If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (thank you!) you’ll know I’m a fan of wine from off-piste regions. It’s exciting that wine is being made in places we’d rarely expect, by people who are ardently passionate about making good quality wines and sharing them with the world.
Last week provided an opportunity to taste wine from Virginia. Virginia may not be the most unusual wine region in the world, but it’s still relatively unknown and having heard good things about the wines and never having tried them, I was curious to check ’em out.
I met Chris Parker and James Dare of New Horizon Wines, at my local independent wine shop, Soho Wines, to taste with owners and brothers, Peter and Kyri. We soon learned that Chris, an Englishman, has been living in Virginia for 24 years and during that time, recognized the great potential of the wines and wanted to introduce them to his home country, so he established New Horizon Wines in 2009 to do just that.
When the English settlers arrived in Virginia, they were hoping to establish the region as a producer of wine, that didn’t happen. Even Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, native Virginian and wine enthusiast, tried his hand at viticulture without success.
It wasn’t until the 1970s when Gianni Zonin, renowned Italian wine producer, established Barboursville Vineyards that the area started making headway to becoming a serious region of quality wine production. There are now over 200 wineries in Virginia.
There has been quite a bit of experimentation to discover which grapes are best suited to the soils and climate and it seems that honour goes to Viognier and Cabernet Franc.
We tasted six wines and started with two Viogniers, a refreshing, intensely fruity 2011 with crisp acidity from White Hall and a fuller, fatter, tropical food wine from King Family.
Due to the fact that Virginia experiences four distinct seasons throughout the year (unlike other areas of the States) and the cooling effect of the nearby Atlantic Ocean, these wines have moderate levels of alcohol and are more European in style than Californian.
Next we tried the Veritas Cabernet Franc 2009 from Monticello, the same region Thomas Jefferson called home. The cherry aromas jumped out of the glass, it’s bright with good acidity, slightly smoky with supple tannins – very pleasing and easy to enjoy. There was none of the stalky greenness we often see from Cab Franc, this was pure fruit.
The Barboursville Cabernet Franc 2008 was next. The Italian winemaker has been at the estate for 25 years, so its safe to say he knows this land, these vines and his wines very well – and it shows in the glass. This was my favourite wine of the tasting. Very Bordeaux-like, full of blackcurrants, plums and cedar.
The last two wines were a 2010 Petit Verdot (another grape that seems to thrive in this region) from Veritas and a 2010 Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot from Boxwood. Both were impressive. The Veritas would make a fabulous food wine, perhaps with a tenderloin of Venison, while the Boxwood with its overt fruit and big tannins will be even better with a few years of softening.
If you’re in the UK and curious to try these wines, get in touch with Chris and his team at New Horizon Wines.
Have you already tried wine from Virginia? Which ones? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments below.
Here’s to trying something new, learning something new and enjoying every glass a whole lot more.
Tara – Wine Passionista