Last Saturday, historic Clifton of Virginia held a Virginia wine festival. Many major players in Virginia’s wine industry were there. Practically everybody was sporting a Cabernet Franc and a Chambourcin. Oaky Chardonnays were also popular.
Originally grown in France, the Cabernet Franc grape is one of three varieties mixed into a Bordeaux blend (if the blend is from anywhere else in the world other than Bordeaux, it is called a Meritage). We may be more familiar with the other two types of grape in the Bordeaux blend: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. A Cabernet Franc is a fruitier, lighter wine, and because of this it can be served slightly chilled.
Virginia is known for being very successful in producing Cabernet Franc grapes. This, in part, may be because the Cabernet Franc grape prefers a cooler climate. This wine is considered by most Virginia wine aficionados as a Virginia flagship wine, along with the Petit Verdot and the North American native Norton.
This grape’s origins are shrouded in mystery. We start seeing this vine pop up in the ’60s and since then it’s settled pretty comfortably in North America. Like the Cabernet Franc, the Chambourcin vine has an affinity for cooler weather. However, this grape has a much thicker skin and therefore imparts a much more robust flavor in its wine.
Most of the wineries at the wine festival showed off their Chambourcin wines. They were all dry and jammy. North Gate Vineyard from Purcellville, however, had a nice, light Chambourcin rosé.
The Chardonnay is considered the entry-level grape for new winemakers. The green-skinned grape is originally from Burgundy, France, but is now produced worldwide. Generally, the Old World (European) style of the Chardonnay (Chablis) is minerally and crisp.
In the ’40s, California claimed its own clone of the Chardonnay vine and basically threw France’s playbook out the window. New World Chardonnays are known for their creamy, oaky characteristic from being aged in oak barrels. The time spent in the oak barrels give these Chardonnays a darker, golden color and notes of vanilla and butter. There were a few Old-World style Chardonnays in the bunch at the festival, but on the whole the Virginia Chardonnays were heavily oaked.
Personally I prefer the steel-aged Chardonnays á la francais. Cooper Vineyards from Louisa had a crisp, tart, absolutely mouthwatering Chardonnay. On the other hand, DelFosse Vineyards and Winery in Faber has a well-done French oak-aged Chardonnay.
All in all, Virginia can crank out impressive wines. A bottle of Virginia wine, no matter the winery, averages about $20. Some criticize the higher price point of these wines, saying Virginia wine’s weak reputation cannot sustain the prices. However, Virginia wines are growing every day and winning awards.
But YOU be the judge! Find a Virginia wine nearby. For you Blacksburg locals, I highly recommend stopping by The Vintage Cellar on South Main Street to find a healthy selection of all kinds of wines.