Gateway Virginia Wines

If you’ve been paying attention, you know I love Wine Folly and heartily encourage you to buy their products. They recently put out an article on how to convert your non-wine-loving friends to the red wine cult:

It’s true, wine is an acquired taste and everyone’s taste is different. On top of this fact, wine gives off hundreds of aroma compounds that deliver hundreds of unique smells: from cherry sauce to old saddle leather.

So what are the best red wines to start your adventure into wine? The following wines are great to use as benchmarks for basic understanding. With over 1300 wine varieties, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

She recommends six specific varietals, but without brands.  Those six are, in order, Spanish Garnacha, American Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, Spanish Monastrel, American Petite Sirah, and Chilean Carmenere. She very specific reasons for each, and probably sees the growing region as producing consistent exemplars of that varietal.  I honestly fell in love with red wine over Australian Shiraz in around 2000, and then American Zinfandel in 2006.  So these truly seem to be “Gateway Wines” that lead you to explore other varietals and build a good wine habit.

Reading through her article got me to thinking, what are the first virginia wines I’d recommend to someone who wasn’t a believer in Virginia wine but was willing to try? Or what would I recommend to someone who doesn’t like wine at all but was willing to try out Virginia wine, to impress them and get them hooked?

I think people tend to think of Virginia wine as simple, cheap, and trite. And even as recently as 15 years ago, I’d agree with you.  I remember exploring Horton in 2006 and thinking Virginia wine was only drinkable when mixed with fruits, and only if you like sweeter wine.  But now I think we can change their minds. This is what I’d do with you if you were a non-believer (unlikely if you’ve read at all, or read this far), but were willing to try.


I would mostly likely start you off with some Arterra Cabernet Franc -This is one of their lighter reds that is super-drinkable, and good with or without food.  It’s husband-tested and husband-approved, and husband is after all, one of the uninitiated who isn’t all that wild about wine (I suspect being married to a non-wine lover is going to be entirely another blog entry later on, or maybe an entire blog unto itself).  I find it very refreshing and just enough going on with it that you do hold on to each sip for a bit.  It is not a wine that is so complex that it overwhelms you, but rather its subtlety is pure and enjoyable.  I feel about this wine the way I feel about reading a really good poem.  I read it and get drawn in, and then I reread it to capture what is being said and then I just feel good about having found it, and I just sit and look at it for a while, happy.  I know, nerdy.


I would next pour them Two Twisted Posts Thomas Great – their meritage blend.  This is a wine that has some more layers to it, but also is enjoyable from the first sip.  I think this wine is also good with or without food, though I’m partial to steak or burger with it, because red wine and red meat are amazing.  I think folks who haven’t had Virginia wine, or say that they aren’t wine drinkers will enjoy this one because it has good fruit to it, but it also has that darker quality.  It’s not very tannic or acidic, so it doesn’t cause you that shock that you aren’t used to if you’re not a wine lover.

I need husband to buy me a few more bottles of Stone Tower’s The Pursuit so that I can be sure it belongs on this list.  I have one bottle I’m holding for now, as it’s a new release, but at the tasting it was so smooth and wonderful that I think as a red blend, it will be one they will love.  I’m not after educating these uninitiated wine people for specific flavors, rather I want to expose them to the smooth, refreshing, dark fruit tastes in this wine, and give them a little wow for what blends can be.  This is one of their Virginia-grape only wines.

I would finish them with Linden Claret and Hardscrabble Red to show them how blends from the same winery can differ and be powerful.  Claret is the less complex red blend, and is a superb drinkable wine – it really can be an everyday kind of wine.  Hardscrabble is more complex and screams “special occasion.”  This is one I would serve them to be the convincer, that Virginia can make blends that rival the big shots.  These are two solid wines that have more complexity to them, but also give a strong sense of what can be done.


I want to include some of the great Virginia white wines here too, and wow them with those.  I think people are used to sweeter white wines or California Chardonnays, and Virginia has staked good ground in this sector.

Just because I think wine is a celebration, I’d start them with some Greenhill Blanc de Blancs because bubbly is the way to live.  This has pleasant apple-pear stuff going on and the bubbles just scream fun.  It’s crisp and refreshing, and is a great introduction to this part of their indoctrination.  If they don’t like champagne-style, well, that will be a problem, but they should enjoy this.

I’d move next to Arterra’s Chenin Blanc because it’s simply one of the nicest white wines I’ve had (and I only have one bottle left, so if you want to be indoctrinated you better hurry over!).  Arterra does well with subtlety in their wines and this is no exception.  This is a crisp wine and I find it very drinkable on a hot summer/fall evening by itself, or with fish or chicken.

The last white wine I would treat them to would be Linden’s Avenius Sauvignon Blanc – this wine is stunning, and a great example of what acidity can do with crisp white fruit.  This does have more acid, and that may annoy the new Virginia wine drinker, but I love that about it.  It’s not a flowery sauvignon blanc, but it’s a sharp one that makes you pay attention.  Eating this with cheese (at Linden’s tasting room, if you order their meat and cheese plate, you get duck prosciutto which is AMAZING with this wine) is incredible.  I’m pretty hooked on this white wine, and cannot wait for summer with it.

Now that you’ve been initiated, and you’re in love with Virginia wine, are you ready for more?  We can get more complex and hit some budget busters too.

If your tasting budget is unlimited (and sadly mine is NOT), let us recommend the RdV Rendezvous.  This red blend will truly wow you.  There is a lot of complexity to savor here.  If the person you are initiating to Virginia wine is already a wine lover, then this is one that will seriously impress – RdV is trying to rival Napa and Bordeaux, and this wine shows that they’re doing a great job of it.  You can also go for Lost Mountain, but that goes so far past my budget, that we won’t discuss it.  But doing another tour so I can taste it would be a good idea.

To share what Virginia is doing that showcases what is special here, I’d share Arterra’s Tannat and Petit Verdot.  These are two grapes doing great, interesting things in Virginia, and thriving in our wacky climate.  These are more complex wines, although single varietal, and they may shock someone who is less familiar with wine in general.  They both have this finish that is very dry and astringent (that’s the best word I can come up with for the sensation in my mouth – it just dries completely up at the end) that could catch you off guard.  What I love about them though is the purity and intensity of the flavor that comes through.  For the Petit Verdot I get a lot of plum and black cherry, and generally this dark earth flavor too.  Tannat gives me the same fruit but also licorice and, (I checked the Wine Folly book and they agree) this smoky sensation too.  I’d pair Tannat with a rare cut of filet and a cigar if husband would let me.  Be clear, if you start a non-wine lover on these, they will stay a non-wine lover because these are powerful wines that shock you.  But if you’ve been drinking reds for a long time, these two wines will grab your attention and make you think deeply about what wine really is.  They are tough to drink all by themselves, but with good cuts of beef cooked rare, and outside by a firepit on a cooler evening, these rock the world.

At this point, your friend has been initiated, and should be in love with Virginia wine.  I doubt Madeleine Puckett from Wine Folly is reading this, but if so, I hope she’ll think about exploring some Virginia wines to showcase what is unique and interesting here, and what we have happening that isn’t imitating California or Bordeaux.  And since most Virginia wine tourists stick with the Charlottesville/Monticello AVA, I hope she, and other visitors, would look at the Middleburg and other AVAs to see what other great things are available in Virginia.

Where would you take those who don’t love wine to get them started in Virginia wine?

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