The Best in Virginia Wines – My Top 10

This best of Virginia wine top 10 list is pulled from my experiences living in and around Virginia for the last 5 years. It includes local sources, tips from vineyard owners, top chefs, and important local critics. Enjoy!

1. Any list has to start with the Norton grape. Widely considered to be America’s only native grape it was first planted here in Virginia several hundred years ago. Today it is still only grown here in America in Virginia and Missouri.

The most important thing to know about this wine is that “Norton wine comes into its own about 10 years after the vintage…after about five years, the intense fruit began to turn earthy, with soy and mushroom flavors, while the grape’s acidity mellowed.”

A few recommendations are: Chrysalis Vineyards, Locksley Reserve 2005 – Cooper Vineyards, Reserve, 2008 – Horton Vineyards, 2005 – and more…

2. After the Norton grape, the most popular and awarded winning grapes coming out of Virginia are the (red) Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and (white) Viognier, Petit Manseng. Ask for these varietals when visting your local wine store for the best of Virginia viticulture.

3. Now for some award winners, in the World Wine Awards Virginia took home 3 silver medals for these wines:Decanter World Wine Awards DWWA 2011

  • Potomac Pointe Viognier Reserve, 2009.
  • Veramar Cabernet Franc, 2007.
  • Williamsburg Winery Adagio, 2007 (red Bordeaux blend).

More information on Virginia’s bronze awards, including one dessert wine, can be found on Richard Leahy’s blog.

4. In our biggest local event, the Virginia Governor’s Cup, that includes all the vineyards in Virginia, gave the  2010 top prize for red to King Family Vineyard for their 2007 Meritage. And, the top prize for white was given to newcomer Paradise Springs Winery for their 2009 Chardonnay.

A full list of the red winners (pdf) and white winners (pdf).

5. In a bit of pop culture the White House and the Obama’s have been making waves in Virginia’s wine world. First in 2009 when they selected Thibaut-Janisson as the sparkling wine for their first State Dinner. Then again in 2010 for the Governor’s Ball when they selected Sugarleaf Vineyard’s 2008 Petit Manseng, one of Virginia’s few African-American owned vineyards.

In juicier gossip, local (former) vineyard owners Tareq and Michaele Salahi are famously known as the White House Party Crashers and members of the TV show Real Housewives of DC

6. Not to leave out sparkling wines, Keswick Vineyards invited together some of the best critics to perform a blind taste. The results revealed these critic favorites: Prince Michel Sparkling Wine, Afton Mountain Vineyards Tete’ de Cuvee, and the Kluge Estate SP Blanc de Blanc.

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7. To improve our skills, Virginia Tech has a growing selection of oenology courses and a Winery Design program.

8. Virginia is home to a growing number of festivals with the biggest two being the Virginia Wine Expo in February and the Virginia Wine Festival in September. The state government keeps a list of events at Virginia Wine as do several other websites: Virginia Wine Events, Virginia Wine Festival, and Peaks of Otter Winery.

9. My favorite media coverage of Virginia wines comes from Flavour Magazine and the Virginia Wine Gazette. There is also an official guide including maps, regions, and newsletter you can get (for free), and an unofficial newsletter.

10. Finally, a documentary on Virginia wine called, Vintage: The Winemaker’s Year. Click to to view the trailer, see the extra footage, or order the DVD.

“A feature length documentary exploring the rapid growth of the wine industry in Virginia and its increasing impact on the state’s cultural, social, and economic landscape…the narrative of the film is of two intertwining strands- the story of the wine industry’s rise from humble beginnings and the tale of the creation of the state’s 2008 vintage.”

“Vintage examines the factors that make Virginia unique amongst the wine producing regions of the United States and explores why two hundred years after Thomas Jefferson’s failure to cultivate grapes at Monticello the region is finally flourishing as a producer of quality wines.”

“Viewers will see Virginia as a rapidly advancing player in the wine industry, one that is gaining national attention, attracting top winemakers and wine professionals, and poised for explosive growth in the decades to come.”

Join the Conversation


  1. Awesome review and education… Highlighting these Vineyards will save me hours and hours per my usual annual M/O of going from garage “Vineyard” to garage Vineyard without a clue of what i am doing (vineyardal aboriginal) … I can also utilize your review as a comparison / contrast… Great site,thanks for all the hard work… i will tell all my friends to check it out… What is your opinion of Barboursville Vineyards? I enjoyed the Cab Franc and a fusion they called Octagon… The estate fosters an awesome atmosphere which seemed to promote “happy grapes ” along with the on site historical ruins, an outstanding wine pairing dinner and a lodge (you can actually lodge in the Servants Quarters circa 1790)… so that after the wine pairing dinner you can stagger over to the servants quarters and pass out….

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