Virginia wines to drink on vacation. 

Beach Blancs

he sun has just dipped below the horizon on Cape Cod Bay, and I'm sitting on the deck of a friend's summer house sipping one of nine Virginia wines which I've brought to review for this column and to share with friends to help pay for a free week's stay. As it turns out, the wines on our list are a perfect match for this seaside respite of seafood and sunset spotting: sauvignon blanc and viognier.

Though quite different from each other, the two grape varieties can produce very satisfying wines even in the hot, humid climate of Virginia. But few Virginia wineries make these wines. The grapes are tricky to grow, highly susceptible to undesirable rot and mildew and, unless handled carefully in the winery, can result in thin, tart sauvignon blanc wine with no depth of flavor, or in flabby, gummy viognier.

Still, the few who take the risk have managed to overcome the obstacles and bottle some great vacation wine. Sauvignon blanc is typically tart and lemony but it also can deliver distinctive pineapple flavors as well. In addition, the wine carries a complex layer of grassy, herbal flavors, which in our case matched well with halibut and scrod.

Of the four Virginia sauvignon blancs we tasted, only one seemed too unbalanced for us to recommend.

With a score of 88, Ingleside Sauvignon Blanc 1998, $16, was the favorite. This wine starts out tart and rounds into pineapple flavors with a creamy finish. The other two are both from Linden, but from different vineyards near the winery: Avenius Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 1998 (85), $14, and Glen Manor Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 1998 (83), $14. Glen Manor opens with a tartness similar to true Alsace Gewurztraminer but finishes dry, while Avenius starts with a lemony sparkle and moves to flavors of grapefruit and a peppery finish. Tart, crisp and refreshing, these two wines are lively and offer up delicious spiciness. However, they really do need food to modify their assertive personalities.

By contrast, viognier, while fine with certain foods, is more of a sipper, a sunset wine. Viognier is known for its floral perfume and flavors of peaches and apricots, characteristics present in four of the five we tasted, two of which we recommend. Our hands-down favorite is the Horton Eclipse Lot 97 (87), $10. To be fair, Eclipse is a sweet blend of viognier, chardonnay and vidal blanc. At 84 percent viognier, though, the wine is a flavor giant with a surprisingly shy aroma. Peach flavors reveal themselves after a moment's pause on the tongue and the creamy feel of the wine lends itself to a finish that made me think of creme brulee.

A second panel favorite is Breaux Vineyards Viognier 1998 (86), $15. Fruity and floral with an aroma and flavor of apricot and pear, the wine is rich and round but steers clear of the shoals of florid sweetness. One panelist suggests serving it with swordfish steaks. I am inclined to sip it while preparing dinner.

Two wines which you may enjoy more than the panel did are Ingleside Viognier 1998 (80), $18, and Horton Viognier 1998 (80), $20. While enjoyably light in character, both wines confounded our ability to identify specific flavors and aromas leaving us decidedly ambivalent about their scores. But tomorrow night, we'll give them and all the other wines another shot, perhaps with grilled tuna and another sunset. That is, if we don't finish them tonight.

Patrick Getlein is a wine columnist and consultant in Richmond. His monthly column this summer features panel reviews of Virginia wines by variety. Send your comments and suggestions to him directly at vintagepng@yahoo.com or you may write to him through the office of Style Weekly, 1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220.

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