By Mary Alice Blackwell Daily Progress correspondent
Published: June 17, 2009
Thomas Jefferson considered the octagon his favorite shape. Some say it was his architectural signature.
Today, some say that Octagon is the signature wine produced at Barboursville Vineyards, the shape of things to come. It certainly is one of the state’s most honored wines.
It is a multi-sided Bordeaux red wine blend that won a world wine championship and was selected by presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to be served at President Barack Obama’s inauguration gala. That was the 2005 vintage.
On Monday, the new 2006 edition was unveiled at Barboursville’s fifth annual Octagon vertical and barrel tasting, which also featured five previous vintages.
“Wow,” said Maryann Costa, after swirling, sniffing and savoring the first sip of Octagon IX with a dish of risotto featuring beef marrow, licorice-braised fennel, carrots and Parmigiano. “What can you say after ‘Wow?’ ”
Costa was among the 100-some guests invited to taste the differences of Octagons past and present during the luncheon for tradespeople across the region. The guest list included wine consultants from Kroger (including Costa) and Harris Teeter. Also enjoying the view of the vineyard from Palladio Restaurant were the owners of Siips and the executive chef from Boar’s Head Inn, along with a room filled with other restaurateurs and wine shop owners from across the state.
Trudy Franklin came from Northern Virginia with the sommelier from the Iron Bridge, a cafe and wine bar that opened in 2003 in Warrenton. They maintain about 300 different bottles of wine in Iron Bridge, including products from a dozen Virginia wineries.
“We will change them,” they noted. “We like to share the love.”
From a little father southwest, Michael and Pat Ohleger were investigating choices for Uncorked, their wine shop in Buena Vista.
“We sell Barboursville wines,” Pat Ohleger said. “In fact, we sell quite a few wines from this area. They do very well.”
One of the reasons Octagon has done so well is its ability to pair well with food. Melissa Close, a James Beard Foundation honoree and executive chef at Palladio, showed the proper way to enhance the wines during Monday’s three-course meal.
“A licorice glaze really brings out the great flavors of Octagon,” she said. “And what goes better with Octagon than braised meats?”
Following the risotto, she served porcini-braised short ribs with Yukon Gold potato puree and sauteed local Swiss chard.
A tasting of American, Italian and Virginia cheeses followed.
But there was no mistaking that the star of the afternoon was the Octagon — a blend of Barboursville’s finest, including Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a wine they produced only when the vintage is excellent enough to justify the label.
“Merlot is always there in the upper 70 percent,” said Barboursville winemaker Luca Paschina.
To make a good wine, you have to use the excellent vintages, he said.
“The main varietal and the good vintages you have are the most important ingredients of the final product,” he said. “It is the blending and also the barrel type.
“You hear from winemakers with some frequency, ‘Oh we have this new cooper; we are mixing different coopers for complexity.’ I believe that some 10 years ago I found the best cooper, and I think he fits with what we do, and I stick to that and we don’t change it.”
He said that 2006 was “another stellar vintage. It is a wine that is not premature, but in its youth.”
Overall, he agrees, the Octagons are wines that call for food.
“It’s good to learn how to eat food with different vintages,” he said.
“You have to be a bit flexible in the way to taste wine and the way you understand it.”
Some of the best have sampled Paschina’s products, including Michael Broadbent, who visited Barboursville a couple of weeks ago.
“I had lunch her with Michael Broadbent, and we retasted some of our wines,” he said.
“He has tasted some of the finest Bordeauxs of the finest vintages starting in the late-1700s than anyone living today. Not in America, in the world. So I trust his judgment.
“To me it was a reassurance that wine is not about deep color, concentration, roundness, fullness. Wine is about character, elegance, persistence, structure of tannins.”
Octagon has that character.
Paschina did his part to introduce the newest Barboursville character to the wine sellers, in hopes that they will help introduce Octagon — and other Virginia wines — in their shops and restaurants.
“We all know we have great wines in Virginia,” he said.
“In the buy-local movement … nothing is easier to store as an agricultural product than wine. Yet only 5 wines consumed out of 100 in Virginia are Virginia wines. In California it is over 60.
“Tell other people that they are missing an opportunity. The message out, for me, this year is buy local. This is just not local. It is good.”