Wine is now produced in all 50 states. That’s right; wine is now commercially made in every state in the union. Though I’m tempted to cringe when thinking about potential exotic vinous offerings from places like Florida and Alaska I’ve decided come up with a new mantra to deal with it all instead. The mantra is, “you never know.” That’s because I continue to be pleasantly surprised by wines from completely unexpected places. First there’s Gruet, a sparkling wine producer from my home state of New Mexico; to repeat, a sparkling wine made in New Mexico. I see Gruet on wine lists and retail shelves all over the country and for good reason—it’s really good sparkling wine and an even better value. Try the blanc de blancs and brut rosé—both are delicious.
But the most recent surprise—no, make that a revelation—were two outstanding reds from RDV Vineyards in Virginia. RDV is a small winery within the newly coined Middleburg AVA about 45 minutes west of Dulles. The terrain here is hilly, green and beautiful but equally hot and humid during the growing season. RDV produces some 1,500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon called Lost Mountain and a Merlot blend called Rendezvous. I recently tasted the 2009 vintage of both and they’re not merely good, they’re outstanding and by far the best wines from Virginia I’ve ever had. Both easily held their own in a flight of other 2009 vintages tasted blind that included the likes of Chateaux Pichon-Lalande and St.-Pierre, and California Cabernets including Ridge Montebello, Corison and Caymus Special Selection.
That wines of such high quality can be made in a subtropical climate would seem somewhere between insanity and pure magic but in reality it’s the product of monumental hard work and know how. RDV is the brainchild of Rutger DeVink who, throughout degrees at Colgate and Northwestern and a four year stint in the marines, always had a strong interest in wine. After completing his MBA Devink worked as an apprentice at Linden Vineyards in Virginia followed by stages at Chateau Cheval Blanc, Ramey Cellars in Sonoma and Chateau La Grange.
From there a search for sites in California and Oregon turned up little in the way of affordable vineyard real estate so Rutger settled on a previously unplanted hillside near Delaplane, Virginia. Here he and his team planted 16 acres entirely to Bordeaux varieties. The soils are comprised of 15-18 inches of well-draining topsoil over solid granite. The eleven vineyard parcels the make up the estate vineyard include Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Merlot (40%), Petit Verdot (12%) and Cabernet Franc (8%). With intense heat and humidity during the summer the growing season is shorter than the norm and the harvest window narrow because of imminent fall rains. Most, if not all, of the fruit is typically in by the beginning of October.
The RDV style combines the best of the old and new worlds with the ripe, polished fruit of a Washington or California red and the pronounced herb/mineral character and lifted natural acidity reminiscent of Bordeaux. The balance is impeccable and the wines are seamless and imminently appealing. The Lost Mountain Cabernet ($85) is the more powerful of the duo with blackberry, plum, and currant notes with cola, sassafras and mocha underneath. It’s young, dense and concentrated but polished and drinkable now. The Rendezvous Merlot blend ($77) by turn shows supple black cherry, plum and currant fruit with a violet top note and graphite, cocoa and herb hints; it’s seamless and spicy with tart acidity on the finish.
On a final note, both 2009’s were made from third-leaf fruit which makes them even more noteworthy. Given the quality of these inaugural releases one can only imagine vintages to come. The future is indeed very bright for RDV and the wines of Virginia.