Have you Tasted Wine from Virginia? Why Not?

Virginia might not be your first thought when you think of “up and coming” wine regions but they are aspiring to have a presence on your dinner table soon. Making wine in Virginia is not new. In fact, its presence in Virginia is older than any other region in the United States. The history of wine grapes in Virginia dates back to early colonial times. When settlers arrived in Jamestown in the mid seventeenth century, British law required each male settler at the Jamestown settlement to plant and tend to at least ten grapevines. Viticulture surviving the harsh winters and humid warm summers was a tough go and results were poor. Beer and whiskey were much easier and faster to make.

The British proclamation forcing the colonists to grow grapes could have compounded the “taxation without representation” sentiment that perpetuated the War of Independence. It did not deter Thomas Jefferson from planting grapes at Monticello in 1807 after he returned from his tenure as the United States ambassador to France. Success with vitis vinifera (European grape vine) would prove elusive. After two consultant viticulturists (one from France and one from Italy) failed, they both advised that American grape species might fare better. Between 1800 and the outbreak of the Civil War, a strong winemaking industry blossomed in Virginia due to the development of hybrids of American and European varieties. The civil war took its toll on the business leaving but a few acres of grapes being farmed up until prohibition. That trend continued until 1950 when only fifteen acres of grapes were being grown in Virginia. By 1975, there were only three wineries in the state. Fast forward to present time and now there is definite resurgence of viticulture in Virginia with over two hundred wineries operating within the state. We hope you enjoy the reviews of the following three wines that exemplify the strides being made by Virginians who are making and selling wine.

2008 Early Mountain Merlot
It is always a sincere pleasure when I try a variety I am fond of from a region that is new to me and it shines. This merlot from Early Mountain smelled awesome right out of the bottle immediately after pouring. Blossoming aromas of dark brambly fruit and exotic spice capture the olfactory sense’s attention and holds it captive with the seductive allure a really fine wine can express. Your senses are only shaken to reality when the flavors start to register on the palates taste receptors. The dark berry, fresh tobacco, mocha and spice flavors dominate softly. This style of merlot—big flavors, soft tannins and a velvety texture is a style that really showcases what merlot should be. The pleasingly long finish mirrors the expressions of the flavor profile and beckons one to take another sip. Early Mountain Merlot would be a welcome addition at any dinner table complementing almost any cuisine and it also performs well as a sand alone sipper making it a good candidate for restaurant wine by the glass programs.

Rating: Excellent (90) | $25 | 13.4% ABV

2011 Early Mountain Vineyards Petit Manseng
This was my first taste of this variety that usually hails from the Sud Quest area of southern France. Most often, the Manseng grape is used to make a late harvest wine because it lends itself towards long hang times in the vineyard. This grape is sometimes compared to Viognier but when grown in Virginia this grape has a unique aroma and flavor profile that does not resemble that grape. White floral aromas and peach skin on the nose and quince, apricot and a hint of five spice powder on the palate. The finish was intriguing with a petrol oily texture that some will enjoy.

Rating: Good (84) | $24 | 12.5% ABV

2011 Ankida Ridge Pinot noir
This steep granite mountainside vineyard located at 1800 feet elevation is producing some good wines from somewhat young vines. Planted in 2008, the three-year-old fruit shows promise for the future and enjoyable drinkability now. This wine is a good representation of the grape and will fool many educated palates if tasted blind. While it does not mirror Burgundy or Oregon Pinot noir, the fruit flavors and aromas could pass for young California Pinot noir from Monterey or Santa Maria. This 2011 bottling was blended with fruit from another Virginia estate and has nose of red fruit and a slightly herbaceous aroma. The flavors reflect the same cherry flavors that are represented in the bouquet. The finish is pleasant and the wine will pair well with lamb, roasted fowl and grilled salmon. 181 case production.

Rating: Good (85) | $42 | 12.8% ABV

Wines available direct from the winery


About the Author:

Marc has held almost every position in the food & wine industry and is committed to Celebrating Hospitality with Pride. In addition to being the co-founder and editor-at-large for Enobytes, Marc is a wine blogger contributor to OregonLive.com (Wine Bytes) and writes the Wine Knowledge column in the print magazine About Face. The Contra Costa County Times, San Jose Mercury News, Tacoma Times Tribune and Washington Post have either interviewed or quoted Marc on his viniferous and culinary opinions. Marc has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. While continuing to tenaciously search for what he may finally proclaim as his favorite wine Marc is relentless in his quest for the ultimate food and wine experience.


  1. idebenone February 22, 2013 at 6:14 PM - Reply

    Viognier is the official grape of Virginia, and “Virginia is for Lovers” is our state motto. We suggest you share our Viognier with someone you love!

  2. John Holester February 23, 2013 at 10:26 AM - Reply

    I have not tried Virginia wines but now that I know they make wine and they are good, I am looking forward to trying these!

  3. Kim February 23, 2013 at 5:02 PM - Reply

    Do you know if the wines are available in New York?

  4. Marc Hinton February 28, 2013 at 12:28 PM - Reply


    The wines are available direct from the wineries websites. Thanks for reading the review.

  5. Maurice Dimarino March 19, 2013 at 9:05 AM - Reply

    I recently judged the San Diego International Wine Competition where one of my favorite Merlots came from Pollak Vineyards in Montecello, Virginia. Although it did not win best Merlot it did receive Platinum and showed very well.

    • Marc Hinton March 31, 2013 at 1:14 PM - Reply


      Out of the samples we received from Virgina, I was the most surprised by the Merlot from Early Mountain Vineyards. Congratulations on the San Diego gig,that competition keeps getting bigger and better, hopefully we will see you there next year.


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