I’ve visited a ton of Virginia wineries over the years. But I’ve only been writing this blog for a few short months, so I’m gradually revisiting favorites, not so favorites, and new wineries so I can blog the experience. According to Virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in Virginia. Visiting all of them is starting to sound like Mission Impossible. But I’ll do my best . . .
I’ve been on a Barboursville binge lately. It all started with the Virginia Governor’s Cup. Barboursville Vineyards had not one but three wines in this year’s Virginia Governor’s Case (they won last year), so my girlfriend and I decided we were way overdue for a return visit to Barboursville.
Next, in the vein of the Virginia Governor’s Cup, we decided to taste six of the Governor’s Case wines (two Barboursville wines) at our Carpe Vinum meeting this month (The Governor’s Six-Pack).
And finally, this month’s Virginia Wine Chat (#VAWineChat) on Twitter featured Luca Paschina, winemaker at Barboursville, and a tasting of three Barboursville wines (Viognier, Nebbiolo Reserve and Octagon).
You see what I mean? A Barboursville Binge.
Barboursville Vineyards is brimming with history. Founded by Gianni Zonin (a winemaker from Veneto, Italy) in 1976, Barboursville has been making wine for over 30 years. The current winemaker, Luca Paschina (passkey-na), arrived in 1990. As far as winemakers go, Luca is approachable and gracious. If you’ve never had the pleasure of a conversation (or eavesdropping on a conversation) with Luca, you’re missing out. His Italian accent is like a magic spell — Luca could read a washing machine repair manual and I’d be on the edge of my seat.
Barboursville is only a stone’s throw from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. If you’re a student of Virginia wine history, you remember TJ attempted to grow Vitis vinifera (European varietals) for years at Monticello — unsuccessfully. Barboursville was one of the first wineries in Virginia, and the first since TJ, to attempt to grow Vitas vinifera and actually pull it off. Barboursville now has 160+ acres of vines, on the property of former Virginia Governor, James Barbour (a good friend of Jefferson’s).
So let’s go inside, shall we? We walked into the tasting room and ran straight into this:
I swear, this is becoming epidemic at Virginia wineries. I wonder if it has something to do with retail food sale regulations (Barboursville has a restaurant onsite called Palladio). Either way, I’m not a fan. But at least this time, we weren’t caught off guard — we called ahead and knew we couldn’t bring our own picnic. I don’t want to belabor this point (well, I kinda do), but if I could sit down with my own picnic, I’d buy a bottle of wine to go with it. And . . . wine makes me happy, so I’d probably be more generous with my wallet (aka, I’d buy more wine) on my way out.
Update: I just tweeted (yes, that’s a verb) with Barboursville. The reason for their “no outside food in the tasting room” policy is to keep people from setting up camp for hours on end. And I totally get that. From a winery perspective, I wouldn’t want folks squatting in my tasting room, either. But from a consumer prospective, it’s harder to get on a winter weekday when there’s virtually no one in the tasting room, but I do get it. And now that it’s finally spring . . . Barboursville tells me you can take your picnic and enjoy it on the grounds of the estate. I’d head over to the ruins — maybe you’ll run into a ghost or two.
The tasting fee at Barboursville is an absurdly reasonable $5. And that’s for 17(!!) wines. With more and more wineries charging twice as much for half as many wines, this is a bargain.
And . . . if you bring your swanky souvenir glass back with you for a return tasting, the tasting fee is only $3.
I’ve visited Barboursville a handful of times. If the tasting room is super busy, they move you through the tasting in an assembly line process. You start at one end of the room with a white wine station, move down the bar to a red wine station, and finally to a dessert wine station. I’ve heard a lot of folks complain about this, but I actually like it. It definitely keeps people moving. And Barboursville is absolutely CRUSHED on the weekends — movement is essential.
But we were there on a Thursday, so we got to park ourselves and chat with the affable tasting room host. We moved through the wines at a glacial pace. Here’s what we tasted:
Pinot Grigio 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/86
There’s tons of flavor packed into this Pinot — not your typical lemon-water plonk. Crisp and well balanced, great pear finish. $15.
Chardonnay 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
Fermented in stainless steel — love the purity of the grape that shows here. Clean and refreshing. Nice apple notes. A bargain at $12.
Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2013 ⭐⭐/84
This had only been in the bottle 3 days when we were tasting. How’s that for newborn wine? Dry with citrus and bell pepper notes. A bit of a chemical finish. I’ll bet it blows off with some time. $19.
Viognier Reserve 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/88
Like smelling a bowl full of rose petals! Mmmm. Lovely texture, tropical notes, perfume finish. $22.
Chardonnay Reserve 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/88
You can definitely smell and taste the oak aging in this wine! Like a second chapter to the stainless Chardonnay — one that ends with vanilla and buttered toast. Another bargain at $16.
Vintage Rose 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/85
A blend of 38% Cabernet Franc, 27% Sangiovese, 22% Barbera and 13% Merlot. Decently dry, with flavors of watermelon, plum and nectarine. Refreshing and perfect for the patio. $15.
Riesling 2013 ⭐⭐/83
Definitely off-dry, versus dry. Nice balance, but no “wow” moment for me. $12.
Barbera Reserve 2012 ⭐⭐/83
Consistently earthy and fairly well balanced, but absolutely crying out for some kind food. On its own, it’s a little edgy, but I’d bet my allowance a plate full of pasta with tomato sauce would tame it. $22.
Sangiovese Reserve 2012 ⭐⭐/83
Smooth and smoky, with flavors of cherry and plum. Another red that’s crying for food — Lasagne, anyone? $22.
Merlot 2012 ⭐⭐/82
Really rather bland for me. I get some mint and chocolate on the finish, but no softness. And I like softness in my Merlot. $15.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/83
Nicely structured, favoring black pepper ahead of fruit, though. Maybe some currant? $15.
Cabernet Franc Reserve 2011 ⭐⭐⭐/88
Typical Cab Franc veggie notes are present. Decent fruit flavors to balance the veggie scale. Surprisingly smooth and complex. $25.
Nebbiolo Reserve 2011 ⭐⭐⭐/89
Whoa! A definite turn toward dark, brooding fruits and a tobacco finish. Lovely focus and finish. $35.
You can’t talk about Barboursville without talking about Octagon, but Octagon isn’t available for tasting (it’s $55/bottle). It’s a Bordeaux style blend and one I’m fond of year in and out. We tasted the 2010 Octagon at our last Carpe Vinum — you can find my tasting notes here.
Cabernet Blanc ⭐⭐/81
Screams “Book Club wine”. Semi-sweet at 2% residual sugar. Easy-peasy. Not really my cup of tea, but I’ll bet Barboursville sells a ton of it. $10.
4% residual sugar. We’re tip-toeing into White Zin territory here. Still not my cup of tea. $10.
8% residual sugar. Loaded with apricot and honey flavors. Great acidity and balance. I really enjoyed this one — not at all cloying. $17.
Malvaxia Reserve 2008 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/91
This is a home run! A blend of Moscato Ottonel and Vidal Blanc, made in the traditional Passito process — the grapes are air-dried for 4 months in a special drying house before they are pressed and fermented for 6 months. Rich and complex flavors — apricots, honey and almonds. Beautifully balanced, it reminds me of a Sherry. 12% residual sugar — sweet without being a cloying mess. Delightful. $32.
After we finished our wine tasting, we made a quick stop at the Barboursville Ruins. This was a home designed by Thomas Jefferson for his friend, James Barbour, who was, at various times, Virginia’s Governor, a US Senator and Secretary of War. The home was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 1884, and all that remain are the brick foundations and columns. If you’re at Barboursville tasting wine, stop by the ruins on your way out — you’ll be glad you did.
Barboursville is definitely a don’t-miss Virignia winery . . . the drive is gorgeous, you’re surrounded by history, the people are friendly, and the wines are delicious!
Disclaimer: I was not invited to Barboursville, I visited anonymously.