of tangy currants and blueberries. There are a lot of complex tones in here, from violets and clove to graphite, sage, dark chocolate, and black pepper. Could really use a decant or some time in the cellar, but this is really well put together and delicious. 50% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec. (90 points IJB)

2017 Pollak Vineyards Meritage USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $60
Deep purple color. Ooh, there are some fantastic aromas in here – tart currants and blueberry fruit, mixed nicely with this menthol, mint, black pepper, tobacco, hints of cedar and mocha, makes me salivate. The palate shows solid grip and tangy acid with a suave but fleshy appeal, and flavors of tangy plums and black currants. Lovely balance and mouthfeel and the interplay of the non-fruit flavors is really cool: black pepper, sage, leather, dark chocolate, mocha, and cedar. A beautiful Monticello red that will reward those who cellar and forget it for a while. 60% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 16% Petit Verdot. (92 points IJB)

2019 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $50
Juicy purple color. Ooh, the nose is so complex and inviting, with deep plum and tangy red and black currant fruit, with a whole spice rack worth of goodness dusted on top, along with some dried rose petals, smoky earth, and dark, stony, graphite vibes. The palate is full but so suave, grippy but no harshness to the tannins, balanced, lively acidity. The juicy plum, raspberry, and black cherry fruit tastes so fresh and vibrant, laced with complexities of tobacco, sage, mushroom, pine, black pepper. The purity of the mouthfeel and the underlying stony minerals make this next level. Great now, but this will gain finesse and complexity for many years.  45% Merlot, 40% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec. (93 points IJB)

2019 Trump Winery New World Reserve USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello AVA
SRP: $54
Deep purple color. The nose shows a deep but vibrant mix of red currant, plum sauce, roasted figs, along with deep violets, charcoal, cocoa, with nuances of vanilla and cedar. The palate shows delightfully fresh acidity and a nice core of smooth but structured tannins. Tangy blueberry fruit, dark plums, crunchy currants, the fruit is delicious and fresh and blends well with notes of cigar box, charcoal, graphite, violets, along with nuances of mocha and cedar. This will age well or give it a decant and some grilled meats this summer. 45% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec. (90 points IJB)

Comments (1)

  1. Having lived west of Charlottesville for 4 years we found a few good wineries. The whites at those places are good but we found reds everywhere wanting. Mostly underripe and they taste like the wineries all use the same recipe.

    We found some decent reds but usually overpriced compare to the West Coast or Europe.