Although California is thought of as the star of this county’s wine scene, Virginia has managed to carve out its own niche. To celebrate the state’s contribution to wine, the Virginia Wine Board, an organization responsible for supporting and marketing the state's wineries, sponsored the second annual Wine Summit in the capital of Richmond on Oct. 27 and 28. This event brought together Virginia wine and food experts, winemakers, winery owners, restaurant chefs and owners, and media.
The weekend started with a reception on the top floor of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Virginia wine (naturally) was flowing in this space with a gorgeous sunset view. The highlight of this reception (surprisingly) was Trump Vineyards’ Dry Rosé Wine. The dry yet sweet wine made out of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon was a perfect, light way to start the evening. Food here included tasty Southern staples like creamy shrimp and grits.
The morning of Oct. 28 started with a cabernet franc wine tasting at 10 a.m. This tasting paired up both Old World and Virginia wines so attendees could compare the offerings. And here’s where I need to come clean. Despite being a Virginia native, I wasn’t a big fan of the state's wine. I started drinking wine in Italy and consider myself an Old World snob — until this. While Virginia wine doesn’t taste like what’s being bottled in Europe, it's good in its own unique way. The standout wine from this tasting was a 2011 cab franc reserve from Leesburg, Va.’s Fabbioli Wines. Almost spicy notes of cinnamon made this an unforgettable choice. Even noted wine expert Oz Clarke, who served as the event’s keynote speaker, remarked that it was a quality wine.
The next session I attended was a sampling of new Virginia wines and ciders. Held in the opulent rotunda of Richmond’s historic The Jefferson Hotel, I got to sample many sips from a variety of vendors. The one that stood out most in my mind was actually a small cider company from Richmond: Blue Bee Cider. Its Aragon 1904 cider being the perfect balance of sweet and dry with a hint of the modern and heirloom apples it’s made from. Although this was a wine summit, Virginia cider is also having somewhat of a boom, too. The state just held its second ever Cider Week to focus on hard cider’s growing popularity and cider-makers were featured prominently at the Summit's closing reception.
After all the wine tasting, my stomach was relieved to finally have some lunch. After a light salad paired nicely with another Trump wine, the Blanc de Blanc, the attendees enjoyed a roasted Berkshire pork streusel. The streusel was warm, flaky, and just heavy enough for the afternoon, but the sides — grilled billy bread and marinated broccoletti — tasted like they had been left out too long. But that fact most certainly did not offset the meal. It was nicely paired with a red King Family Meritage.
My next panel, and my favorite of the bunch, included a wine and oyster pairing. The event started when noted cookbook author and Virginia food and wine authority Kendra Bailey Morris posed the question to the three panelists: are Virginia oysters any good? My favorite response was from wine director at the Inn at Little Washington, Jennifer Knowles. She said that Virginia has all brackish, freshwater and saltwater oysters, and that the fact alone makes the state a standout.
And then we got to dig in. Now, I’ve actually only had one fried oyster before this and have to say that I’m not all that crazy about oysters. They’re too fishy, but maybe, just like with Virginia wine, I’ll acquire a taste for them. And even with my general distaste for the oysters, I did enjoy the pairings. Rappahannock River Oyster Company supplied Rappahannock oysters that were paired with Keswick V2. Chatham steel-fermented chardonnay accompanied bayside oysters from the Shooting Point Oyster Company. Thibaut-Janisson blanc de chardonnay went along with seaside oysters from H.M. Terry Company. All in all, it was nice to see Virginia's food and wine offerings meshed together in a single event like this.
During the Summit's lunch, Clarke asked the question: "Can you go from nothing to world-class in 20 years?" The answer, I suppose, is yes.