The Virginia Wine Trials, continued…
As readers know, I am an avid supporter of Virginia wines and the industry in general and enjoy introducing friends to the wines of my home state. Since travel is a fixture in my life I try to connect with wine friends over a glass of wine while on the. And, when time permits, I like to organize tastings that include Virginia wine.
Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to help organize and host a number of Virginia wine tastings — which I’ve dubbed (and Trademarked) The Virginia Wine Trials — in Colorado, California, London, and many here in Virginia.
Though I prefer to learn about wine one bottle at a time with friends, food and conversation, blind comparative tastings with Virginia wines are always educational and fun. These blind comparative tastings tend to be more interesting when tasting with a group of serious oenophiles with experienced palates.
Last Monday evening, while in the DC area on travel, I joined a group of serious oenophiles at the Washington Wine Academy (on Twitter: @WineAcademy) for another installment of The Virginia Wine Trials — a blind comparative tasting that pitted Virginia Chardonnays and red Bordeaux-style blends against similar priced wines from other more notable regions.
David White, founder and editor of Terroirist wine blog, and I decided to put this tasting together to see how a few of Virginia’s finest wines would stack up against similar priced wines from more notable regions with a group of experienced palates.
To keep the tasting manageable we decided to limit the tasting to just two flights and include no more than four wines from Virginia or other regions in each flight.
Once the entire group arrived at WWA, all bottles were uncorked, foil removed, bagged, shuffled and numbered by the WWA team. Wines were poured in flights of two, and after all wines in each flight were tasted, we spent a few minutes retasting any wines that needed a second look before revealing the bottles.
To keep the tasting moving, we used a simple ranking system that I use in most of the tastings that I help organize. With the a simple ranking system, tasters use the scoring system of their choice — 100-point scale, Davis 20 point, 10 stars, 5 corks, or whatever — and then ‘rank‘ the wines based on those scores (their favorite wine ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.).
Less mathematically sophisticated than the similar Borda Count Method, this 1st, 2nd, 3rd … ranking system simplifies the process of determining overall winners and is equally effective at reducing the numerical skewing that can result from scoring fluctuations between judges when a traditional point system is used.
Once the rankings were tallied for the Chardonnay flight, the 2010 Christophe Denizot Domaine de Moirots Montagny Premier Cru was the clear winner — ranked #1 by four of the six tasters, ranked #2 by one person, and ranked #6 on my personal ranking sheet.
- 1st — 2010 Domaine des Moirots Montagny Premier Cru Le Vieux Chateau, Christophe Denizot, (France, Burgundy, $25)
- 2nd TIE — 2010 Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay (USA, Virginia, $33)
- 2nd TIE — 2010 Ankida Ridge Chardonnay (USA, Virginia, $32)
- 4th — 2010 Domain Roger Luquet Pouilly-Fuisse, Vieilles Vignes, (France, Burgundy, $20)
- 5th — 2010 Stag’s Leap, Chardonnay Karia (USA, California, Napa Valley, $30)
- 6th — 2010 Ox-Eye Vineyards Chardonnay (USA, Virginia, $18)
- 7th — 2010 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay (USA, California, Napa Valley, $20) This wine was corked, so naturally finished last. Unfortunate since Gloria Ferrer produces solid wines at reasonable price points.
My personal rankings:
- 1st — 2010 Ankida Ridge Chardonnay *
- 2nd — 2010 Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay
- 3rd — 2010 Stag’s Leap, Chardonnay Karia
- 4th — 2010 Domain Roger Luquet Pouilly-Fuisse, Vieilles Vignes
- 5th — 2010 Ox-Eye Vineyards Chardonnay
- 6th — 2010 Domaine des Moirots Montagny Premier Cru Le Vieux Chateau, Christophe Denizot
- 7th — 2010 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay
* Ankida Ridge and Linden tied in my initial scoring — with a score of 17.5 (on the Davis 20 point scale) — however, I broke the tie after a retaste before the wines were revealed. Though both are solid Chardonnay’s, the nose on the Ankida Ridge seemed slightly livelier than the Linden, so the nod went to Ankida Ridge.
2010 Ankida Ridge Chardonnay
USA, Virginia, Amherst County, $32
Affectionately referred to as their ‘little burgundy in the Blue Ridge Mountains’ by owners Denis and Christine Vrooman, Ankida Ridge (on Twitter: @AnkidaRidge) is located about an hour southwest of Charlottesville outside the town of Amherst, VA. Ankida is an ancient Sumerian word that means ‘where heaven and earth join,’ which is aptly named given the 1,800 elevation of their 100-acre property. Light gold in the glass, this wine shows sweet lemon cream, pear, and toasted hazelnuts on the nose and palate. Fresh lemon-lime and mineral finish.
2010 Linden Hardscrabble Vineyard Chardonnay
USA, Virginia, Front Royal, $33
Produced by one of Virginia’s most notable vintners and industry pioneers, Jim Law. Made 100% from grapes from the Hardscrabble vineyard located in Fauquier County situated on the Blue Ridge at 1,300 feet elevation. These Chardonnay vines range from 15 to 25 years old. Gold color in the glass, this wine smelled of honeycomb, melon, barrel toast, and sweet lemon. Round, lush mouthfeel with flavors of meyer lemon, pear, straw, and ripe apple with slight hints of honey. The lengthy finish leaves a note of wet stone. Superbly balanced.
2010 Stag’s Leap, Chardonnay Karia
USA, California, Napa Valley, $30
This particular wine was made from fruit from vineyards in Coombsville, Oak Knoll and Carneros. The name Karia (pronounced KAR-E-ah) is derived from the Greek word meaning graceful. The softest, creamiest mouthfeel of all the Chardonnays in this flight, with aromas and flavors of creamy Werther’s candy, cinnamon, and were wrapped around a core of golden delicious apple. The finish left a lot to be desired unfortunately, but I still enjoyed this wine. During the post-tasting discussion, a couple of folks noted that they thought this wine seemed manipulated, which is easy to conclude when these Werther candy-like flavors are not complemented by enough acidity.
Since the Domaine des Moirots from Burgundy was ranked #1 by most of the group and #6 on my personal score sheet, just above the corked wine, I was clearly the odd man out.
Admittedly I do not drink a lot white Burgundy (though I clearly need to), but I can generally pick out the Burgundies in small multi-regional blind tastings. However, I was way off with this wine. With the one-dimensional lemon aroma and flavor profile along with spare hints of mineral, I thought someone snuck in a Chardonnay from an obscure region. Not so. Was surprised when this wine was unbagged.
Perhaps I was suffering from sensory dyslexia. Or, more likely, as one of my California wine friends likes to remind me, I may have a ‘Virginiaized’ palate — naturally preferring wines most familiar to me. There could be something to this as all three of the Virginia Chardonnays and three of the four Virginia red blends were easily recognizable (though I believe the other tasters identified them as well).
Though I’ve denied having a ‘Virginia palate‘ in the past — because I do routinely taste wines from all over the world — this tasting reinforces the fact that I need to get out more and participate in many more French, and some non-Virginia tastings.
Either way, I plan to stop by Weygandt Wines to pick up a bottle of the Domaine des Moirots this week to taste at home over a meal.
The red blend flight consisted of four Virginia wines, two wines from France and one from California. I was late to the game with asking the group to bring 2008’s so this flight included a 2006, 2007 and 2009 in addition to three wines from 2008.
- 1st — 2008 RdV, Rendezvous (USA, Virginia, $55 )
- 2nd — 2009 Chateau d’Aiguilhe, Cotes de Castillon (France, Bordeaux, ~ $30)
- 3rd — 2008 Dry Creek Vineyard, Meritage (USA, California, $25)
- 4th — 2006 Baron de Brane, Margaux (France, Bordeaux, $20)
- 5th — 2008 Barboursville Vineyards, Octagon (USA, Virginia, $48)
- 6th — 2007 Boxwood Winery, Topiary (USA, Virginia, $25)
- 7th — 2008 Chateau O’Brien, Padlock Red (USA, Virginia, $24)
Ranking for the top spot in this flight was very close — though four of us ranked the RdV Rendezvous #1, two others ranked this wine near the bottom, which brought the aggregate rankings closer together. Those same two tasters ranked the Chateau d’Aiguilhe #1, and three others (myself included) ranked it #2.
My personal rankings in this flight were more closely aligned with those of the overall group:
Tasting notes from my top three red blends…
2008 RdV Rendezvous
USA, Virginia, Delaplane, $55
(62% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot)
Referred to by some as ‘Virginia’s First Growth,‘ RdV is one of Virginia’s most notable new(er) wineries. Having tasted this particular vintage — which happens to be RdV’s inaugural vintage — of Rendezvous on a number of occasions, I expected this wine to show well in this tasting and it did not disappoint. At $55 one would expect a solid showing. Dark reddish purple in color with a core of dense dark cherry and blackberry complemented by sweet tobacco, dark chocolate, oak, and violet flavors. Gripping tannins with more violet and cherry on the finish. This wine would definitely benefit from a few more years in the bottle. I highly recommend fans of Bordeaux-style red wines include a few bottles of RdV in their collection.
2009 Chateau d’Aiguilhe, Cotes de Castillon
France, Bordeaux, ~ $30
(80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)
This is the one wine I mistook for a Virginia wine. I noted Barboursville Octagon on my tasting sheet. Dark purple in the glass, this wine showed dark fruit, sweet tobacco, and clay on the nose followed by stewed fruits, clay and overripe raspberry flavors in the mouth. Drying tannins with a cherry-rhubarb finish.
2008 Dry Creek Vineyard, Meritage
USA, California, Dry Creek Valley, $25
(33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 14% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot)
The Dry Creek Vineyards tasting room is always on my ‘to visit‘ list when visiting the Dry Creek area. This is the perfect place to stop just before lunch across the street at the Dry Creek General Store (which happens to sell the Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc by the half bottle, a nice sandwich and chip pairing). I consider this wine a solid deal at $25 with gobs of current, ripe plum, leather and blueberry-cream flavors with hints of oak playing on the edges. Well balanced with nice tannins.
Given the vintage variation and different predominate varietals, I was a little nervous about how well the wines in this flight would compare. Of course, in an ideal red blend comparative tasting, there would be closer varietal and vintage consistency, but I feel this flight turned out great by showcasing a nice range of blends and price points.
I concede that this tasting, and all blind tastings for that matter, was far from a perfect scientific comparison but the results did reinforce (yet again) that Virginia wines stack up with similar priced wines from more notable regions.
Many thanks to my wine friends and fellow tasters for a great evening (and for putting up with the last minute emails) — Aaron Nix-Gomez of Hogs Head Wine, David White of Terroirist Wine Blog, Christian and Annette Schiller of Schiller-Wine, and Isaac James Baker of Reading, Writing & Wine.
Big thanks to Jim and the team at The Washington Wine Academy for hosting our tasting — your hospitality is greatly appreciated!
Be sure to check out the following two posts for more thorough notes on all wines included in the tastings:
- Virginia Versus Other Regions via Hogs Head Wine
- Virginia vs. The World – A Blind Taste-Off via Reading, Writing & Wine
Check back for the next Virginia Wine Trials report coming this Sunday…