The Virginia Sauvignon Blanc Showdown

Sauvignon Blanc is probably my favorite white wine. Given it’s the 8th most planted wine grape in the world (and 3rd most planted white), it’s not just me either.

It’s also a grape that shows stylistic differences depending on where it’s grown. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are probably the easiest to guess, since the grassy aroma just jumps out of the grass. California SBs may be found oaked (thank Robert Mondavi for that). French SBs are more full bodied, especially if they have a dash of Semillon. Sancerre wines are possibly my favorite white wines of all.

But what about Virginia? Where does Jefferson’s birthplace fall in this roster?

Overall, my observation is Virginia Sauvignon Blancs tend towards Old World style, but honestly I’ve never tested that hypothesis. And if every winery makes them slightly differently, which one will be my favorite? So I gathered some friends and did some experimenting. You know, for science!

We picked nine separate Sauvignon Blancs from around the state, almost all from the 2019 vintage – one which Luca Paschina of Barboursville called it an “excellent-outstanding”.  By doing this as a vintage-specific tasting, I figured we’d be able to make this comparison as fair as possible.

  1. 2019 Doukénie Winery (Northern Virginia)
  2. 2019 Glen Manor (Shenandoah)
  3. 2019 King Family (Charlottesville)
  4. 2016 Linden Avenius (Northern Virginia)
  5. 2019 Linden Hardscrabble (also 12% Semillon) (Northern Virginia)
  6. 2019 Maggie Malick (Northern Virginia)
  7. 2019 Michael Shaps
  8. 2019 Stinson (Charlottesville)
  9. 2019 Walsh Family Wine Bethany Ridge (Northern Virginia)
The competitors (and several judges)

The challenge was to identify our favorite Sauv Blanc of the night. To do that, we blind-tasted all nine wines over three flights, with a separate flight at the end of the winners of each round.

Flight 1:

  • Wine 1 (Michael Shaps 2019 SB): Grassy notes on the nose but on the palate everything seemed up front. A few didn’t like this one initially but it more than grew on us as it opened up. Slight citrus notes. 5 votes
  • Wine 2 (Linden Hardscrabble 2019 SB): More weight, rounder, orange peel on the nose (PS – this was my favorite of the night, and arguably the toughest challenge of the entire evening). We felt this would have been scored better if we paired it with food. We went back and forth between liking this one or #1 better. 3 votes.
  • Wine 3 (King Family 2019 SB): Some grassy notes but not quite New Zealand-style grassiness. Some detected orange zest, other said it had an almost-sweet quality to it. Rounder. Maybe some buttercream notes, caused by oak? Zero votes.

Flight 2:

  • Wine 4 (Doukénie 2019 SB): Hits the mid palate but it died off. Big nose; started with a ‘creamed corn’ aroma although that dissipated over time. We liked it more as it opened up but still zero votes.
  • Wine 5 (Stinson 2019 SB): Classic grassy nose. Some detected some sweetness on the nose as well as pink grapefruit on the nose and palate. Very refreshing and indicative of what you want a Sauv Blanc to be. 6 votes.
  • Wine 6 (Linden 2016 Avenius): Lighter nose. Zingy, pleasant, Lime and light butter on the palate. Hot note; maybe higher alcohol? Some tartness came out later in the tasting. 2 votes.

Flight 3

  • Wine 7 (Maggie Malick 2019 SB): Grassy, traditional ‘Sauv Blanc’ nose. Lighter on the palate, didn’t need food. Sipper wine. Very pleasant all around. 7 votes
  • Wine 8 (Glen Manor 2019 SB): Cat pee on the nose (believe it or not, this is actually a positive aroma descriptor for higher quality SBs). Higher acid, bold. We later said we felt this needed time to open up, but we didn’t give it a tremendous amount of time. Zero votes.
  • Wine 9 (Walsh Family Wine 2019 SB): Grassy/boxwood notes. Passion fruit on the palate. We felt this was food wine that seemed indicative of classic Virginia Sauvignon Blancs. 1 vote.

Winners Round:

By this time we had some bites of food so maybe our palates had changed. We enjoyed all 3 of them, but the real showdown was between wines 5 and 7 (Stinson and Maggie). It was a very tight vote but in the end – and by a hair – we declared Wine #5 to be our favorite, and after the unveiling discovered it was Stinson 2019 SB.

  • Wine 1: Michael Shaps 2019 SB: Light on the palate, lemon lime, very pleasant. 1 vote.
  • Wine 5: Stinson 2019 SB: We felt this was a classic expression of what a Sauv Blanc should be, especially on the nose. Maybe there was some oak notes? Fruit-sweet but nice complexity. 4 votes
  • Wine 7 Maggie Malick 2019 SB: Lighter, jucier. Lower acid. Lemon lime but not punch in the face. 3 votes.

I did some research after the fact and learned it was NOT made in oak, but rather made in a combination of steel and concrete egg. Otherwise our tasting notes seemed to be right on.

I have to make an admission up front; I really though Linden and Glen Manor would have done better here. These two have a reputation as some of the best wines – especially Sauvignon Blancs – on the east coast. In fact, I deliberately put them in separate flights so they wouldn’t compete against one another. And to everyone’s surprise…none made it to the second round. That was truly a shocker to us.

I also do have to admit one small mistake here. I….accidentally used the 2016 Linden Avenius vs the 2019. It wasn’t until we unveiled them all did I realize it. But honestly, I don’t think it would have made a difference (I still popped open a 2019 Avenius….for scientific testing…). But after pouring it with the group, I still think the winners would have stayed the same, because they were THAT GOOD.

One thing I learned is that although this was all Virginia, and nearly all the same vintage, all the Sauv Blancs were markedly different. Several trended towards a more ‘traditional’ approach and many had fair to strong grassy nose, but you could tell the differences in all of them. This was a major departure from a very similar Malbec event, where all the Malbecs trended towards stronger similarities despite different countries and years.

After some deliberation, I recognized something else. This tasting was entirely the product of this group and this particular time, hence doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove anything at all. If anything, that’s the real lesson of the night. Any wine can be your favorite wine in the right circumstances. I’m certain had we done another round the better wines would likely have made it to the top tier, but the winner – even a big name like Linden or Glen Manor – is never a guarantee.

Looking at how we did this competition, had we done these in a separate order, done them more spaced apart, or done them with food pairings, I’m pretty sure we would have gotten at least slightly different results (I remain adamant the Hardscrabble would have killed it with a creamy dish to the side). I also found it curious that the top-scoring wines were all stylistically similar to one another; the most traditionally ‘Sauv-Blanc-y” of the bunch.

All that said, I want to give lots of kudos to Rachel Stinson Vrooman of Stinson Vineyards and Maggie Malick of Maggie Malick Wine Caves for having the #1 and #2 wines of the evening. We loved them the best, which says a lot given they were next to some truly world-class wines.

4 thoughts on “The Virginia Sauvignon Blanc Showdown

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