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The Birth Year Wine List and Virginia Wine

2011 will be a big year for the Morgan’s, as our family will grow by one in May!  My wife and I have been in overdrive preparing for the birth of our daughter – painting, repainting, shopping for baby clothes, diapers and a range of odds and ends we likely don’t need.  Thankfully wifey is a very capable and avid shopper so I am free to focus on less immediate, yet equally important activities like formulating a strategy for acquiring birth year wines for our daughter.

Although I won’t be able to get my hands on most age worthy 2011’s until 2013 at the earliest, I’m enjoying the process of sketching out our daughter’s birth-year wine collection that we will enjoy together as a family in 2032.  I have visions (delusions?) of reserve wine grandeur – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Champagne, Barolo, Alsatian and New York and German Rieslings, California Cabs, Willamette Valley Pinots.  Alas I live in the real work-a-day world so birth-year selections will be based on our discretionary budget as the 2011’s become available (I don’t forsee any $500 Burgundies in this collection :(  ).

Though I am a huge advocate of the wines of my home state, I must admit that Virginia wines were not on my initial list of potential 2011 contenders for inclusion in this 21 year cellar list.  In my opinion, many Virginia wines are great for drinking now, or within the next few years, but I haven’t had too many that I feel would improve with 15+ years in the cellar (or, in my case, the wine fridge).  My first experiences with 10, 15, and even 20 year-old Virginia wines left me skeptical as to their ability to age gracefully, or even semi-gracefully.  Last summer I had the occasion to taste a handful of Virginia wines from the early 90’s that left me disappointed with a tasting sheet full of “thin” “rancid” “long gone” “no life” “watery” descriptions. However, my opinion on the age worthiness of Virginia wine is beginning to change as I try more of the higher quality early producers.

During a tour organized by Richard Leahy, I enjoyed a 1987 Montdomaine Cabernet Sauvignon that showed exceptionally well and could go head-to-head with any 24 year-old Cab, and last weekend I enjoyed one of the best examples of the age worthiness of Virginia wine when done right – a 1988 Montdomaine Heritage.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy this ’88 beauty during a dinner with writer Jim Raper and his wife Deborah.  As a pre-dinner primer, we had a ‘Bordeaux – Virginia’ comparative tasting of sorts, and Jim graciously opened this Virginia gem.  Every aspect of this wine surprised me – the color, freshness, and purity of flavors.  As you can see from the color in the decanter, this wine looks more like a 2008 rather than a 1988.  A blend of Merlot (48%), Cabernet Franc (33%), and Cab Sauv (19%), the wine showed vibrant blackberry and baked plum aromas with slight hints of the wood it was aged in 20+ years ago.  In the mouth, there was more dark fruit, earth, tobacco leaves and a mouthfeel characteristic of a younger wine.

Not only is this wine a testament to the early quality efforts at Montdomaine, it’s also a direct result of the winemaking skill of Shep Rouse, one of the early Virginia wine pioneers.  Shep is now the owner/winemaker at Rockbridge Winery in Raphine, VA.

After tasting these two Montdomaine wines, no doubt the our birth-year collection will include several Virginia wines. Obviously, 2011 birth-year selections will be dependent on the ’11 growing season of each region, and our budget.

I welcome any and all suggestions on birth-year wines!

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