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