Yesterday I had the honor of being one of the judges for the 2008 Virginia State Fair wine competition. The fair isn't until late September but the competition is held well in advance and then the gold medal winners are featured at the fair. There were 196 entries this year, of which I tasted about half. That's a lot of wine to taste in one day (we spit the wine out, in case you're wondering). I learned some interesting things from tasting all these wines. The most important thing was that Virginia wine has come a long way, and some of the best is good enough to stand up to good California or French wines. I also learned that there are still a lot of wineries making mediocre to awful wines, and that the industry still has a long way to go. We gave scores to each wine we tasted, and the senior judge advised us at the beginning that a score below a certain level meant that we thought the wine should never have been bottled. I gave scores below that threshold to probably about 1/6 of the wines, which is a lot but I had to be honest because they also advised us not to give preference to the wines because they are from Virginia. Here are a few specific observations I made:
- Why do so many Virginia winemakers insist on making a Seyval Blanc? Only a tiny handful are very good, and the best one that I tasted in the competition was only passable.
- The Merlots were surprisingly good
- The Cabernet Sauvignons were surprisingly mediocre
- In the next few years, look for more Virginia wineries producing Traminette, a Gewurtraminer hybrid that has a nice apricot-like flavor and tastes very good when slightly sweet. I tasted several and they were quite good.
- Virginia whites are, on the whole, superior to Virginia reds. I was around when somebody once asked a respected Virginia winemaker why that was, and his reply was that with whites you can make one or two mistakes and your wine will still come out okay. With reds if you make even one mistake your wine can be ruined.
I'll let you all know which wines were the gold medal winners once that information has been made public