On my way to the Virginia Wine Experience in London preliminary tasting at Hampden House yesterday, I had a small moment of panic: will this be an afternoon of saying polite things about mediocre wines? After all America's most famous wine connoisseur, Thomas Jefferson tried for years but failed to produce anything that could compete with the European wines he loved. Fortunately, the overall standard was very high, which may be due to the fact that all wines included in the tasting were selected by a tasting panel in Virginia before making the trip to London. OK, the quality is good but what makes Virginian wine distinctive? Chile has great quality but for some reason, I have a hard time getting excited about their wines. Is there a Virgina terroir? Overall, I'm pretty dubious about statewide generalizations, even though I do use them for California, Oregon, Washington and New York State. Perhaps the most important reflection of a region's terroir is which grapes grow well there since they're the ones that need to thrive given the local climate and soil. The major white varieties are Chardonnay, Viognier, Vidal, Petit Mansang and Seyval Blanc while in reds it's Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Norton and Chambourcin. As for which varieties really come into their own to produce something special, I would put my money on Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and (arguably) Norton. Other interesting generalizations that could be made from this group of wines is that there weren't any fruit-bombs and the alcohol levels were commendably low (between 12 and 14%). Stylistically most of the wines are made in a restrained style, looking more towards the old world than new. It seems that Virginia winemakers are more interested in being good than big. Highlights of the tasting: Whites 2005 Williamsburg Winery Vintage Reserve Chardonnay Winemaker Matthew Meyer calls it – in all humility – “the most balanced wine ever made.” I would have a hard time disagreeing. It's made in a classic Burgundian style and is a real treat – excellent. 2006 Veritas Sauvignon Blanc – The only Sauv. Blanc in the tasting and a rarity for Virginia, it was a real surprise and treat. The varietal character of Sauv. Blanc – mowed grass and gooseberry - comes through but also with a good deal of passion fruit and pear. Very interesting, very good and a good stumper for a blind tasting. 2005 Williamsburg Winery Viognier Much like the Chardonnay, this wine was very well balanced and a great example of just how good Virginia Viognier can be. Rich soft pineapple upside down cake on the palate with a very long finish. Reds 2004 Pearmund Petit Verdot Master of Wine Chris Pearmund takes this minor Bordeaux variety and makes a very interesting and appealling savoury herbal and lightly smoky wine. 2004 Kluge Estate New World Red Wine The New World Red is actually an old world Bordeaux blend with the 2004 having 50% Merlot blended with Caber Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Similar in style to a new Pomerol, soft and plummy, it tastes expensive. It should age well but is drinking nicely right now. 2001 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon This could pass as a first growth Medoc. Another Bordeaux blend, this one is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. Very refined and classic, with blackcurrrants, black cherry and mint on the palate, a very long finish and just starting to take on secondary flavors like tobacco. It should keep easily another 10 years and will probably be perfect in 2-3. 2005 Linden Cabernet Franc There were several good Cab. Francs but this was my favorite. Made in a style much like a Loire Cabernet Franc but with more red fruits and less green pepper. Very good. If you're in the wine trade or write for the wine media, it would be worth your while to check out the May 2 Virginia Wine Experience tasting at Vinopolis. RSVP to by visiting www.vawineinlondon.com/contactus.php, fill in your name and affiliation, choose "Vinopolis", and press "submit".