Six judges convened on Monday, June 14, at Barboursville Vineyards for this year’s Monticello Wine Cup competition. Their task was to blindly taste 60 wines from the Monticello AVA (the American Viticultural Area surrounding Charlottesville) in 3.5 hours. But with Italy playing Paraguay in the World Cup smack in the middle of the competition, Barboursville’s winemaker and the event host, Luca Paschina, had a hard time concentrating on the cup at hand. He disappeared at 2:30pm and reappeared at 4pm with a tie for Italy and four medals for his wines. The Monticello Cup went to Pollak Vineyards for its 2008 Petit Verdot, a wine that proves yet again that our regional cup runneth over with worldly talent.
Pollak winemaker Jake Busching, right, and Chris Breiner, president of the Jefferson Grape Growing Society, in the C&O Gallery where industry and media drank their way through the Monticello AVA.
Competition organizers invited participating vineyards to submit only four wines this year, banking on self-selection to amass the best of what’s around and to save the judges from the palate-fatigue that can lead to fuzzy scoring, fuzzy teeth and fuzzy brains. Judge Nadine Brown from Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, D.C. was most impressed with the sparkling and dessert wines (Kluge’s sparkling rose and King Family’s late-harvest Viognier won gold medals), because she believes they are the hardest wines to make. The three double gold medals were awarded to reds, but the golds were split evenly amongst reds (mostly Meritage) and whites (everything from Viognier and Chardonnay to Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewürztraminer). Go to the online version of this article on c-ville. com for a complete list of winners.
The atmosphere of the announcement dinner was, in one word most appropriate for this town, “collegiate.” That was the first word that Flying Fox Vineyard’s owner, Lynn Davis, used to describe the draw that the other Wine Trail members had on her, leading to her decision to make a career change from UVA biology professor into wine. In fact, the winemakers and vineyard owners were so busy chatting and sampling each other’s wines (a rare opportunity with everyone so busy minding their own juice everyday) that the staff at C&O Restaurant had a hard time getting guests to step away from the bottles and onto the patio for dinner.
Informal wine judging continued over food that brought out the full potential of the wines. Second and third helpings were taken and conversation turned to everything from the early bud breaks this year to the still-afloat H.R. 5034 bill, which, if passed, will limit consumers’ ability to order wine directly from wineries.
The winning wine was in high demand, as was the winemaker, Jake Busching, but when we managed to get him (and his wine) to join us at our table, he admitted to being pleasantly surprised that his Petit Verdot won over his Merlot. He thinks of PV (we all have pet names for our babies) as one of those dichotomizing grapes that you either love or hate because of its “French-ness,” austere tannins, and barnyard expressions. I must be a PV-lover because it went down a treat, even in 90 degree heat. Vigorous and virile on the nose, it turned supple and welcoming on the palate—like warm blackberry cobbler with a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream. One sip and the Virginia wine lover sitting next to me ordered a case.
What’s great about living in a small town, no matter how many medals our wines wear around their necks, is that there’s no space for pretense. When Busching excused himself, we couldn’t help but wonder what the big winner was going to do next. His answer? He was off to find a cold beer.