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Jancis Robinson Reviews Governor's Cup Case Wines

Monday, July 15, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Bannon Squirewell
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https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/Virginias-top-wines

 

Virginia's top wines?

TASTING ARTICLES

 

VIRGINIA

A gallop through the top dozen in this year's Governor's Cup in the state of Virginia plus two more, and some news. 

For those of us far from it, the state of Virginia just south of Washington DC tends to be in the wine news mainly for being the location of the teetotal US president's eponymous winery. But that is of course deeply unfair to the state's hard-working vignerons. 

I am reminded of their wines on a fairly regular basis when I'm sent those chosen from about 500 VA wines to be part of the annual Governor's Cup dozen wines judged best by a panel under the direction of Jay Youmans MW, and this year including Steven Spurrier. I present my tasting notes on the 2019 selection below. I outlined the then-state of Virginia winemaking and wine growing when I visited back in 2011 in Virginia – first impressions

In that article I highlighted the growing popularity of Petit Manseng, whose thick grapeskins and loose bunches are particularly useful in Virginia's hot, humid summers. It seems as though the variety is becoming increasingly popular and not just for sweet wines. Three of the four whites in the Governor's Cup case this year are barrel-fermented Petit Mansengs that are rich and headily scented, and two of them were clearly designed to be drunk before or during rather than after a meal. 

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/sites/default/files/legacy/images/articles-inline/uploads/images/2019/06/horton-manseng-bde86edd50d4d231fe2dc5ab53251eb4ca114202bf016701ce69e002e1284131-6.png

The Horton Petit Manseng, produced at the winery founded by a pioneer of the modern era of Virginia wine Dennis Horton, who died last year, was the overall winner of the 2019 competition. (President Thomas Jefferson was of course the original, unsuccessful, pioneer of viticulture here, at Monticello.) I marginally preferred the dryish Petit Manseng, another 2016, made by Michael Shaps at his Virginia Wineworks contract winery, where several of these wines were also made. But I suspect the Horton wine may have been a bit fresher and more appetising last year. The Shaps example seemed to me to have more potential. I was also impressed by Shaps' 2016 sweet Petit Manseng.

But the United States is a red wine country substantially, so perhaps it is not surprising that eight of the 12 wines were red, and all based on grape varieties from south-west France, another part of the world where summers are hot and can be humid. I also added notes on the two latest releases, both red, from the Virginia producer I have most admired to date, Rutger DeVink's RdV, seen above right. Counselled by top Bordeaux oenologist Eric Boissenot, RdV produce a grand vin now called Lost Mountain and a second wine, Rendezvous (a word the French often abbreviate to RDV). Not for the first time, I found myself utterly seduced by the second wine. I'm sure it won't last as long as the Lost Mountain, but for great drinking over the next four years, head for Rendezvous. 

At $75, it's not cheap though – more expensive than the other reds in the Governor's Cup selection – and it is likely to be joined by another ambitiously priced Virginia wine from a particularly well-funded new winery in Free Union north west of Charlottesville whose first vintage, 2014, will be launched later this year. Ramiiisol is the creation of Robert and MeiLi Hefner. The name, bound to be misspelt frequently, derives, we're told, from the initials of the owners and the Aries birth sign of energy specialist Robert A Hefner III. When his wife MeiLi’s brushstroke is added, it apparently signifies mountain in Chinese for Ramiiisol’s location in the piedmont of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. And then sol is Latin for sun, the source of all life. Got it? 

The estate specialises in Cabernet Franc, a variety that has been particularly popular in Virginia. The 2014, I am told by UK distributor Raeburn Fine Wines, was aged in large casks over three years. Those large casks may well be Italian botti, since the Hefners and their winemaker Robbie Corpora are advised by Alberto Antonini, who features frequently on these pages, and soil consultant Pedro Parra (ditto). The pair have worked together before, notably in Argentina, but Parra seems to be everywhere at the moment. His name even came up during two of my visits to champagne producers last week.

It was notable, incidentally, that although there are several AVAs in Virginia, none was mentioned in the booklet accompanying the Governor's Cup case, although it was admirably detailed in terms of background information. (I apologise for initially accuding the booklet of being 'long on moody pics'. I was confusing it with the booklet accompanying the latest Gimblett Gravels dozen - mea culpa.) This is, alas, still fairly typical of wine communication around the world.

The 14 wine reviews are listed below in one group – dry whites, then reds, then the sweet white – and then in alphabetical order by producer.

 

Barboursville, Reserve Vermentino 2017 Virginia

This smells so Italian!  Which is hardly surprising perhaps since this winery has long been owned by Zonin of Italy. Lots of lees stirring. Masses of ripe fruit on the nose and, possibly, some added acid on the palate. No malo. No oak. Not much length. Simple and fruity – chill this fairly well.

Drink 

2018

 – 

2019

$23 RRP

15.5

Horton Petit Manseng 2016 Orange County

Sports both the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower on the label. 90% Petit Manseng, 5% early-picked Viognier, 5% Rkatsiteli. 90% fermented in French barrels. New winemaker Andrew Reagan took over from Michael Heny and bottled this wine.  
Mid green gold. Rich and attention-grabbing on the nose. Not aggressively oaky but tastes fairly full bodied. Needs to be served fairly cool. This should stand up to food and tastes more alcoholic than it is.

Drink 

2018

 – 

2019

$25 RRP

16

Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2016 Monticello

Made at Shaps' contract winery Virginia Wineworks. Fermented in French oak barrels (33% new). No malo and aged for eight months. 
Deep gold. Pretty rich nose with a hint of oak. Rather sweet palate entry. Does recall Jurançon, Petit Manseng's home, quite strongly. Off dry but with good acidity and useful bite as well as tang on the end. Too big to drink without food but should stimulate some interesting food matching. Creamy pâtés? Quite long. Certainly bold.

Drink 

2019

 – 

2021

$32 RRP

16.5

Hamlet, Eltham 2016 Virginia

Blend of equal parts of Merlot and Petit Verdot made at Virginia Wineworks contract winery. Fermented separately and blended after nine months in French oak, then aged for a further nine months in French oak, of which 50% was new. 
There's a bit of sweet oak on the nose, plus tarriness. Inky, slightly slim fruit that struggles to dominate the oak. Finishes rather suddenly and the acidity is quite obvious. Not harmonious though the bottle and label are impressive.

Drink 

2018

 – 

2021

$26 RRP

15

King Family, Meritage 2016 Monticello

43% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec. Macerated for up to two months. Malo in barrel and aged for 18 months in 45% new French oak barrels. Made by Frenchman Matthieu, who arrived in Virginia in 2003. 
Mid garnet. Sweet and relatively simple nose with a hint of oak but quite nicely integrated. Pretty good fruit and acid balance. Needs food as the tannins still need to settle down.

Drink 

2019

 – 

2022

$34 RRP

16

King Family, Mountain Plains 2016 Monticello

Naughty heavy bottle. 36% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 29% Petit Verdot. Four to eight weeks in open concrete fermentation tanks. Ingredients were aged separately fro 22 months in French oak. 
Mid crimson. Pale rim. Attractively perfumed. Nicely integrated. Very velvety texture but not unappetising. Quite pleasing if not exactly earthy. Still quite chewy on the end.

Drink 

2019

 – 

2023

$70 RRP

16.5

Early Mountain, Eluvium 2016 Virginia

56% Merlot, 44% Petit Verdot. Aged for 18 months in 40% new French oak. 
Healthy crimson colour. Light tarriness on the nose and rather pinched on the palate. Does this need a bit more aeration?

Drink 

2020

 – 

2023

15.5

RdV, Rendezvous 2016 Middleburg

36% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc. 
Bright crimson – more concentrated than most Virginia reds. Well married, quite complex aromas and reasonably intense. No excess oak or alcohol. Rather sophisticated wine that's already a pleasure to drink. Long. There's certainly some sweetness here but it's not a sweet wine by any means. Very impressive persistence and harmony but just a bit scrawny on the very end.

Drink 

2019

 – 

2023

$75 RRP

17

RdV, Lost Mountain 2016 Middleburg

97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot. 
Mid crimson shaded to a rim. Milder, more complex nose. Very obviously Cabernet and much more youthful than the Rendezvous stablemate 2016 with tannins obvious; more ambitiously youthful than most Virginia reds. Bone-dry finish. Rather brave but you would appreciate this wine only if you had experience of long-lived wines.

Drink 

2021

 – 

2029

$120 RRP

16.5 ++

Paradise Springs, Meritage 2015 Virginia

34% Petit Verdot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. Two-day cold soak. Fourteen-day fermentation and then four days of maceration. Blended after eight months and then aged for a further eight months. Barrel selection. 
Mid crimson. Nicely integrated nose. Sweet and sour on the palate with the acidity a little dominant and a slight green streak (Petit Verdot influence?). Pretty chewy tannins. Drying finish.

Drink 

2020

 – 

2024

$50 RRP

16

Michael Shaps Tannat 2015 Monticello

Two weeks post-fermentation maceration 'to increase structure' – very unlike Madiran! Aged in 40% new French oak for 20 months. 
Blackish crimson. Good freshness and vigour on the nose. Certainly varietal!  Lots of tannin but well distinguished from Bordeaux varieties. A breath of fresh air. Bone-dry end – a relief not to be fighting sweetness. Quite long. And, I suspect, cleaner than the average Madiran... Well done.

Drink 

2019

 – 

2024

$35 RRP

16.5

Glen Manor Cabernet Franc 2015 Virginia

Unfined and unfiltered, it says on the back label fairly prominently. Grapes cooled after early-morning harvest. Four days' cold soak then a 10-day fermentation before 20 months' maturation in barrel. 
Quite deep garnet. Nicely balanced, well-integrated nose. Velvety texture – no excess of either acid or tannin but just a little bit of confected sweetness (to pick holes!). Lightly spicy and lots of fun even if without the freshness of a Loire Cabernet Franc. Already lots of enjoyment here, even if there may not be all that much in reserve. Neat, long finish.

Drink 

2018

 – 

2021

$35 RRP

16.5

Upper Shirley, Zachariah Reserve 2014 Virginia

46% Merlot, 31% Petit Verdot, 15% Malbec, 8% Tannat. Made at the Virginia Wineworks.
Dark crimson. A bit of oak on the nose sticks out. Rather sour and uncompromising without the freshness of Shaps' pure Tannat. Not much fun though food would probably help.

Drink 

2020

 – 

2022

$50 RRP

15

Michael Shaps, Raisin d'Être 2016 Virginia

73% Petit Manseng, 27% Roussanne. RS 7%. Grapes are dried in old Virginia tobacco barns – a preferable use, surely? Roussanne blended in post fermentation and the whole aged for 15 months in 50% new French oak. 
Deep apricot colour. Pretty nice! Not for the long term but well balanced for early drinking. Serve cool. The wine has lost a lot of Petit Manseng's tanginess and overall is pretty sweet but it has just about enough savouriness to counterbalance the sweetness.

Drink 

2018

 – 

2021

$35 per 37.5cl RRP

 

 


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