The best of Virginia: The Virginia Governor’s Cup winners

Virginia wine country isn’t just for lovers anymore.

The Old Dominion is gaining a reputation for producing some top wine, as evidenced by the recent results of the annual Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.

Earlier this year, over 40 judges participated in the annual wine competition, where over 490 wines were submitted for evaluation to the Virginia Winery Association. The wines ranged from traditional table wines to fruit-centric dessert wines and were all produced using fruit grown in Virginia.

The competition was led by Jay Youmans, one of only 41 Masters of Wine in the United States. All of the wines were tasted “single-blind” – that is to say that the judges were only allowed to know the varietal composition and the vintage. The winemaker and region were hidden behind coded glasses.

The Virginia Wineries Association, in partnership with the Virginia Wine Board & the Virginia Vineyards Association, recently announced the winners and assembled a “media case” of the winning wines for wine journalists and critics. I recently worked my way through the top 12 wines and was impressed by the number of petit verdot wines that made it into the top tier.

Here are the top results:

The overall winner of this year’s Governor’s Cup competition is the 2014 Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. This 100 percent cabernet hails from Hamilton, Virginia. This is a full-bodied wine that has been aged in French and American oak for 18 months. It has scents of dark cherry and toffee on the nose and features lush and juicy flavors of black cherry, blackberry, dark plum on the front of the palate and hints of tobacco on the smooth finish. $28

It’s nice to see one of my favorite varietals get a nod from the judges this year. The 2015 Horton Vineyards Viognier is bolstered by a touch of Petit Manseng, resulting in a wine that is rich and rewarding. The bouquet is resplendent, with scents of ripe peach, pineapple and orange blossom. Flavors of tropical fruit, peach and orange peel are kept in remarkable balance by pitch-perfect acidity. $20

Nestled in a valley near Purcellville, Two Twisted Posts Winery owners Brad and Theresa Robertson planted a beautiful vineyard surrounded by neighboring mountains. Their 2012 Two Twisted Posts Winery Chardonnay was aged on the lees, which helps to promote a creamy richness and smooth maturation. It was aged in 100 percent new oak barrels, producing a complex wine featuring flavors of tropical fruit, green apple and nectarine. Vanilla and toasted oak notes are highlighted throughout the palate on the way to a buttery finish. $23

As the saying goes, you can take the winemaker out of Piedmont, but he will likely bring his grapes with him. Evidently, Barboursville Vineyard’s winemaker, Luca Paschina, has found a slice of Piedmont in Barboursville, Virginia, where he has found that the nebbiolo grape lends itself to a barbaresco style. The 2010 Barboursville Vineyard Nebbiolo Reserve is aged for at least a year in barrel, and then another year in bottle before release. The result is an elegant and complex wine with aromas of black cherry, cola and violets. Full-bodied flavors of dark berry, saddle leather and tobacco fill out the palate on a rich finish sustained by firm tannins. $35

Family-owned and operated King Family Vineyards is a boutique winery located in Crozet, Virginia, whose goal is to make great wine from quality fruit with minimal intervention from winemaker Matthieu Finot, a native of the Rhone Valley. Monsieur Finot hit it out of the park with the 2014 King Family Vineyards Petit Verdot. The wine is aged for 21 months in a combination of new and older French oak barrels. On the nose, aromas of tar, black licorice and blueberry liqueur pave the way for intricate flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, forest floor and leather in the mouth. Firm tannins provide a lengthy finish with just a touch of spice and cedar. $36

Winemaker Michael Shaps — who moved to the Burgundy region of France in 1990 to study oenology before returning to Charlottesville in 1995 — is not only responsible for making the Governor’s Cup winner, but also he had a winning entry of his own. The 2014 Michael Shaps Wineworks Meritage is a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Outstanding aromatics of juicy dark fruit, cola and spicy cedar are captivating. Rich blackberry fruit mingles with dark cherry and red currants on the font of the tongue while flavors of espresso, roasted fig and cocoa play out on the long, elegant finish. $50

Other winners in the case included:

  • Barboursville Vineyards 2013 Paxxito
  • Breaux Vineyards 2012 Meritage
  • Ingleside Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot
  • Jefferson Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot
  • King Family Vineyards 2014 Loreley
  • Valley Road Vineyards 2014 Petit Verdot
  • Veritas Winery 2014 Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 6th Edition
  • Veritas Winery 2014 Petit Manseng

See a complete list of the medalists on the Virginia Wine website.

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