Fabulous Flavors of Virginia: Four Wine Grape Varietals to Become Familiar With

by Patrick Evans-Hylton | Posted: Oct 2, 2014

Comments: 0 Comments

A few years ago Travel + Leisure magazine noted, “Virginia is one of the top five new wine travel destinations in the world.”

Jefferson Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards

We humbly accept, and agree with that designation.

And, with October being Virginia Wine Month, now is a great time to come to the Old Dominion and pop a cork or two.

One of the successes of Virginia wineries has been to find wine grape varietals that work well with the soil and climate here, producing outstanding vintages.

Not all wine grapes grow here, but some truly thrive.

There are some two-dozen major wine grape varieties being grown in Virginia.

These include such well-known types like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigio, and Riesling.

And there are some surprises too: Albarino, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Tannat and Touriga among them.

One of the best things about this wide variety is the tasting, and even if you can’t get around to visiting all 250-plus Virginia wineries or to sample the scores of wine styles crafted here, you can always come back. Again, and again.

These wine grape varieties are part of our FFVs – Fabulous Flavors of Virginia – the tastes that make this state great.

So, where to start with an introduction to the FFVs? Here are my picks for four to get familiar with, with descriptions adapted from the Virginia Wine Marketing Office.

Sunset Hills Vineyard by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com

Sunset Hills Vineyard by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com


NORTON is the oldest native North American varietal and was being cultivated and made into wine in Virginia prior to the Civil War.

A Virginia native, Norton was named the “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair of 1873. Nortons are deeply colored, age-worthy wines with rich, fruity aromas and flavors.

They complement red meat, smoked meat, wild game, rockfish, and many cheeses.

There are currently 33 Virginia wineries offering vintages made with the Norton grape.

Among those are 2014 Governor’s Cup Medalists in Silver and Bronze categories.

PETIT VERDOT creates a dark, purplish, medium-bodied red wine characterized by perfumes from fruity and spicy to herbal, with bouquets of leather, coconut, smoke, toast, and dark chocolate.

Petit Verdot’s flavors and tannins go together well with cabernets and merlots, and make it a small but influential addition to many blended Bordeaux-style red wines.

This red wine can pair well with steaks, rich sauces, Italian foods, barbecue, and strong cheeses.

There are currently 66 Virginia wineries offering vintages made with the Petit Verdot grape.

Among those are 2014 Governor’s Cup Medalists in Silver and Bronze categories.

Linden Vineyards by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com

Linden Vineyards by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com


PETIT MANSENG, a variation of the black Manseng grape, gets its name from its small berries.

It makes distinctive dry wines and can be harvested late to make fine dessert wines. With its rich aromas of candied fruit, spice, and honey, Petit Manseng goes well with a variety of foods.

It complements Asian and Thai dishes that are not overly spicy.

There are currently 28 Virginia wineries offering vintages made with the Petit Manseng grape.

Among those are 2014 Governor’s Cup Medalists in Silver and Bronze categories.

VIOGNIER gives off a strong and appealing perfume of fresh fruit and flowers. While this suggests a sweet wine, Viognier is typically a dry or slightly off-dry wine.

A popular choice of vineyards and vintners alike, Virginia Viogniers are garnering attention beyond the state’s borders and the grape has been designated as the state’s signature varietal.

These wines accompany lobster, veal, cheeses, and pork well, and complement nearly any food with a rich sauce.

There are currently 85 Virginia wineries offering vintages made with the Viognier grape.

Among those are 2014 Governor’s Cup Medalists: Veritas Winery’s 2012 Viognier (Gold Medal) and others in the Silver and Bronze categories.


October is packed with events to celebrate Virginia Wine Month; a full calendar can be found at Virginia.org/Wine.

Here’s two that feature professionally-led seminars and workshops to not only sate your desire for some fabulous Virginia wine, but give some guidance on swirling, sipping and savoring, too.

Town Point Virginia Wine Festival

Town Point Virginia Wine Festival

Oct. 18-19 – Town Point Park, Norfolk

This is the 27th year for this festival, which takes place along the shores of the Elizabeth River and features dozens of Virginia’s top wineries.

New this year opportunities for an exclusive, intimate tasting and pairing seminars with top sommeliers and wine professionals.

Seminars offered – A Perfect Pair: Virginia Wine and Oysters, Test Your Wine Knowledge, Swirl & Sip Like a Sommelier and Very Virginia Varietals.

Food Network celebrity chef Ben Vaughn will also be conducting cooking demonstrations, crafting dishes that will be paired with Virginia wine.

Oct. 21 – The Jefferson Hotel, Richmond

This annual gathering is a celebration of the state’s wine and food culture, offering an opportunity to explore the unique flavors of wine from the commonwealth while interacting with Virginia winemakers, national beverage professionals and wine writers.

The keynote speaker is Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine magazine.

The event features general seminars including The Art of the Blend and breakout sessions like Somm Might Say, Meet Virginia Whites, Dark Horses, and True to our Roots: Virginia Terroir.

A guest chef lunch and a post-summit bubble bar reception are other highlights.


Here is a drink to enjoy lingering warm days this autumn, but still with the flavors of a Virginia fall.

1 750ml bottle Virginia red wine
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces blackberry liqueur
1 cup red grapes, halved
1 cup cherries, pitted
2 medium red Virginia apples, cored; cut into large chunks
1 12-ounce bottle ginger ale

In a large pitcher, add red wine, sugar and blackberry liqueur and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Add grapes, cherries and apple chunks, stir, and refrigerate an hour or two until chilled. Just before serving, top off with ginger ale.

Serve in tall glasses filled with ice. Yields 8-12 servings.

Note: we like Northern Neck Ginger Ale, which has its roots in Virginia.


Patrick Evans-HyltonPatrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com


Leave a Reply

Notify of