Blind Mondays in London was the fabulous concept of Guillaume Raffy. A team of wine lovers would meet on Monday evenings in a pre selected London restaurant and bring along hidden wines, following a theme.
I’ll never forget the Nebbiolo evening.
One wine stood out. More full bodied and fruit forward than Nebbiolos I’d had before, but with that lovely seductive perfume and classic structure.
The wine was revealed – Barboursville vineyards, Virginia, Nebbiolo, part of the Zonin family.
That was about ten years ago and I’ve been planning to visit Virginia since.
To further whet my appetite the book ‘Billionaires Vinegar’ helped set the scene.
A bottle of Lafite, with the initials of Thomas Jefferson, dated 1787, was offered to Christie’s by Hardy Rodenstock, a German wine collector . He refused to say exactly where it had come from. Allegedly a hidden cellar in an unidentified 18th century house in Paris, possibly part of a Nazi hoard.
Jefferson spent time in France and was an avid wine lover. He regularly sent wine back to Monticello, his home in Virginia. He set up some of the first Vineyards in Virginia in the 1800’s.
There are now 1200 hectares of planting and 220 wineries. The AVAs are Eastern Shore, Monticello, Northern Neck, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley.
I will focus on Monticello AVA and have chosen five wineries to visit based on reviews in Decanter Magazine and from personal contacts in the wine trade.
Benoit Pineau – Pollak Vineyards
Winemaker Benoit Pineau took me on a mini safari around the 100 acre property, planted with 34 acres of vines.
It’s a beautiful property with a large decked tasting room overlooking a lake with the blue ridge mountains providing the backdrop.
Benoit discussed the disease pressures here in Virginia. They have high humidity and high rainfall in summer. Up to 900mm to 1000mm annually make it a relatively high rainfall region for viticulture.
They can’t grow organically as pesticides are required. Furthermore there is a frost risk. In 2020 most of the vine growth was wiped out. Then there’s the small matter of hurricanes, which can wipe out a harvest. Not to mention Deer and Bears necessitating the perimeter fencing . Oh, and netting to prevent the birds stripping the grapes.
It’s a wonder they can make wine here at all!
The soils are mainly clay with silt so Merlot and Cabernet Franc do well here but there’s less Cabernet Sauvignon which ‘doesn’t like it’s feet wet’. They are planting their first Nebbiolo vines which explained the mounds of soil surrounding each vine base to protect the graft sites throughout the winter as in the photo above.
Wines tasted – white wines
Pollak Sauvignon Blanc 2021
French style Sauvignon, French clones, restrained
Neutral oak Crisp fresh
Served a bit cold and then opened up.
Pollak Chardonnay 2020
Hints of peach, banana apples pear
Beautiful balance again
Pollak Viognier 2021
Floral and apricots.
Lovely texture, Viognier typically has lower acid
Difficult to press as skins thicker often giving a Rich oily texture
Very smooth with good length. Lovely
Pollak Pinot gris 2021
Delicious, ripe pear on the nose
Mouthfeel Is rich and slightly oily, balanced, alive, Skin thicker, Lees 4 months, Little battonage
Award winning wine. Beautifully crafted
(Vin pair voted in top 50 wines of the world)
Wines tasted – red wines
Red wines. Benoit generously served one of their best vintages 2017 which he described as perfect.
Pollak Cabernet Franc 2017
Fantastic with a nose of blueberries, raspberries
Tons of fruit, No greeness No herbaceousness
Delicious ripe soft tannins. Really enjoyed a Cabernet Franc without all that Capsicum greeness.
Pollak Meeitage 2017
CF 60% merlot 24% petite Verdot 16%
Beautiful balance, 18 months 40% French oak
I didn’t realise they have to Pay a dollar case to use the name Meritage!
Ripe delicious tannins, smooth and well balanced.
Pollak smuggler 2017
Merlot 56% cf 24% CS 20%
Slightly more pyrazine and black currant
Beautiful balanced too
More structure more tannic than Meritage
Pollak Mille fleur
100% petit manseng
Petit Manseng is Popular in Virginia following Horton winery winning a competition in California.
It is however difficult to grow, has high acidity but can lose acid fast in the heat.
This was fortified and stored in barrels for 5 years
Really complex, Brazil nuts, Prunes.Delicious
This was a great start to my exploration of Virginian wines. Benoit is passionate and focused and brings experience from working in France, California Australia and even a spell making rum in Guadaloupe! The wines tasted were top quality. It’s a shame I can’t get them at home in the UK!