Sunday, 1 November 2009

On the trail of the lonesome Virginia Nebbiolo

We can’t trace the idea that Nebbiolo thrives in Virginia and was likely to become the state’s signature wine but we read it somewhere. So on a trip to Washington DC we expected to pick up several examples and taste a range of others. Unfortunately we were thwarted – completely.

In fact it seems the only producer even growing the grape, Barboursville Vineyards, no longer produces it as a varietal but is for the moment at least, only using it in blends. Quite a disappointment.

So what is left in Virginia? Quite a lot actually. The state was the first to see an attempt at the cultivation of noble varieties when Thomas Jefferson in the 1770s sponsored an Italian Phillip Mazzei to produce wine at Monticello which, for our story is co-incidentally sited in the region of Piedmont. This failed as everyone knows but a wine industry has since sprung up in Virginia and some outstanding wineries have emerged. The signature grape might be Viognier rather than Nebbiolo and again, by coincidence, it transpires that Viognier and Nebbiolo are ampelographically cousins. On a recent visit to Barboursville vineyards Michael Broadbent found their 2004 Viognier Reserve to have the “quality and flavour to match - even exceed – Rhone’s finest Condrieu.”

Not having the time to go to any cellar doors in Virginia, we had to make do with DC’s wine shops and merchants. Here we found a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Virginia wines. Where they were to be found they were often on a small shelf together with a couple of New York State wines. Restaurant wine lists were even less inclined to offer the local wine. Wine buying opportunities in Washington are not anything exceptional. There are a few shops, each good in their separate ways. They included

Best Cellars
Calvert Woodley
Schneider’s of Capitol Hill

From these and others we assembled the following to take away;

Barboursville Virginia Barbera Reserve 2004 (13%)

Barboursville Virginia Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006 (13.5%)

White Hall Vineyards 2005 Monticello Touriga

White Hall Vineyards 2006 Monticello Petit Verdot
Linden Hardscrabble 2006 Virginia Chardonnay (13.3%)

This last, a rarity for Slotovino was bought as a present for a friend whose address is Hardscrabble Road, Hardscrabble being the epithet George Washington used for a particularly difficult march during the war of independence.

We will no doubt try these wines for Thanksgiving. Watch this space.

Concerning the wine merchants, we would just like to commend Best Cellars for the way their shop was laid out and how their wines were described on labels below each wine.
Firstly they organise their wines based on their taste and style, rather than grape type or place of origin. Then they give excellent information about the wine and list ‘5 reasons to buy this wine’ . Given that not even a Master of Wine could know exactly what is in any given bottle of wine, this seems an admirable way of solving the perennial problem of how to inform the customer. Only if the public is informed can they make decisions which might include something out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately Best Cellars was not the most visited shop we entered. That title could be applied to either of the other two establishments listed above. Their selection was larger and perhaps they were longer established but at Calvert Woodleywe were told they had nothing much in the way of rare grape varieties before perseverance and a second visit lead us to a 50/50 Corvina/Corvinone blend from the Veneto (Corvinone is a separate variety of which we had been completely unaware) called Costalago (Lake Garda), Rosso Veronese 2007 by Zeni (13.5%), ‘produced by the double fermentation technique’.
A Washington State Blaufränkisch from Shooting Star (13.5%),
an outfit dedicated to producing ‘a varied selection of interesting, eclectic and occasionally off-the-wall bottlings, all at a reasonable price.’

Schneiders had a particularly helpful staff and was thronged with buyers picking up ‘something for the weekend’.

And Nebbiolo? The last heard of it was the 2005 Barboursville version, rumoured to be available only from the Cellar Door;

Footnote. At Dulles Airport, the most amazing sight.Suddenly at 'C' Gates (between C3 and C4, an appraition, where it was least expected, called 'Vino Volo'.
Nothing less than a wine bar cum restaurant with 'Flights of wine' (geddit?) including, for $10 Franquier County Three Fox Cabernet Franc Alouette 2007, Green Co. Gadino Cellars Viognier 2006, Roanoke Co. Amrhein Wine cellars Syrah/Cabernet Melange 2006. What a great alternative to Burger King! Unfortunately our flight was departing before they opened but we could see that the food areas looked serious ('from $5'). This great institution exists also at

and EWR.

We will plan our next trip to the US accordingly.


The Wine Mule said...

Regarding Best Cellars: There is another way to inform consumers about a wine, and that is to speak with knowledgeable staff who work at the store. The whole point of Best Cellars is to not employ these kinds of people, because they are more expensive than minimum-wage workers, and are sometimes prone to have opinions that are contrary to the corporate party line.

Robert Smith said...

Love the name but why? Is it because your surname's slotover. Very Clever Robert! From Robert

Peter F May for The Pinotage Club said...

Virginia Nebbiolo?

Breaux Vineyards grow Nebbiolo on the top vineyard and make a varietal that impressed me. And (wait for this) it is available in the UK. The importer is Virginia wine specialists New Horizon Wines. Some of their wines (I don't know which) are in Whole Foods Market in London and the Nebbiolo is sticked by The Oxford Wine Company but New Horizon can tell you of stockists near you.