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Glass of Distinction 

Virginia wines ramp up the power for the 2005 Governor's Cup awards.

James River is a 2,000-case-per-year winery. Fortunately, there are 150 cases of Dolce Vino remaining. By Governor's Cup standards, that is a tidy sum, as a winery has to have only 50 cases in stock to enter the competition. Mitzi Batterson, James River's co-owner, was surrounded by bottles from far better-known wineries, all hung with gold medals, and had the classic deer-in-the-headlights look of amazement upon the announcement of her triumph.

"We are pleased and honored to be this year's winner," she said at the June 13 awards ceremony. "But for a local winery, this is too much."

The most intriguing thing about the event was the high quality and diversity of wine styles. It seems like an incomprehensible task to pick a winner. Gold-medal wines ranged across a very wide spectrum. Some of my favorites were the following:



Keswick Vineyards 2003 Chardonnay, $17. This is as European as chardonnay gets. There is a green-apple flavor and texture with an accompaning layer of oak, and the taste of Virginia earth.

Autumn Hill Vineyards Petite Verdot/ Merlot, 2003, $22, is a youthful Bordeaux lookalike with outstanding flavor and balance. This is European in style and distinction.

AmRhein Cellars Petite Verdot, 2003, $22. Offers an intensely fruity blast showing the power side of this emerging grape. If Autumn Hill is Europe, this wine is Australia. This much fruit flavor is difficult to achieve in Virginia. But it's all here in a sustained burst.

Blenheim Vineyards "King Family" Merlot, 2002, $20, proves that merlot doesn't have to be a wimpy red. This immensely flavor-packed wine shows that owner Brad McCarthy isn't afraid to constantly reinvent himself, and wine lovers are all the better for it.

Barboursville Winery Octagon, 2001, $35. This is the taste of Northern Italy in a merlot-based blend. It is a model for cellaring top reds from here for several years. Each will resemble its own regional style but with the elegance and smoothing that comes with bottle age. — Layne Witherell



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