October 2nd, 2012: The first Virginia Wine Summit was held today at the Richmond Marriott. Brainchild of First Lady Maureen McDonnell and organized by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, the event attracted a sold-out crowd of media, trade and consumers who tasted and talked about Virginia wine for some six hours.
Speaking as a professional organizer of wine conferences (www.easternwineryexposition.com), I felt this was not only a fine conference on Virginia wine, but one of the best conferences on ANY kind of wine I’ve attended.
The keynote speakers was Steven Spurrier, a renowned taster who is columnist for Decanter magazine and whose landmark “Judgment of Paris” tasting of top French vs. California wines in 1976 put California on the map as a world-class region when its chardonnays and cabernets beat out the French competition. He was characterized in the movie “Bottle Shock” about that event.
Other speakers included both First Lady Maureen McDonnell and Governor Bob McDonnell, Jean Case of Early Mountain Vineyards, sommeliers, Masters of Wine (Jay Youmans from the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C.), Bartholomew Broadbent, distributor and fan with his father Michael Broadbent MW of Virginia wine; many top Virginia winemakers, Dave McIntyre, wine writer for the Washington Post, and many others.
I think most attendees would agree with me that the entire event would have been worthwhile merely for the benefit of the very first session, titled “Breakfast of Champions,” where eight types of wine, one each of Virginia and a non-Virginia wine, were tasted against each other. The audience gave its preference in a raising of hands, and the panel (Bartholomew Broadbent, Steven Spurrier, Anthony Giglio and Jay Youmans MW) gave its preferences, before Annette Boyd of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office unveiled the wines.
The tasting of 16 wines included two each of viognier, cabernet franc, Bordeaux blends, nebbiolo, petit verdot, touriga nacional, and hard cider.
The first taste-off between viogniers was almost a tie, but the Condrieu (Guigal 2010, $39) won out. A close second was the DuCard 2010 viognier ($24). Steven Spurrier preferred the DuCard viognier.
In the cabernet franc taste-off, the audience clearly preferred the Barboursville reserve 2009 ($23) over the 2010 Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux Chinon from the Loire Valley (also $23), although the panel was split in its preferences. “This was a decisive win for cabernet franc; I think Virginia makes the best cabernet franc in the world,” remarked Bartholomew Broadbent.
With the Bordeaux Blends, the majority of the audience again voted for the Virginia wine, the Potomac Point 2009 Heritage Richland Reserve ($27) vs. 2008 Ch. du Tertre Margaux ($39) which was more austere. Said Broadbent, “This is another win for Virginia, being able to top a highly respected Margaux classified growth.”
An even bigger upset came with the cabernet sauvignon competition. This grape has been written off as being second-rate in Virginia, after many years of mediocre performances compared to better examples of merlot and cabernet franc, but this taste-off showed that cabernet should not be written off yet in the Commonwealth. A deeply colored, finely scented cabernet with deep mature black fruits and smooth fine tannins turned out to be Keswick Vineyards 2009 cabernet sauvignon ($49), which ironically (due to Spurrier’s presence at the event) beat out Chateau Montelena (a relatively modest $37). Technically the room was essentially split on preference, but erputed in applause when wine A was revealed to be a Virginia cab sauv instead of from Napa or Washington State.
Virginia wines continued on a roll beating out the benchmarks, when the Barboursville Nebbiolo 2008 clearly beat a Barolo (Vietti Castiglione of the same vintage; prices being $32 vs. $39 respectively, by the opinion of all of the panelists.
In the petit verdot taste-off, it was a close popular vote, narrowly going for the 2009 Casale del Giglio at $18 vs. the DelFosse 2008 at the same price. Broadbent said that the DelFosse was more “classically varietal”, while Spurrier said he was “surprised Virginia has achieved such elegance for petit verdot in such a short time.”
Again Virginia’s lead was broken by touriga nacional, but the humble Barren Ridge 2007 ($18) was up against the Duoro Quinta do Crasto at $70, so it wasn’t too surprising, although many in the room preferred the Barren Ridge.
However, Virginia wrested back the room’s acclaim in the cider taste-off between Crispin Cider ($7.99/4 pack) and the Foggy Ridge Sweet Stayman Cider ($15/750 ml). The vote was close, but when the winning Foggy Ridge was proclaimed, the room again broke into applause at the announcement. Remarked Spurrier, “This is the first time in 48 years I’ve ever done a cider tasting in America.” Broadbent added that in the UK, it would be illegal to label anything “cider” that wasn’t alcoholic, unlike in the U.S.
Some long-time industry members were slightly stunned at the results; Virginia 5 (including cabernet sauvginon, meritage and nebbiolo) , other teams of world benchmarks, 3. Others felt confirmed in their confidence. Said Frank Morgan, wine blogger (“Drink what YOU like”) declared “the results of the Breakfast of Champions tasting was not surprising to me, and confirmed what I already know — Virginia wine can stand up to similar priced wines from more notable regions. Sometimes, to convince others a blind tasting setting is needed. I submit to you if this tasting is replicated for wine guilds and groups, the results would be the same — Virginia wine stands up!”
Said Mark Chien, Penn State Viticulture Extension Agent who was present, “I tasted 16 Virginia wines and all were very good quality,and one very exceptional. For the most part, the Virginia wines had more forward fruit, lushness and good acidity. These are wines that deserve consumer and critical recognition and respect. They also show that the wine industry in the East has a lot more to learn and do before we can compare ourselves with the benchmarks in each of these categories. But that is no surprise and we are reminded of that fact every single day in the vineyards and cellars.”
Let the record show that the Judgment of Virginia that established Virginia could not only stand its ground on the world stage of wine benchmarks, but actually claim the majority of audience preference in a blind tasting, occurred on October 2, 2012, with Steven Spurrier voting ahead of the room average in preferring Virginia wines.
[Note: the Virignia wines were chosen by Bartholomew Broadbent while the wines from other regions were chosen by Jay Youmans MW, and Spurrier and Giglio were unaware of any of the wines identities as were the audience.]