Loudoun County is home to more than 40 wineries and tasting rooms, over 500 acres of vineyards and about 60 grape varieties cultivated for wine across a range of soils. Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot are the most widely planted varieties in the region but many lesser-known grapes are showcasing Loudoun’s viticultural diversity.
Here are five varieties that should be on your wine radar:
Originating in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France, and best-known as the grape of the Central Valley region of Chile, Carménère is thriving at Casanel Vineyards in western Leesburg. In 2008, the DeSouza family planted 900 vines (about .65 acres) of the robust red grape in their estate vineyard. Casanel is the only winery in Virginia to grow and produce a 100% varietal Carménère. Try the 2016, which is rich and ripe with black fruit, spice and violet notes.
A native to the Rías Baixas region of northwestern Spain, the vibrant and aromatically charming Albariño is showing great promise in vineyards across Loudoun. Jenni McCloud, founder of Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, along with then winemaker Alan Kinne, made the state’s first Albariño in 1998. Albariño wines are light-bodied, aromatic and crisp with citrus and stone fruit notes and racy lemon acidity.
Fer Servadou (Fer for short), an obscure, thick-skinned red grape indigenous to southwest France, was first planted in vineyards at the Winchester Agricultural Research and Extension Center in 1992 by Drs. Bruce Zoecklein (ret.) and Tony Wolf to evaluate the grape’s suitability for Virginia’s hot, humid climate. Jenni McCloud planted the promising grape at Chrysalis Vineyards in the late 1990s and then winemaker Kerem Baki sourced vine clippings from McCloud to plant four acres of Fer on the sloped hillside at Hillsborough Vineyard & Brewery, thought to be the largest planting of the rare grape in the U.S. The Hillsborough Bloodstone, a blend of 94% Fer with 6% Tannat, is dark ruby in color, medium-bodied and smooth with notes of stewed fruits and dried cherry.
Best known as the grape of the Madiran region of southwest France and the star of Uruguay, Tannat is growing in popularity with consumers and winemakers in Loudoun. It’s a bold grape, tannic, inky dark in color with notes of black currant, ripe plum, tobacco leaf, leather and spices. Doug Fabbioli, winemaker at Fabbioli Cellars just north of Leesburg, makes a rich, concentrated and balanced Tannat that has garnered many awards. Nate Walsh, winemaker and founder of Walsh Family Wine, makes a delicious, rich and ripe Tannat made from fruit grown in the Staggerwing Vineyard in Waterford.
Widely cultivated in Austria, Hungary, Germany and Slovakia, Blaufränkisch was first planted in Virginia by Gerhard Bauer a decade ago. Bauer, native of Germany and owner of Otium Cellars in Purcellville, planted an acre of the grape because of its suitability for his vineyard site. The dark-skinned, late-ripening grape is medium-bodied with dark fruit and earthy spice notes. Otium offers two wines made from Blaufränkisch, the only in Virginia.
About the Author
A Virginia native, Frank Morgan founded DrinkWhatYouLike.com nine years ago to chronicle his wine experiences and share stories of local wines and winegrowers. Morgan is the wine columnist for VA Growler Magazine / The Virginian-Pilot online. He contributes to Piedmont Virginian Magazine, edibleDC, the wine site Snooth and PBS. He is the founder of Virginia Wine Chat, a monthly virtual tasting series featuring notable wines and winemakers. He lives in the Coastal Virginia region with his wife and daughter. Connect on Instagram: /DrinkWhatYouLike