Raise a Glass
It's daunting to see eight glasses of wine sitting in front of you at 9:30 a.m. That's how the Virginia Wine Summit began at the Jefferson on Tuesday, Oct. 21.
While Virginia wine takes a few big steps onto the international wine stage — it's been climbing the stairs for a while — the blind tasting was a test to see if the audience, made up of Virginia winemakers, distributors, restaurant owners and sommeliers, could pick out the four Virginia Bordeaux-style blends from others across the country and around the world.
It wasn't easy. Virginia wine proved to have a place at the table with the best. How, then, to decide? When the subject of Virginia wine comes up, I've heard wine drinkers and even restaurant owners ask, "Is there any?" The summit's keynote speaker, Food & Wine's executive wine editor, Ray Isle, emphatically says yes.
Defining the characteristics of Virginia wine became the thread running througout all of the panels that day. "We're becoming a wine-producing country," Isle says. "We're starting to recognize that wine is something that comes from a specific place."
One panel called Dark Horses began as a discussion of the more obscure varietals such as Petit Manseng and Tannat, grown by Virginia vitners. But it gradually became a debate about whether winemakers should stick with two or three grapes that do well in the state's climate, marketing those aggressively, or continue the extensive experimentation that's characterized the last 20 to 30 years.
"In Virginia, you've got so many different issues," panelist and wine writer Linda Murphy says. "You've got weather, you've got emergencies, you've got discoveries all the time. You cannot grow too many varieties here."
The Washington Post's wine columnist, Dave McIntyre, agreed with her: "I think experimentation is what makes Virginia wines so exciting now."
During the afternoon panel, It's All Relative, the price of a bottle of wine versus its quality quickly became a discussion of the personal value of a particular wine to the purchaser. During this blind tasting, Virginia wines ranged from around $25 (Veritas Viognier) to $65 (the Williamsburg Winery's Governor's Cup winner, Adagio 2010). One complaint about Virginia wine is that it's too expensive. But the vineyards in Virginia are small, and it's difficult for winemakers to produce the volume of wine to match the prices of California's Mondavi or Gallo.
Instead, the value of the wine becomes less tangible. "Wine is a cultural product," says panelist John T. Edge, head of the Southern Foodways Alliance. "Wine is a product of people and place, the same way literature is an expression of people and place." It becomes the story of how and where it was made as well of where and who you were with when you first drank a glass, panelists agreed.
The summit ended in the rotunda of the Jefferson with sparkling wine and an appearance by Sen. Mark Warner, who arrived unexpectedly, posing for pictures, and then disappearing just as quickly as he came in. It was a long day — a marathon even — sipping fine wine and nibbling on paired delicacies. Virginia wine has arrived, attendees agreed, as they made plans to meet again the following year. Clearly, it's every Virginian's duty to buy and drink them often.
Brain food: Camden's Dogtown Market celebrates the season with a special three-course wine dinner Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. called the Morgues Floor. It includes such dishes as stewed eye (a poached scallop float), entrails (squid ink pasta) and brains (warm, pickled cauliflower with a beet vinaigrette). Tickets are $35 excluding wine or $50 including wine. cdmrva.com.
Horror show: After a costume contest and showing of the film "Tales of Terror" the night before, the Poe Museum will play host to Veronica Price, daughter of the legendary horror actor Vincent Price, to launch the new Vincent Price Signature Collection wines. They'll be paired with selections from Price's 1965 cookbook, "A Treasury of Great Recipes," prepared by chef Ken Wall of the Dining Room at the Berkeley Hotel along with desserts by pastry chef Cornelia Moriconi of Can Can Brasserie. The event is Saturday, Nov. 1, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50, and Veronica Price also will sign copies of her book, "Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography." poemuseum.org.