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Super Six Pac

Personal Favorites from the 2012 VA Governor’s Cup Competition:

The Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition underwent significant changes for the 2012 awards. Master of Wine Jay Youmans, who directs The Capital Wine School in DC, was brought in to coordinate the judging. It is important to realize that the MW citation is the wine world’s highest accredation.

The non-profit Institute of Masters of Wine is London-based, and since its inception in the 1950’s, fewer than 300 people worldwide have passed the rigorous course of study. Some readily recognizable names of people who share MW status are Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, Doug Frost and Mary Ewing-Mulligan. I had the great good fortune to study with Mary and her husband, author and wine educator Ed McCarthy, at the International Wine Center in NY back when I began my own wine journey. She is a personal hero to me. And I was astonished to see that Mary sat on this year’s panel of judges.

Governor Bob McDonnell had this to say: “Virginia wines have been gaining acclaim here at home, around the nation, and in key markets around the world. Given this, we need to make sure that we have a competition that recognizes and promotes the best that we have to offer. The revamped competition will do just that.”

Stringent new guidelines were put in place: All wine must be sourced in Virginia. This seemingly obvious criterion is actually a tightening up of the legal requirements for VA wine. Vintners are permitted by law to add up to 25% out of state juice and still label the product a Virginia wine.

Ciders and fruit wines were included in the competition under their own specific categories. All entries had to certify vineyard locations and growers’ names.

Information was required on alcohol, pH, and residual sugar. I’m surprised if they weren’t doing this before, because this kind of info is needed in order to taste apples to apples, oranges to oranges, as it were.

There were 28 judges in the preliminary round, and the final panel consisted of 15. The judges were compensated. Jay Youmans puts it this way: “In every regional industry, there are producers that make wines that appeal to consumers more than judges/experts. This competition is about recognizing those wineries that are raising the bar in terms of quality.” I know seven of the judges professionally, and eight are colleagues in the Society of Wine Educators. (I have the first degree of certification, Certified Specialist of Wine. The second step is the Certified Wine Educator achievement.) This is without a doubt an impartial, professional group of judges.

Winemakers were optimistic about the final innovation: judges’ notes would be made available to them at the conclusion of the competition, adding a bit of transparency to the proceedings and hopefully giving clear, constructive criticism. The jury is still out on that as the notes were only recently released.

“We were thrilled to have Jay Youmans lead the judging of this competition, elevating both the caliber of the judging process and the respect the competition receives,” said Mitzi Batterson, President of the Virginia Wineries Association. “That coupled with what will not just be a competition but a learning experience for Virginia winemakers is the next step in encouraging, supporting and advancing the appreciation of Virginia wines.”

Awards were presented in Richmond at the Governor’s Cup Gala on February 23, 2012. Jay shares with us that “a number of the judges commented on the high quality of the wines. I was very impressed as well.”

As we’ve reported, top honors went to Glen Manor Vineyards Hodder Hill Meritage 2009, a fabulously full-bodied, black-fruited, spicy/vanilla-tinged wine. In fact, all the thirteen Gold Medal winners were formidable. (If I were Sunset Hills, producers of the “13th” wine left out of the Governor’s Case, I’d be upset: we understand that a case is a case, but apparently on the 100 point scale the judges used, Sunset Hills missed by a smidge. Couldn’t we have called it a Baker’s Dozen?)

In Jay’s opinion, “The improvement in the wines can be attributed to a number of things, but viticulture would be at the top of the list. Winegrowers are getting better at achieving physiological ripeness in the grapes.” This is good news for all Virginia wine fans, and no doubt contributed to the $750 million dollars in revenue that the wine trade and related tourism returned to the commonwealth in 2010.

So, just to clarify, no disrespect to the other award-winners, which are all compelling. These are my own personal preferences for a six pack of wines I wouldn’t mind spending a week on a desert island with. With a private chef. And maybe a close, personal friend.

Kluge SP Blanc de BlancTrump Winery 2008 Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc

As you know doubt know, Trump purchased Kluge Winery last April. Patricia Kluge was at the Gala, radiantly pouring this fantastic sparkling wine. Toasty with notes of warm bread dough, fine bead, full, rich and vivacious, Kluge Blanc de Blanc would be a great way to start off a dinner party. Think smoked salmon with crème fraiche, oyster bisque, or something like goat cheese in phyllo. I asked if there was more to be had. Not to worry: inventory is plentiful and we can expect more of the same in future.

Veritas Sauvignon Blanc 2011

I had the opportunity to retaste Veritas Sauvignon Blanc 2011 with winemaker Emily Pelton last week. The wine shows graceful grass/hay aromas. It is fresh with tangy grapefruit/lime flavor, and kiss of stony mineral on the finish. Remember the earthquake last August, the one that was centered in Louisa County? Emily’s vineyards are about 60 miles from there. She harvested these grapes the day after. As you will hear, the 2011 harvest was challenging for many reasons – Emily shared that they lost about 30 tons of fruit. But with all that culling, don’t hesitate to try this fabulous wine.

Virginia winery White Hall Gewurtz 2010White Hall Vineyards 2010 Gewurtztraminer

Big roses! Balanced with lychee, lime, and acacia blossom in the mouth. Winemaker Mike Panczak (who could well be a relative from the Old Country – the c in Dancisin probably should have been rendered as cz at Ellis Island) works hard at keeping pure, fresh fruit in his whites. This wine will surprise you. The opulent nose gives way to a clean, crisp finish with just the right mineral note and touch of acidity. Mike’s very particular about yeasts, following a soft pressing to keep pH in balance, and doesn’t permit malolactic fermentation to occur. He used to work at Qupe in California, another one of my favorites.

Bluestone Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Bluestone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was crafted from the fruit of 6 year old vines and aged in 50% new oak, of which half were American and half French. 2010 was a dry year, and grapes achieved a high sugar level. This substantive Cab is rich with cassis and black fruit, subtle herbal notes and supple tannin. I can easily see this food-friendly wine pairing with a variety of meals, for instance an herb-roasted duck; beef wellington or beef korma; even a braised pork loin with cherry gravy (Food & Wine Feb 12).  The idea is to hit similar herbal or fruit notes to echo those found in the wine.

Delfosse 2007 MeritageDelfosse Vineyards & Winery 2007 Meritage

Delfosse Meritage 2007 spent 36 months in French oak. This extended aging lends density, concentration, and rich flavor. The blend is 30% Merlot, 30% Cab Franc, and 20% each of Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot. Interesting that the typical Bordeaux proportions of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc are reversed as the wine shows excellent bordeaux-like properties: Accents of leather, spice, and cedar melded to raspberry and black cherry backed by solid tannin. This is the type of red wine you want with that juicy, indulgent, rare steak (ok, ribeye — I love the fat) that is grilled black on the outside and still red on the inside.

King Meritage 08King Family Vineyards 2008 Meritage

The meritage wines were last on my rounds at the Gov Cup Gala. As I took a sip of the proferred sample, the tar-cedar-leathery-meatiness of King Family Vineyards Meritage 2008 brought me up short. I start chatting with the Frenchman behind the table.

I had heard, of course, of winemaker Matthieu Finot, but hadn’t yet met him. I’m terrible in crowds so I quickly set up an appointment to meet with him at the winery. When we retasted, I found a true bordelaise nose that led to well integrated tobacco leaf, black berry, and plum flavors. Matthieu kept saying “dried leaf,” but I’d translate that to mean the mature, earthy, leathery quality you find in good Bordeaux, the subtle and elegant antithesis to the “fruit bomb.” His technique is non-interventionist. Good fruit leads to good wine. Simple, no? I’m thinking it takes a little more work than that.

A note on why no Viogniers won gold in 2012. I think it was a happenstance of timing, and in fact several people I spoke with agreed. Due to the new format of the competition, many Viogniers weren’t entered. That is, the Gov Cup used to be split into a white competition and a red competition. There was overlap this year in recombining the tasting to one set of top awards.

About the Governor’s Cup:

The Governor’s Cup competition, which was revamped in 2011 at the request of Governor McDonnell, is a result of a partnership among the gubernatorial-appointed Virginia Wine Board (VWB), the Virginia Wineries Association (VWA), which owns and manages the competition, and the Virginia Vineyards Association (VVA). Virginia Wine Board grants from the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund funded the enhanced competition.

For those of you who enjoy that “You Are There” experience, check out Todd Godbout’s 2012 Virginia Governor’s Cup Presentation Video on VA Wine TV.