Thursday, March 21, 2013

Virginia White Grape Varietals to Watch

By now most VAVINO fans know our signature varietals: Cab Franc, Viognier, Norton, Chambourcin. But there are new wines cropping up in several tasting rooms throughout the Commonwealth that are poised to be the next big things in the state.

Offered by several wineries in lieu of Viognier, Albariño is a Spanish white varietal, typically crisp and dry with notes of apricot. The wine produced is unusually light, and generally high in acidity with relatively low alcohol levels, making it a great hot weather wine.
Where to try it: Willowcroft Vineyards, Chrysalis Vineyards, Lake Anna Winery

Roussanne is a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France. It too is similar to Viognier, not only in its crispness and acidity, but also due to its vulnerability to mildew, poor resistance to drought and wind, and irregular yields. But some Virginia wineries are experimenting with it: North Gate Vineyard, Chester Gap Cellars, and Horton Vineyards.

Petit Manseng
Another white varietal that is taking many wineries by storm (even more so than the more difficult to grow Albariño and Roussanne). This is a semi-sweet, high alcohol wine, with origins in southwest France. Typical Petit Mansengs offer notes of pear and grapefruit. Some of our favorite Petit Manseng’s can be found at Paradise Springs Winery, Pearmund Cellars, and Lazy Days Winery.

Three unique whites to try in Virginia tasting rooms, with others on the way, such as Rkatsiteli and Chenin blanc. It will be interesting to see the public’s reaction to these wines, and if any will eventually replace viognier as the signature Virginia white.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Report from the Virginia Wine Expo

“A Party in Richmond” was the subject of a recent post. The blogmasters were excited to attend the 6th Annual Virginia Wine Expo in Richmond on Saturday, February 23. In addition to workshops on blog writing and food pairings, the blogmasters did their share of partaking. As did hundreds of others, from all areas of the Commonwealth (particularly Richmond and Hampton Roads).

With 60 winery booths, it would have taken cast iron livers to stop by every wine booth. We were most interested in the wineries we haven’t visited yet (most of these wineries are located in the South Central section of Virginia, near the North Carolina border, between Buggs Island Lake and Martinsville). We did stop by and see some long-time favorites, and were delighted to see so many famous Commonwealth winemakers and vineyard owners (Gabriele Rausse and his son, Michael Shaps, Luca Paschina, David King) working in the tasting booths.

We visited on the Saturday of the Expo. Note for next year: Attend on Sunday. The crowd on Saturday was boisterous and at the peak of the day, it was elbow-to-elbow in some of the aisles. Plus the entire expo hall erupted with cheers every hour for the first part of the day; at first we thought Governor McDonnell, or famous Virginia winery owners Donald Trump or Dave Matthews popped into the expo hall. No, someone let their complimentary Riedel wine glass slip out of their hands. Needless to say, as the afternoon progressed, the cheering frequency increased from every hour, to every ten minutes, to every two minutes. We wouldn’t be surprised if the organizers switched to plastic wine glasses for future expos.

As in previous years, attendees had the option of buying wine at the expo; this is the main motivator for the wineries, after all. Folks could buy the wine at the booth if up to three bottles were purchased; if more than three were purchased, the wine bottles were wheeled to “Will Call”-like booths. At 5:30, thirty minutes before the wine expo closed for the day, every one of the will call lines seemed to be a quarter of a mile long. The organizers of the wine expo confessed in their “thank you” email to attendees that something went haywire with the lines, and promised to improve the process next year. They also plan on adding more adjacent Convention Center rooms to the expo; this event has quadrupled in popularity over the last five years.

Constructive criticism out of the way, a fine time was had by all, including the blogmasters. And we have a few new vineyards on our “must visit” list: Valerie Hill Vineyard, south of Winchester; Kilaurwen Winery (opening this spring), north of Charlottesville; and Cedar Creek Winery, an “open by appointment only” spot near Woodstock that offered a fantastic tasting flight of their two varietals: Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

Those wineries in the aforementioned South Central region that are worth a mention: Annefield Vineyards, Rosemont Vineyards, and Stanburn Winery. All three spots had incredibly good vintages, and their lines were not as long as the better-known spots in the state.

Sunday apparently is the weekend day for the more serious wine buff; plans are already in place for the Notebookers to attend the 2014 Wine Expo on Sunday. There is a chance of some wineries running out of their product, but the benefits of a less chaotic walk around wine tasting experience outweigh the drawbacks.