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Buying Guide for Virginia Wine

Virginia Wine Label
Virginia is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the country. With seven distinct grape-growing regions and over 200 wineries, fine wines now come from all over the state. Virginia ABC is proud to feature many Virginia wines on its shelves, providing a great way for consumers to explore these world-class products.

Know the Label

These terms commonly appear on Virginia wine labels. For more information about Virginia wine, please inquire at your Virginia ABC store or visit VirginiaWine.org.

An alcoholic beverage sipped before a meal to stimulate appetite.
Wine-makers blend wines of different varieties and vintages to achieve complexity and favorable taste and aroma characteristics. (These wines are distinct from "varietal wines," made of only one type of grape.) See also "Meritage."
See "rosé."
Dessert wine
Sweet wine for consumption after a meal. Many dessert wines are fortified (see "port"), giving them a higher alcohol level.
Lacking sweetness. This characteristic is imparted by low levels of residual sugar as well as by tannins. Although most wine varieties can be made in dry or sweet styles, Merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, Albarino, Pinot grigio and Sauvignon blanc are typically dry.
Fruit wine
Wine made from fruit other than grapes, such as peach, blackberry, apple, and raspberry. Each fruit wine has distinctive characteristics, but all are generally light, on the sweeter side and crisp. Fruit wines pair especially well with cheese, poultry, and salads containing fruit.
A trademarked name for a wine blended in the traditional Bordeaux style. The term “Meritage” (rhymes with “Heritage”) is licensed by the Meritage Alliance. Meritage reds use grapes such as Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Petit verdot and Malbec—all of which are cultivated in Virginia vineyards.
A fortified wine, usually consumed after a meal. Port is usually sweet; it is “fortified,” or blended with distilled grape spirits (brandy), giving it a higher alcohol content than other wines.
Blush or pink wine, usually produced by allowing grape skins to impart a slight color, but not enough to qualify as a red wine. Especially popular in the warmer months, rosé pairs well with fresh vegetables, light pasta, and fish.
A mixture of red (or white) wine and fresh fruit, especially popular during the warmer months. Popular sangria fruit includes oranges, limes and peaches. Sangrias go well with spicy and grilled foods.
Sparkling wine
Wine with a fizzy quality, usually developed through the fermentation process. 
Semisweet / sweet wine
Wine with more residual sugar than “dry” wines. Semisweet wine may be only slightly sweeter than dry wine, perfect for a summer cookout. Sweet wines are usually lower in alcohol (unless fortified, like port) and can serve as dessert wines. Riesling, Moscato, Traminette and Niagara tend to be semisweet.
Table wine
A generic term for wine that is neither fortified (see dessert wines) nor sparkling.
Tannins are substances in wine imparted by grape skins and seeds and the wooden barrels used for aging. They create a dry taste and provide flavor complexity. Red wines are usually higher in tannins than white wines.
The type of grape used in making a wine. A “varietal wine” refers to wine made from one type of grape. In Virginia, popular red varietal wines include Merlot, Cabernet franc, Cabernet sauvignon and Chambourcin; popular white varietal wines include Chardonnay, Riesling and Viognier.
A wine that has been recently bottled. Most wines are best consumed young, rather than cellared and aged.

For More Information

Many resources are available online for learning more about Virginia wine. A great place to start is VirginiaWine.org, which has graciously provided content for this page and offers much more, including information about Virginia's wine-growing regions and its many wineries.

Virginia Red Wines

Virginia produces a wide variety of red wines, using both classic and native varieties of grapes. The color of red wine arises from the grape peels during the production process.

A perennial favorite in Virginia, approachable and yet complex. Aromas of mocha, red berries and nutmeg with flavors of cherry and vanilla. Merlot shines particularly with pastas in red sauce, poultry or lightly spiced darker meats.
Steeped in Virginia history, Norton was first cultivated in Richmond with native American vines in the 1820s. Try Norton with red meat, especially smoked meats, or with wild game, rockfish or hearty cheeses. [Native to North America]
Cabernet franc
With an international reputation for quality in Virginia, Cabernet franc is considered to be among Virginia’s best red wines. Try this spicy, peppery wine with well-spiced beef stews and meat dishes or with goat cheese, aged gouda and gorgonzola.
Cabernet sauvignon
Cabernet sauvignon yields a dry wine that can be light and approachable or complex and age-worthy. The bold tannins in many Cabernet sauvignons make it a perfect pairing for meats such as steak and foods with umami flavors.
Noted for evocative herbal aromas and crisp acidity, Chambourcin is typically made in a dry style into full-flavored wines. It pairs well with a wide variety of foods, from hamburgers and veal to fish.
Virginia has remarkable promise in producing Malbec varietals. Its inky color predicts intense flavors of black cherry, pomegranate, cocoa, molasses, violets, and plum. Try it with lean red meats and earthy flavors such as beef brisket, blue cheese and cumin.
Petit verdot
Petit verdot creates a dark, purple, full-bodied red wine, characterized by dense, dark fruit and spicy notes of leather, coconut, smoke, and dark chocolate. Offering bold tannins, Petit verdot ages beautifully. Pair with steak, rich sauces, barbecue and strong cheeses.

Virginia White Wines

Virginia also produces many great white wines, using both classic and native grape varieties. Many of these are perfect accompaniments to Virginia seafood.

Albariño is highly aromatic, a quality that is able to develop fully in Virginia. This lively wine is made in a dry style without oak, and is best served young. It is wonderful with fresh fish and seafood of all kinds as well as other light meats or goat cheese.
The most planted grape in Virginia, Chardonnay highlights fruity flavors. It is often aged in oak, giving it luscious buttery notes; it can also be lean and fresh. Chardonnay pairs well with many foods, from poultry to cheese, and works beautifully with Virginia’s abundant seafood.
An easy-drinking white varietal wine of the Muscat grape, with a slight sparkling quality. Moscato has a long history, especially in the Piedmont region of Italy. Enjoy it as an aperitif, pairing it with cheese, nuts and biscotti.
Niagara is related to Concord, popular in jams and juice. Characterized by a musky, fruity aroma and taste, Niagara produces a sweet, light wine, resembling a Riesling, that is perfect for sipping in the summer heat. [Native to North America]
Pinot grigio
Pinot grigio can showcase flavors of lime and apple, or more lush flavors of nectarine and lemon, often retaining honey, ginger, and spice notes. Usually made in a dry, unoaked style, its zesty acidity pairs well with fresh vegetables and fish.
Riesling, epitomizing the harmony between sugar and acid, is versatile enough to be responsible for some of the world’s best dessert wines, yet wonderful even in a bone-dry style. It pairs especially well with pork, roast turkey and sweeter vegetables.
Sauvignon blanc
Virginia brings its own expression to this wonderful white, showcasing classic aromas of herbs and hay balanced with sharp acidity. Grown in the limestone-rich soil of some Virginia sites, it can also have the smoky aroma of flint. Try it with seafood or poultry.
For its quality and suitability to Virginia's climate, Traminette is a favorite in Virginia. With flavors of lychee, apricot and honey, it can be made into wines with varying amounts of sweetness. It pairs well with rich foods such as roasted meats and mushrooms.
Vidal blanc
Another hardy grape this is very adapted to Virginia’s varied climate, Vidal blanc has flavors of honeysuckle and pear, candied fruit and citrus. Its fruitiness is a wonderful match for Virginia's seafood, poultry or sweet fruit.
Named Virginia’s official state grape in 2011, Virginia Viognier has earned praise for its high quality. Typically, it has intense, complex aromas of stone fruit with tropical notes that suggest a sweet wine, but it is usually made in a dry style. It accompanies lobster, veal, cheeses and pork well, especially when paired with a rich sauce.
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