Virginia Wines Shine (Again) At The Annual Governor's Cup Gala

The governor of Virginia, appropriately enough, presented the 2018 Governor's Cup wine award to the state's esteemed King Family Vineyards, a regular on our annual list of the 101 Best Wineries in America, at a ceremony in Richmond, the state capital, on February 27.

The Honorable Ralph Northam, in honoring the winery's 2014 Meritage, noted that the King Family team "have proven again that they are leaders in producing outstanding Virginia wines" — "again" because this is the winery's third Governor's Cup award.

Each year, the Virginia Wineries Association, in partnership with the Virginia Wine Board and the Virginia Vineyards Association, invites about 20 distinguished judges — this year's crew included port and Madeira specialist Bartholomew Broadbent, the legendary British wine merchant Steven Spurrier (organizer of the 1976 Paris wine tasting that first brought California wines international acclaim), and Washington, D.C.-area wine merchants and educators Caroline Hermann and Ray O'Mara — to taste through hundreds of wines (some 422 from 100 wineries this year) and award medals. This year, 99 golds were bestowed.

Each year, the 12 highest-scoring wines of the group are assembled into a Governor's Cup Case, and one of those is picked for the highest honor. The makeup of this year's dozen reflects the main strength of the state's quality winemaking efforts: Three wines, including King Family's, were Bordeaux-style Meritage blends and five more were based in whole or in part on the prominent Bordeaux blending varieties petit verdot and cabernet franc. The state's most consistently successful white wine variety, viognier, was recognized with two wines — both from Jefferson Vineyards, from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, respectively. The remaining two bottles were dessert wines: Barboursville Vineyards 2014 Paxxito (a 50-50 blend of moscato ottonel and the French-American hybrid vidal blanc) and CrossKeys Vineyards Ali d'Oro (equal parts vidal blanc and traminette, an unusual cross between gewürztraminer and a fairly obscure hybrid called Joannes Seyve).

The presentation of the King Family's award was preceded by the naming of the late Frank Britt, a marketing executive and founder of the online Virginia Wine Lover newsletter, as Wine Person of the Year, and a lifetime achievement award to Virginia-based viticulturist and author Lucie Morton, arguably the greatest living expert on grape-growing in the eastern United States.

Before and after the ceremony, hundreds of local wine lovers and wine business professionals filled the stunning trainshed at Richmond's Main Street Station, a 1901-vintage cathedral of glass and steel repurposed into an event space, to taste this year's gold medal winners and other wines. While — and this may be a minority opinion — California and Washington state don't have anything to worry about (yet), the overall quality of what was being poured was high.

Among the whites, there were viogniers aplenty, generally full-flavored but not relentlessly perfumy, as well as some promising chardonnays and appealing examples of petit manseng (a variety grown mostly in southwestern France), most notably a lush, faintly smoky 2016 example from Pearmund Cellars. Among the reds, besides various rich, chocolatey petit verdots and ripe, gamy cabernet francs, there were several interesting examples of tannat, the grape of Madiran (and Uruguay), which is starting to get some attention in Virginia. Effingham Manor & Winery's 2014 was ripe, intense, and very satisfying; Naked Mountain Vineyard's 2016, blended with a bit of petit verdot and cabernet franc, was more subtle and complex.

And what about the property that is quite possibly Virginia's most famous winery, for reasons having little to do with wine — Trump Winery? Though its wines have not in general been well received by critics, it did win a gold medal this year, for its 2012 Sparkling Blanc de Noir.