Chardonnay grapes are so malleable, they can be used to make a variety of wines from dry to sparkling. No one style defines this grape, which produces medium- to full-bodied wines with flavors that range from tart green apple to buttery pear. Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted winemaking grapes in the Commonwealth; and Chardonnay wines pair well with everything from chicken and turkey to smoked fish, crab and selected cheeses.
Petit Manseng, a white wine variation of the black Manseng grape, gets its name from its small berries. It makes distinctive dry white wines and can be harvested late to make fine white and dessert wines. Petit mansengs have rich aromas of candied fruit, spice and honey. Petit Manseng goes well with a variety of foods and includes Asian and Thai dishes that are not overly spicy.
Riesling grapes produce wines that epitomize the harmony between sugar and acid, at the same time keeping their distinct differences. A Riesling wine can be tart and bone-dry on the one hand or extremely sweet on the other. Riesling grapes take on the character of the land they are grown. Virginia Rieslings have the wine’s typical floral and fruit characteristics, often with a citrus and peachy aroma. Try a Virginia Riesling with Virginia sugar-cured ham or roast turkey.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes are at home in a variety of growing conditions and grown by many Virginia vineyards. The grape makes dry white wines known for their sharp acidity and aroma of fresh herbs and hay. When Sauvignon Blanc vines grow in limestone-rich soil, the resulting wine can have the smoky aroma of flint. Sauvignon Blancs go well with shrimp, salmon and other seafood as well as poultry dishes, notably roast chicken.
Seyval Blanc, sometimes shortened to Seyval, is a popular, reliably productive French-American hybrid that ripens early in the fall harvest season. It makes a crisp, distinct dinner wine, or conversely, sweet dessert wine. Known for its smell of green apples, Seyval is a component of some white wine blends. Seyval Blancs pair well with chicken, game birds, swordfish and a variety of other foods.
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. Viogniers accompany lobster, veal, cheeses and pork well, including nearly any food with a rich sauce.
Vidal Blanc, often shortened to just Vidal, is a hardy, thick-skinned grape that thrives in even the coldest wine-growing regions. Vidal Blancs vary in style from dry, crisp wines to late-harvest sweet wines to expensive ice wines. Vidal Blancs have fruity, floral traits that complement scallops, crab, grilled salmon and tuna. Chicken and turkey as well as sweeter foods such as fruit platters go well with Vidal Blancs, too.
Cabernet Franc is a thin-skinned grape that ripens early. It’s fruitier, more herbal and lower in acidity than its genetic offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon. Similar to Merlot in body, Cabernet Francs tend to have spicy aromas with hints of mint, plum, blackberry and violets. National and state wine experts consider Cabernet Franc to be among Virginia’s best red wines. Sometimes similar to Merlot in food pairings, Cabernet Francs go well with pastas with red sauces, beef stew and even hamburgers.
Merlot vines like rocky, arid ground but also adapt well to soils with more clay content. The thin-skinned Merlot grape produces wines softer in tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon yet with similar leather, mint and blackberry qualities. Approachable and easy-to-drink Virginia Merlots are favorites among wine drinkers. Their elegant and concentrated flavor makes them pair well with pastas in red sauce, beef stew and lamb, among other dishes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely planted red varietals and a longstanding favorite among Virginia vineyards and vintners. Cabernet Sauvignon yields a dry wine that can be light and approachable or, should the vintner desire, heavier and age-worthy. Complex flavors of black currant, green olive, mint and herbs characterize most Cabernet Sauvignons. And the winemaking process can endow it with hints of vanilla, smoke and leather. Cabernet Sauvignons go well with steak, hamburger, leg of lamb and pungent cheeses.
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, rock fish and many cheeses.
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, strong cheeses.
Chambourcin is a vigorous, disease-resistant French-American hybrid developed in the Loire Valley of France. Noted for evocative herbal aromas and crisp acidity, Chambourcins are typically dry, full-flavored wines with hints of berries. They pair well with a variety of foods, from hamburgers and veal to tuna, swordfish, Mahi-mahi and flounder.
Rosé is a wine that can range from light to dark pink. The color typically results from red-skinned grape skins remaining in the wine for only a short period before removal. Originally a dry, subtle wine, Rosés are now similar to white wines in how they range from dry to semi-sweet. Rosés go well with all sorts of seafood and make a fine apéritif wine to pair with cheeses.
Sparkling Wines get their bubbly, nose-tickling characteristic by carbonation caused by natural fermentation in the bottle or by having carbon dioxide added during the winemaking process. Sparkling wines are usually white or rosé in color and range from dry to semi-sweet in taste. Many Virginia wineries offer excellent examples of sparkling wines. Sparkling wines go well with mild and strong cheeses, with shellfish, seafood with light sauces, Asian dishes, poultry, fruits and dessert.
Fruit Wines & Meads Each fruit wine takes its names from its primary ingredient. Various Virginia winemakers offer such fruit wines as blackberry, raspberry, apple, pear, peach, blueberry and strawberry. A few wineries are also producing meads (honey wines).