Bubbles, Bloggers and a Winemaker

This past Saturday saw a group of bloggers and myself [the winemaker], conduct a blind tasting of mostly Virginia bubblies, with a California and French thrown in for good measure. Now you know the reason why I was so nice about them in my previous post, it would have been awkward sitting in a room with them if I spoke negatively.

But before we talk about the tasting, lets chat about bubblies or champagnes. For a wine to be called “Champagne” it needs to be made in the region of the same name in the North East of France. Other similar wines from different regions can be named either as sparkling wines or Cava in Spain and Prosecco in Italy. The traditional method of production for these wines is to conduct a secondary fermentation in the bottle by adding a small amount of sugar and yeast, capping the wine and trapping the resulting carbon dioxide in the bottle. This method is refered to as the “Method Champenoise” although this secondary fermentation can be conducted in tank [Charmat] or Carbon Dioxide can be injected into the wine.

Most French Champagnes are made from three principal grapes, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, although there are four other grapes permitted [mostly for historical reasons due to rarity in usage]. The other four are Arbanne, Petite Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Champagne has quite the history too, Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century.

Contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon did not  invent Champagne. the oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne in 1531. Dom Perignon is credited with many advancements in the production of these wines, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar [muselet].

Most Champagnes are non vintage, in that they are blends of wines made from various harvest years, the base wine will be of one year with up to 40% of wines added from other vintages. There are also various types of Champagnes such as Blanc de Blanc [white wine from white grapes] Blanc de Noir [white from black grapes], Rose Champagnes and Cuvee de prestige [usually considered to be the top of a producers range], think Kristal, Dom Perignon and Cuvee Femme from Duval – Leroy.

Before I finally get to the tasting, I do want to address the stigma of only opening a Champagne for a special occasion, while this is all well and good, Champagne is a wonderful wine that can be enjoyed at any time and pairs wonderfully well with a variety of foods, from cheese and fruits to pasta’s and seafood.

Okay, so how do Virginia bubblies stack up. Honestly I was surprised at the quality of some of these wines. The tastings were conducted in three flights of four wines each, the wines were all brown bagged and no other information was given.

In my opinion there were two seriously flawed wines, one of which was the French, the other a Virginian. The wine was cloudy and I guess it has something to do with protein instability, but without testing the wines, this is purely guess-work on my part. Some of the wines had bright green apple aromas, that followed through to the palate, they were good without being remarkable, most of my wine notes reflected a lack of acid rendering the wines slightly flabby in my opinion.

However, I really loved 5, all of which were Virginian. The aromas ranged from baked apple pie, nuts, yeast and biscuits, with long rich flavors and great length and texture. They were extremely well-balanced and at around $20-$25 dollars, in my opinion are a steal. I could not help but think that in certain years with our fruit being really acidic and slightly under-ripe, sparkling wines might be the way to go.

By the way, I did get to sit next to Mr. Richard Leahy, who I think has a wonderful palate, and when we compared notes, we were pretty much spot on. I do not drink a lot of bubblies, and I was pumped to see I was not that far off the mark.

I think the most positive thing to come out of this tasting for me, is that Virginia is proving itself to be quite diverse in the production of many wine styles, and if this tasting is a benchmark, then we are heading in the right direction as far as quality goes.  Thank you to all for letting me be a part of the tasting.

So why not try a Virginia bubbly tonight, I think you will be surprised at just how much you might like it.

On a side note, spare a thought for Mr. Frank Morgan and his beloved Steelers, hate to say it buddy but





3 comments on “Bubbles, Bloggers and a Winemaker

  1. […] Wine Time“); Joel Timmons (“The Virginia Wine Examiner“); Stephen Barnard (Keswick Vineyards winemaker) and his wife Kat; and John Witherspoon (“the Wine Cellar” wine shop in Richmond VA and […]

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