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According to wine consumption data compiled by The Wine Institute, Americans spent more than $36 billion on wine in 2013.  This equates to just over 300 million cases of wine, which puts the U.S. atop the world in terms of wine consumption (since passing France in 2010).

While many American wine consumers reserve sparkling wine consumption for special occasions and, in particular, the holiday season, fizz consumption is on the rise, making up a larger portion of this annual $36 billion wine spend according to a study commissioned by VinExpo.

Based on results of the survey performed by International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR), a London-based provider of global wine & spirits sales information, released this week at the annual Vinexpo, sparkling wine consumption grew by 23% in the U.S. between 2009-2013.  This number is expected to increase another 15% between 2014-2018.

To the extent that Virginian sparkling wine production follows the basic economic principle of supply and demand, the growing number of wineries offering new bubbly is a good indicator that wine consumers in the Commonwealth are doing their part to contribute to these growth numbers.

While statistics on the volume of Virginian sparkling wine production is not currently tracked and reported in the annual Commercial Grape Reports, the number of wineries offering fizz is increasing each year.

Twenty-two of the state’s 257 wineries now offer a sparkling wine, bringing the total number of Virginia cuvées to around 30, roughly 50% more than just a couple of years ago.

Many of these sparkling wines are produced under the experienced hand of Claude Thibaut, widely considered the father of Virginia sparkling wine, and Jonathan Wheeler, winemaker at Charlottesville’s Trump Winery.

On Sunday, I gathered with eleven other wine friends at The Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, VA, to taste ten of the state’s top cuvées as part of the 6th annual Virginia Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting.

Wedmore Place

Wedmore Place

The team at Wessex Hundred/The Williamsburg Winery graciously agreed to host the annual sparkling tasting on Sunday, following the food and wine media event at the property the day before.

This year’s tasting included ten Virginia sparkling wines:

Consistent with the scoring/ranking method used the last few years, we used a simple favorite-to-least-favorite ranking system wherein each taster ranks the wines from 1 to 10 — #1 being their favorite, down to their least favorite, #10.

This ranking system allows everyone to use their preferred scoring system (I use the UC Davis 20 point scale) while simplifying the process of determining the overall favorite wines.

Admittedly this favorite-to-least-favorite scoring system is far from scientifically perfect but, this format does provide a reasonably accurate accounting of opinions and helps reduce the numerical skewing that can result from scoring fluctuations between judges when a traditional point system is used.

Once the scores/rankings for all 12 tasters were tabulated, the #1 wine — Trump Winery 2009 SP Blanc de Blanc — was clear.  The least favorite wine of the group — Thibaut NV Xtra Brut — was also clear.  However, the middle of the pack was close, very close!

The ranking was closer this year than any of the previous five years.  Just one ranking point separated each of the #2, #3, #4, and #5 (a tie) positions.

The overall top five ranking wines from the tasting:

  1. Trump Winery 2009 SP Blanc de Blanc
  2. Veritas NV Scintilla
  3. Thibaut-Janisson NV Blanc de Chardonnay
  4. Stone Tower Winery 2009 Blanc de Blanc
  5. TIE: Trump 2008 SP Blanc de Blanc, Trump 2007 SP Reserve
Wines in order of final ranking.

Wines in order of final ranking.

If just one person had ranked any of these wines differently, even by one ranking point, wines 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 would have been different.

There are a number of possible reasons why the overall rankings were so close.  I believe the reason the wines so closely ranked this year is because Messrs. Thibaut and Wheeler provide oversight and production expertise for most of the state’s sparkling wine production thereby raising the quality bar throughout the state.

Variety consistency is likely also a factor.  This year, we only included blanc de blanc cuvées with one exception, the Afton Mountain Bollicine, which is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.   In prior years, sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir (blanc de noir), Riesling, and Cabernet Franc were included.

The most curious result of the tasting was the ranking of the Thibaut-Janisson NV Xtra Brut.  The majority of the group did not like this wine and many scored this as their least favorite.

This is where I differed from the crowd.  I have enjoyed Xtra Brut on many occasions since Thibaut released this cuvée last March and I enjoyed the bottle tasted on Sunday.  I appreciated the notes of dried flowers, walnuts, toasted chestnuts and the lengthy saline, nutty finish, which is why the Xtra Brut scored in my top three.

The acidity of the Xtra Brut was lower than the other nine wines, which may have contributed to the poor showing.  As with many (all?) wines, the Xtra Brut would have benefited greatly from being paired with food.

My personal five favorites:

  1. Thibaut-Janisson NV Xtra Brut
  2. Trump Winery 2008 SP Blanc de Blanc
  3. Thibaut-Janisson NV Blanc de Chardonnay
  4. Trump Winery 2007 Reserve
  5. Boneyard Bubbles NV


After my initial evaluation, the top three wines on my score sheet were tied (17 on the Davis scale).  The group agreed not to have ties for our final individual rankings so I reevaluated the three wines side-by-side to break the three-way scoring tie.   My top three wines could easily have been different.

My second favorite wine — the Trump 2008 SP Blanc de Blanc — also differed from the overall group rankings.  While the majority of 12 tasters ranked the 2009 Trump blanc de blanc higher, I preferred the 2008.  On this day, the 2008 offered more complexity and balance with wonderful notes of pear, dried pineapple, brioche and saline.

In the spirit of olfactory validation, my number three ranked wine — Thibaut NV Blanc de Chardonnay — aligned with the group ranking.

As with each of the previous sparkling wine tastings, I suspect I will receive a couple of comments/emails pointing out all that is wrong with this format and the wines included in the tasting.

The intent of this annual tasting is not to determine ‘the best’ Virginia sparkling wine.  Determining the best Virginia sparkling wine, or any other wine, especially via a blind tasting, is impossible given the subjectivity of wine evaluation and appreciation.

More than trying to anoint ‘the best’ cuvée, the purpose of this annual tasting is to bring together wine enthusiasts to hangout, taste and talk wine.  Brown bagging simply helps remove any biases and ranking helps identify favorite wines on that particular day.


Round 2:
The first two years of this tasting included only Virginia sparkling wine.  In the following three years, we included sparkling wines from other regions — Finger Lakes, California, New Mexico, Italy, and France.  This year, given the growth in the number of Virginia sparkling wines, I decided to return to our roots and only include Virginia wines.

For the next round in March, I planned to include the top four wines from this tasting alongside four sparkling wines from other U.S. producers and four from France.

To keep the tasting somewhat bounded, I’ve decided that round 2 will include only American sparkling wines — five blanc de blancs from other U.S. producers (Schramsberg, Gruet, J, …) tasted blind alongside the top five Virginia cuvées from this tasting.

I am open for suggestions of other American bubbly to include in the tasting line up.  And, also open to those that would like to participate.  (Again, this is for fun and in by no way indicates that I believe these tastings are scientific.)

And, if there is enough interest in continuing, a round 3 may be in order to compare the top five sparkling wines from round 2 to some bubbly from France.  Just another reason to get together with wine friends and enjoy some fizz.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Matthew Meyer, Michael Kimball, Kenny and the entire team at Wessex Hundred/The Williamsburg Winery for hosting our group for the 6th annual sparkling wine tasting.

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