Summer Sojourn to Barboursville
by Bill Babash, Vicé Charge de Presse
After a two-year hiatus, the Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, was delighted to continue its tradition of a “summer sojourn” – an annual event away from the mid-summer heat and hubbub of the nation’s capital. After a wonderful event there in 2019, the bailliage returned to Barboursville Vineyards to rediscover its distinctive wines and sumptuous cuisine.
Barboursville is a scenic two-hour drive from Washington in the rolling hills of central Virginia with gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. Beyond its natural beauty, the area is steeped in history. James Madison’s Montpelier home is just nine miles away and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello less than 30 miles from the vineyard. The 900-acre Barboursville estate was the home of, and takes its name from, James Barbour who served as Governor of Virginia from 1812 to 1814 and later was a U.S. senator, Secretary of War, and Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The ruins of Barbour’s mansion are a focal point of the estate. The house was designed by Barbour’s friend Thomas Jefferson in 1814 and completed in 1821. It was consumed by fire on Christmas day 1884 and never rebuilt. The ruins are now a National Historic Landmark.
Attempts at winemaking in the region date back some two hundred years with Thomas Jefferson attempting numerous times with no success to get European grapes to grow at Monticello. In 1976, Gianni Zonin, whose family has been making wine in Italy since 1821, acquired the Barboursville estate with the seemingly unrealistic expectation of creating a vineyard where Jefferson had failed. Through several iterations of planting and replanting different varieties of grapes, by 1990 Zonin had found the varietals that would thrive in Barboursville’s sloping clay soil and hot climate to produce world-class wines. Today, with 176 acres of vines, Barboursville is one of the premier wineries in Virginia.
Members and guests gathered in Barboursville’s sunlit tasting room where Luca Pashina, Barboursville’s Estate Director and winemaker, shared the history of the winery and insight into evolution of winemaking at the estate and led them through a tasting of four of his finest wines.
The Barboursville Vineyards Anniversary Cuvée Brut 1994 opened the tasting. Only 1,000 bottles of this vintage, which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Barboursville mansion, were produced. It is 100% chardonnay and was aged on its lees from 1995 to 2010, followed by a secondary méthode champenoise fermentation in the bottle. The result is a sumptuous, buttery sparkling wine with a pale honey color and gentle bubbles.
Next was the Barboursville Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2014, which was fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees. The crisp acidity of this wine brought out a range of complex flavors ranging from citrus and fig to grass and minerals. This was followed by the Barboursville Vineyards Viognier Reserve 2020. Because the piedmont terroir of Barboursville allows the viognier grapes truly thrive, the winery was the first to abandon malolactic fermentation and aging in oak for viognier, allowing the full character of the grape to reveal itself. The result is a light yet richly flavorful wine, with floral notes joined by hints of pear, citrus, and herbs.
The final wine of the tasting was the Barboursville Vineyards Allegrante Rosé 2020. This wine is a blend of 18% Nebbiolo, a variety which Barboursville is known internationally, and 82% petit syrah, which was recently established in the estate’s vineyards. It is fermented in stainless steel with limited contact with the grape skins, creating a wine with a stunning salmon color. Eight months of aging on the lees in stateless steel yields a delightful rosé notable for its layered aromas that include stone fruits and even a hint of pepper.
A selection of delicious assaggini accompanied the wines: The fava bean “bruschetta” on toasted focaccia was delectable; the mini crab cake with lemon aioli was delicately seasoned, bringing out the natural sweetness of the ample lump crab; and the chilled cucumber, watermelon, and tomato gazpacho was bursting with summer flavors. Each of these bites was a great savory backdrop upon which to explore the nuances of the wines.
Before the tasting ended, Bailli Judy Mazza presented Luca with a Chaîne wine coaster to thank him for starting the afternoon with a insightful and delicious tasting..
The gathering then moved into Barboursville’s Palladio restaurant, named for the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) who had a profound influence on Thomas Jefferson’s architecture. Executive Chef Michael Clough had prepared a sumptuous five-course luncheon exclusively for the bailliage. Chef Clough is a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, and he takes full advantage of local ingredients, especially those grown on the Barboursville estate.
Luncheon began with a local heirloom tomato and burrata salad with compressed watermelon, basil pesto and lettuce from nearby Memery Farms. The colorful salad brilliantly captured the essence of summer. It was accompanied by the Barboursville Cuvée Brut Rosé, NV. This wine is produced in collaboration with Barboursville founder Gianni Zonin’s Tenuta Il Bosco estate in Oltrepò Pavese in the Lombardy region of Italy. This 100% pinot noir sparkling wine is aged on the lees for 36 months and fermented in the bottle in the metodo classico. Refreshing with a hint of earthiness, it paired beautifully with the salad.
Next was lobster ravioli with saffron and squid ink pasta, spicy cherry tomato sauce and ricotta salata. Generous chunks of lobster were enveloped in tender pasta, with flavors enhanced by the lightly spiced sauce. Diners were treated to two wines with this course, offering an opportunity to compare distinctive styles with the luxurious ravioli. First was the Barboursville Vermentino Reserve 2021. Vermentino grapes are native to Liguria, Corsica, and Sardinia in Italy and have thrived in the warm climate of central Virginia. Its minerality and notable citrus notes were wonderful with the lobster. Second was the Barboursville Nascent 2018. Nascent is Barboursville’s signature white wine and the 2018 vintage is an intriguing blend of 76% viognier, 18% vermentino, and 6% falanghina. It is fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees for 7 months. Fresh yet savory, rich yet dry, it paired seamlessly with the succulent lobster and its accompanying sauce. Each variety in the Nascent is aged separately and then blended and aged for 12 months in Austrian and French oak casks, a further 20 months in stainless steel, and finally 4 months in the bottle before the finished wine is released.
Oyster mushroom risotto with parmigiano Reggiano and a thyme and red wine reduction followed. This classic Italian dish was paired with the Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve 2018. Nebbiolo is one of Barboursville’s signature varietals and this reserve vintage is particularly notable for its dense structure and notes of dark berries and tobacco that nicely complemented the earthy mushrooms and cheese of the risotto.
The savory courses culminated with grilled wagyu filet mignon presented with sautéed Marvel of Venice beans, potato-thyme gratin, and a cabernet franc reserve reduction. Barboursville Octagon 2014 accompanied the delicious dish. Octagon is Barboursville’s award-winning flagship wine and is named for Thomas Jefferson’s design for the central drawing room of the Barbour mansion. Winemaker Luca Paschina explained that he creates Octagon only in the finest vintages and then only with the best grapes from the harvest. The 2014 vintage is a blend of 58% merlot, 21% petit verdot, 15% cabernet franc, and 6% cabernet sauvignon and is aged for 12 months in a mix of new and used French oak barrels. The result is truly spectacular – full-bodied and well balanced, notable for a symphony of flavors ranging from current and blackberry to cloves, tobacco, and leather.
Dessert was a classic panna cotta with peach marmalade, blueberry syrup, vin cotto, and candied pecans. (Vin cotto translates literally as “cooked wine.” Originating in rural areas of Italy, it is a sweet, thick reduction of non-fermented grape must slowly simmered for many hours until the sugars caramelize.) The panna cotta had exactly the right texture and richness, and the vin cotta and fruit preparations provided flavorful accents to complete the superb composition. The Barboursville Philéo NV paired nicely. This bright and refreshing dessert wine is composed of moscato ottonel, vidal, and traminette and is fermented and aged in stainless steel for six months.
As the afternoon concluded, Bailli Judy Mazza introduced Chef Clough and presented him with a Chaîne wine coaster as a token of the bailliage’s appreciate for his delicious luncheon.
Several members extended their sojourn to Barboursville with an overnight stay in the estate’s inn and cottages, enjoying a evening production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It by the local Four County Players in the ruins of the original Barbour mansion.