Champagne Blind Tasting – Don’t Try That At Home?
The idea was born – blind champagne tasting. It’s going to be fun! Well, blind sparkling wine tasting, to be more precise. The date was set, menu decided upon. Everybody have to bring a bottle of sparkling wine, which is expected to be of reasonable quality. No, it doesn’t have to be from Champagne only, anywhere in the world is good – with some notable exceptions. For instance, sparkling Shiraz was not welcomed.
All precautions had being taken to ensure that tasting will be blind. All bottles placed into the paper bags, and taped on top. We ended up with 9 different sparkling wines (mistake number 1 – too many). The simplest challenge was to have enough glasses as we adamantly resisted the idea of plastic, so we had to split tasting into two groups, 5 and 4 wines – mistake number 2 stemming from mistake number 1 – all wines should have equal time to breathe, even sparkling.
There we went with the tasting. Wine #1, #2, #3… Break after #5 to move glasses, open 4 more bottles, pour and continue. I think the biggest challenge was the fact that differences between sparkling wines (in general) are often very subtle, and it requires highly trained and sophisticated palate to pick them up. For most of us, we would probably stand at least some chance if we would take extended time to assess the quality of the sparkling wine. Typically white or red wine is “in your face” from the moment you smell the wine. Sparkling wine usually is not. Therefore, you need to reflect on each sip of sparkling wine a lot longer to assess its qualities. If you are moving too quickly, those sparkling wines are becoming almost “all the same”.
Anyway, here is the list of sparkling wines we had at the tasting, in the exact order as we tried them:
- 2006 Bodegas Carrau Sust Brut Nature Vintage, Uruguay
- Franciacorta Bellavista Cuvee Brut, Italy
- 2006 Jacques Germanier Blanc de Blancs Brut Millesime Grande Reserve, Switzerland
- Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence, France
- Champagne Thierry Triolet Brut, France
- 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee Brut Vintage, Georgia
- 2007 Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cuvee, South Africa
- J Cuvee 20 Brut, California
- 1998 Champagne Gosset Celebris Brut
Can you guess the winning wine? I would be surprised if you do (no, it was not the one from Uruguay if you went with the most odd choice). Actually, at the first vote we had a tie with 3 wines getting the same number of points, so we had to re-taste that group and then vote again to come up with the winning wine. And the winner was…wine #6, 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee Brut Vintage from Georgia (yes, we were also very surprised).
This wine was the most interesting of the pack with unusual zesty citrus notes, good acidity and good balance. J Cuvee 20 and 2007 Graham Beck (California and South Africa!) were close runner-ups (they were in the group we had to re-taste), and it is interesting to note that all three were more fruit forward than the other wines in the tasting.
Now, from the prospective of “mistakes” I mentioned before, here are few of my personal disappointments:
Wine #5, Champagne Thierry Triolet Brut, is a Growers Champagne. I had a pleasure of tasting that wine on the second day, and it opened up a lot more, showing fruit and creaminess. It probably wouldn’t be the winner of the tasting, but I’m sure it would fare better given enough consideration.
Wine #9, 1998 Champagne Gosset Celebris Brut was the only Vintage Champagne in the tasting. It definitely didn’t get enough time to show off all its beauty. By the end of the evening it opened up enough to show off typical yeasty flavors of the vintage champagne, and it became a lot more appealing, at least to my taste.
Oh well, it was definitely a fun exercise! Should you do the champagne blind tasting? May be not. Should you enjoy a glass of champagne instead? Absolutely. Don’t wait for a special occasion, simply celebrate life as it happens. Any day is a good day for a glass of champagne. Cheers!