by Frank Morgan
Petit manseng and the legacy of Virginia wine pioneer Dennis Horton, who died last June, are the big winners at this year’s Governor’s Cup wine competition.
At an emotional ceremony in Richmond in February, Gov. Ralph Northam awarded the cup to the team at Horton Vineyards for its 2016 Petit Manseng.
From experimenting with new grape varieties to sharing hard-earned experience with upstart wineries, Horton played a key role in establishing the modern Virginia wine industry.
He planted his first vineyard in Madison County in 1983 and was the first to plant petit manseng in the state in 1999. (Jenni McCloud planted the grape the same year at Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg.)
The Horton 2016 Petit Manseng bested more than 500 wines from 102 wineries in the competition. The top scoring 12 wines earned a spot in the coveted Virginia Governor’s Case.
Of the 68 wines that scored gold medals in this year’s competition, 22 were made by Charlottesville-based winemaker Michael Shaps. Ten were made under his Michael Shaps label and 12 were made for winery clients at his custom crush operation, Virginia Wineworks.
A testament to the rise in quality of lesser-known grapes, the top-scoring wines in this year’s competition included three made from petit manseng, one made from vermentino, and a tannat.
The following are a few of our favorites from the 2019 Governor’s Cup Case:
Horton Cellars 2016 Petit Manseng
Made from petit manseng grown in Horton’s estate, Berry Hill Vineyard in Gordonsville, it’s blended with a splash of viognier and rkatsiteli. An expressive wine, it is full of bright citrus notes along with apricot marmalade, hints of ginger, and zingy acidity.
Barboursville 2017 Vermentino Reserve
Native to Sardinia and Corsica regions in Italy, vermentino was first planted in Virginia by winemaker Luca Paschina at Barboursville 10 years ago. It’s a beautiful wine for those in search of an alternative to chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Bone dry, pale gold color in the glass with aromas and flavors of stone fruits, fresh white flowers, citrus, and chestnut honey.
Early Mountain Vineyards 2016 Eluvium
Winemaker Ben Jordan and associate winemaker and viticulturist Maya Hood White and their team at Early Mountain in Madison continue to produce some of the top wines in the commonwealth. Eluvium is one of four Early Mountain wines to score a gold medal this year. Merlot stars here while petit verdot (17 percent) plays a supporting role. It is a wine that pulls you into the glass with intense aromas of dark berries, savory herbs, and fresh-roasted coffee beans, leading to flavors of plum, blueberry, and spices.
Michael Shaps 2015 Tannat
Best known as the grape of southwest France and Uruguay, tannat is among the most promising grape varieties in Virginia and Shaps makes one of the best. Inky dark in color, this wine is bold with aromas of blueberry, black currant, tobacco leaf, and violets leading to flavors of dark fruits, cola spice, and leather. Great structure and lengthy dark berry finish.
Virginia Wineworks 2014 Upper Shirley Zachariah
Made by Michael Shaps from fruit grown at the Upper Shirley estate vineyard in Charles City and a leased vineyard in Gordonsville, the wine is named for the late father of Tayloe Damron, owner of Upper Shirley Vineyards. Zachariah is a red blend of 50 percent merlot, 42 percent petit verdot and 8 percent tannat. Balanced and complex, rich and ripe with aromas of black plum, coffee bean, and spice leading to flavors of black cherry, licorice, and spice.
Seek out all 12 of the 2019 Governor’s Case wines for a taste of Virginia’s finest.
The 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case:
- Horton Vineyards Inc. 2016 Petit Manseng
- Barboursville Vineyards 2017 Vermentino Reserve
- Early Mountain Vineyards 2016 Eluvium Red Blend
- Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc
- King Family Vineyards 2016 Mountain Plains
- King Family Vineyards 2016 Meritage
- Paradise Springs Winery 2015 Meritage
- Virginia Wineworks 2016 Hamlet Vineyards Eltham
- Virginia Wineworks 2016 Michael Shaps Petit Manseng
- Virginia Wineworks 2016 Michael Shaps Raisin d’Etre White
- Virginia Wineworks 2015 Michael Shaps Tannat
- Virginia Wineworks 2014 Upper Shirley Zachariah