A tasting of Virginia wines in Kent

Last week I was invited to give a presentation on Virginian wines to Hextable Wine Society in north Kent.

Apparently none of the members had ever tried one before and it was a surprise to a few that there was any wine produced in the state at all.

So, I really enjoyed opening people minds to the delights of Virginian wine – I love introducing people to new things, it really is the best part of what I do.

It also gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with some of the wines that I had tried on my recent trip to Virginia.

I managed to get hold of a good range – using the good offices of Chris Parker, whose New Horizon Wines is really leading the Virginian assault on the UK.


Chris Parker in a Virginian Vineyard

The line gave a good snap shot of Virginia, and what is more all the wines are available in the UK. Of course some of the wines really shone, but all of them were good and the reds came in for some special praise as their tannin management met with great approval from this discerning audience:

Map of Virginia showing where the wineries are - click for a larger view


2008 White Hall Vineyards Viognier
Monticello AVA

This was widely liked with 80% Viognier, 10% Petit Manseng, 7% Muscat and 3% Gewurztraminer in the blend giving it that touch of the exotic and a real freshness in the mouth – 89/100 points.

2008 Breaux Vineyards Viognier

A tad sweeter, but still dry, and more serious too – this is an unoaked example, but the richness of the variety and that delicate spice is balanced superbly by quite high acidity for a Viognier.

By a whisker this was the preferred style of Viognier – 90/100 points.

2008 The Williamsburg Winery Acte 12 of 1619 Chardonnay

Act 12 of The Virginia House of Burgesses, which was the first representative assembly in the New World, was a law requiring all colonists to plant at at least 10 vines. It was an attempt to make vines important to the new economy, sadly it failed despite French viticultural experts being brought in. Not enough was known about growing vitis vinifera in North America in those days and it is possible that this was vitis viniferas the first tangle with phyloxerra.

The delicate use of French oak was approved of here, together with the very lean French style – nothing gloopy here – 87/100 points.

2008 Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc

This cool vintage produced a medium-bodied, fresh, very cherry infused style of Cabernet Franc that was well received – 88/100 points.

I have also tasted the 2008 which was a hotter vintage and the extra ripeness really showed.

2007 Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Franc

Barboursville make good wines, they have been growing vitis vinifera grapes in Virginia longer than anyone else and their winemaker has been there for 20 odd years – the experience and consistency shows.

This is a terrific example of the grape, ripe fruit, good use of oak and supple, seamless tannins make this a lovely dry red wine of real quality – 91/100 points.

2008 Veritas Paul Shaffer 2nd Edition Petit Verdot
Monticello AVA

English owned Veritas was one of my favourite visits while in Virginia, I think their passion really showed in every wine they produced and this was a gem.

Even in this cooler year, or did that help this late ripening grape?, the fruit was beautifully ripe with lovely depth, judicious use of oak to underscore the wine and not dominate, together with very fine tannins. This wine is a joy – 92/100 points.

2007 Boxwood Topiary, The Boxwood Winery

This was the most obviously new world wine of the tasting, which mirrors the amazing winery that is clearly modeled on the Napa Valley. The estate used to be home to General Billy Mitchell and is today run by Rachel Martin whose father used to own the Washington Redskins.

This 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc is intended to be in a Libournnais style, but I think it is a bigger wine than that implies. This hot vintage has delivered intense fruit with the oak giving some lovely spice notes. This is very good, but needs time – 91/100 points.

2005 Breaux Vineyards Nebbiolo

This was a fine, mature and savoury take on Piemonte’s grape, like Petit Verdot it is a real mystery as to why this grape does so well in Virginia. Nebbiolo is a very late ripening grape that was pretty tricky to get right in Italy until well into the twentieth century. That being said I have only encountered it on 2 sites in Virginia, so perhaps it enjoys localised conditions.

Pale, transparent and slightly brickyard red.
Lovely rose petal nose with spice and tea.
Creamy smoothness to the palate soft with delicate spice and rounded red fruit studded with spice and dried redcurrants too.
Lovely wine medium bodied, but very tasty indeed. Great balance with finesse and delicacy – 90/100 points.

Many of these wines are available in the UK from the Oxford Wine Company, Hercules Wine Warehouses in Kent and The Good Wine Shops in south west London as well as Wholefoods in South Kensington.

For details about Hextable Wine Society please contact the chairman,  John Mesnard on 01322 862340 or email: john@mesnard.co.uk

It was a terrific evening and really rewarding to introduce lots of new people to these excellent wines – bear them in mind, their quality far outstrips their novelty value.

Very drinkable great value wine

Most of the cheap stuff on the UK market nowadays seems to be the big brands that operate at the lower ends of the quality spectrum; Blossom Hill, Kumala etc. I am sure most of these find favour with someone, but I always presume that they sell rather more because of marketing budgets than on wine quality. So, I am always on the look out for honest and well made wines that can compete at low price levels.


vineyards just outside Requena

It seems that I found a bit of a winner recently – and it promises a great deal right from the start, with its modern packaging, screwcap and a Decanter World Wine Awards Silver Medal sticker.

The only visual negative is that at first glance I assumed it was from Toro – one of the very best Spanish wine regions for good value – the design even resembles some Toro wines.


Map of Spain’s wine regions, Utiel-Requena is just West of Valencia – click for a larger view

I like Utiel-Requena, I was there a few months back and it is a beautiful place. Administratively it is part of Valencia, but geographically and historically the region is more like La Mancha – they don’t speak Valenciano and the area is a plateau quite unlike the coastal conditions. I really enjoyed visiting Requena itself, the town is very Spanish with no hint of the costas about it – and the prices of most things are cheap . It is surrounded by lovely countryside – mostly flat and covered in vines, but there are always hills in the distance and the landscape gets a bit more bumpy inland from Utiel.

The quality of the modern wines was a revelation too and as a consequence they are now more widely seen on Spanish supermarket shelves as well as creeping onto the UK market.

The Bobal grape is the traditional speciality here, but this wine is made from the much more famous and respected Tempranillo, which produces the great wines of Rioja as well as Ribera del Duero.

2009 Toro Loco Tempranillo
DO Utiel-Requena, Spain

There is nothing to dislike about this wine, unlike most at this sort of price it is not dilute, it is not over-extracted, it is not sweet, confected or jammy and at a modest 12.5% it is not over aclcoholic either.

It is soft with minimal tannins, a tiny waft of spice and lots of gluggy blackberry fruit characters. I found it most agreeable with some sausages – 88/100 points.

Available at £3.49 from Aldi – which must make it what Parker strangely calls ‘a value’ and what I call great value for money.

I have reviewed the same producers excellent dry Bobal Rosé before, but for the 2009 vintage the have  revamped the packing to Toro Loco and lowered the price to just £3.49.

These are amongst the very best cheap wines that I have tasted in a long time and I think they provide a much more pleasurable experience than most in their price bracket.

Quality in Wine – thoughts & considerations

My friend Keith Grainger is a founding member of the The Association of Wine Educators as well as being a highly respected wine educator and author, whose book ‘Wine Quality: Tasting and Selection’ has won the Gourmand Award for the Best Wine Education Book in the World, so I was delighted to be able to attend his recent seminar on ‘Quality in Wine’.

Keith was on fine form and gave an excellent presentation that was delightfully low-tech and far more interactive than I had expected. I greatly enjoyed the seminar and loved the way Keith kept questioning things – this resulted in stimulating conversations that he had to keep closing down or we would all still be there.

What is quality?
The theme was pretty straightforward and was summed up by Keith’s opening remark.

‘We can all define wine,’ he said, ‘but what about quality?’

Now, I always assume that I know what I mean by quality, but my mind refused to generate a simple answer to this question. He did receive several though, chief amongst them was ‘complexity’ and ‘elegance’. Continue reading

Spain’s Wild Frontier


Fermoselle with the river gorge just visible to the right

I have visited Fermoselle in Arribes del Duero and it is a small, tranquil place right on the edge of Spain – go any further west and you will find yourself splashing in the Duero/Douro river and then in Portugal.


Map of Spain’s wine regions, DO Arribes is where the Duero/Douro River forms the border with Portugal – click for a larger view

I was astonished that this area can boast two wineries that are run by English women, even more strangely it seems that they are both here entirely by coincidence. Continue reading

When is a lot of sugar no sugar?

Or: When is a wine sweet or dry?

Sweetness is an absolute, right? After all a wine is either dry or it is not and the EU regulates that kind of thing – my friend Warren Edwardes outlines the rules here.

However it is true that most new world wines contain more sugar than their European counterparts. This does not make them sweet, just less dry – many a non-European Shiraz will contain anything from around 3-5 grams of residual sugar per litre, while the French equivalent will have less than 1 gram, which makes quite a difference in mouthfeel, richness and fruit character.

Again, this does not make these wines sweet, but it does make them softer and fuller in the mouth. It makes the tannins much less of an issue and ensures that the wine does not interact with your food quite as much as less rich wines, so a good food pairing becomes less important, it can even make the wine soft enough to enjoy without food – so you see a little sugar can be a useful thing.

However, it does seem to cloud the issue for many consumers who are new to wine – they do seem to think that all wine should be like Australian Shiraz.

We are used to non-European producers being very open about their wines, but I have discovered that it is actually often quite hard to get hold of residual sugar levels for new world red wines. Most technical sheets just say that they are ‘dry’, some have ‘Residual Sugar: Nil’, while more than a few just ignore the issue completely.

I had been pondering all this for some time, as the sugar level is important and I have seen for myself the effect that having ‘dry’ wines that contain a fair amount of sugar has. It changes the parameters of wine and makes traditional European styles seem austere and mean to young drinkers and casual drinkers who want a wine without food.

However, I was really surprised by something in America recently, which possibly helps to explain some of this.

In a winery I had just tasted a Viognier, which did not seem to me  to be completely dry. So, I asked the winemaker what the residual sugar was and his reply really startled me, he said ‘effectively zero’.

Now this wine did not taste as though it had virtually no sugar, so I pressed the point and asked what ‘effectively zero’ meant. His reply, after looking it up was that it was ‘0.7’.

I pressed further, as this wine could not possibly have such a minimal residual sugar content. Strangely though it did – if you measure sugar in the American way, it had 0.7% residual sugar – which to the winemaker was as good as zero and therefore close to his idea of a totally dry wine.

Actually though it is nothing like zero, when I tell you that on the European measure 0.7% residual sugar is a whopping 7 grams per litre – which in a low acid wine like Viognier is not dry, let alone anything like zero.

So, perhaps they just speak an entirely different sugar language over there and their Zero, or Nil is our 10? It would explain a lot about the differences in sweetness and why a wine with quite a whack of sugar can be described as having nil residual sugar on a technical sheet..

A Really Dry Wine

I love interesting and exotic wine, but how’s this for a really unusual product – a red wine that is so dry, you need to add water so that you can drink it!

It is intended for mountaineers, trekkers and rugged types in the great outdoors generally. I didn’t know people needed or wanted wine on such endeavours, but at least it is available. You can also get a mulled version for cold winter expeditions too, but I assume you add hot water to that.

This dried wine is available from Trek’n Eat who specialise in ‘food for your outdoor life’. They do have a wonderful array of stuff, which all seems pretty sensible and suitable for a trek – only the dried wine has the feel of an April Fool – I did check the date though.

The wine – or as it says on the packet, ‘Alcoholic Drink Powder with Red Wine Extract’, what a category at the Decanter Wine Awards that would be – is just 8.2% alcohol and there is no further information as to what red wine it is extracted from.

Can someone correct me if I am wrong, but if you are carrying water, then you may as well have normal wine in a plastic bottle or bag as have a dried version – or am I missing something?

I have looked in vain for similar products, which doesn’t surprise me, but perhaps this is a sector of the market that is thriving and loads of you are enjoying powdered wine?

If anyone has tried it I would love to read your tasting note.

Can I also thank my brother for bringing this product to my attention.