When this month’s edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday was announced by Wine Cast, the host for this edition, I knew that we’d be drinking local. It’s true that VA wine is what we do, but WBW also offers us a chance to push out of our comfort zone as was true with last month’s theme of wine’s from Spain. That said, if we can get some bloggers outside of VA excited about the wines of our state, especially with the Wine Bloggers Conference being hosted in Charlottesville this summer, we’re all for it.
One of the grapes that’s become very associated with Virginia is viognier. While all VA viogniers are not created equal, you can find a lot of nice bottles here. Given this, we knew a viognier was going to make it into this post. We typically have a number of options for this grape, but we also typically don’t keep whites on our shelves as long as we do reds since time is not as kind to white wines. Since 2010 whites are starting to be released, we’re also starting to get low on our ’09s. In the end, we decided to go with the ’09 viognier from Veritas Vineyards.
When I first sniffed this wine, I noted that there was a ton of fruit to be found in this bottle. Peach and apricot were the fruits most apparent on the nose with just the barest hint of something floral hidden behind all that fruit. On the palate, the fruit was tempered a bit. Stone fruits were still prominent, but they were joined by some pineapple. I also noted a sweet floral element that made me think of wildflower honey (although I’m pretty sure the sweetness is just a perceptual illusion given all the fruit flavors). The one downside to this wine is that there was a hint of alcohol on the finish. This wasn’t a hot wine, however, and this note would likely have been far less noticeable if we’d been drinking this wine with some food rather than on it’s own.
We wanted to do more than just talk about a grape that (some) people already associate with Virginia, so after having a viognier (and some sleep) we started checking our shelves to see if we had any other options to include. Syrah is another Rhone grape. While you don’t see a ton of it in VA (as compared to chardonnay, cab franc, merlot, etc.), there are some to be found. After all, if one grape from a region grows well here, it would stand to reason that others might as well. I know Delaplane Cellars had an amazing one last spring (Jordan Harris, winemaker at Tarara Winery, called it the best red wine ever made in VA – scroll down to the comments) and Tarara, Keswick Vineyards, and Blenheim Vineyards all make syrahs (although I haven’t had any of them). In perusing our shelves,we did find a bottle of ’05 syrah we picked up on a visit to Ingleside Vineyards last year.
The nose hinted at an earthy rather than fruity wine as I noted earthy leather with a hint of dark fruit in the background. As I started to sip, I definitely found the earthy wine I was looking for. There was an earthy, leathery funkiness that was really working for me. At some moments, I was reminded of horses and tack while at other times I was thinking more about decomposing leaves from a forest floor. There was some dark fruit as well, but it was definitely a background note. I do enjoy a fruit-forward wine, but there are nights when that’s not what I want. I like some earthy funk and have a harder time finding that with our local wines. I’m hopefully I’ll find a bit more of it with some other local syrahs which we clearly need to start seeking out.
Because we like to be overachievers (i.e., drink more wine), we decided to round out our WBW exploration of Rhones from VA with a dessert wine offering. It just so happens, that we had a bottle of ’08 Mille Fleurs from Pollak Vineyards nestled amidst our non-dessert bottles. This bottle is a first for us: a fortified viognier (although we have had both white and red fortified wines in the past, and we’ve also had late harvest viognier). My prior experiences with fortified white wines have not generally been positive. While I’m not much bothered by the higher alcohol content of fortified reds, the whites just always seem hotter and more distracting. This one, however, wore its 17.5% abv well. It also wore it’s two years of oak aging well.
On the nose, I noted a hint of the brandy used to fortify the wine. This was quickly followed by a complex blend of nuttiness, sweet floral elements, and some apricot. On the palate, I noted a wine that was sweet, but remarkably lightly so. A rich floral nuttiness was what I most noticed, but there were also some stone fruit flavors and some complex flavors I can best describe as honey-like. I’ve often spoken of viognier as my favorite winter white since it can be a rich, full-bodied wine. This one definitely fits the bill in that respect. That said, I don’t think this is a wine I’d reach for often as it’s outside of what I typically look for in a dessert wine – I typically like them sweeter to satisfy a sweet craving I may experience at the end of the day. If you’re a fortified wine fan, however, this is one to check out.
So, at the end of this, what can I say about Rhone wines in VA? They’re worth checking out! I firmly believe that viognier is among the best whites to be found in the state, and there are enough different styles being produced that it’s likely you’ll find one (or many) that work for you be it fruity, floral, oaked, fortified, etc. Syrah and other Rhone grapes haven’t made the same impact on the local wine scene yet, but it’s clear that there are some experimenting, and I’m hearing, and drinking, good things, so the other grapes of the Rhone may hold more promise for VA wine yet.
The Rhones Not From The Rhone: WBW #71 by Swirl, Sip, Snark, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.