Richard Leahy’s Wine Report – VA Wines Beat France in “Judgment of Virginia” Blind Tasting At RR Smith Museum on 10/14

Read the report on Richard Leahy’s website here, or read the article below.

Following close on the heels of the landmark Virginia Wine Summit blind tasting on 10/2 where Virginia wines bested worldwide competition by a score of 5-3, the “Judgement of Virginia” blind tasting of seven pairs of Virginia wines and French wines at the RR Smith Art Museum in downtown Staunton on 10/14 also resulted in an upset victory for Virginia wines, which edged out French wines 4-3.

Two characteristics were noteworthy in the upset; the Virginia red wines beat all the French red wines, and also, the pinot noir and sparkling wine.

The event was coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson wine committee led byScott D. Ballin, JD of Washington, D.C. who also maintains a residence in Staunton, with the aim of raising money for the RR Smith Center for History and Art in Staunton. Ballin said that he was really please and somewhat surprised at how well the reds did in the competition, especially the pinot noir. It suggests to him that  Jefferson’s cherished Burgundy can be grown and produced in the Old Dominion and he hoped to see more of it. He is already talking about a repeat performance of the event next year.

Judges included Virginia wine industry pioneer Gabrielle Rausse, his son Tim Rausse (also a winemaker), Ben Gilaberti, former wine columnist for the Washington Post and consultant to Calvert Woodley Wine in Northwest Washington; Daniel Mahdavian, Master of Ceremonies, beverage marketing maven, former hotelier and restaurant manager and early advocate of Virginia wines; Kyle Boatwright, formerly of the Staunton Grocery and currently with Country Vintner; Megan Headley, Charlottesville restaurateur and wine writer; and this writer.

Unusual for a wine judging, the event was performed in front of a live and paying audience. After fascinating reminiscences of the early hard days in the industry by Gabrielle Rausse and comments by other judges, Rausse was presented with an 18th century cartographer’s map of Italy by Scott Ballin for his contribution to the Virginia wine industry.

Also unusual for a wine judging, the reds were tasted first and ranked (on the 20-point scale), followed by the whites. The categories were: pinot noir, Right Bank Bordeaux-style red blends, Left Bank Bordeaux-style blends, viognier, chardonnay, pinot gris, and sparkling wine.

The competition results were:

2011 Ankida Ridge pinot noir (VA, Amherst Co.) over 2009 Louis Latour Volnay En Chevret Premier Cru

2008 Barboursville Octagon (60% merlot) VA, over 2009 Ch. Croix Figeac St. Emilion,

2008 Barren Ridge Meritage (VA, Shenandoah Valley) vs. 2006 Ch. Gloria St. Julien

2011 Keswick Signature Series Viognier (VA-Monticello) vs. 2008 E. Guigal Condrieu

2010 Jefferson Chardonnay Reserve vs. Domaine Delarche Pernand-Vergelesses

2011 Pollak Pinot Gris vs. 2009 Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris

2008 Thibault-Jannison Cuvee D’Etat (VA) v. Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes De Montgueux Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs

Following the tasting, wine country fiction writer Ellen Crosby was on hand to sign copies of her Virginia wine mysteries, and this author signed copies ofBeyond Jefferson’s Vines.

This author was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Wine Committee’s choices, and particularly impressed that not only did Virginia beat all the French reds, but also there was no contest in the pinot noir match nor the sparkling match.

It seems Virginia wines can not only compete on a world stage but beat the French, just like California wines did some 26 years ago. Maybe it’s time Virginia wines got some respect…even from the Californians?