Cabernet GrapesCabernet Sauvignon is revered as one of the most sought after wines in the world. Look no further than Bordeaux and Napa Valley and you will find a cult following for prestigious bottles produced in those regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Other regions like Washington State and Australia are gaining momentum in the production of this classic grape, but what about Virginia?

Yes, you heard that right. Not only is Virginia coming into its own as a premiere wine destination, the winemakers here are discovering that red wines, particularly Bordelais varietals are doing exceptionally well in the Commonwealth, specifically in certain regions and microclimates.

For many years Virginia was gaining a reputation for crisp white wines and sweeter dessert style wines made most notably from Petit Manseng and Vidal Blanc, but pioneers like  Jim Law with Linden Vineyards and Rutger de Vink with RdV Vineyards in Northern Virginia have really pushed the envelope with Cabernet Sauvignon and their efforts and risk are paying big dividends for the entire industry.

While the clay-based soils in much of Central Virginia are more suitable for other red varietals and whites, it seems that Cabernet Sauvignon can succeed quite well when grown in rocky, shale and schist soils that are found in pockets throughout Central Virginia.

Keswick Winemaker Stephen Barnard and Crystal Cameron Schaad
Keswick winemaker Stephen Barnard sporting his Pokeman shirt for his daughter at the WCHV studios.

Enter Keswick Vineyards and winemaker Stephen Barnard. I had an opportunity to sit down with Stephen this week for my latest episode of Crystal Palate’s Wine Country which airs on Saturday mornings at 8:30am on Cville 107.5 and 1260 WCHV in the Charlottesville area. We tasted the newly bottled 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon made from 100% Cabernet from two blocks of grapes with the highest elevation planted 550 feet above sea level.

I wish I had the opportunity to blind-test this gem, because quite frankly I don’t know if I would have guessed Virginia. For far too long, many wine consumers, even locals have had a rather negative perception of red wines grown in Virginia. My, oh my, have things changed! Investments in viticulture, technology, better management of disease pressures and older vines are finally bearing fruit for the modern Virginia wine scene. And wine critics around the world are taking notice.

The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon will be released to Keswick’s wine club just in time for the holidays. Even though it’s quite impressive right now, a little patience will be rewarded. This wine will undoubtedly improve with 5-7 years of bottle age.

Tasting Notes

“Inky crimson hues indicate youth, but once you raise the glass and take in the multitude of complex and inviting aromas, you immediately understand that this is a serious and thought- provoking wine yearning to share its story.  Vibrant fruit aromas of summer ripe blackberries, currants and damson plum are woven together with floral notes of dusty violet, Herbs de Provence, sweet baking spices, Tahitian vanilla bean, chocolate-covered espresso beans and a hint of cedar and cigar box.

On the palate, cassis and plum take center stage followed by a crescendo of sweet spice, vanilla and toasty oak mid-palate.  This full-bodied, robust Cabernet has mouthwatering acidity, chewy tannins and a long lingering finish.” 

A pleasant 14% ABV provides wonderful FullSizeRender-9balance. The wine is aged in cask for nearly two years and sees 50% new oak and a hybrid aging regimen of French and American oak. It’s clear that this wine truly represents the Keswick family motto, “Born from the soil and soul of Virginia.”

Barnard only produces the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in exceptional vintages. The first bottling dates back to 2007.

There is little use of commercial yeasts at Keswick, they believe that 95% of winemaking takes place in the vineyards. They rely on native yeasts for the fermentation process and take more of a hands-off Old World approach in the winery to truly allow the unique terroir to speak for itself.

While the 2014 won’t be available to the general public for a few more months, Keswick has the 2013 vintage available at the winery. You can also sample it in the tasting room. It retails for $74.95. Wine club members receive a 20% discount.

In addition to this stunning example of Cabernet Sauvignon, Keswick was awarded top billing in this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup for Barnard’s 2014 Cabernet Franc Reserve.

If you were one to write off Virginia reds years ago, I encourage you to come back and give it another try, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s no doubt Thomas Jefferson is smiling down upon his beloved Virginia and raising his glass to a job well done.

 

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