Thursday, March 15, 2012

The 2nd Annual Virginia Sparkling Wine Taste Testing

Two weekends ago I had the privilege of joining a few other Virginia wine bloggers, PR professionals, and food critics in Charlottesville for this event.  Our organizer was Frank Morgan (Twitter/Blog handle @DrinkWhatULike), and our host was Andy Reagan, Winemaker and General Manager of Jefferson Vineyards in Charlottesville, VA.  Let me start off by saying - if you ever get the chance to attend an event led by these guys - don't miss it!
Thomas Jefferson Vineyards
I am not convinced that there is ever a bad weather day in Charlottesville.  When I arrived just before noon, the sky was a beautiful bright blue, and the grounds and vineyards looked amazing.  Our event took place in the barrel room, right across from the tasting room.  Frank had arrived early to set up the tables, with 11 Riedel wine glasses for each of the ten tasters.  The barrel room was amazing - there was a wood burning stove to heat the barn-like facility, a leather sofa, and large bar area.  True rustic elegance - I loved it!

Wood burning stove in the barrel room

Eleven tastings each

This year there were ten Virginia wines ready for tasting, and one non-Virginia wine thrown in for comparisons sake.  The Virginia sparkling wine line-up was as follows:

  1. Afton Mountain Tete de Cuvee
  2. Prince Michel Sparkling Wine
  3. Veritas Scintilla 
  4. Old House Petillante
  5. Barboursville Brut
  6. Thibault-Janison Blanc de Chardonnay
  7. Thibault-Janison FIZZ 
  8. Kluge Blanc de Blanc 
  9. Horton Sparkling Viognier
  10. Paradise Springs Sparkling Viognier

Blind Tasting Bottles
Each of the bottles was brown-bagged for disguise, and numbered 1-11 accordingly.  Frank (I told you he was a great event organizer) prepared tasting note sheets for each of us ahead of time.  We could rate and comment on each wine however we wanted to, but ultimately had to rank each from most favorite to least favorite. After we were done, Frank took each of our rating sheets and entered all of the data into an Excel sheet pre-populated with a results formula (didn't I tell you he was great?) and - voila! - we had our winner!

Some of my favorites
Now, given that the focus here was on Virginia wine, that makes it all the more difficult to announce the collective winner.  But I will say this - if you happen to be in New Mexico anytime soon for a celebration, you may want to pick up a bottle or two of Gruet Brut.  My personal favorites?  The Veritas Scintilla was #1, and the Barboursville Brut was #2.

When we were finished, Andy treated us to some of his special strawberry wine, and ordered delicious cheese, meat, and fruit platters.  Did I tell you he was an awesome host??


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sparkling Wine 101

Photo credit:
In the spirit of the 2nd Annual Virginia Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting that occurred last Saturday at Jefferson Vineyards (more on that, later) here’s some of the ‘skinny’ on sparkling wine:

There are four methods commonly used to make sparkling wine:
  1. Adding carbon dioxide to the wine in the bottle
  2. Traditional Method – natural fermentation occuring in the bottle (also referred to as the Champagne  or Champenoise method)
  3. Charmat Process –this is when the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in a large tank and is bottled under pressure (the method used for Prosecco)
  4. Transfer MethodThis method will take the cuvée to bottle for secondary fermentation, which allows for the additional complexity, but then will transfer the wine out of the individual bottles into a larger tank after it has spent the desired amount of time on yeast.

Photo credit:  Adrian Bryska

Champagne of course is the classic sparkling wine made exclusively in the Champagne region of France.  Mousseu or Crémant are terms used to refer to sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region.
Crémant sparkling wines are produced using the traditional method, and have to fulfill strict production criteria.  In France, there are seven appellations for sparkling wine which include the designation Crémant in their name:
  • Crémant d'Alsace
  • Crémant de Bordeaux
  • Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Crémant de Die
  • Crémant du Jura
  • Crémant de Limoux
  •  Crémant de Loire

Prosecco is an Italian white wine — generally a Dry or Extra Dry sparkling wine— normally made from Glera ("Prosecco") grapes. Prosecco is known as the main ingredient of the Bellini cocktail.

Sekt is the German term for quality sparkling wine. The majority of Sekt produced is made by the Charmat method with the remaining premium Sekt being made according to the Traditional Method.

Cava is the name of a type of Spanish white or pink sparkling wine produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia.

Other Sparkling wines are usually white or rose, but there are some sparkling reds such as Italian Brachetto and Australian sparkling Shiraz.

Blanc de Blancs – white of whites, 100% chardonnay
Brut - very dry  
  • Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (fewer than 3 grams of sugar per liter)
  •  Extra Brut (fewer than 6 grams of sugar per liter)
  • Brut (fewer than 12 grams of sugar per liter)
Doux - sweet

Interesting Fact (thanks Wikipedia)
While Dom Perignon is often credited with inventing Champagne, he actually spent most of his life trying to prevent the wine from developing bubbles.

Where to find in Virginia
Many Virginia wineries are now making sparkling wines.  These include Paradise Springs, Veritas, BarboursvilleAfton Mountain, Thibaut-Jannison, Kluge/Trump, Prince Michel, Horton Vineyards, and Old House Vineyards.

Be sure to check some out on your next winery visit!

Photo credit: