Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Victim of Success

When people think of Virginia wine, they most likely think about Viognier for whites and Cabernet Franc for red. Despite the spirited debate and range of opinions the last post on the subject received, Cabernet Franc remains both the state's workhorse and showhorse and likely will be for some time. The challenge becomes how does a region continue to showcase signature varietals while at the same time branching out, diversifying and making a wider range of wines that will be accepted and enjoyed by consumers?

In Virginia, winemakers are having great success with Bordeaux-style blends, and are experimenting with traditional blending grapes - like Petite Verdot and Tannat - and non-French varietals - like Nebbiolo and Barbera. The state is also far from the only one that is trying to expand while also continuing to produce what has been successful and what people expect. 

The Paso Robles AVA in California is having a similar dillema. Long known for its big, fruity Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels, some wineries in Paso Robles are also looking for ways to diversify. At Villa San-Juliette, for example, they offer the traditional wines the region is known for - Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel - but they also produce several different red and white blends, a Petite Sirah and a Cabernet Franc. 

Villa San-Juliette's blends - Chorum White and Red - are more unique than the Rhone Ranger varietal blends that Paso is also known for. In fact, its Chorum Red Blend contains Rhone varietals (Syrah and Grenache), Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc) and more unique varietals such as Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet.

Given the blend, the Chorum red is a big, smokey red with a lot of blueberry, blackberry and chocolate mixed in and goes very well with grilled meats. 
2011 Chorum, Paso Robles
VSJ's Chorum Blend is a big, bold mutt of a wine, which is a compliment.
As for the Petite Sirah, it is also a big, smokey wine with a lot of tannins, cedar, oak and vanilla on it. To be honest, I am not all that familiar with the Petite Sirah grape or the wines it produces. I know enough to know that it is totally different from Syrah, and the style of the wine is also vastly different from most Syrah/Shiraz I have had. 

The Villa San-Juliette is a good introduction to this varietal, and has intrigued me to want to try other ones. And isn't that really what offering more than just the known varietals is all about - giving people choices and letting them grow their love of different types of wines?

Virginia, like Paso Robles, has found success with a few very popular varietals and styles of wine.  The challenge now is how to continue to give people what they have come to expect while also expanding the types of wine a certain region produces. Given how strict rules for winemaking are in Europe, this is pretty much a New World problem, but it is a wonderful problem to have. 

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