Last of the Virginia Wines
I poured the last two of my Virginia wines for Thanksgiving dinner. These were two of the more elite wines I brought back from Virginia, one from each of the best wineries I visited, and both from the same vintage, 2002, “cool and tolerably dry” accordinging to Valhalla’s Debra Vascik.
The Valhalla 2002 Gotterdammerüng, among the most expensive of the winery’s portfolio at $24, was opened in the company of two Germans, one of whom examined the bottle, its logos, labels and names, with quite some concern: “It’s Wagnerian,” she proclaimed. “Very Third Reich.” This was hardly intended as a compliment – and that was before I told her the part about the back label and the “enemy missiles.” I don’t understand Valhalla’s imagery, logos and names; they have such a beautiful location and clearly know how to make wine and I wish they didn’t try and hit us over the head quite so hard. I got a similar impression of showiness from the wine, even though it was ultimately quite harmless, certainly not likely to start a world war nor be the last bottle I’d choose to drink if one was taking place. A 50-50 blend of Cab Franc and Merlot, it had chocolate and oak and plum on the nose, a brooding combination that was matched by the dark color. There was a similar profile on the palate, a deep dark juicy plums/blackberry flavor, with a chocolate finish. As with the 2001 vintage, the Cab Franc was almost completely lost in the shuffle; this was essentially a modern Merlot. When I came back to this wine a little later, after a couple of other glasses in the interim, I noticed that its bright fruity profile was a little loud, like someone bringing unwarranted attention to themselves by overdressing for a party. Ultimately it’s a wine not entirely to my craving, but no doubt to the taste of many others. For my part, I think Valhalla makes better wines.
From the same vintage, the Villa Appalaccia Cabernet Franc Reserve “Franceso” 2002 seemed ideal for the harvest vegetable dishes we were serving. It’s interesting to observe my notes from opening the wine at home, as opposed to tasting it at the winery alongside so many other wines. There, in Virginia, it seemed to be dark and deep, with notable tannins and wood. At home, it was much more graceful and tender. (I’m certain the difference in serving temperature accounts for some of this. When I visited the winery, it was around 95-100F and I’d be surprised if the wine was poured any cooler than 72F. The bottle at home was initially tasted at something closer to 62F.) The color was a translucent red, with some vanilla and some tobacco on the nose, a silky delivery devoid of tannin, polished and precise, with a slightly cedary finish, leaving a lightly vegetal and lingering oak finish. My “out of the bottle impression” was that this was a completely unadulterated embodiment of fine East Coast Cab Franc. Later on, over dinner, I noted how, in comparison to other wines on the table, it was very light and juicy, and celebrated it for being “gorgeously understated.” And to its credit, when we moved on to a spicy pasta, the wine picked up the food’s peppery notes, a nicely complementary touch that doesn’t happen with all wines. Cab Franc is not a show-off grape, and Villa Appalaccia is not a showy winery; together they’ve fashioned a silky, simple and satisfying wine that is well worth its $23 price tag, though I imagine some people would swallow it in gulps, perhaps unable to fully appreciate its quiet grace. Having worked my way through all my Virginia wines, I can now state with some certainty that Villa Appalaccia was the most consistently high-end winery of the six that I visited, with not a single disappointment among its entire portfolio. Valhalla, meanwhile, makes a handful of great wines – and a few, like the Gotterdammerüng, that overstate the case.