Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
July 2005 Wine Rising in the East
Wine is now produced in all 50 U.S. states, at least in some form or another. California may not be running scared, but the quality elsewhere is improving, and many states can offer wines that would impress open-minded wine lovers. (Though in my experience, those are distressingly few.)
For many of us, "local" wine is a novelty to be endured once a year at a regional festival or foisted on unsuspecting relatives as holiday presents. We enjoy the occasional winery visit and make a "mercy purchase," then hurry home to our favorite California Cabs and Chardonnays.
Well, the times, they are a-changing, folks.
If you haven't discovered the dedicated winemaker near you who is producing a top-notch Cabernet, Viognier, or dessert wine, then you aren't looking hard enough. They're there - not only in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where you might have heard of successful wines, but also in New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina and Georgia.
We used to have to live near these wineries to discover them, or else rely on blind luck to guide us off the beaten path on road trips. But with the recent Supreme Court decision on direct shipping tipping the balance in some states in favor of consumers, we may find new opportunities to explore wines from unusual places that don't typically reach our retail shelves.
That's why I cheered when the Vinifera Wine Growers Association, a winery trade group based in Virginia, announced plans to hold an inaugural Atlantic Seaboard Vinifera Wine Competition. For many years, the VWGA has held a competition dedicated to Virginia wines, but decided this year to expand its scope to include the entire East Coast. (In the interest of disclosure, I have been a judge in several of their earlier competitions and in January of this year joined the VWGA's board of directors.) Until this year, there was no competition highlighting the progress in quality winemaking along the East Coast. It is a worthy effort, and one that I hope will continue.
Wineries from 17 states were eligible to enter this year's competition; there were 319 wines entered from 10 states. New York wineries did not participate in great numbers, for some reason, though a New York entrant did win a best-of-category award. (Surprise - it was a Riesling!) In all, only 13 gold medals were awarded, along with 56 silvers and 132 bronzes. This may sound disappointing, but it demonstrates the rigorous standards enforced by the 20 judges, who were not giving charity points because these were "local" wines. The large number of medals awarded (more than 50 percent) demonstrates that the overall quality of winemaking in this region is high. Only occasionally were judges shaking their heads and wondering, "What were they thinking?"
For the record, "Best of Show" honors went to Rockbridge Vineyard of Virginia for its 2002 Heritage, which also won Best-of-Category for Bordeaux-style red blends. Other Best-of-Category wines were the Horizon Cellars 2003 Viognier from North Carolina; Unionville Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from New Jersey; Wintergreen Winery 2003 Black Rock Chardonnay and its 2002 Cabernet Franc, from Virginia; Barboursville 2003 Barbera Reserve from Virginia; and Dr. Konstantin Frank 2004 Semi-Dry Riesling from New York. Virginia's strong showing in the winner's circle is a factor of the quality of winemaking in the Old Dominion as well as the state industry's support of the VWGA.
Some personal observations as a judge, from quick glances at labels after the contest and from looking at my own score sheets (these do not reflect medal awards or the consensus of my judging panel!):
- My two surprises were that Unionville Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from New Jersey and several wines from Frogtown Cellars in Georgia, primarily because I'd never heard of them. I will be seeking them out from now on.
- Virginia has potential with wild yeast Chardonnay. I was particularly impressed with entries from Piedmont and Rappahannock Cellars.
- Cabernet Franc continues to do well along the East Coast, showing complexity and elegance even in wet vintages when ripening can be difficult.
- Touriga and Tannat have definite potential as the foundation for high-quality wines. Some Virginia wineries have been championing these varietals for a few years, and my strong flight in "All Other Red Varietals" included Keswick Cellars 2004 Touriga and Horton - Spottswood Trail 2000 Tannat. Equally impressive were North Carolina's Silver Coast Winery 2002 Cape Fear Blood Wine (OK, OK, but the wine is good) and two from Georgia - Frogtown Cellars 2002 Tannat and Tiger Mountain Vineyards 2002 Tannat.
For a list of the medal winning wines from the first Atlantic Seaboard Vinifera Wine Competition, see my Web site at http://dmwineline.com, on the Archives page along with this article.
PS - For those of you in the Washington, D.C., or Northern Virginia region, the VWGA will host its 30th annual Virginia Wine Festival August 20-21 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Historic Long Branch Farm in Millwood, Virginia. Tickets are $20 in advance or $22 at the gate, with special rates available for designated drivers, children and groups. More information is available at http://www.showsinc.com.
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Dave McIntyre is Wine Editor of Foodservice Monthly, a trade publication for the restaurant industry in the mid-Atlantic region. His writings have appeared in Wine Enthusiast, The Washington Post, Washington Life, Capital Style, the newsletters of the American Institute of Wine & Food, Decanter.com, Sidewalk.com and WineToday.com, among other publications. He has appeared on radio on NPR's Kojo Nnamdi Show and on WTOP's "Man About Town" segment. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food. Dave McIntyre's WineLine is archived on Robin Garr's WineLoversPage.com. E-mail Dave at McIntyreWineLine@yahoo.com.