It’s Time for Spring Wine
By Doug Fabbioli
As the weather gets warmer the flowers start to pop, our springtime gatherings come up on the calendar, and our flavor preferences change to lighter foods and drinks. I’ve made my mark as a hearty red wine maker, but those are not really thought of as springtime wines. So let’s take a look at what locally grown wines might work for this time of year.
In the spring I feel an off-dry style of wine best fits the season and the cuisine. One of our better growing white grapes in Virginia and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic is Vidal Blanc. The fruit characters always remind me of Juicy Fruit gum—in a good way. This can be used as a base in a blend like our Something White, or as a varietal wine. A dry, steel-fermented Chardonnay is another wine that could fit the bill. The barrel-fermented, buttery style has been the bane of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) crowd for years, but the lighter, crisper Chablis style of Chardonnay expresses the fruit and acid much better.
A newer grape variety to our region is Albariño. Crisp, steel-fermented, with bright fruit notes, this wine is made from a Spanish grape that grows quite well here. There is a legendary origin story that tells of bud wood, the material needed to propagate new plants, being transported from Spain in a carry-on bag under the description of “wood for smoking meats.” I can’t attest to this story or to which infamous Loudoun winery was involved but I know it wasn’t mine. Another variety that popped up here around the same time is Petit Manseng. This variety is a little more viscous and intense than Albariño, but could easily be a springtime wine. Intense in fruit character with an underlying sweetness and very firm acid, this fruit can be used to make a variety of wine styles from dry to dessert.
Rosé can certainly be a springtime wine, but that is a big subject for a different column! Let’s go Italian instead: Barboursville’s Vermentino is a beautiful white wine grown in Virginia. It almost seems to have a reserved spot in the Governor’s Case each year, the cherished spot for the twelve wines awarded the highest points in the Virginia Governor’s Cup competition. I planted a bit of Vermentino here on our farm and I happily blend it into our Something White, where it adds a little earthiness and complexity. This is a terrific variety that is relatively unknown, but certain fits the style we are discussing.
Another area to think about for your springtime sipper is a wine cocktail. Many of the wineries, including ours, make different drinks using wine as the base with flavoring syrup, soda, fruit juice, or other spirits added in. As low- and no-alcohol drinks have gained in popularity, these cocktails are a great option and can truly highlight a wine just as a sauce can highlight a cut of meat. My wife, partner, and boss is the mixologist behind our specialty drinks at Fabbioli Cellars. We have two or three per month and at least one of them is always based our theme for the month. April’s theme is the Outlander book and TV series, so plan a visit to see what she has in store this month.
Whether you call your drink sangria or cactus punch, it’s amazing what creative styles can come from using wine as a base. Back in the day, my favorite was dry red wine left over from the previous day over ice with 7Up and a good slice of lemon. It was very refreshing and much better than a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler (a 1970s Gallo product for those of you too young to remember).
Enjoy your spring sipper however you wish. Try something new—it is spring after all, and spring is all about newness. Find different ways to use our locally grown wines. I guarantee that your winegrower will appreciate both your business and seeing your face every time you stop in. Cheers!
About the Author: Farmer, winemaker, entrepreneur, educator, and leader, Doug Fabbioli has been accelerating the growth and quality of Virginia’s wine industry since 1997. With his wife Colleen, Doug is the owner/operator of Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, VA. He is the founder and director of The New Ag School, which focuses on teaching the next generation of farmers and agriculture-related leaders. No wonder they call Doug Fabbioli the Godfather of DC’s Wine Country.