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.

My Last Hurrah in Virginia


The King's Arms Tavern

My very last visit in Virginia was nothing to do with wine, but was fascinating and important none the less, what is more even on a wine trip you need to get away from the stuff every now and again and see how people actually live. I was taken into Williamsburg which served as the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1698 until 1780 when Governor Thomas Jefferson moved it to Richmond to avoid the state government falling into the hands of advancing British troops.

One reason for it becoming the seat of government was that it was on high, well drained ground which was readily defensible against the natives and seems to have enjoyed a less humid and swampy climate than nearby low lying Jamestown, which was the first capital of Virginia.

In addition, in 1693 Reverend James Blair founded The College of William & Mary on this attractive and healthy site, then called Middle Plantation. So, when the government needed to find a temporary home when the Jamestown House of Burgesses burnt down, for the second time, they moved into the fine buildings of the college. They seemed to like it there and soon built a new capital just to the east of the college, and named it Williamsburg in honour of King William 111. Continue reading

V is for Viognier…and a lot more besides

Viognier vines at Veritas Vineyards in Virginia with the Blue Ridge in the background

Whilst contemplating wine I often think how remarkable it is that quite so many white grapes have names that begin with a ‘V’. Some of them may seem a tad obscure, but here is a list of all the ones that sprang to mind – with a few that I looked up:

Verdejo Tinto
Verdello – not the same as Verdelho, in case you were wondering.
Verduzzo (Friulano)
Vernaccia – in fact there are a few of these, all unrelated.
Vien de Nus
Villard Blanc
Villard Noir
Viosinho – sometimes called Veosinho Verdeal for good measure.
and finally the most famous of all – Viognier. Continue reading

Virginia – a land of history & wine

Sometimes when I visit a wine region it all makes instant sense, the topography, the climate, the soils and the traditions. Virginia was not like that and I found it hard to get a real grip on the place. As it is so large and the conditions vary, there appears to be no single statewide solution to any grape growing problem and no one perfect grape variety. What is more we are so used to being able to dismiss vintage variation on anything but the finest wines nowadays, that it is a shock to find a region where no two years are the same and where there is no such thing as an average year – vintage is crucial to Virginia.

In so many ways Virginia is the heart of the United States of America. It contains the original English Colony of Jamestown which was founded in 1607 – as well as the Lost Colony of Roanoke which was there from 1585-1587.

Virginia was the site of America’s first experiment with representative democracy when the House of Burgesses was established in Jamestown in 1619. Many of the greatest characters and thinkers of the American Revolution were from here; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, James Madison. Seven signatories of the Declaration of Independence were Virginian, as was Robert E. Lee. Unsurprisingly the area around Washington and Richmond is littered with Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields. Continue reading

Fried Green Tomatoes

I have read, and loved, Annie Flagg’s book and seen the film, but I had never eaten a fried green tomato until the other day. In truth I didn’t quite believe they were real – after all, they sound a bit like something Dr. Seuss would create.

So, when I saw them on a menu I simply had to try the fried green tomatoes. What a dish it is, these were in crisp breadcrumbs and really delicious. The crunch of the coating contrasting superbly with the succulent, but firm flesh of the tomatoes inside – and yes, they really were green.

If anyone can tell me if they are a green variety of tomato or simply picked while unripe, then I would be grateful.

The food in these parts is quite exciting, I am told that I might get peanut butter soup sometime…
Green ham and eggs anyone?

Virginia – Loudon County delights

Well, it’s early days in my visit to Virginia’s wine country, but already I know that I am experiencing something pretty exciting.
Virginia doesn’t have that many wineries and most of them are very small, but the winemakers and owners seem a very dedicated and enthusiastic bunch so far.
The countryside is beautiful, so far I have only seen the northernmost tip of Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley – just to the northwest of Washington – where the Blue Ridge Mountains form a stunning backdrop. Everywhere you look the scenery is a delight, rolling hills with the dramatic mountains a constant presence in the distance. Many of the towns, like Middleburg, in Loudon County are astonishingly beautiful, where flower covered antique shops, glorious Georgian buildings and bustling cafes line the streets.
I am still processing what I am learning and free time is rare, so for now here a a few photographs to give you a feel of the place. I will try and find some more time soon – so keep checking back.

Virginia here I come…

sunset over Virginia's Hickory Hill Vineyards & Winery

I really do seem to have become a bit obsessed about American wine of late, but then they are very interesting and can be exceedingly good and I really enjoy visiting the country. Quite a while ago I wrote a couple of pieces about wines from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Well, I had never tried them before and became pretty excited about them and now I am about to set off to see the wine growing areas of Virginia for myself. I am really looking forward to learning about them properly and being able to report back on anything interesting and exciting. Continue reading

The Appalachian appellations – more on Virginian wines

Many of will be aware that I tasted some Virginian wines earlier in the year and was pretty impressed. If you want to read about it again, click here.


Well, the other day I was invited to a specific tasting of Virginia wines and was able to taste 20 wines from the state. Continue reading

The Virginians

I really enjoy stumbling across wines that are new to me from places and grape varieties that seem unlikely. So recently I was excited to try some intriguing wines from Virginia.

I know that every state of The United States, except Alaska, grows grapes and makes wines from them, but apart from a sea of branded California wines and the occasional offering from Oregon or Washington State I never actually see any for sale. Even in New York I was hard pressed to find New York State wines.

The beautiful Keswick Vineyards in Monticello

The beautiful Keswick Vineyards in Monticello

So, it should not seem surprising that Virginia, home of Washington and Jefferson, makes wines, but it does. Virginia was not the first state to grow grapes and make wine, that honour, strangely, falls to Florida (I have never been able to find a wine made from grapes from Florida, so if anyone wants to send me one to review – feel free). Continue reading