It’s hard to write anything about Barboursville that hasn’t been said before. It’s the source of nearly endless articles regarding its wine, its history, and the team that runs it. But since the story is so great, how can you skip over it?
When Barboursville opened in 1976 it was the 6th winery to open in Virginia since the end of prohibition. Luca Paschina has been its winemaker and general manager since 1990, and winegrower Fernando Franco has been (justifiably) credited as one of the best viticulturists in the USA.
Nearly every year at least one of their bottles is selected by the Virginia Governors Cup competition as one of the top 12 wines the state. They also are arguably the state’s most famous growers of nebbiolo. This is amongst the reasons why Barboursville is sometimes referred to as Virginia’s answer to France’s “First Growth” estates.
Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is strong here. The property includes the ruins of a manor Jefferson designed for his friend James Barbour. Its distinctive eight-sided design was inspired by a 16th century Italian architect named Andrea Palladio, whose book I quattro libri dell’architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) Jefferson referred to as his ‘bible’. Jefferson used Palladio’s octagon motif in many of his buildings, including Monticello and “The Rotunda” at the University of Virginia.
When Luca was researching possible names for what would become his flagship wine, he came upon the story of how Jefferson thought the octagon was a symbol of “perfection and balance”. Needless to say this description was exactly what Luca strives for, so his flagship wine became known as “Octagon”.
Barboursville has over 180 acres of vines including at least a dozen of grape varieties, including Italian grapes rarely found elsewhere in Virginia including Barbera, Fiano, Nebbiolo, and Vermentino.
I’ve visited here more times than I can count and dinned at the Palladio restaurant several times. While they have a ‘regular’ tasting room, when I visit it’s almost always to visit is the Library 1821, which showcases its deep library of older vintages.
The way the Library tasting works is you select 6 wines, although some older vintages ‘costs’ 2 picks. The lineup changes periodically, although older vintages of Octagon are always on the menu, some of them well over a decade old.
For my last few visits I lucked out since we scored patio seating. Even better, Carrie was my server and she always kept checking in on us. After a brief analysis-paralysis, several flights were ordered, as well as food from the kitchen.
Often I do two flights because I never want to miss anything, but go with a group so you can order more. And funny story – turns out that I had some unpublished notes from November 2021, so I’ll include those notes with my August 2022 visit.
2014 Octagon was, in a word, outstanding. I later learned this was the Governor’s Cup winner in 2020. Spice notes but not earthy. Dark fruit but nothing in particular I could pick out.
The 2017 Octagon was the runner-up; many of the same qualities but more on the fruit and less on the tertiary flavors. But special mention goes to the 2018 Octagon; it was a softer, fruitier wine that came out well despite a difficult vintage.
While Octagon is arguably the highlight, the entire lineup is full of stars. I was able to retry their Nascent white blend (Viognier, but with smaller dashes of Fiano and Vermentino) which might be their new flagship white. It has lots of depth but was smooth at the same time.
But on the last few visits I thought their Barbera and Cabernet Franc were also special. Both were from the 2020 vintage. Their Vermentino is also a consistent award-winner.
- Brute NV: Notes of peach.
- 2019 Fiano: Lemon nose, little perfume. Another almost thick, full bodied white
- 2015 Viognier Reserve: Very tropical
- 2013 Vermentino: Heavier on the tongue
- 2017 Vermentino: This is a full-bodied white that explodes at the beginning of your palate. Lots of tropical notes
- 2017 Barbera Reserve: Notes of bramble fruit, cherry and spice.
- 2004 Octagon: As you’d expect on an older vintage, low on fruit but high on tertiary notes including mushroom, especially on the nose.
- 2014 Octagon: Good depth
- 2015 Octagon: Spicy
- 2017 Octagon: No notes other than *really liked it*
- 2010 Merlot: More fruit than I would have given it credit for.
- 2006 Sangiovese: Sour cherry; starting to brown due to its age.
- 2018 Nebbiolo: Very light, strawberry notes
- 2013 Petit Verdot: Smooth!
- 2017 Petit Verdot: Dark cherry, earthy nose, but palate is brighter with some assertive tannin
- 2020 Fiano: Almost like a Sauv Blanc!
- 2021 Viognier Reserve: Not overly floral; no honeysuckle bomb here
- 2021 Vermentino: Bright lemon notes.
- 2021 Sauvignon Blanc: Lots of melon notes, but a far cry from a NZ-style SB
- 2007 Octagon: End of its life but lots of tertiary flavors
- 2014 Octagon: Mushroom on both the nose and the palate.
- 2015 Octagon: More fruit forward but not to the extent of the 2018
- 2016 Octagon: Earthy; lots of texture
- 2018 Octagon: Soft, fruity; easy to drink. High marks for a wine from a difficult vintage.
- 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon: I needed a moment alone with this wine. It was hitting that inflection point when the fruit is there but the tertiary notes are appearing 2018 Cab Franc: Super aromatic, fruity
- 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon: Carmelized; light colored and smooth, with a tad bit of fruit left.
- 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve: So young by comparison
- 2018 Petit Verdot. Not in your face tannin or acid. The wet 2018 vintage may have helped since it made it more approachable
- 2020 Barbera: Really good! Didn’t have a lot but bright red notes
- 2019 Nebbiolo: Sour – which is exactly what you’d expect from this variety. Still young
- 2020 Cabernet Franc: Medium bodied; not spicy not earthy not tobacco but a nice blend of all of that