Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Virginia vs. Other Wine Regions – A Blind Taste-Off

This year I’m planting my own vineyard in Virginia with the hopes of one day making my own chardonnay. The site is located on an historical mill house property in Virginia’s Central Region American Viticultural Area (AVA). It’s a sunny hillside composed of sand and clay that overlooks a beautiful creek and mill pond. This whole endeavor is nothing more than a hobby — I hope to make a miniscule amount of wine to drink with friends and family — but I mention this project to demonstrate my faith in Virginia’s terroir. Yup, I just used Virginia and terroir in the same sentence, and I’m not being sarcastic. What of it?

Virginia is one of the most diverse states in the country. It has beaches and mountains, cold streams full of trout and warm catfish-packed ponds, a vibrant death metal scene and some the most conservative evangelical institutions in the country. Virginia wines are no exception to this rule. There are dozens of fruit wines with cutesy labels and lots of cheap plonk sold in grocery stores, but Virginia winemakers are also making every conceivable style of chardonnay and some Bordeaux style blends that are capable of rivaling big California bottles  not to mention the successful experiments with lesser-known varities like petite manseng, viognier and tannat.

At least that’s what I’ve come to think since I started drinking Virginia wine five or six years ago. The idea behind this “Virginia vs. The World” tasting was to put these notions to the test. Hosted by the Washington Wine Academy, one of the nation’s premiere wine schools, the theme was quite simple: pit Virginia chardonnays and cabernet-based blends against similar, comparatively-priced wines from other regions all across the world. For chardonnays, we tried to stick to the $18-$35 price range, and $25-$55 for the red blends. To ensure the wine tasting was as objective as possible, the wines were all brown-bagged and tasted blind. We lumped the Virginia and world wines together into two flights, tasted through them, wrote our notes, scored them and finally unveiled the bottles.

Virginia is an incredibly diverse state. This map shows Virginia's different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).
Several other oenophile friends, wine professionals and writers, many with extensive experience with Virginia vino, attended the event: David White (Terroirist); Frank Morgan (Drink What You Like); Christian G.E. Schiller (Schiller-Wine); Aaron Nix-Gomez (Hogshead Wine) and others.

Well, let’s get down to the wines. (Note: Prices are estimates.)


2010 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay Estate Grown - USA, California, Napa, Carneros ($20)
Corked. That moldy, TCA aura underlines everything else. The cork taint isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it’s still ruinous. (FLAWED)

2010 Domaine Roger Luquet Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes - France, Burgundy, Mâconnais, Pouilly-Fuissé ($20)
This wine smells underripe, like green apple peels, grapefruit rind, but there’s also a distinct grass and chive note that reminds me more of sauvignon blanc. The palate is light and tangy, lacking depth and complexity. Citrus rind, Sweet Tart candies and green onion linger on the finish. Not bad, but a bit weak. One of the few 2010 Mâcon chardonnays I haven’t gotten too excited about. (82 points)

2010 Ox-Eye Vineyards Chardonnay - USA, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley ($20)
Sweet aromas of cotton candy, cateloupe, honeysuckle and just a hint of sea breeze, which I like. Plump and soft on the palate. The green melon fruit is mixed in with nougat, hazelnut and coconut. Lacking serious complexity, but a solid chardonnay nonetheless. (84 points)

2010 Ankida Ridge Chardonnay - USA, Virginia ($32)
On the nose: honeysuckle, green pears and a mix of bright floral and citrus peel notes. The palate is bold and creamy, but not overbearing. Some honeycomb and graham cracker flavors accent the green pear and buttered popcorn. A bit flat on the finish, but overall a solid chardonnay. A self-described “family-run micro vineyard” located at 1,800 feet, this chardonnay has piqued my interest in Ankida. (85 points)

2010 Linden Chardonnay Hardscrabble - USA, Virginia, Northern Region ($33)
This chardonnay shows a richer, more extracted nose of peanut shell, bruised yellow apple, some nougat and honeysuckle. Round on the palate but medium acid keeps it balanced. The flavors of yellow pear, whipped honey, peanut and pina coloda taste a tad sweet. Overall a nice wine, although I didn’t enjoy this vintage as much as I have other Hardscrabbles. The fruit comes from the Hardscrabble Vineyard, which sits on an eastern slope of the Blue Ridge in Fauquier County. At an elevation of about 1,300 feet, the vine age ranges from 16 to 25 years. (86 points)

2010 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Karia - USA, California, Napa Valley ($30)
Aromas of white peach, pineapple and green melon. Medium-bodied on the palate with ripe pear and melon fruit, but the wine maintains a softer overall package. Creamy finish with notes of caramel and honeycomb, but not too oaky or thick. A sleeker styled wine that clocks in at 13.5% alcohol, this chardonnay is aged 8 months on the lees in 29% new French oak. Several tasters commented that this wine tasted "manipulated," and I see where they’re coming from, but I enjoyed its approach. (87 points)

2010 Domaine Des Moirots Christophe Denizot Montagny 1er Cru Le Vieux Chateau - France, Burgundy, Côte Chalonnaise, Montagny 1er Cru ($25)
Complex on the nose, offering a mix of orange blossom, honeysuckle, flinty minerals and a note of kiwi. Zestier than the other wines, with great acidic cut. Flavors of lemon curd, green apple and pear fruit, highlighted by subtle cream and nutty flavors. Long, mineral-laden finish. This was my favorite wine of the flight, and the group’s as well. Might be a little unfair to the other wines because 2010 white Burgundies, even ones like this that cost around $25, simply rock. (90 points)

Cabernet-Based Blends…

2006 Le Baron de Brane - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux ($20)
Aromas of sweet black cherries, Laffy Taffy candy and green pepper. The combination isn’t my favorite. Strangely thin on the palate, with medium acid and tannins. That black cherry fruit plays with earth and dusty flavors. Thin and a bit medicinal on the finish. My least favorite wine of the flight, which came as something of a surprise considering the appellation, although I’ve never been a big fan of 2006 Bordeaux. (80 points)

2008 Chateau O’Brien Padlock Red - USA, Virginia, Central Region ($24)
A strange mix of sweet and savory aromas: candied cherries, raspberry jam and a dead ringer for sweet Amish pickles. Seriously, it smells just like sweet pickle relish with spices. The palate is tangy and sweet, showing raspberry jam and, again, that sweet pickle aspect. Rhubarb and smoke linger onto the finish. Not a simple wine, but not all that well-rounded either. Serious points for originality. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petite verdot. (82 points)

2009 Château D’Aiguilhe - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Côtes de Castillon ($30)
Very ripe on the nose: sweet plums, purple Gushers candy, red licorice, notes of sweet incense. A fruit-forward wine to the core, with lots of toasty mocha accenting the candied plum and cherry fruit. Yummy, but not the most balanced wine. I guessed this as a Virginia red because of those sweet fruit notes. I was surprised to see this was Bordeaux, but it’s a modern-style from a really ripe vintage, so it makes sense. (85 points)

2008 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon - USA, Virginia, Central Region, Monticello ($48)
Smells like cassis, black cherry jam, smoke and rhubarb. The palate shows tangy acid, bright tannins and creamy red and black fruit (currants, raspberries). Some nice toast and tobacco on the finish. Perhaps a bit too thin to be great, but a very nice Bordeaux-style blend for sure. A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. (86 points)

2007 Boxwood Winery Topiary - USA, Virginia ($25)
Aromas of smoke, cassis, dirt, leather and a hint of pickle. The palate shows soft tannins and creamy currant and blackberry fruit. Raspberry jam mixes with toasted oak. Very ripe and forward with a hint of tobacco on the finish. The group liked this far less than I did. (86 points)

2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley ($25)
Deep, alluring aromas of fig, loam and earth. Medium-grain tannins, medium acid, this wine shows delicious fig paste and cassis flavors, backed up by herbs, green pepper and dusty earth. Fruity, but quite complex. A blend of 33% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 14% malbec and 6% petit verdot. (88 points)

2008 RdV Vineyards Rendezvous - USA, Virginia, Northern Region, Fauquier County ($55)
And the winner is RdV’s Rendezvous, a blend of 35% merlot, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 21% cabernet franc and 12% petit verdot. Dense aromatics, with some air it opened up to show blackberry, chocolate-covered cherries, sweet roses and toasted oak. The palate displays medium acid and delicious flavors of cranberry sauce and blackberry jam. Dry, firm tannins provide structure, as the waves of secondary flavors come in: chestnut, pepper, mocha and a hint of olive. Impressive depth, this wine will most definitely get better with three-to-five years in the cellar. Congrats RdV! (89 points)


  1. Isaac, It was good to see you again and hear about your vineyard plans in detail. Can't wait to try a glass in the future.

  2. Cool - we love it when Virginia wine wins against everybody but but "Virginia Versus The World" is our trademarked term that we have been using for blind tasting seminars and award-winner announcements since 2007. Please use a different unique name for your events.

    1. I checked it out and it appears you actually trademarked the term "Virginia Versus the World." It's all quite ridiculous, and I despise the corporatization of the English language, but since you asked nicely, I'll change it.