The blogmasters recently hosted a tasting featuring three distinct Virginia varietals, matched with three samples from various wineries. The results were not what we expected.
As we've found with wine in general, a high price doesn't always mean a better wine. And that was just one of several take-aways we had from this tasting party.
Three varietals that are becoming synonymous with Virginia were chosen: Viognier, Norton and Chambourcin. No Cab Franc. No Chardonnay. Those varietals are well established in Virginia. The wines we selected are bursting out to become signature Virginia wines (the First Lady of Virginia and Governor would surely agree). Another red used in the past for blending--Petit Verdot--is also putting Virginia on the map with California and even French wine snobs. But pure Petit Verdots are a bit harder to find.
The three wines for each varietal were put in brown paper bags, and a color-coded dot was placed under each glass to correspond with the same color dot affixed to the paper bag that contained that particular winery's product.
TEST 1: VIOGNIER
Representative samples: Chester Gap Cellars, Keswick Vineyards, Gadino Cellars
Viognier has been described as "a vine that grows like a weed in Virginia." Some Virginia wineries want nothing to do with Viognier and leave any unwanted vines and grapes (usually left over from a prior vineyard owner, or mysteriously growing on their own) to the deer, or sell them to other wineries. Viognier is an acquired taste--admittedly, both blogmasters were not big fans of this varietal on first tastes. But as our palates became more accustomed to Virginia wine, we started to tolerate Viognier. And now we actively seek out Viognier in wine stores, and are perplexed when we can only find California Viogniers.
Brief rundowns on each wine from our notes:
Chester Gap Cellars Reserve Viognier--too easy to drink. Dangerous! Subdued oak with a smooth butterscotch finish.
Keswick's Les Vents d'Anges Viognier--are those bubbles I see? Smooth like a great off-dry sparkling wine. Mellow but with floral tones. In a word, delicious.
Gadino Cellars Viognier--a strong oak finish. Notes of citrus and strangely enough, coconut custard pie.
The winner: Keswick Les Vents d'Anges. Off dry is how Viognier should be. Aged in steel. Chester Gap makes great Viognier, and you can't go wrong with any of their choices. Gadino Cellars makes good wine all around, and perhaps their next vintage will edge the other two out. Note to winemakers: Steel, steel, steel!
TEST 2: NORTON
Representative samples: Chrysalis Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Barrel Oak Winery
Every Virginia winery we've been to who has a Norton loves to tell the story: Virginia's first "official" grape, a true native grape to the United States; outlawed during Prohibition; shipped to Missouri; allowed to be served during Sunday church services; making a comeback to Virginia. This varietal has less fans than other Virginia reds, and admittedly the wine can be harsh if not done properly. We picked three wineries that boasted fine Nortons, and subjected them to the Pepsi challenge.....
Chrysalis Barrel Select Norton--Take a ride ride ride on heavy Norton. Leathery texture, a charcoal nose, and would pair perfectly with prime rib.
Horton Norton--It's fun to say, and goes down easy. On the other side of the spectrum from Chrysalis. Plum and cherry Twizzler (exact quote from a taster) aromas.
Barrel Oak Norton--Elderberry wine? No, it's Norton. But we'll presume it has the same health benefits of elderberry. A "mineraly" texture but well-rounded and great by itself or with an Omaha steak.
The winner: Barrel Oak Norton. Beating the "masters" at Chrysalis and Horton. We have to call as we taste it. Perhaps that steel tank aging is working for the reds as it is for the whites....
TEST 3: CHAMBOURCIN
Representative samples: Hiddencroft Vineyards, Fabbioli Cellars, North Mountain Vineyards
Chambourcin is a European hybrid that resembles Chianti. Over the past few years, some wineries have discovered that Virginia soil and climate is perfect for this wine. It comes packaged as "the red wine for white wine drinkers," and works well with lighter foods like cheeses and salami. And it can be chilled - but this is no rosé (not that rosé is a bad thing--more on that subject in a later blog).
Hiddencroft Chambourcin Vintner's Reserve--Smooth operator. Notes of cranberry and almond. If only Mary Poppins had this to serve to those kids.
Fabbioli Chambourcin--Billy Joel beckons..."bottle of red." A pasta wine, and perfect for chilling.
North Mountain Chambourcin--North Mountain has been perfecting this wine since 2004, and they have the Virginia's Governor Cup Silver Medal to show for it. Think cherry pie.
The winner: Hiddencroft. If this red is good enough to convert a diehard Italian red drinker into a fan of Chambourcin ("that MUST be a chianti---it must be!"), it's good enough for the blogmasters.
We invite you to visit the victors of this crude taste test today--do it virtually or visit the spots this weekend.