Tasting Notes: Wines of the Virginia Garagistes

Wineworks Red 2006 is a great match for burgers and sausages on the grill.

In the March issue of The Washingtonian, I profile two winemakers whom I consider examples of “Virginia’s garagistes.” Much like the garagistes of Bordeaux, these small-production winemakers emphasize quality over the trappings of the good life—they make really good wines without the flash of a fancy chateau or a high-priced French consultant.

Here are my tasting notes of their wines:

Michael Shaps 2004 Petit Verdot, $30: This is a stylish wine, well-polished with new oak but with plenty of fruit to give it balance and structure. Blackberry, cherry, clove, and a hint of pepper with a long, silky finish. Classy wine.

Wineworks White 2006, $12–$14: A blend of 65 percent Viognier and 35 percent Vidal (a French-American hybrid grape), this wine is refreshing and vibrant, with an off-dry finish. Much like the Chester Gap Cuvee Manseng described below, this is a uniquely Virginia wine in that it blends two grapes that are unlikely to be grown together anywhere else in the world. It’s delicious and fun, and a great patio wine for the summer of ’08.

Wineworks Red 2006, $12–$14: A soft and pleasant red, ideal for casual fare such as burgers or sausages on the grill. A blend of 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Cabernet Franc, and 15 percent Norton.

Wineworks Norton 2006, $12–$14: Norton fans consider it the Great Red Hope of Virginia. I’m not one of them. To me, a well-made Norton still tastes like Welch’s grape juice sucked through a garden hose. This is a well-made Norton.

Chester Gap 2006 Viognier, $16: Peach, lime, and jasmine flowers—very focused through stainless steel fermentation and aging.

Chester Gap 2006 Viognier Reserve, $19: Creamy in taste and texture, floral with orange-blossom aromas, yet fatter than the regular Viognier because of the oak aging. Full, long finish.

Chester Gap 2006 Cuvee Manseng, $19: A blend of two-thirds Petit Manseng and one-third Viognier, born of desperation three vintages ago when the Petit Manseng didn’t quite ripen enough for a dessert wine before the autumn rains came. Winemaker Bernd Jung picked it earlier than he wanted and blended in some Viognier to tame the acids and sugars. Voila! A quintessential Virginia wine that probably could be made nowhere else in the world—are there any other regions producing both Petit Manseng and Viognier? This wine works, with ripe, vibrant fruit and a round, dry but ripe/sweet finish. It’s a blend that should be widely copied in Virginia.

Chester Gap 2005 Merlot, $18
: Cocoa, coffee, plum, and cherry. Quite stylish with a good finish.

Chester Gap 2005 Cabernet Franc, $18
: Coffee and toffee, with the white pepper and cherry that signal the varietal. Very good quality.