Late January found me in Washington DC at Master of Wine Jay Youmans’ Washington Wine School, invited for my fourth year as a judge for the Governor’s Cup. The three previous tastings had been held at the splendid Jefferson Hotel in Richmond VA, with optional visits to wineries in nearby Charlottesville, but this time the wines themselves were the centre of attention, which they fully merited.
The history of Virginia wines dates back to Thomas Jefferson’s first vine plantings imported from his time as American Ambassador to Paris on his Monticello estate in 1771.
Today there are 3,800 acres under vine with 312 wineries, up from 78 in 2004 and 255 in 2014, showing a region of conservative expansion. The most planted grape is still Chardonnay with 503 acres/13%, then in descending order: Cabernet Franc 451 acres/11.7%, Merlot 381 acres/9.9%, Viognier 341 acres/8.9%, Cabernet Sauvignon 325 acres/8.4% and Petit Verdon 261 acres/6.8%. Petit Manseng is expanding with great success for both dry and sweet whites and Tannat had made an appearance for more robust reds, showing that southwest France is an inspiration for these East Coast vineyards.
This year 490 wines were submitted along with 20 ciders, fruit wines and meads, from which 132 went through to be judged by a panel of 18 representing all segments of the wine trade overseen by Jay Youmans. Towards the end of the second day a few of us were interviewed for a video to be shown when the results were unveiled. The quote from Dave McIntyre, wine columnist on the Washington Post, summed up the overall quality: “These wines are so consistently good it’s hard to find a favourite.” My own quote that “Virginia was the Europe of the United States” rang true to my fellow judges as these wines are so very different from those on the West Coast.
Virginia’s wineries’ accessibility from Washington DC and Dulles Airport makes them a mecca for tourists. Sales from the cellar door are so brisk that there is little left over for retailers outside the State, which is a pity as the quality/price ratio is excellent. Below are the wines, with recommended retail prices for the home market. Steven Spurrier.
WINNER – Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 – 12.7%, $25.
(90% Petit Manseng, 5% Viognier, 5% Rkatsiteli)
Virginia Wineworks’ Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2016 – 14.4%, $32.
(100% Petit Manseng)
Virginia Wineworks’ Michael Shaps Raisin d’Etre 2016 – 12.5%, $25.
(73% Petit Manseng, 27% Roussanne)
Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino Reserve 2017 – 13.5%, $22.99.
Glen Manor Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2017 14.2%, $35.