Beauty of Chardonnay and The Game of the Blind Tasting
Blind tasting is probably one of the most favorite pastimes of any oenophile – especially when it is done in the non-competitive and non-intimidating manner, let’s say as a part of the fun evening with friends. While the words “blind tasting” sound simplistic, there are actually multiple options of it, all with the varying levels of difficulty. The most difficult type is a double blind tasting – you are just given a random glass of wine, and you have to identify the grape(s), the place, the vintage and possibly even the producer – this is the level at which the Court of Master Sommeliers plays, the ultimate challenge so to speak. The next level down would be a regular blind tasting – there would be at least one common factor between all the wines – let’s say, they all will be made out of Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Or they all might be the Bordeaux wines. While the level of a challenge is unquestionably lower that in the previous case, this type of tasting is great for assessment of the wine without an influence of the external factors, such as producer, label, region, etc. I also call it “an ultimate wine snobbery squasher”, as looking at the bottle of your supposedly favorite wine and realizing you just thought it was terrible (while you had no idea what was in your glass), is really a humbling experience.
My recent blind tasting experience was yet different. It was mostly the regular blind tasting, as it had a theme – Chardonnay, but it was also more limited, may be even “framed” is the right word – we knew all 10 Chardonnay wines which were present in the tasting, so it was not really wide open. And to make it more fun, we tried to identify each wine we tasted, and of course, look for the group’s favorite. To avoid crowding the table too much, we split the tasting into two sets of 5, and then we went over our notes to come up with our guesses – and then, of course, there was the moment of truth – when the bottles were revealed.
Chardonnay needs no introduction, of course. One of the most popular white grapes in the world, with literally every wine producing country having its stake in satisfying the thirst of Chardonnay lovers around the globe. I would dare to say that left alone, Chardonnay is great at expressing the terroir, the soil and climate of the area where it was growing, may be better than most of the other white grapes (may be Riesling can contest that). From the gravely soils of New Zealand to the expressive ‘gunflint” minerality of Chablis, biting acidity of Champagne, the round goodness of the mature Burgundy, to the warm and toasty expressions (sigh – hard to find it anymore) of California – Chardonnay rules them all. Our tasting was extremely representative of this world-wide phenomena – California, Long Island, Burgundy, Italy, Hungary, New Zealand and Australia were all present! Not a bad line up, huh?!
Okay so let me tell you about the wines. First, I will give you my notes, together with the guesses I made as we were going along. Once we completed the tasting of all 10 wines, we had a bit of time to think through and to complete our tasting cards to say what was what. And then of course, we unwrapped the bottles for the “moment of truth”.
Here are my notes as we went along with the tasting:
#1: Touch of butter, green apples, a bit harsh, tannins, young, lots of tannins. 7+/8-. Not sure what it can be.
#2: Minerality (gunflint) on the nose, green apple, great acidity, good balance. Classic. 8. Positive it is a Burgundy
#3: Fresh flowers on the nose, caramel, butterscotch, fig, pears, unusual, apples. 7/7+. I’m sure this is Long Island, no questions.
#4: Savory nose, oxidized, past prime, lost fruit. N/R. Considering the group, must be the Mersault (it is a well known and very unfortunate problem for the producers in Mersault – starting from some time in 2000, their wines lost ability to age and oxidize very quickly).
#5: Mint, rosemary, thyme on the nose, touch of oak, apples, very delicate profile, nice tannins, slightly off balance. 7+/8-. Australia?
#6: Butterscotch on the nose! Vanilla, amazing, very balanced, apples, vanilla, beautiful! 8. I’m quite convinced it is Hungary – I had this wine before and I believe this is the one.
#7: Beautiful nose! White fruit, lychee, spiciness on the palate, apples, delicate fruit. 8+. Not sure what it can be.
#8: Minerality, very unusual, herbs, – sorry for possibly putting some people off, but – a dog poop! (Yeah, I know, sounds crazy – but I’m speaking from experience as a dog owner), salty, herbal, acidic profile, more minerality on the palate. 8-. Again, not sure. Need to think about it.
#9: Candy on the nose, noticeable malolactic fermentation on the palate, and then acidity, acidity, acidity. 7. Not sure.
#10: Minerality, hint of butter, a bit too sweet, not enough acidity, not balanced. 6. No idea.
That was the end of the tasting. Now, we took a bit of time to compose our thoughts and come up with our “final answer”. As this was not a competition, it was also okay to consult each other. I was quite convinced about wines #3, #4 and #6, so it was making my task easier. Also my friend Zak was positive about #7 being Jermann, as he recently tasted that wine. The rest had to fall in place after some thinking. Now, the drum roll, please…
1. 2006 Louis Latour Cortone-Charlemane, Burgundy
2. 2009 Bindi Quartz, Australia
3. 2010 Paumanok Grand Vintage Estate Chardonnay, Long Island, NY
4. 2007 Louis Latour Mersault-Charmes, Burgundy
5. 2008 S.C.E. Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy
6. 2008 Kovács Nimród Winery Battonage Chardonnay, Hungary
7. 2011 Jermann W… Dreams … Chardonnay, Italy
8. 2008 Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
9. 2008 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley
10. 2008 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, Napa Valley
With a bit of knowledge and a bit of luck, I managed to get all the wines correctly with the exception of Bindi and Chassagne-Montrachet, which I got in reverse – it is interesting how I thought that #2 was a classic Burgundy, and it turned out to be an Australian wine. We also did a popularity vote, which was won by the Newton Chardonnay – quite awkward, as this was my least favorite wine. My favorite was probably the Jermann, but it is hard to pick a favorite from such a group of outstanding wines. It is also very interesting how different and unique the wines tasted, greatly demonstrating their terroir- and winemaking style-driven differences. Here are all the wines we tasted again, now in more detail for the labels:
And then, of course, there was food – lots of wonderful, home made dishes. It will take too much time to describe it all, so I will just leave you with the few pictures.
Now, I have a bit of the strangely sad part to share (nothing terrible, don’t worry). To complement all the wonderful Chardonnays, I brought a bottle of Sherry to add to our dessert list. 2011 Bodegas Alvear Pedro Ximemez de Añada Montilla-Moriles DO – the wine was excellent, more or less along the lines of what I would expect from Pedro Ximenez – considering the age, it was young and nicely balanced, both with sweetness and acidity. Where is the sad part? Take a look at the picture of that bottle:
See that sticker “RobertParker 100 pts”? Yes, this was the 100 points rated wine from Robert Parker!!!!! First time I tried anything rated 100 points by one of the biggest wine critics in the world!!! And I have nothing to write home about it. The wine was good – but I don’t remember it as being earth-shattering. Not sure what to take out of it, but surely feels strange. My only consolation is that I have another bottle of the same wine – and I will keep it for as long as I can before drinking it again – may be then I will be able to see what Robert Parker found in this wine.
That concludes my report on the wonderful game of Chardonnay tasting. We had a great time, and I think restricting the level of “blindness” in this tasting was a very interesting twist, making that blind tasting exercise even more enjoyable. Until the next time – cheers!