JeffersonThomas Jefferson was America’s first wino/wine geek/vinophile, so it’s far from surprising that he planted his own vineyard — way back in 1774. Jefferson and Italian Filippo Mazzei planted the vineyard right next to Monticello — and today Jefferson Vineyards resides on the same plot of land. Of course, the vines they use today aren’t from 1774, but they do date to 1981.

As 50 in 50 has unfolded, I’ve found the wines a bit disappointing — whether too sweet for the acidity level, boring and lifeless, or just plain faulty. So far, the stars have been the wines from Gruet Winery and Westport River Vineyards.

Those wines were good…but the three wines I tasted from Jefferson Vineyards, located in the Monticello AVA were even better.

When I first took the capsules off the two reds — a varietal petit verdot and a meritage — I was worried. Both corks had leaked (the petit verdot was pretty bad). Luckily, the wines didn’t seem to be affected much.

Jefferson05viognierI don’t drink a lot of viognier. There is one local producer here on Long Island and most of the time it’s pleasant but nothing worth seeking out. Virginia, of course, is known to be Viognier country. In fact, the editor of the Virginia Wine Gazette likes to use the phrase "Virginia is for Viognier."

I may have limited knowledge of viognier, but I can tell you this — Jefferson Vineyards 2005 Viognier ($25) is an outstanding wine. With only a few swirls, the wines aromas rose out of the glass, with fresh flowers, stone fruit and hints of lemon. On the palate, this wine displays ripe fruit with apricot, peach and pineapple accented by honeysuckle and lemon zest and a light tingle of acidity on a pleasant finish. The fruit flavors taste sweet, but I doubt that there is much, if any residual sugar here. If I hadn’t known that this was a viognier, I would have pegged it as a floral riesling…and we all know how much I like riesling.

Next, I tasted Jefferson Vineyards’ 2004 Meritage ($28) a blend of 70% merlot, 20% cabernet franc, 7% cabernet sauvignon and 3% malbec. I drink a lot of these style blends from local vineyards and while this one was similar in some ways, it was quite different in others. The nose is youthful with plum, blackberry and vanilla aromas. Medium-bodied, this wine is somewhat ripe with plum and red apple flavors playing against deliciously food-friendly acidity. 2004 was apparently a good year for the region and I think this wine has some cellar life to it.

Perhaps the most interesting (and delicious) of the three was Jefferson Vineyards 2002 Petit Verdot ($32). Inky purple in the glass with a black core and thing violet rim, this extremely aromatic with blueberries, black fruit and smoky black pepper. The forepalate is intense with a burst of dark fruit, black pepper and smoky oak. Medium tannins provide nice structure here. Petit verdot is known for delivering big up front and then fading quickly, and while this wine does show some of that, there is enough length here to make this a delicious, interesting wine that I’d drink any day. I’m imagining it along spicy smoked ribs and other spicy meats.

As I said earlier, these wines are the best I’ve tasted on my tour of America’s wine regions. No doubt about it.

Visit Jefferson Vineyards for more information.