The new rage in wine marketing is the “Twitter Tasting” – and the first such exploration of Virginia viognier took place yesterday evening, July 14.
What in tarnation is a “Twitter Tasting,” I hear you ask. Well, it’s a virtual gathering of several tasters who sample a series of wines at the same time and tweet their tasting notes. No one has the assemble a tasting panel at a central location, and anyone can join in by reading the tweets. Some homesick Hokies chimed in from Colorado, and noted wine writer Leslie Sbrocco sent greetings from California.
The tasting was sponsored by the Virginia Wine Board, the state wine marketing office that recently declared viognier to be the Old Dominion’s official wine grape variety. It was freewheeling and fun, with lots of back and forth that quite frankly became confusing at times, given Twitter’s inherent limitations. (One tends to hit the 140-character limit quickly when including hashtags #vawine #vaviognier and #WBC11, for next week’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville.)
If you want to wear out your scrolling thumb, you can still follow the tweets at those hashtags. If not, here are my tasting notes from the lineup.
Horton Vineyards Sparkling Viognier $25. It took a crazy, fearless visionary like Dennis Horton to think up this wine, which is made from grapes grown on Virginia’s oldest viognier vines. It was an ideal starter for the evening, slightly off-dry, fruit-cup in a glass, with light, refreshing bubbles. For me, it is always unvarnished fun.
Blenheim Vineyards 2010 Viognier, Virginia. $19. I was a little nervous about this wine, because I’ve always felt that Blenheim was more popular because it is owned by musician Dave Matthews, rather than for its wine. But this wine appealed to me; it is the austere, slightly underripe style of viognier (in an exceedingly ripe year, no less) that features jasmine and peach blossom aromas, and a slightly green, herbal flavor. When I tweeted kudos for the screwcap, I inadvertantly ignited a firestorm of debate pro and con.
King Family Vineyards 2010 Viognier, Monticello. $25. This wine was noticeably riper and fleshier than the Blenheim (though a few tasters disagreed), with more pronounced oak influence. There was also an appealing minerality that gave it extra verve. Some tasters felt the finish was a bit hot, though the label gave the alcohol as 13.5%. When I tweeted a raspberry for the heavy, pretentious bottle, no one responded, so I guess stoppers are a hot topic, but containers are not, with this crowd at least.
Barboursville Vineyards 2009 Viognier Reserve, Virginia. $22. Three tasters, including me, reported that their bottles were corked, with further ignited the screwcap debate. This was a shame, because Barboursville is always one of my favorite viogniers, and I nodded as I read the tweets from others raving about its acidity and depth. Luca Paschina uses no oak, but achieves body and richness by extended lees stirring and aging in stainless steel tanks – that’s why we were tasting the 2009 alongside the 2010s from other wineries. My bottle was not badly corked, and if I was not familiar with the wine I might have simply concluded that it was merely dull.
Cooper Vineyards 2010 Viognier, Virginia. $23. (Apparently a new release – the winery website still lists the 2009.) Here we were getting into the rich, ripe style of Virginia viognier, with more pronounced oak treatment. The tasters were divided on it, with some raving about its lush lemon curd brulee flavors, seasoned with exotic spice. While I personally prefer viognier with more acidity and less oak, that’s clearly a style choice, and the Cooper is well-done in its style.
Delaplane Cellars, Maggie’s Vineyard Viognier, 2010, Virginia. $20 for the 2008 on the winery website. This wine sparked a lot of discussion. It is obviously made with terrific fruit, starting floral and rich with all the exotic flavors one expects from good viognier. But hailing from the superripe 2010 vintage – the earliest harvest in Virginia’s history – the wine finished with a strong alcoholic burn. At 15.1% on the label, no wonder! And it wasn’t even fermented dry, with 1.2% residual sugar. Delaplane co-owner Jim Dolphin tweeted that his other option would have been to add water during fermentation, which he chose not to do. That got him applause from several tasters, even those who felt the alcohol was too high (and we were probably not in the majority). Dolphin said the wine is one of his best sellers currently at the winery tasting room.
As for me, I still can’t get over the irony of winemakers in Virginia – once considered incapable of ripening grapes to make quality wines – even considering watering their wines.
All in all, it was a fun evening, with six strong representations of Virginia viognier, across a spectrum of styles.