At this week’s 12th annual Virginia Wine Expo, there will be something for everyone. Those with a penchant for a touch of sweetness in their wines won’t be disappointed.

First, though, a look at what’s ahead. Starting Tuesday, Feb. 26, and running through Sunday, March 3, the expo will feature:

  • Wine dinners, 10 of them at various locations during the week.
  • An oyster and sparkling wine pairing.
  • Nine seminars highlighting wine from Virginia, international guest region Chile and national guest region of central, Santa Cruz Mountains and southern California.
  • A comparative tasting booth at which you can sample a chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, one each from Virginia, Chile and California regions and draw your own conclusions about Virginia’s rising claim to wine fame.
  • Whiskey, wine, craft beer, cider and food at the wildly popular SMOKED! event Friday night.
  • Walk-Around Grand Tastings on Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon at Main Street Station.
  • Nightbeat, a wine-whiskey-cider-gourmet food Saturday night closer, at Old City Bar (next door to the Train Station).

More than 300 wines will be poured, either by winery reps or by trained personnel at the Grand Tastings, and at least 40 by-invitation-only state wineries are expected to be represented.

The three Grand Tastings are $55 apiece with a $25 fee for VIP early entry to the Saturday (1 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.) sessions. Don’t like crowds? Then the noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday session is for you. (Complete pricing, scheduling and other info at

“The price point remains among the lowest in the country for comparable events,” expo creator Alex Pappajohn said. “We’ll have a lot of high-quality juice on the floor.”

Many of the wineries will be pouring six or more wines. Among them is Lake Anna Winery, which is planning to bring as many as nine, including recently released Essensual, a 100 percent vidal blanc dessert-type wine made from grapes that were purposely frozen. Wines made from grapes frozen on the vine are usually called ice wines.

And they are sweet. Sometimes very sweet.

“Essensual is what I call a faux ice wine or a cyroextracted wine,” Lake Anna winemaker Graham Bell said. “In Virginia, temperatures are not consistent enough in winter to freeze grapes on the vine as is traditionally done in more northern latitudes, so we have to resort to a commercial freezer plant.”

The process for making Essensual is the same as that for a traditional ice wine, Bell said.

“The grapes are pressed as they are thawing, and only the sweetest most flavorful juice is extracted, leaving significant water still frozen in the pulp. The initial grapes are more concentrated in a traditional ice wine because of hanging on the vine for so long, hence, a generally more intense and more expensive dessert wine.”

Lake Anna makes four sweet wines — Lake Side White, Lake Side Sunset and Concerto are the others — and they have residual sugar ranging from 3.5 to 9.5 percent for Essensual, which is described as sweet, floral and not syrupy. (A dry wine usually has zero percent residual sugar, or RS, though some wines do have a touch of it.)

“These sweeter, non-dry wines are fun and festive and contribute to a lifestyle that I think captures newer wine drinkers and millennials,” Lake Anna co-owner Jeff Heidig said.

“We have produced Lake Side White since 1990 and Lake Side Sunset soon after, and they continue to sell well and be well-received. I typically do not enter any of these wines into a competition. They seem to sell themselves.”

Said Bell: “Sweet wines have often been a gateway wine for people just starting to explore wine who want a smoother wine without any astringency or tannic finish. It can also be one’s preferred taste. Cocktails perform the same function with spirits, though more to cut the higher alcohol.

“Our Claret is often .8 to 1 percent RS and is very popular. I think it a bit odd that wine aficionados often turn up their noses at the slightest hint of sweetness, yet would ooh and aah over a several hundred dollar bottle of a very sweet Chateau d’Yquem Sauterne. Simply sautéing onions or caramelizing them. There is a place for both.”

And that place is the Virginia Wine Expo.

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Jack Berninger’s column on wine appears monthly in the Culture section. Contact him at

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