All of my blind tastings have a theme. France vs Virginia. Virginia Tannats vs The World. Cabernet Franc Comparison; ect ect. But it’s almost always a ‘like vs like’ event, even if the regions involved are different.
This time I mixed things up. It was still ‘like with like’ because all were sparkling wines of some sort. Yet it was a departure from my normal blind tastings as these sparklings were about as different as I could possibly make them.
Of our 9 wines, 6 of the wines were traditional-method and 3 were pet-nats. More importantly, all 9 were made with different grapes. We had everything from Albariño to Voskehat.
- Keush Origins, 60% Voskehat / 40% Khatouni, Armenia (traditional method)
- Gomes Vineyard, Albariño, California (traditional method)
- Horton Vineyards Suil, Viognier, Virginia (traditional method)
- Chestnut Oak Vineyard, Sparkling Petit Verdot, Virginia (traditional method)
- Stinson Vineyard’s “Farmer’s Rest”, Mourvèdre, Virginia (traditional method)
- Hansen-Lauer, Riesling, Germany (Sekt, traditional method)
- Early Mountain Vineyard, Malvasia Bianca, Virginia (Pet-Nat)
- Guide Wine Chardonel and Peaches, Virginia (Pet-Nat)
- Raza, Trajadura, Portugal (Pet-Nat)
What we didn’t have were Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. That was intentional; I wanted to do ‘non-traditional’ wines, and the ones we brought fit the bill.
Obviously, I had help. I had hoped Rich Sullivan of Guide Wines would join us but he couldn’t make it. On the other hand, I had The Sparkle-ist Champagne Club, TheVAWineGirl, Cheers and Chews, and Kyle and Chris Zimmerman of QuaffwithKyle. They were happy to heed the call to help me compare these wines.
I put the pet-nats in the same flight but otherwise all the wines were randomized. We had two flights of traditional method sparklings and a pet-nat flight at the end.
As always – this event was the product of this day, with this group. We could have repeated it the next day and come up with different results. After the 3rd round, we paused for some charcuterie, sushi, and oysters.
We all voted favorite/next favorite/last favorite. 1st choice got 3 points, 2nd choice got 2 points, 3rd choice got 1 point.
Round 1 / Flight 1
- Bottle #1: Keush Origins, 60/40 blend of Voskehat and Khatouni (Winner)
- Bottle #2: Gomes Vineyard, Albariño (tied for runner up)
- Bottle #3: Horton Vineyards, Viognier (tied for runner up)
Excellent start to the event. Each of the three sparklings had something unique about them. Many of us gravitated to the Armenian Keush from the get-go, so this round was more of a contest for the #2 spot between the Virginia Horton Viognier and the California Albariño.
We couldn’t get over how different these three were. It wasn’t just the tasting profile but the finish and acidity.
We picked the Keush as the favorite mostly because it was the most complex of the trio and reminded us of a blanc de blanc in terms of the complexity and brioche notes.
Bottle #1: Keush Origins. The nose presented notes of brioche, which I think caused us to automatically gravitate towards it since it was familiar to sparkling lovers. I found grapefruit on the palate; others said green apple. As it opened up it also had notes of peach.
It may also have been the oldest of the trio (and the day) which contributed to its complexity. I felt it was also ‘big’, which was mostly a compliment but I could see that as being a distraction as well.
Fun fact – this wine came from one of the highest elevation vineyards (5740 feet) in the northern hemisphere!
Bottle #2: Gomes Vineyard. I thought it had a lemon nose, although I heard everything from grapefruit to orange zest. Definitely grapefruit on the palate, maybe citrus as well.
We were in LOVE with the nose of this one. But at the same time, the finish left us disappointed. There was just nothing on the back end. The bubbles also didn’t last very long, comparatively speaking.
I do have to point something out; when I paired this with oysters (which didn’t happen till much later in the day), this was arguably my favorite wine of the event. Those flavors just absolutely popped out with the right seafood.
Bottle #3: Horton Vineyards. Faint citrus nose. Very lemon-y and maybe some minerality.
This was our crowd-pleaser wine. While the Keush I thought was ‘too much’ for some and the Gomes had nothing on the back-end, I felt this was the easiest to drink through-and-through.
- Christina: 1/2/3
- Kyle: 1/3/2
- Lieven: 1/3/2. Loved the brioche and complexity. Loved the nose of #2 but it dropped off.
- Lindsay: 1/2/3. Thought #1 was complex and was ‘never bored’ with it. #2 was very bright.
- Matt: 1/2/3
- Stephanie: 1/3/2
Round 1 / Flight 2
- Bottle #4: Chestnut Oak, Petit Verdot (runner up)
- Bottle #5: Stinston Vineyard, Mourvèdre (winner)
- Bottle #6: Hansen-Lauer, Riesling (3rd place)
This was a really tough round to pick a favorite. If wines of the first round were different, this was REALLY different. What made it especially difficult is many of us had never tried these wines before, so we didn’t know what to expect.
There wasn’t any chart to rate ‘best’ here; it all came down to personal preference. Stinson came out as the favorite by a tiny hair, but a one-vote change could have resulted in a 3-way tie.
Bottle #4: Chestnut Oak Vineyard. We immediately noticed an orange tint to the color. On the palate there was a lot going on, which made it difficult to identify. Aromatic and flavorful.
Someone said the wine was ‘confused’ as to what it wanted to be, but ironically that wasn’t meant as a bad thing. It was just not what we’d expected from a sparkling.
Bottle #5: Stinson Vineyard. I found grapefruit on the nose and palate. Maybe a little yeasty? Others said they detected notes of white peach and lemon. Balanced. Some brioche notes.
I had lots of opinions on its complexity. Some felt it was well balanced but others felt there was just a lot going on, almost too much.
Bottle #6: Hansen-Lauer. One of the most acidic wines of the day. Mineral-y; someone mentioned it reminded him of a Greek wine. Some brioche notes came out eventually.
Not a lot going on for the nose, but overall a pleasant wine.
- Christina: 5/4/6. Liked all of them, but for different reasons.
- Kyle: 5/6/4
- Lieven: 6/5/4/. Loved the acidity of #6, even if it wasn’t as complex. Thought #5 was good all-around, with depth and complexity.
- Lindsay: 4/6/5. Felt food impacted the choices here.
- Matt: 4/6/5. Tough choice. Could have gone for any of these. But since #4 was ‘big’ and different, that put it over the top for me.
- Stephanie: 5/6/4
Round 1 / Flight 3
- Bottle #7: Early Mountain, Malvasia Bianca (runner up)
- Bottle #8: Guide Wine, Chardonel and peaches (last place)
- Bottle #9: Raza, Trajadura (winner)
This was our pet-nat round. If I had thought about it more carefully I would have done this round first…but it’s a blind tastings, so where’s the fun in that?
Granted, pet-nats are sparkling wines. But make no mistake – there’s a world of difference between a pet-nat and a traditional method sparkling. I wondered exactly how different this round would be from the earlier one, but there was no mistaking the difference.
Pet-nats are fun, easy drinking wines for when you just want bubbles. So putting them at the end of a round of ‘serious’ traditional method sparklings did them tasting notes a disservice. After we took a food break we revisited some of them and enjoyed them more just for what they were.
Bottle #7: Early Mountain Vineyard. Pale gold color. “Pithy” was mentioned. I thought it had a peach cider quality to it.
Bottle #8: Guide Wine. Bold gold color. I swore the nose reminded me of walking into an apple orchard. I thought I detected some faint hops.
Bottle #9: Raza. The cloudiest of the trio. Little bit of peach but more stone fruit. Had some grassy-ness to it initially. The bubbles also lasted the longest.
We seemed to gravitate towards it because it was the most like a méthode traditional sparkling.
- Christina: 9/7/8
- Kyle: 9/7/8
- Lieven: 9/7/8
- Lindsay: 7/9/8
- Matt: 9/7/8
- Stephanie: 9/7/8
Round 2 / Final
- Bottle #1: Keush Origins, Voskehat and Khatouni blend (winner)
- Bottle #5: Stinston Vineyard, Mourvèdre (runner up)
- Bottle #9: Raza, Trajadura (3rd place)
We took a food break after the 3rd round. The wines that didn’t go to the finalist round were finished off with a mix of sushi, oysters, stuffed clams, and charcuterie.
Our palates were getting fatigued at this point so no real tasting notes.
In the end, Wine #1/Keush was the winner of the day. We were enthralled with its complexity and brioche notes. It seems there’s just something about brioche that screams ‘sparkling wine’, so whenever we detected it, that became our favorite.
Wine #5/Stinson Mourvèdre was the runner-up. I asked winemaker Rachel Stinson Vrooman about it, and she explained that the decision to make it was completely based on necessity.
It’s from the 2020 vintage, which was the year they got heavily frosted. Mourvèdre survived since it’s a late-budding varietal so it was the only block they didn’t lose.
Even so, Rachel struggled on what to use it in. She loved the flavors, and the low ripeness made it a good candidate as a sparkling. It was such a hit they’ve been making it ever since.
- Christina: 1/5/9. Loved the brioche notes of #1
- Kyle: 1/5/9. Thought #1 was the most complex.
- Lieven: 1/5/9. Liked the acidity and complexity of #1
- Lindsay: 5/1/9
- Matt: 5/1/9
- Stephanie: 1/5/9
It’s tough to write up a ‘lessons learned’ in an event that by default was always meant to be experimental. Most of these wines were brand new to us. I had no expectations what to expect, so there wasn’t really any benchmark meant to be reached.
But breaking it down, I’d say this event demonstrated two things.
First, there *really is* a huge diversity in sparklings. If you’ve never tried an Armenian wine, try it! Mourvèdre; seriously, who would have thought? Sparkling Petit Verdot? Get out of town!!!
Second, for as diverse a lineup we had, our palates seemed to gravitate towards the familiar. Wines that were stylistically similar to traditional method sparklings – especially ‘familiar’ blanc de blanc or blanc de noir nearly always won out over ‘non-traditional’. If it had brioche, it went to the top of the list of favorites.
These factors worked against the pet-nat round. In retrospect I really should have done pet-nats totally separately, but was curious how they stood up in a comparison. Sadly they didn’t – but it’s not their fault.
On their own I think we would have enjoyed them more, but coming off a round that included some excellent traditional method wines we seemed more down on them than they deserved.