Diversity of landscape, terrain and climate make Virginia one of the most exciting American wine producing states today. Its viticultural history reaches as far back as 1607 when early settlers made the first wine from indigenous American grapes.
Thomas Jefferson imported the first French varieties to Virginia and grew the Vitis vinifera species (the European species), though not with great success.
Today, however, increased knowledge and optimal vineyard management techniques bring prosperity with a great number of diverse varieties. Virginia’s varied landscape has created seven distinct AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).
Encouraged by an enthusiastic state government, fine wine production in Virginia continues to flourish. The state achieves success with a variety of wine types and styles including sparkling wines, Bordeaux Blends, Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, Viognier and less common whites like Petit Manseng and Vermentino.
A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining easily identifiable typicity. This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Riesling is best known in Germany and Alsace, and is also of great importance in Austria. The variety has also been particularly successful in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes region of New York.
In the Glass
Riesling typically produces wine with relatively low alcohol, high acidity, steely minerality and stone fruit, spice, citrus and floral notes. At its ripest, it leans towards juicy peach, nectarine and pineapple, while cooler climes produce Rieslings redolent of meyer lemon, lime and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of petrol.
Riesling is quite versatile, enjoying the company of sweet-fleshed fish like sole, most Asian food, especially Thai and Vietnamese (bottlings with some residual sugar and low alcohol are the perfect companions for dishes with substantial spice) and freshly shucked oysters. Sweeter styles work well with fruit-based desserts.
It can be difficult to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling, and German labeling laws do not make things any easier. Look for the world “trocken” to indicate a dry wine, or “halbtrocken” or “feinherb” for off-dry. Some producers will include a helpful sweetness scale on the back label—happily, a growing trend.