Though a commercial success, Octagon has not always won over critics or judges in blind tastings. The 2006 Octagon wowed the panel of sommeliers and retailers at The Washington Post’s “Judgment of D.C.” tasting in 2009, but Octagon has been a perennial also-ran in more formal competitions, such as the Governor’s Cup, rarely receiving a gold medal. Paschina acknowledges some frustration at that track record, which he attributes to the style of wine he’s trying to achieve.
“It’s not the most soft, polished and smooth wine,” he says. “I don’t fine it or do micro-oxygenation” — a popular winemaking technique that softens a wine’s tannins — “so the wine is a bit more assertive at a younger age and takes a bit longer to show well. It does really well at table with food, but in a wine competition it comes off as aggressive.”
His 2009 Octagon, which will be released for sale in August, impressed this year’s judges, who met in Richmond last month to taste wines that advanced through two preliminary rounds. This was the second year for the contest’s revamped format, in which the Governor’s Cup winner and 11 other top-scoring wines will be presented as the “Governor’s Case” and used to promote Virginia wines nationwide. It was organized by Jay Youmans, a master of wine and director of the Capital Wine School in Washington.
So how was Virginia’s report card this year? Twenty gold medals were awarded, up from 13 last year — possibly a reflection of the strong 2010 vintage, which provided most of those winners. The 12 wines in the Governor’s Case were made by Barboursville (the Octagon), Cooper Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, Lovingston Winery, Philip Carter Winery, Pollak Vineyards, Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery, Rappahannock Cellars, RdV Vineyards (two wines), Sunset Hills Vineyard and Trump Winery. Among those, King Family, Potomac Point and Trump were also represented in the 2012 Governor’s Case.
Nine of the 20 gold medalists were red blends of Bordeaux grape varieties, suggesting once again that Virginia’s best wines are blends rather than single-variety wines. Advocates of cabernet franc as Virginia’s red grape, however, will point to the five golds won by wines with that variety on the label.
One of those advocates could well be Michael Shaps, co-owner and winemaker at Virginia Wineworks, south of Charlottesville. Shaps was involved in six gold medals, including three from his own winery and three by client wineries he consults with (two for Shenandoah Vineyards and one for Pollak). Four of the six were cabernet franc. His Michael Shaps chardonnay, from a vineyard in Loudoun County, was the only white wine to receive a gold medal. (The contest might have a structural bias against white wines; the judging takes place in January, when many whites are sold out and the most recent vintage has not yet been released.)
The gold medal list included some of Virginia’s highly regarded producers and also some newcomers, Shaps noted. He attributed that to the strong 2010 vintage.
“I look forward to seeing how those wineries do in future years,” he said. “It could be a boost for the industry if we have a more diverse group of top producers.”
McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dmwine.