Virginia Wine Expo 2011

Friday afternoon, the rib and I hit the road to Richmond to attend the 2011 Virginia Wine Expo, where about 60 of Virginia’s 191 wineries were sampling several of their wines.  This is a brief chronicle of our adventure:

Overall, the Virginia Wine Expo was a great event that provided us an opportunity to taste a variety of wines from across the Commonwealth—all under one roof.  That said, there is a certain element that attends this type of event with an attitude of “I paid my $35/$45 ticket price and I’m gonna get drunk!”  I’m not against a good party, but coupled with the crowds, it’s sometimes difficult to get the time and space to taste, which makes it a little more challenging for those of us trying to discover great wines (Snobbish?  A little, but I paid my $35, too).  The Friday night event was far less crowded and easier to navigate, but the tasting session lasted only 3 hours, so it was difficult to get to every table on our “wine-tinerary.”  Even attending both the 3-hour event on Friday and the 7-hour event on Saturday, the rib and I only had the chance to visit about a third of the 60 or so wineries that were pouring.  Prior knowledge and tasting experience would necessarily knock a few off the list from the get-go (even though a stopped clock is right twice a day), but still, the idea is to taste as much as you are able to comprehend and consider (without feeling the need to elbow your way past an old lady to get your next sip).  We could have made great use of the time afforded in the Sunday session to taste even more—something to keep in mind for next year’s event.  All in all, our trip was a great success—we brought home 3 ½ cases for the cellar.  We also met some great people, tasted some nice wine, and helped spur the state’s economy.  Like anything in life, the experience is what you choose to make of it, and we chose to enjoy it (which wasn’t really that difficult a task, as we were tasting wine all weekend).

Friday night’s Governor’s Cup Grand Tasting was a great start to the weekend.  Several awards were given out during an hour-long ceremony, followed by a 3-hour tasting event.  Many of the wineries were pouring reserve selections that were not available during the walk-around tasting event on Saturday and Sunday.  Since the Governor’s Cup session was not terribly crowded, we were able to spend a good amount of time at each booth and consider the merits of some very generous tasting pours.  Despite the lack of crowds, we didn’t get very far on our journey through the tasting floor during the 3-hour event, but we did taste four of my five favorite “finds” from the weekend.

I guess I should start by saying that the Governor’s Cup for best red wine was awarded to Fox Meadow’s 2008 Le Renard Rouge (www.foxmeadowwinery.com).  The Le Renard Rouge is a Meritage blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We made a point to taste this wine first, and it was very good.  I’ll save specific notes on this wine for when I pop the cork on one of the 3 bottles heading our way.

My first two “finds” came via Annefield Vineyards (www.annefieldvineyards.com).  I had actually never heard of Annefield, but was fortunate enough to have one of the owners, Michael, pouring for us; he enthusiastically talked us through each of the wines as we tasted.  Annefield’s 2009 Chardonnay and 2009 Cabernet Franc were particular standouts in the 6-wine flight.  The Chardonnay is a crisp white wine with some really nice tropical notes; the Cab Franc is nicely integrated and has a great “mouth-feel.”  I am looking forward to sitting with the Cab Franc at some point very soon and will include the Chardonnay in a flight of 2009 VA Chardonnays at an upcoming tasting party.  While the Chardonnay and Cab Franc were standouts, I was very impressed by all of Annefield’s small-batch wines and look forward to following their releases in the years to come.

My third “find” was Wisteria Farm and Vineyard’s 2009 Viognier (www.wisteriavineyard.com).  When it comes to Viognier, anyone who knows anything about the Virginia wine industry will tell you the same thing:  it is a major varietal in the Commonwealth.  Viognier grows very well here and is often presented as a superior representation of Virginia’s status as an up-and-coming wine region.  Now I must confess something (this may be considered blasphemous to those who champion Virginia’s wines):  I have not generally been a fan of single-varietal Viogniers, particularly those grown in Virginia.  That said, Wisteria Farm’s 2009 Viognier is the best Viognier I have tasted during my several years in Virginia.  I was so surprised by my reaction to this wine that I vowed to make it the first wine I tasted on Saturday morning, as I was somewhat convinced that a combination of “palate fatigue” and the result of the heavier pours during Friday night’s tasting were affecting my impression of this wine.  True to my word, I moved directly to Wisteria’s booth after picking up my glass Saturday morning, and my opinion of this wine held—it was great!  I would actually say that my opinion of this wine improved throughout the day as I tasted several additional Viogniers and kept comparing them to the Wisteria.

Friday night’s session was great.  The rib and I identified several wines that we intended to purchase the following day and found four great wines to take home.

Saturday started out well with the “re-tasting” of Wisteria’s Viognier.  Our next stop was DuCard Vineyards (www.ducardvineyards.com).  This is a vineyard that I had at least heard of, but had never tasted their wines.  Overall, I was pleased:  the 2009 Signature Viognier was very pleasant with a great honeyed character and subtle oak that gave it some grip; the 2008 Popham Run Red (Cab Franc/Petit Verdot Blend) showed some good fruit and had some nice oak on it, although it needed to open up a bit (a simple decanting would do it, I think).  The real find here, however, was the just-released 2009 Petit Verdot.  DANG!  This wine had some excellent fruit on it accompanied by some spicy, oaky, smoky greatness.  I can’t wait to decant one of the three bottles we brought home and sit with this one.

The last of my favorite “finds” was a wine from Well Hung Vineyard (www.wellhungvineyard.com).  They like the double-entendres (this coming from the guy writing CorkEnvy).  I was discussing the Expo with a friend yesterday and he told me that he wasn’t into “crassness” when it came to wine.  While I would generally agree, I like a clever, sexy name as much as the next guy (CorkEnvy) and sometimes business is about getting people to the [tasting] table.  That said, I didn’t walk up to Well Hung’s tasting table with any great expectations and was convinced by their display of logoed offerings that they make as much profit on merchandise as they do wine.  I was pleasantly surprised (by the wine).  They were pouring two 2009 Chardonnays (the Well Hung Everyday and the Very Well Hung), a 2009 Cab Franc, and a 2009 Verdot-Merlot blend; all were nice wines.  The star of the lineup, however, was the 2008 Private Select (which they were not pouring, but only selling by the glass).  I suppose it was my natural charm, killer good looks, stellar voice, and apparent interest that netted us half-glass ‘tasting’ pours free of charge; that ‘tasting’ pour netted Well Hung a sale of a couple of bottles of their best wine—a tit-for-tat, if you will (I couldn’t resist—I am talking about a vineyard named Well Hung).  This is a well-structured wine with a nice earthy/smoky thing going on [insert your own inappropriate comment here] and I am looking forward to sitting for a while with this one at some point [and here, as well].

The other notable highlight of the Expo for me was tasting with Gabriele Rausse.  For those of you who don’t keep up with the comings and goings of VA wine, this guy is known as the Father/Grandfather/Godfather of the Virginia wine industry (Gabriele insists he’s too young to be called the grandfather).  He’s more than an interesting character.  A charming Italian who originally came to VA in the mid-1970s, Rausse does a fantastic job with the grapes he has year after year, and consistently makes some really nice wines.  Rausse was pouring 11 wines, all of which were great, but the bigger highlight (at least for a wine geek) was the fact that the man himself was pouring for us.  Some combination of the quality of the wines themselves and Gabriele’s charming demeanor led to a mixed case purchase of his offerings.

So there you have it.  The rib and I tasted some other great wines, too, but I wanted to hit you with the highlights.  Plus, I can only rub it in for so long that we were tasting wine all weekend while you were grocery shopping, cleaning the house, and running the kids around to their various activities.  I come out of the Virginia Wine Expo weekend looking forward to getting to know some of these bottles over the coming months.  I am also very excited about following up with some of the great owners, vineyard managers, and winemakers we met and visiting their vineyards, wineries, and/or tasting rooms.

From the Cork-pit,

Stub