If you caught the Johnny Depp tattoo reference, congratulations! You’re most definitely old enough to drink wine. But are you doing that great distinction justice? In order for the answer to be yes, your cellar needs to be stocked with a few bottles from the Virginia hills. The Virginia Wineries Association’s annual Governor's Cup competition is a good place to start; it keeps getting bigger and better every year.
The 2015 gold winners were chosen from 94 wineries, who put forth 390 bottles for the judges’ perusal. Meritage, a red blend, swept the day, taking 13 of the 30 golds awarded. Actually, 24 of the winners were reds. Twenty-four. Of 30. Upon first glance, it might seem that this indicates an imbalance in Virginia’s red/white varietal quality, but that’s just not the case (as proven by beautiful products like Gray Ghost’s Adieu, a Vidal Blanc and Gewurtztraminer, as well as a whole host of Viogniers and Chardonnays throughout Virginia wine history). It seems to be a twofold issue: the timing of the competition, and the reputation of reds versus whites in the international landscape.
“Typically, reds are just taken more seriously than whites, so in order for Virginia to showcase itself as a great wine-producing region, we have to highlight reds" says Brian Williams, a Tier II-level sommelier with Terrapin restaurant in Virginia Beach. "If I owned a winery, I’d compete with my reds, too.”
Also in the mix is the date of the competition: the Governor’s Cup golds are awarded in February — a little early for last season’s whites, and a little late for the vintage prior. There’s also a case minimum for wineries to submit, and whites often have nearly sold out by time the Cup comes around.
Regardless, the winners win because they’re well-balanced and produced with painstaking care. So … what to drink? I can only give recommendations based on what I’ve actually tasted (though I hesitate to admit how many make that cut). The Barboursville Octagon (a Meritage) stands up nicely to a slab of tender red meat, so stick it on your date night shopping list. Also on the Meritage tip, Barren Ridge’s 2010 is a heck of a contender, showing off a velvety, deep roundness. King Family’s Petit Verdot’s heavy tannins and notes of violet make it a friendly partner for hard cheeses. As for whites, Virginia Wineworks (which is nested under the Michael Shaps umbrella) won gold for its dry, sweet, pineapple-toned Petit Manseng — a good choice for after-dinner indulgence.
Find the list of all medal winners here, and keep tabs on your favorites; the top 12 Virginia wines will be showcased at the Governor’s Cup Gala on Feb. 24. Which will emerge victorious? Well, I suppose the odds-on favorite is a Meritage.