Virginia’s old guard stood proud at this year’s Governor’s Cup awards ceremony, with familiar names dominating the “Governor’s Case” of the state’s 12 highest-scoring wines.
The Williamsburg Winery took top honors, winning the Governor’s Cup for its 2010 Adagio, a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot. The awards were announced Feb. 27 in Richmond by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The Governor’s Case included six other Bordeaux blends, including the 2010 Octagon from Barboursville Vineyards. The 2009 Octagon won last year’s Governor’s Cup. The others were produced by Barren Ridge Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, North Gate Vineyard, Rockbridge Vineyard and Sunset Hills Vineyard. Two tannats — from Fabbioli Cellars and Horton Vineyards — made the top ranks, as did Barboursville’s nebbiolo and malvaxia, a sweet dessert wine. The only dry white in the Governor’s Case was a barrel-fermented chardonnay from Two Twisted Posts Winery, a Loudoun County newcomer scheduled to open to the public this spring.
This was the third year using the case format for the Governor’s Cup, an annual competition started in the 1980s by the Virginia Wineries Association. The competition is administered by Jay Youmans, a master of wine and head of the Capital Wine School in the District. The Governor’s Case is designed to highlight not one but a dozen of the state’s top wines, and the collection is sent each year to U.S. and British wine writers. It has helped spark a wave of favorable articles in food and wine publications about Virginia’s rapidly improving wine industry.
Such competitions are controversial because several of the state’s top wineries choose not to participate. Rather than look at medals and scores as indicators of the state’s best wines, I prefer to regard the results as a snapshot of Virginia’s wine industry at this point in time. This year’s competition had 410 entries, all of which were evaluated by an initial panel of judges who selected 133 wines to proceed to the final round. Fifteen judges — sommeliers, retailers, distributors and writers, including myself — tasted the finalists over three days in early February to determine the winners. Twenty wines earned gold medals, with the top 12 scorers becoming the Governor’s Case.
Barboursville’s three wines in the case solidify that winery’s status as Virginia’s finest and most commercially successful, and they confirm Barboursville’s Luca Paschina as the state’s premier winemaker. Rockbridge’s inclusion, for its 2008 DeChiel Reserve Meritage, is a well-deserved accolade for one of Virginia’s older wineries that is often overshadowed by newer names.
But the Governor’s Cup win is a real coup for the Williamsburg Winery, also one of the state’s largest, and its winemaker, Matthew Meyer. A graduate of the oenology program at the University of California at Davis, Meyer came to Williamsburg in 2002 after working at several prestigious wineries in Napa Valley.
“My goal is to make a bold wine, yet retain the nuances of the Old World style,” Meyer wrote in an e-mail. “When blending any of my wines, I always think of three things: my wife, Elena; my late father; and food. If I can create a wine as beautiful as Elena, as complex as my father, and food friendly, then I am on the right track.” Meyer achieved that with the 2010 Adagio ($72 at the winery), which I described in my notes simply as “luscious.”
This year’s results confirm that red blends are Virginia’s strongest wines. Varietal cabernet sauvignon and merlot did not fare as well, though I thought the various flights of cabernet franc in the final round were quite strong. And I was particularly impressed with how many of my favorites were from the rain-drenched harvest of 2011. Their quality shows that Virginia winemakers are learning to cope with the most challenging conditions.
White wines once again got short shrift, with just two — the Two Twisted Posts chardonnay 2012 and Veritas Vineyard’s 2012 viognier — earning gold medals. That’s because the judging is done early in the year, when the 2012s are mostly sold out and the 2013s are not yet released. To be fair and representative, the VWA should hold the competition later in the year.
Meanwhile, I’m checking my calendar to plan visits to Williamsburg and Two Twisted Posts.