Virginia is for wine lovers, according to the experts

June 29, 2020

Thanks to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, I was introduced to a case of Virginia wines that were recent winners at the 2020 Governor’s Cup. An excellent panel including two wine masters, three certified specialists and three master sommelier diplomates, plus several other well-known critics, reviewed 500 wines and awarded 56 gold medals. These degrees are the real deal and demand an extensive knowledge plus the palate memory to pass a very comprehensive and difficult testing, requiring years of education and experience. A PhD with experience, if you will. I am amazed and impressed whenever I am fortunate to share a table with experts, a wonderful learning experience. The panel was chosen by Jay Youmans, one of only 51 Masters of Wine in the U.S. The primary criterion for submissions was that the wine be derived of 100 percent Virginia juice.

I plan on using two columns to cover these selections because the wines are findable for patient shoppers. Use your local wine shop as the valuable tool it can be. I had planned to review the Governor’s Cup winner as the finale. However, in addition to my love of dessert wine, my impatient, sybaritic personally prompted me to not “save the best for last.”

The 868 Estate Vineyards Vidal Blanc Passito 2017 was produced by Carl DiManno, MS, UC Davis. DiManno is principal of Mid Atlantic Wine Services. In addition to owning 868, founded in 2012, he manages or consults for 20 Virginia vineyards and wineries. This winning Vidal Blanc shows 13.2 percent alcohol, 8 percent residual sugar: 10.8 gr/liter acidity at a pHc of 3.79. In order to achieve this balance, the grapes were dried for one month (you may remember the process named appassimento from last week’s Amarone review), to concentrate the flavors and raise the sugar-to-volume content to 32° brix. Fermentation was arrested by cooling to provide 8° brix. Then the juice was filtered to prevent spontaneous fermentation during 14 months in neutral oak. Regulars may wonder why I provided this detail, which is outside my normal reviewing process. It is to illustrate: 1) A bunch of hard work and time went into production; 2) Although the sugar is high, it is balanced by the acidity – many wines’ acidity levels run 5-7 gr/L.  At 10 we are approaching vinegar, and 4 would be flabby in most cases. The term Passito describes this type of sweetness. Finally, 3) The suggested retail of $24/375 ml is an absolute steal. A lovely golden color and the balance say it will age. Drinkable now, the wine was bottled in March 2019. Great legs preview the viscosity on the palate, while a lovely bouquet of tropical fruits highlighted by pineapple and nuanced with honey and toast wafts from the glass. Some claimed mead aromas as well. The palate was complex, with raisin, apricot, and dried fruit notes with hints of green tea, allspice, and clove. The long finish repeats some of the raisin notes, and perhaps more allspice and white pepper. I am compelled to repeat that, although the wine is sweet, the acidity balances and prevents the cloying or logy effect of lesser-made sweet wines. I give it 94 McD points, and the 686 won several other medals at the show.

Another winning dessert wine is produced by Shepherd “Shep” Rouse, MS, UC Davis, winemaker; he and his lovely wife Jane are owners of Rockbridge Vineyard in Raphine, Va. I would name their V d’Or  2017 an “icewine,” but there may be some laws involved. In the past I found Rouse’s V d’Or to be slightly acidic for my palate and have rated it 85-86. The 2017 was a very pleasant surprise. Although it is approachable and enjoyable now, four years in your cellar will mellow and improve the already lovely $25 icewine which was described as “golden nectar” by Shep. The 2017 was pressed from frozen grapes – 39.1 percent VB, 31.7 percent Vignoles, and Traminette – then cool fermented in stainless to preserve the fruit notes. Lovely golden-colored with slow legs, the bouquet of mandarin orange and honey repeats on the very well-balanced, rich, sweet palate. It has 15 percent residual sugar and 8gr/L acidity, and 13 percent ABV is confirmed by the slightly sweet, delicate balance; 92 McD at $25/375ml.

I hope this finds all in good health. Please continue to take appropriate precautions. The recent upsurge in states which opened early and where folks ignored preventive measures is concerning. Where the uptick could also be attributed to more testing, there are also other unsavory possibilities. 

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