This past weekend, I was invited to pour and lead a discussion in Richmond, Virginia at a Chester Wine Society gathering. My fiance’s mother, Cindi, helped start the wine loving group as a way to explore and expand their knowledge of wines from all over the world, as well as bring together great people. We drove down from DC fresh off of our flight from California wine country and brought two vertical tastings: Chester Gap Cellars Viognier Reserves from 2010-2012 and 2011 Cabernet Francs from Rappahannock Cellars, Fabbioli Cellars, and Berry Hill Vineyard. I also included a bottle of the Rappahannock Cabernet Franc Reserve from 2010 to compare and contrast how vastly different vintage years could be. We all took part in open discussion, enjoyed some great finger foods, and voted on our favorites from the group.
We begin first with the vertical tasting of Chester Gap Cellars Viognier Reserve, starting with the 2010, 2011, and 2012. All of Chester Gap’s Viognier Reserves run for about 24 dollars and are worth every penny. The 2010 came in a little hot, topping out with 14.9% ABV. The nose showed toasty notes and hints of light tropical fruit, but, again, the alcohol held a strong presence. The palate had a nice, medium body with a creamy mouth-feel showing notes of coconut, creamy vanilla, and pineapple flavors, while finishing with primarily oak and coconut notes remaining. Up next was the 2011, which as many know as a very wet, and translated to this wine showing very pale colors, light bodied, and slightly effervescent. Floral notes mixed with hints of citrus and toast, not overly aromatic, and showing light flavors of apricot and some tropical fruit. The finish was very light and short, displaying little detectable fruit, but concluding clean, crisp, and almost neutral. We finished the vertical with the 2012 vintage. Both the 2011 and 2012 yielded about 13.5% ABV, already much lower than the 2010, but the 2012 was the perfect example of a well made Virginia Viognier. Pale yellow color with moderate aromatics of white rose pedal, pear, and orange zest set the stage for this medium bodied champion. Nuances of apricot and white peach toy with your palate and show a smooth and soft structure, while finishing with a beautiful vanilla lining and a playful nibble of toast well into the finish. Overall, the group leaned towards the 2012 followed by the 2010 and lastly the 2011. The 2012 was clearly much more balanced and consistent throughout each sip. The 2013 vintage should prove to be as good, if not better of a year than the 2012 was, so if you are a Virginia wine enthusiast like I am, get excited now!
As we moved onto the reds, we wanted to make sure the Cabernet Franc selections were consistent and all in the same vintage year of 2011. Clearly, the group noticed the vast differences between the 2011 and other years in regards to the Viognier, but how would terroir also weigh in when you choose different vineyard sites? We started with Berry Hill, which is located on the East facing hills of the Shenandoah Mountains, near the town of Little Washington. This particular Cabernet Franc ($25) shows very aromatic qualities of peppercorns, jammy dark berry, and sweet tobacco. The palate for a 2011 was surprisingly full and showed juicy bold cherry and dry peppery tannins, while finishing smooth and youthful yet well balanced and showing the ability to shelf for a couple of years. The Berry Hill shook things up, but was edged out by the 2011 Rappahannock Cellars Noblesse Cabernet Franc ($24.50; 75% Cabernet Franc / 25% Cabernet Sauvignon). Bing cherry, baking spice, and hints of black pepper gets the momentum rolling, while the palate shows round structure with smooth notes of dark cherry, black currants, and an intensifying black pepper that stands out from mid-palate to the finish. The finish adds qualities of cigar box and puts the icing on this layered, complex wine that truly shows that there were actually great wines produced in the 2011 vintage. We finished up our tasting with the Fabbioli Cellars Cabernet Franc ($22). This Loudoun producer really had a hard time in the 2011 year, but grinned and moved forward. Their Cabernet Franc showed some light spice and caramel that was overpowered by a fruit explosion of raspberry aromas. Jammy berry, specifically raspberry, explodes on the palate, adding in some subtle notes of cherry and sweet spice that almost comes across better slightly chilled. The tannins are overpowered by the fruit, and, overall, the wine is extremely juicy and ripe. For a sweet wine drinker, this would be a step in the red direction for you to start out on. This wine is not in anyway a bad wine, it’s more directed to those seeking a juicier Cabernet Franc, and with this group, the drier the better was the preference. Overall, preferred 2011 Cabernet Franc was the Rappahannock followed very closely (by one vote) the Berry Hill and lastly the Fabbioli. As for the whites, it was almost no contest that the 2012 Viognier Reserve was the standout year, and also my favorite. After we wrapped up the Cabernet Franc line up, I poured some of the Rappahannock Cellars Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010 to compare and contrast the different vintages, as well as try to establish a baseline on how a true Virginia Cabernet Franc is supposed to taste. It was a pleasure pouring for everyone, and I had a great time teaching about Virginia wines. I just want to take this moment to thank Cindi, as well as all of the Chester Wine Society, for allowing me to pour for them, and I look forward to the next opportunity. The scores below are my ratings, not those reflected by the group, for those of you looking for suggestions on wines to purchase.