Can Virginia wines stand tall among some of the best wines in the
world? Undeniably yes, if the results of an in-depth tasting I attended
on February 27 are any indication.
The occasion was the second annual Virginia Wine Expo, held this
weekend in Richmond. The tasting was conducted by Bartholomew Broadbent,
wine importer and head of Broadbent Selections,
scion of Michael Broadbent, and resident since early last year of
Richmond. Broadbent presented six pairs of wines, each matching a
Virginia example against an imported wine that had been highly rated by
leading wine magazines. The tasting, attended by about 100 people,
mostly in the trade, was conducted ‚€œsemi-blind‚€ ‚€“ meaning, the
list had been posted on the Expo‚€™s Web site (where I had seen it), and
the bottles were on display on the dais. But we did not know which wine
was which, and we were guess the grape varieties and which one of each
pair was from Virginia.
In each pair except one, it was pretty easy to tell which wine came
from Virginia. (Or, perhaps I should say I was lucky six times out of
six ‚€“ the show of hands was not always consistent.) The difficult
pair, the Bordeaux blend from 2001, was tricky because the first wine
was tired and past its prime, while the second was still youthful and
lively. The easy tendency ‚€“ even the winemakers in the room ‚€“ was to
assume the Virginia wine had not held up over time. And of course that
Here are my notes from the tasting, in the order tasted. The imported
wines are all from Broadbent Selections, which obviously simplified the
organizational aspects. Pretty gutsy, though, to subject one‚€™s own
portfolio to such competition in front of so many people rooting for the
home team. Broadbent selected the Virginia wines with the help of Richard Leahy, east coast editor of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine.
Linden Vineyards ‚€œAvenius‚€ Sauvignon Blanc 2007, paired with Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008. It
was easy to tell which was the local here, if only because the Spy
Valley‚€™s aggressive grassy and passion fruit aromas shouted its New
Zealand origins. The Linden
had some grassy notes and a hint of spice; it was rounder and fuller
than the Spy Valley, with some creamy mango tango juicy loosey going on.
‚€œThe Spy Valley has classic New Zealand acidity, while the Virginia
wine has more complexity,‚€ Broadbent said. ‚€œBoth are high-quality
Rockbridge Vineyards DeChiel Reserve Riesling 2006 and Louis Guntrum Riesling (Yellow Label) Sp√§tlese 2006.
Virginia is not noted for its Riesling, but the DeChiel Reserve was
charming for its bright fruit and appealing acidity. It was the clear
crowd favorite, but primarily because many in the audience disliked the
classic ‚€œpetrol‚€ minerality of the Guntrum, which hails from
Germany‚€™s Rheinhessen region. Broadbent said he picked this particular
German contender because it was the same price as the DeChiel (about
Warwick Estate Cabernet Franc 2006 from South Africa, paired with Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc 2007.
I was sitting next to Michael Shaps at the tasting, and when we reached
this pair he started bouncing on his chair like a giddy schoolboy who
knows the answer to a pop quiz. So there was no way I‚€™d vote for the
first one. But I wouldn‚€™t have anyway ‚€“ the Warwick Estate had too
much bandaid flavor to it, and I found it rather unappealing. (From
crowd comments, others seemed to like it better than I.) The Shaps
wine was simply gorgeous ‚€“ concentrated, ripe and lively, superb
fruit from a superb vintage that received superb handling in the winery.
After tasting several dozen Virginia wines at the Expo later that
evening, a friend and I both said as we left, ‚€œShaps ‚€“ the wine of
Barren Ridge Touriga Nacional 2007 from Virginia‚€™s Shenandoah Valley, paired with Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2006
from the Douro Valley in Portugal. There was no doubt which was which
here, as the Crasto was simply sublime ‚€“ it featured all the leafy
tobacco and fennel aromas of the Douro, with amazing complexity. The Barren Ridge
was simpler, with bright fruit and a surprising exuberance for
Virginia. It was a delicious eye-opener, especially when Broadbent
mentioned the prices – $18 for the Barren Ridge, compared to $75 for the
Quinta do Crasto. (Another, less expensive Touriga from Crasto was
ranked #3 in Wine Spectator‚€™s Top 100 ranking for 2008.
Warwick Estate ‚€œReserve‚€2001 from South Africa, with Barboursville Vineyard ‚€œOctagon‚€ 2001.
This was the tricky one. I had tasted the 2001 Octagon about a year and
a half ago, and I was confident that it would not have turned brick red
and tired so quickly. Winemaker Luca Paschina was in the audience, and
he seemed nervously confident as some crowd chatter clearly considered
the first wine the Virginian. But the Octagon was quite lively, even picking up an attractive note of orange peel and clove.
‚€œThe Barboursville Octagon is classic Bordeaux in Virginia,‚€
Broadbent said. ‚€œI rank this wine as good as you get in Virginia.‚€
Paschina was quick to spread the praise. ‚€œThere are other Bordeaux
blends to come from Virginia,‚€ he said. ‚€œWhat it takes is having
vineyards with enough age and knowing what works well in each one.‚€
Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2005 paired with Veritas Vineyard ‚€œKenmar‚€ 2007. Again, it was obvious which wine was Virginian, as the Veritas featured perfumey floral aromas typical of Traminette. The Guiraud, #4 in Wine Spectator‚€™s ranking last year, was rich with botrytis and cr√®me brul√©e notes.
Broadbent stressed that the tasting was not meant to be a
competition, but rather an exhibition of how some of Virginia‚€™s best
wines stand tall among the best wines from around the world.
Quod erat demonstrandum.