Virginia’s wine industry may be feeling a little giddy these days after being whipsawed by Hurricane Irene and four days of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. Now there’s something to cheer about: rave reviews of several of the state’s wines from Jancis Robinson.
Robinson, you’ll recall, is one of the world’s foremost wine writers, author of a gazillion books and chief editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine, aka “The Great Big Book of Everything.” She was also the main keynote speaker at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, held in late July in Charlottesville. Her visit provided Robinson with her first chance in more than a decade to delve into Virginia’s wines in detail.
Recently, Robinson posted tasting notes of 50 Virginia wines on her Web site (available to subscribers only) and devoted her Saturday column in the Financial Times to Virginia — primarily to Rutger de Vink of RdV Vineyards in Fauquier County, the man who is setting new standards for quality with his Bordeaux-style blends.
Robinson said de Vink’s wines “are already looking thrillingly good” and “stand a good chance of putting the state on the world wine map.” She gave her highest ratings — 18 out of 20 points — to the RdV 2009 and 2010 (both of which are not yet released), describing the 2009 as “sort of a Margaux!” with “[g]reat build,” and the 2010 as “[s]weet and seductive. Monumental and enormous.” Those are not descriptions often written about Virginia wines.
Robinson also had high praise for Jim Law of Linden Vineyards as “a key figure in raising standards in Virginia grape-growing...whose wines have been exceptional almost from when he started in the 1980s.” Of Linden’s 2008 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, she wrote, “Crackling with life...this is a very well contained American east coast answer to white Burgundy.” She awarded it 17 out of 20 points.
Barboursville Vineyards had the most wines on Robinson’s list of favorites, including the 2007 Octagon (17 points) and the 2002 Cabernet Franc Reserve (17.5). Her list of Virginia favorites included two vintages of King Family Meritage, Ankida Ridge Chardonnay, Chrysalis Vineyards’s Locksley Reserve Norton and Breaux Vineyards’s viognier.
Reading between the lines, Robinson’s words were, by no means, a blanket endorsement of Virginia wine — we wouldn’t expect that anyway. Robinson is only human, and she apparently withered under the viognier “assault” during an outdoor tasting at Monticello in 100-degree heat. Although she praised the Breaux and Blenheim’s viogniers as having “more flavor” and being “more convincing” than most, she found “many of them merely light, crisp and floral rather than tasting definitively viognierlike to me.”
But she praised the enthusiasm of the state’s winemakers as well as their willingness to make sweet wines, especially with petit manseng. “All the wines were sound and well made,” she wrote.
And that should give Virginia’s winemakers reason to smile, while they nervously scan the skies hoping for good weather for the rest of the harvest.