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My family has roots in Virginia, so I have been interested to follow the evolution of the state's wine industry. Winegrowing here began as something of a hobbyist endeavor in the late 1970s; many vintners had little background in wine, and for some, it was not their main business. It has since grown into a thriving industry, with more than 250 wineries contributing around $1.37 billion annually to the state's economy, according to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Each year, Virginia holds a Governor's Cup competition. In 2017, judges evaluated 430 wines, all made from 100 percent Virginia-grown grapes. I tasted the 12 winners, along with other Virginia wines, blind in our New York office. Here you'll find the highlights.
RdV Vineyards (which did not participate in the Governor's Cup) earned two outstanding ratings for their flagship Lost Mountain bottling and their Rendezvous cuvée. Both are from the 2014 vintage and based on Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery, founded in 2004 by Rutger de Vink, has established itself in the state's top rank.
Barboursville, founded in 1976, is one of the Virginia's oldest and most successful wineries. It also earned an outstanding score for its 2013 Paxxito, a sweet white blend of Moscato Ottonel and Vidal.
Most of the winners from the Governor's Cup were from the 2014 vintage, which enjoyed a fine growing season. The wines I tasted showed focus and balance, with clear varietal character.
Five bottlings are based on Petit Verdot, a minor blending grape in Bordeaux that has become increasingly successful in Virginia. The 2014 Petit Verdot from King Family is a fine example, offering an intriguing mix of black cherry, black olive and loamy earth flavors with a firm, lithe texture.
The best Virginia wines are expressive, fresh, focused and balanced. They demonstrate commitment and talent, and are well worth trying.
RDV VINEYARDS Lost Mountain Middleburg Virginia 2014
This lively red offers focus and energy. Black cherry, currant, espresso, licorice and mineral flavors mingle over light tannins and fresh acidity. Shows density, but this remains supple and balanced. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Drink now through 2024. 600 cases made.
BARBOURSVILLE Passito Paxxito Virginia 2012
Rose water, orange blossom, candied quince and vanilla flavors mingle in this expressive white. Sweet, but lively acidity keeps this balanced. Harmonious and expressive. Moscato Ottonel and Vidal. Drink now. 488 cases made.
KING FAMILY Petit Verdot Monticello 2014
Espresso and smoky notes frame black cherry, loamy earth and black olive flavors in this savory red. Lithe, with light, firm tannins and lively acidity. Focused and energetic. Drink now through 2022. 540 cases made.
RDV VINEYARDS Rendezvous Middleburg Virginia 2014
This round red delivers fresh flavors of cherry, berry and red plum, framed by cocoa and licorice notes. Hints of fresh herbs and black pepper add interest. Light tannins and fruity acidity keep this lively. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Drink now through 2022. 1,050 cases made.
HORTON Viognier Orange County 2015
This aromatic white offers beguiling flavors of white peach, mango and orange blossom. Bright tangerine acidity keeps the fleshy texture focused and lively. A generous, fruit-forward style. Drink now. 2,979 cases made.
JEFFERSON Petit Verdot Virginia 2014
A leafy, minty note enlivens black cherry and licorice flavors in this fresh red. Light, firm tannins and bright acidity keep this focused. Balanced and energetic. Drink now through 2020. 862 cases made.
KING FAMILY Late Harvest Loreley Monticello 2014
This sweet white delivers bold flavors of candied orange, ginger and burnt caramel, in a thick texture enlivened by lively acidity. Shows good density. Petit Manseng. Drink now. 305 cases made.
MICHAEL SHAPS Monticello Meritage 2014
Juicy acidity keeps the black cherry and plum flavors fresh and lively in this focused red. Light tannins give this backbone, while leafy and licorice notes add interest. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink now through 2022. 200 cases made.
INGLESIDE WINERY Petit Verdot Virginia 2014
This firm, fresh red delivers a core of black cherry and red plum flavors, with loamy earth, leafy and black pepper notes. A bit lean, but lively and balanced. Drink now through 2022. 218 cases made.
KING FAMILY Petit Verdot Monticello Valley Road Vineyards 2014
Black cherry, plum, licorice and tangerine flavors mingle in this plush red. Firm tannins and sweet-tart acidity impart focus. Not heavy, but generous, with a vanilla-scented finish. Drink now through 2022. 194 cases made.
VERITAS Petit Verdot Monticello Paul Shaffer 6th Edition 2014
This red is fresh and lively, showing good density yet remaining supple on the palate. Licorice, black olive and espresso notes frame black cherry and leafy flavors, backed by crisp acidity. Drink now through 2022. 492 cases made.
VIRGINIA CELLARS Cabernet Sauvignon Virginia The Barns at Hamilton Station 2014
A plush texture carries plum, kirsch, vanilla and spicy flavors in this generous red. A bit candied, but light, firm tannins and sweet-tart acidity keep this lively. Drink now through 2020. 129 cases made.