My lunch with Luca

“What really impressed the tasters was the vintage,” Luca Paschina tells me, sitting in Palladio, the elegant restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards. We have just finished drinking the 1999 Nebbiolo Reserve, but we are talking about another wine. “It’s not that the vintage made the cabernet alone,” he continues, ”…what made the wine was a combination of the vintage, and using traditional winemaking technique …and then a belief that the wine was capable of aging.”

“I don’t think any competition or any judging is ever fair, or reflecting properly the true quality of the wine,” says Luca Paschina, whose 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve won the overall medal at the 2007 Governor’s Cup competition. “It’s a good guide.”

Luca Paschina, the winemaker at Barboursville, which turned 30 in 2006, is talking about his 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, winner of the overall medal at the 2007 Governor’s Cup competition, the most prestigious wine award in the state. Barboursville has won the Governor’s Cup twice previously, but what makes this occasion unique is that the winning wine was 9 years old.

Luca’s mother, Francesca, visiting from Italy, is with us at lunch, as are two friends, Gianni and Giuseppe. Of the three, only Giuseppe speaks English, and as the conversation swirls around me in Italian, Luca and I talk about the award-winning wine. “I’m glad that it received that award because it validates that we are capable of making age worthy red wines, not just here, but in the Central [Virginia] area.”

The waiter pours Luca a small taste of the ’98 Cabernet Sauvignon with our second course: Osso Buco di Vitello, a classic Italian veal dish.

There are two reasons it’s important this wine won the Governor’s Cup. First, wine competitions tend to favor young, fruit-forward wines, and older, more restrained wines can get lost when the judges are tasting some 350 entries. Second, no wines (and no wine regions) can be considered great until they have stood the test of time. Few wineries in the state focus on aging their wines, and the vast majority of consumers drink Virginia wines within a few years of release. I point out to Luca that most Virginia wineries can’t afford to hold back a couple hundred cases of a wine in order to let it age. He pauses. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but don’t take a vacation this year. Buy a less evident vehicle. If you want to live off your land, and off your grapes, one of the first things you have to sacrifice for is exactly to put aside a wine you know is age worthy.”

The waiter waits for Luca to taste the wine. He doesn’t shove his nose in and SNIFFFF like so many people do. He simply holds the glass near his nose and lets the scent come to him. The wine is dark, richly scented, and tastes wonderful. It still has a lot of life left in it.

“I don’t think any competition or any judging is ever fair, or reflecting properly the true quality of the wine,” Luca says, finishing his food well before the rest of us. “It’s a good guide.”

After the meal, we are served espresso, and I watch in horror as Luca’s mother pours some of the Cabernet into her coffee. The others laugh at the expression on my face, and assure me that this is common in parts of Italy. When in Barboursville…, I think, and I give it a try. It’s ghastly.

“I am a Roman,” Giuseppe says, leaning in, “they are barbarians. To me coffee is coffee, wine is wine.” Yes, I think, but a wine worth aging is something else entirely.

And, for you lovers out there: Valentine’s Day is all about dessert wines and rose Champagne. For the first, try the rich, dark dessert wine from a region in Southern France called Banyuls—it’s one of the few wines that go well with chocolate. Or, try an aged Pedro Ximenez Sherry drizzled over vanilla ice cream. As for rose Champagne, it’s pink, has bubbles and tastes kinda like strawberries. Just like love.

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