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Library 1821

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Virginia or the Veneto?

Only Barboursville's Winemaker Knows for Sure

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Driving south on Rt. 15 to either Rt. 29 through Madison County or 522 through Culpepper, the winding, tree-lined back roads of Virginia give way to gently rolling vineyards not so different from Italy’s Veneto wine region (to the north of Venice).

“Venice?” you say. “This is Virginia.” True, but why an eighth-generation Italian wine making family based its new world expansion in humble Orange, Virginia, back in the mid-1970s, shouldn’t be a mystery. So says the now legendary winemaker, Luca Paschina, who is celebrating his 33rd year at Gianni Zonin’s Barboursville Vineyards (

Paschina likens Barboursville’s estate founder to Magellan for his perseverance and intuitive embrace of a region that would become home to more than 200 wineries in the wake of his success. In his own online history of Barboursville, he lauds Gianni for relying on tradition, science and humility to achieve extraordinary acclaim for Barboursville wines on both sides of the Atlantic. Barboursville’s bottles not only perennially grace the Governor’s Cup case selection, but also rate scores in the mid- to high-90’s in competitions from coast to coast.

Barboursville’s signature red is called Octagon, named after the shape of the estate Thomas Jefferson built for Governor James Barbour, completed in 1821 about the same time the estate’s ancestral winery, Casa Vinicola Zonin, was founded. With rich aromas of currant, sweet tobacco and dark chocolate, the Octagon 2017 vintage blended Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot won a Gold Medal in both the 2020 and 2021 Governor’s Cup Competition, scoring 94 points from James Suckling. It also scored 96 points plus a Platinum medal as the Best Bordeaux Blend in last year’s IWC Sommelier Challenge.

We’re not so much about rating wines as helping our readers use them to create great experiences, so the important thing to know here is that, within a 2-hour drive from downtown Leesburg, you can be transported to a truly extraordinary wine experience that seems a world away.

Upon arrival, give the front door a miss and instead hang a left into Library 1821. The broad terra-cotta tiled hall (with walls hung with grape-picking baskets) leads to one of the premier wine tastings in the Commonwealth. In the Library, select wines are offered in flights ranging from the mid-$20’s to the mid-$40’s. You can add a light meal of classic baked cannelloni with veal, Mortadella and farm-raised port filling with Parmigiano Reggiano bechamel, best paired with the Nebbiolo Reserve or Octagon. Alongside a sampling of three whites and three reds – and maybe just one smidge of the Octagon 2014 or 2015 – your meal is followed by a finish of Tiramisu with Philéo NV. Whatever you select from the trattoria style menu will be superb so long as you don’t come on a Tuesday when the Library is closed!

Among the wines offered for tasting in February were three sparkling wines, actually grown and bottled by Barboursville’s sister winery in the Italian Veneto, a delectable Sauvignon Blanc Reserve (2019, 2014) an award winning Viognier Reserve 2020, and several unique varietals like Vermentino and Fiano Reserve, Allegrante Rose, Philéo NV, and Paxxito (2017), all a nice contrast to the still extraordinary but more common Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Merlot. If you are a Viognier-o-phile, treat yourself to the 2010 Viognier Reserve. It’s not on the menu, but quite possibly the best white wine we’ve ever tasted. Packed with floral aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, honey and orange, it virtually sparkles on the tongue. 2010 was hot and dry, leading to a more concentrated, luscious harvest, but not all the vineyard’s varietals have fared as well with the increasingly warm temperatures.

Some readers may remember Barboursville’s remarkable Sangiovese, but Luca had to stop producing it because increasingly hot summers dramatically curbed the vines’ production. Luca’s attention to climate and its nuances is surpassed only by his appreciation for which kinds of grapes thrive in the Orange County terroir, along with the characteristics they assume based on their environment.

Since 1991, he has systematically put aside bottles of all the estate’s wines and tasted them periodically – imagine! Three decades worth! What he came to appreciate was that the vineyard’s white wines age surprisingly well, “they retain a great expression of freshness and aromatics.” As a result, in 2018, he began to blend them, finally producing white wine’s answer to Octagon, and aptly named the resulting blend Nascent.

From harvest to release, Nascent’s predominant Viognier is aged for a year not in stainless steel as is the Viognier Reserve, but in 660-gallon, thick-staved casks of very low porous, lightly toasted Austrian oak. It’s then moved to stainless steel, along with its sediment, where it is mixed with Vermentino and Falanghina, each of which had been simultaneously aging in used barrels of neutral French oak. Together, the result is very fragrant with intense aromatics – “very dramatic, bright and refreshing,” Luca says, perfect with a plate of pasta with muscles and oil.

Luca’s painstaking methods have evolved over time to create a unique style that the Italians can now learn from. “Moving wine from barrel to barrel gives it a bit of oxygen so that it evolves differently and becomes softer and more supple,” he says. Humbly he adds, “But it’s a two-way street. Look at Virginia, we now have wine makers from Italy, France, South Africa, from the West Coast, the Finger Lakes and the Carolinas. I don’t believe in bringing a certain style to Virginia and adapting the grapes to it. It’s the other way around. The climate and soil we have here naturally dictates how you approach the wine, and the proof is in the pudding. A bottle of 20-year-old Virginia wine is perfect and beautiful. Why should they be changed?”

Not changed – but enhanced, by the extraordinary talents of The Palladium Restaurant’s Executive Chef Michael Clough. Now that you know all the rewards a trip to Barboursville offers, consider spending “An Evening With Morels,” Saturday, April 30. Dinner will include Timballo al Parmigiano Reggiano con Spugnole, a Parmigiano Reggiano flan with crispy morels; local Mesclun greens and ramp vinaigrette served with Chardonnay Reserve 2020; house-made Tagliatelle pasta with sauteed Morels, fava beans, ramps and Caromont Farm Pecorino served with Cab Franc Reserve 2016; foie gras and Morel-stuffed roasted quail in a Nebbiolo reduction with asparagus and soft polenta served with a preview of Nebbiolo Reserve 2019; and Rice fritters with white chocolate sauce and blueberry gelato with Philéo NV. Book early (540-832-7848) as this one will sell out weeks in advance.

Also keep your eyes peeled for those wines Luca considered worthy of Governor’s Cup consideration this year: Paxxito 2018, Vermentino Reserve 2020, Nebbiolo Reserve 2019, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2020, Octagon 2017 and 2018, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2019, Petit Verdot Reserve 2019, Cabernet Franc Reserve 2019 and Goodlow Mountain Cabernet Franc 2019. With or without recognition, “What we aim for is consistency,” Luca says, to exacting, high standards.

  • Library 1821
  • Luca Pachina, Into His Fourth Decade as the Winemaker of Barboursville
  • Luca Pachina, Into His Fourth Decade as the Winemaker of Barboursville
  • Chef Michael Clough (foreground) with Cesare Lanfranconi