Below are notes on a dozen Virginia wines chosen as finalists in this year's Governor's Cup, together with reviews of the latest releases from RdV, probably the most exciting winery in the state. I tasted this last pair just before learning of the death of Jacques Boissenot, the Médoc oenologist who quietly guided so many of Bordeaux's most famous wines – see Boissenots – Bordeaux's secret ingredient. His son Eric consults at RdV, a real exception to his principal diet of red bordeaux. Compare and contrast with the collection anointed with this honour in 2013 and 2012.
Very sweet and toasty on the nose – very retro! Butterscotch and a hint of diacetyl. Pretty hot on the finish. Salted caramel. Not the most appetising but sincere. Just a bit green and metallic on the finish. A tad heavy.13.8%
In a smart Italian bottle. Grapes dried for 120 days before pressing. Six-month fermentation followed by ageing in barrique.
Translucent orange. Completely scrummy nose. Delightful mix of candied peel and appley sweetness. Not at all heavy. Very graceful.
Bright, translucent red with just a hint of orange. Not the most haunting Nebbiolo you ever smelt but certainly recognisably varietal on the nose. The distinctly tarry on the palate. Dried orange peel and very chewy. I don't think you would love this if you didn't already understand Nebbiolo, but this Zonin-owned American outpost are definitely on the way towards Nebbiolodom. Bravi! Work in progress but definitely in the right direction.15.1%
Light crimson. Clean if relatively simple nose. Fruity start and then nicely reined in on the finish. Already quite fun to drink. Good balance. Fairly lightweight. But there is a hint of complexity on the palate. Pretty marked tannins on the finish. Ambitious. And admirably restrained.13.5%
Dark crimson. Nose is rather dank – were all the bottle spotless? A bit sour and then an overlay of sweet oak. Green notes on the end. Not an appetising whole.13%
This is Barboursville's Meritage blend. Healthy crimson. Appetising and confident on the nose. A suggestion of graphite and succulent fruit before a dry finish. Lots packed in here. Very juicy fruit inside the ambitious framework. Dry finish for the moment but it's all tucked in here.14.3%
42% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 28% Petit Verdot aged in French, American and Hungarian barrels. I am trying desperately hard not to be prejudiced against this wine on account of its quite absurdly heavy bottle... Dark crimson shaded towards the rim. Very gravelly – as though some stones had been macerated in the fruit. A bit sour on the end. I can see the appeal of this wine because it's not just simply sweet (though the fruit is pretty sweet at the beginning). It's certainly ambitious.13%
Dark crimson. Light leathery nose. Good ripe fruit but was all the oak topnotch, I wonder. Thick and still quite tannic. The oak has certainly left its imprint. Rather brutal finish.14%
Pretty heavy bottle! 45% Petit Verdot, 35% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Unusually low alcohol. Mid crimson. Toasty but not aggressive oak on the nose. Nice balance without going to any extremes. Already appetising. An amazing amount of flavour if it really is only 11.5%! Excellent balance and it doesn't seem at all forced.11.5%
35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabrnet Franc, 25% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec. Amazingly deep crimson for a six-year-old wine. Sweet nose lightly suggests gypsum. Gentle and mild. Nicely integrated though not that subtle overall. Tastes much younger than the label says; I wonder whether this was very aggressive in its youth? Rather assertive acid and tannin on the end. A bit crude and raw. I wonder whether it will ever be perfectly balanced?13%
The back label acknowledges that it is 'a nod to the visionaries that saw the potential of this grape in Loudoun County'. It is claimed it will see off any Syrah... Pretty light nose actually. Pretty simple with lots of acidity and not the trademark gripping tannins usually found in this variety. Unappetising finish. Just a bit sour and simple.13.5%
Unusually deep crimson for a Virginia wine. Pretty luscious nose. This seems a cut above most other wines in this Governor's Cup selection. Lots of work seems to have gone into making even a rustic tannic Tannat acceptably luscious. There is the structure of a Tannat but there is also a whole load of fruit and charm. Well done!13.5%
59% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot. Mid to dark crimson. Fresh and appetising on the nose but just a little grainy and skinny. The oak is pushing through the fruit at the moment. It is appetising and reminds me of a very well-groomed St-Émilion. Good savoury finish but just a bit gawky at the moment.13.5%
49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Mid crimson. Complex, fragrant, pretty nose. Not heavy at all with great fruit integration. Real lift and freshness on the finish. Excellent tannin management so that you could (just) drink this wine pretty soon but I think that would be a waste as it is clearly going to go on and on. Very far from a blockbuster but delicately managed. Was this a lighter than usual vintage? Lovely savoury finish but extremely youthful. Neat and contained.13.5%