Visiting Barboursville Vineyards will always be a memorable experience for me because it was my first vertical tasting. If you are ever lucky enough to experience a vertical tasting of wine, I highly suggest doing it. For those of you who do not know (and I was one of you until about 2 weeks ago), a vertical tasting is when you taste multiple vintages (years) of a specific wine from one winery in order from either oldest to youngest, or most often, youngest to oldest. Nothing but the vintage (year) changes, so it is made by the same winery, the same grapes, the same label, the same everything! It really gives the consumer a chance to see how much climate can change a wine from year to year. Usually, older wines have had a chance to mature and get their full flavor, whereas younger wines are more bright and all of their flavors are not as pronounced. This is why (usually) vertical tastings are done from youngest to earliest.
Barboursville Winery is one that many people from outside of Virginia may have heard of, and that is probably due to their “Octagon” Bordeaux Styled Red blend. It has won several awards across the country due to the fact that the winemaker, Luca Paschina, knows how to make fabulous wine. In 2014, he was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as one of the 20 Leading Food and Wine Professionals. He even beat out winemakers from the infamous California, Oregon, and Washington. Further proof that Virginia makes good wine!
Going back to the Octagon wine, it is a Bordeaux Styled red blend. A Bordeaux Style blend is a wine that is a blend of mostly Merlot, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec. There can be a mix of any amount of these grapes, with Merlot being the primary grape. If a wine is actually from the Bordeaux region of France, it is called a Bordeaux. If you see a Bordeaux in a wine shop, you know it is from this region and is made up of some percentages of the above mentioned grapes. If you see the words “Bordeaux Style”, it means that the above mentioned grapes are in the wine, but because the wine was not made in or out of Bordeaux grapes, it cannot be called a Bordeaux. This is the same with Champagnes, Burgundys, Barolos, Sancerres, and Riojas, just to name a few. These are all regions, not grape varietals, and wines with these regions on the labels can only be called as such if they are made from those places.
The vertical Octagon tasting is held in the vineyard’s library. This is not their normal tasting room, which is ginormous and crowded. Off to the side of the building is their library, and you can get there via their normal tasting room. For $35, you can taste their Octagon vintages, which seems like a steep price to pay for a tasting, but you are having five, pretty good-sized pours, of some fantastically delicious wine. In the current Octagon tasting, they feature the 2013, 2012, 2010, 2007, and 2004 vintages. The latter three were by far my favorite. To me, the 2013 and 2012 still had some maturing to do, as many of the flavors were somewhat tight, and in some cases, not even present yet. The 2010, 2007, and 2004 had layers upon layers of flavor, with the 2004 being at its prime. In fact, I was told that this is probably the last year that the 2004 will be enjoyed, as waiting any longer may push it past its peak and just start turning into vinegar. Any of the above mentioned vintages would be lost without a meaty food pairing, such as Osso Buco or Braised lamb chops. If you are vegetarian, a heavier meal with an acidic base (such as tomato sauce or Balsamic) would be a great pairing as well. With such bold flavors of a wine, you need a bold food to go with it.
While vastly different maturity levels, each vintage had similar flavor components. Spending time in a French oak barrel gave the wines oaky characteristics, mainly in the flavor of mocha and walnut. The younger the vintage, the more bright berry tastes came out. With older vintages, it was more plummy and dark cherry. Throughout all of the wines, dusty tannins gave a dry finish, though it seemed smoother as the wine got older. Of course, it could have seemed smoother after a tasting at Stinson earlier that day and 4 other Octagon vintages beforehand!
If you are going to visit Barboursville, I would strongly suggest trying the Octagon Tasting in their Library. Yes, $35 is pricy, but so worth it! The vineyard itself is very kid friendly, with lots of land and even a ruin to run around in. There is a restaurant and an inn on site. However, if you are tasting in the library, it is a much cozier experience, and more for adults. You can do more than the Octagon tasting. The library is meant more for the expensive and vintage wines that Barboursville makes, whereas the big tasting room is for current wines. Food like cheeses, meats, breads, and light appetizers are available in the library. The library tastings are open on Fridays from 2-7, and Saturdays/Sundays from 11-5pm. For more information, visit their website, Facebook, or Twitter. I would also recommend visiting their website to learn more about their history with Thomas Jefferson and then Governor James Barbour! As always, let me know if you have gone to Barboursville Vineyards and what you thought!