Virginia wine has long played an ancillary role in the grand scheme of American viticulture, at its best serving as a competent, if not slightly underappreciated, alternative to its more heralded cousins from the west, and at its worst some sort of morose oddity that gets finished out of sheer curiosity and, perhaps, even a touch of contempt.
Luckily, especially for those of us who happen to live in the heart of one of Virginia’s most prolific AVAs, that’s all starting to change. Much like the vines from which they are derived, wine regions take time to mature. Even more than 20 years in, Virginia viticulture is still in its infancy when compared to counterparts in the Old World. Finally, though, we’re starting to hit our stride thanks in no small part to a bevy of talented local winemakers who have opted to take up the challenge of making great wine in a notoriously finicky climate (as opposed to plying their trade in “greener pastures” in places like California, Oregon, and even New York).
As this October marks the 25th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month, it’s the perfect time to pop open a bottle of Virginia vino and toast our efforts—from Virginia grape growers to Virginia wine drinkers. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.
Thibaut-Jannison Virginia Fizz
Claude Thibaut has earned the nickname Master of “Methode Champenoise,” and with a proven track record that extends well beyond Virginia, he has established himself as a major player in the world of sparkling wine. Released through his partnership with Champagne’s Jannison family, the Virginia Fizz pays homage to the cremant-style French sparklers found outside of Champagne. Less focused and creamier (hence the name) than their more heralded counterparts, cremants tend to be a fantastic value. The Fizz fits this bill perfectly by offering notes of green apple in spades. It’s crisp, but not sharp, with a moderate dosage that makes it approachable to most everyone. It pairs well with salads and lighter fare, but is most appropriate for giving a toast. $20
2009 Michael Shaps Viogner
With the release of the 2009 vintage, Michael Shaps continues to do his part in cementing viognier as Virginia’s premier white varietal. It expresses the intense fruit esters of peaches and candied apricots, as well as the essence of honeysuckle and other floral notes expected in Virginia viognier. Still, it manages to retain a sense of balance with a lively acidity and rich textured mouthfeel. It finishes with hints of lemon and a little licorice and oak, making it a perfect pairing for a bourride or similarly rich seafood stew. $28.
2012 Glen Manor Sauvignon Blanc
Hailing from high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Virginia, Glen Manor’s sauvignon blanc is a true treat. Exhibiting the telltale aromas of gooseberry that would belie a New Zealand origin, it shows strong hints of lime, a crisp minerality that offers a true sense of place, and enough heft on the palate to balance it all out. It’s great on its own, but sings when enjoyed with grilled shrimp or linguine and clams. $24.
A collaborative effort between winemakers Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards, Emily Pelton of Veritas, and Jake Busching, former winemaker at Pollak Vineyard and currently at the helm of Grace Estates Winery, this wine is, perhaps, the best representation of overall terroir in Western Albemarle. If you can still manage to get your hands on this limited production, expect notes of ripe dark plums, with hints of vanilla and spice. Fairly rich and robust for Virginia standards, this blend of equal parts merlot provided by Finot, cabernet franc from Busching, and petit verdot from Pelton’s vineyard offers ripe black currant and stewed pears, and while still being fairly young and forceful, its soft and well-integrated tannins don’t overwhelm the palate, finishing with a subtle, yet distinctly nutty, earthiness. $33.33
2011 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir
For a varietal that is notoriously finicky and hard to ripen, the Vrooman family does a remarkable job at their farm in Amherst County. Despite being a relatively new player on the scene, with its first vintage only coming in 2010, Ankida Ridge’s Pinot Noir continues to rack up the accolades. Featured in a recent issue of Food & Wine, this Pinot possesses one of Virginia’s best chances at making a global impact. With a classic structure that could fool some as Burgundian, look for the cherry notes with subtle hints of kirsch, spice, and dill. Perfect for the transition into fall; drink this Pinot with roasted quail over farrow with chestnuts and griotte cherries. $42.
Andrew Cole is the manager and wine director at tavola.