Can the ‚€œfirst colony‚€ impress the
mother country with its wine? That was the question last Monday, when
nine wine experts met at White Hall Vineyards west of Charlottesville to
taste 100 Virginia wines and select some to present this Spring in
London as part of the Jamestown 400 anniversary celebration.
Virginia styles itself ‚€œFirst in Wine,‚€ since the original Jamestown
settlers made wine from native grapes in 1608. Male colonists were
required by law to plant grape vines as part of their crops. Today,
winemakers are hoping their European-styled wines can impress a
potentially skeptical British wine trade that equates ‚€œAmerican‚€
wine with ‚€œCalifornian.‚€
The judges, including three winemakers, three retailers, a restaurant
wine buyer, a distributor and one wine writer (yours truly), evaluated
the wines for the quality of winemaking and whether they would show
Virginia in a favorable light as a wine region.
‚€œOur goal is to select and showcase the finest Virginia wines on the
world stage in London,‚€ said Richard Leahy, an editor with Vineyard
and Winery Management magazine and the organizer of Monday‚€™s tasting.
Virginia‚€™s wine industry has experienced dramatic growth over the past
decade, with more than 120 wineries now in operation. The organizers of
the London tasting ‚€“ to be held for media and trade at the Vinopolis
wine expo center on May 2 ‚€“ are not so much looking to crack the
British market as to generate publicity and added buzz about Virginia
wines back here at home ‚€“ especially in the DC market.
The Virginia Wine Experience in London was sponsored by six wineries ‚€“
White Hall, Veritas, Kluge Estate, Williamsburg Winery, Pearmund
Cellars and Keswick ‚€“ and underwritten by Farm Credit of Virginia.
More than 30 wineries submitted the nearly 100 wines for consideration.
Sixty-five wines were selected to present at the London tasting. The
list if available at http://vawineinlondon.com.
From my personal observations, the Meritage category showed strongest.
These red wines, blended from the Bordeaux grape varieties of Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, were
consistently strong. (Vintages ranged from 2002 through 2005, though
very few 2003‚€™s were submitted as that was an extremely rainy and
difficult vintage in Virginia. A few wines from older vintages were also
entered, including a 1999 Chardonnay from Linden Vineyards, a 1993 Gabriel Archer Reserve Meritage from Williamsburg Winery and a 1988 ros√© sparkling wine from Oasis Vineyards,
which was remarkably fresh for its age. All three received a thumbs-up
from the tasting panel.)
The quality of these wines shows Virginia‚€™s progress in making
top-quality wines. A few of the wines eliminated showed the old Virginia
style ‚€“ aromas of rubber hose, asphalt and vinegar, with flavors of
stewed tomatoes. ‚€œThat‚€™s what we were making ten years ago,‚€ in
the words of Bruce Zoecklin, Virginia Tech‚€™s enologist, who assisted
at the tasting. But these winners should help establish Virginia‚€™s
reputation as a quality wine producing region.
(This post appeared in nearly identical form on Washingtonian.com.)
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