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Reigning Stars Part II

Virginia wine Breaux Viognier

Virginia wine Breaux Viognier is recognized among Oz Clarke's Top 250.

It’s been noted that the Virginia Governor’s Cup 2012 Wine Competition had no Viogniers among the gold medal winners. We asked Jennifer Breaux Blosser, whose 2010 Breaux Viognier was cited by Oz Clarke as one of the top 250 wines in the world that year, why this might be.

“It’s certainly a conundrum, isn’t it? No gold for ‘Virginia’s  signature grape’! I speculate as to whether it was truly an issue of perceived quality or whether there were not many submitted to the competition,” she says.

And in fact, organizer/judge Jay Youmans agrees. There was overlap in the timing of the 2011 and 2012 events as they recombined the white and red tastings back into a single judging.

Jennifer believes strongly in the grape’s potential here: “It’s definitely odd [that Viognier] isn’t featured in the coveted Governors case…With that said, as producers, we still have respectable, fabulous Viognier in our state and even though the golds weren’t handed to them this year, VA Viognier is  receiving international and national recognition, flying off the shelves and making a lot of wine lovers happy.”

Our tasting panel certainly concurs. More Viognier reviews follow and you can read Part I of our  Viognier and Cab Franc story here.

Part II: Virginia Cabernet Franc

virgina winery Narmada photo by MA Dancisin

Grapes coming in at Narmada Winery, Amissville, VA. Photo by MA Dancisin

Cabernet Franc is the red grape with an established reputation as a reliable producer in Virginia and is the most widely grown.  It buds, and ripens, earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon which is important when coming up against inclement weather at harvest which is often the case here. In Bordeaux, Cab Sauv or Merlot are the dominant grapes in the blend, with Cab Franc as a supporting player. Here the grape is often bottled as a single varietal, sometimes with a bit of Tannat or Merlot in the blend, or as a major component in a meritage (bordeaux) style blend. We’re focusing on varietal bottlings in this instance.

Virginia wine maker Alan Kinne

Virginia wine maker Alan Kinne.

Alan Kinne, currently making wine at Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, relates, “Dennis Horton was the first person to varietally label Cabernet Franc in Virginia.  I made his first Cabernet Franc in 1991.” Richard Leahy recounts a conversation with Horton in his book Beyond Jefferson’s Vines that tells of his early – and continuing – experimentation.  Horton says Cab Franc maintains good pH even in heavy rain. Today, the winery produces about 3000 cases a year, and Horton Cabernet Franc is in wide distribution.

Alan continues, “I also was consulting for [now defunct] Oasis Vineyards back then and believe Dirgham [Salahi] started varietally labeling his Cabernet Franc in 1993.  I will say that my personal favorite Cabernet Franc in Virginia is made by Luca [Paschina] at Barboursville.” In January 2012, Barboursville Cab Franc Reserve 2008 received the Best in Class award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition out of a group of 97 competitors.

Patrick Comiskey, writing for Zester Daily, says “It’ll just take a whiff of a Virginia Franc to prove you’re not in California – the wines’ savory scents and grainy tannins suggest the Loire in their lighter iterations, the Right Bank in warm vintages. Either style is supported by plenty of red fruit, good lift and energy, with tannic precision.”

Over the past few years, I’ve noted three distinct styles beginning to emerge. Each I’m sure has its fans.

Virginia winery King Family photo by MA Dancisin

King Family Vineyards barrel room. Photo by MA Dancisin.

The first is light and fruity, a little bit sweet, maybe good with an ice cube in it if you’re sitting on the porch on a hot day. More commonly, Virginia Cab Franc tends to nice cherry/strawberry flavors, is medium-bodied with good acidity and not much tannin. There’s often a spicy or white pepper note to it. The third type, and the one I believe causes more winemakers to lay awake at night and worry during harvest,  is very ripe and extracted, and shows more typical “Bordeaux” characteristics like cedar or tar or cigar box. Chocolate, eucalyptus/herbal, or espresso notes can be detected and the mouthfeel approaches chewy.

In an thought-provoking article in the winter edition of In the Mix by Tim Hanni, the noted wine list consultant and Master of Wine, has categorized (and trademarked!) four types of tasters. On his “Vinotypes” scale, wine lovers are characterized as Sweet: highest level of taste sensitivity needing sweetness to offset bitterness most people don’t perceive; Hyper-sensitive: very high sensitivity but prefer dry/slightly sweet wines; Sensitive: moderate sensitivity whose preferences run the gamut; and Tolerant: tolerates high alcohol levels and likes full-blown reds, the stronger the better. Do you agree? How would you classify yourself?

Sandra Brannock

Sandra Brannock

For our second tasting panel, Sandra Brannock and our resident culinary expert Sylvie Rowand joined in. Sandra became an on-premise sales representative with Virginia Imports, Ltd in June 1990.  She has traveled to California, Oregon, Washington, Spain, Greece,  France and Italy to visit winemakers and producers and has coordinated winemaker dinners and conducted educational wine seminars.

Sandra says, “My love of wine is founded on the fact that it can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone; it is always different and changing; it brings people together around the table to eat, drink, and celebrate the human experience.”

The notes that follow are from both our first and second tasting panels. The wines were tasted blind by the participants though I knew which producers were in each group, having obtained many of the samples. The panel’s notes are supplemented by my own solo tastings at several wineries.

Tasting Notes: Virginia Viognier

Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Viognier 2010 $22
Golden color, somewhat earthy yet ripe on the nose. Notes of orange/tangerine and honeysuckle backed with a softer acidity. (SB)

Barrel Oak Winery Reserve Viognier 2010 $29
Lean, tropical. Pear/almost honeysuckle, a hint of spiciness, tangerine/ peach/guava – hot finish. Grapes sourced at Keswick, DelFosse and Leaping Fox. (MA)

Virginia winery DuCardDuCard Vineyards Viognier 2010 $22
Wow. Impressive honeysuckle, canteloupe and floral notes. Fragrant but delicate –  fresh. Becomes more orange blossom/tangerine. Great firm acidity, focused, brilliant fruitiness. Great length and intensity. (RL)

Tasting Notes: Virginia Cabernet Franc

Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Franc 2009 $23
Deep ruby color, nose of tar, cedar, and wood. Rich mouthfeel with restrained black fruit and notes of coffee, coffee bean, and eucalyptus. Very good. (MA)

Horton Cabernet Franc 2008 $15
Medium garnet in color. Spicy red/black cherry on the nose with some new oak. On the palate, smooth, silky, very sexy soft tannins. Black cherry fades into dark chocolate. Excellent integration, lots of finesse. (RL)

Virginia winery Jefferson Vineyards Cabernet FrancJefferson Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010 $22
Ruby in color. Aromas of violets and ripe black fruit, nice intensity with subtle touches of herbs and spice. Delicious, fresh fruits and herbs, complemented by well balanced tannin. Very complete, medium body, impressive! (DK)


King Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc $23
Deep ruby color. Plum, strawberry, red berry flavors: more fruit-forward (adds the fruit element to King’s Meritage blend). Intriguing hints of anise and herb. Finishes firm and crisp. (MA)

Virginia winery NarmadaNarmada Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 $23 20% Tannat
Pretty ruby color. Intriguing nose of coffee/espresso. Lush, full-bodied, meaty. An excellent, fully-ripe expression of the grape. (MA)


Prince Michel of Virginia Cabernet Franc 2008 $15
A red wine for white wine drinkers: clear light ruby color, scent of strawberry. Easy drinking and fruity, juicy and sweet like a wine cooler. (MA)

Rosemont Cabernet Franc 2009 $21 5% Merlot.
20 mos. in French oak. An earthy nose leads to cherry/spice on the palate; medium body, long finish. Austere, refined, elegant. (MA)

Three Fox Alouette Cabernet Franc 2010
Clear ruby tinged with orange highlights. Earth and dried herbs on the nose – a touch of mushroom. Rich dark chocolate flavors, espresso bean and french roast. Firm tannin, long finish. (MA)

Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008 $24
Deep ruby/purple, a bit cloudy. On the nose, cherry and spice, with flavors of sour cherry, strawberry and white pepper on the palate. (This wine had a lot of sediment on the cork when opened, so was decanted and returned to the rinsed bottle.) (MA)

Virginia winery King Family photo by MA Dancisin

Bud break at King Family Vineyards. Photo by MA Dancisin.