If you had been drinking wine for a while, I would expect that you have developed certain taste expectations. As you drink the wines from the different regions, you find that the wines from the same geographic locality made from the same grapes would have somewhat of a similar taste and style (yes, of course, I just described what is properly called Terroir without using the word itself). At some point, the associations between the origin of the wine and its expected taste become engrained in your mind. Looking at the bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you are expecting to find bright acidity and citrus flavor profile even without opening the bottle. Looking at the bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon you are expecting to find good amount of fruit with some explicit black currant notes and probably good amount of tannins – note that I’m really trying to generalize here, but you got the point.
This is the way the wine was for a very long time. However, when you taste modern wines, do you have a feeling that your expectations no longer valid and don’t match the reality any longer? I had this experience many times lately, when Amarone didn’t taste like anything expected (you can find my rant of pain here), or when unoaked Chardonnay tastes rather like Pinot Grigio – and there are many more examples of “taste confusion”.
Recently, I had another case of “broken” taste expectations – this time it was somewhat sanctioned, as we did a double (almost) blind tasting. The theme was set a bit ambitiously, as France and Italy. The “ambitious” part is coming from the fact that these two countries on their own have such a variety of wine production that it makes literally impossible to recognize the grape or at least the style of wine (either one of those countries would provide a plentiful selection for a double blind tasting on its own). Anyway, with the main goal of having fun with the wines, we actually had a great time.
We blind tasted 5 wines, which happened to be 4 reds and one white. For what it worth, here are my notes as we were moving along:
#1 – Very nice, a bit too sweet. I think Italy, Super Tuscan/Barbera/Dolcetto
#2 – earthy, nice, little green bell peppers, roasted notes? Bordeaux?
#3 – France, nice bright fruit, good sweetness, noit enough acidity? No idea about the grape.
#4 – interesting, lots of fruit, very nice – no idea.
#5 – great, round, good fruit – no idea.
While I understand that these a rather limited wine descriptions, would you try to guess what was what? Well, you can see the answers below in the picture (wines are set in the order we tasted them, left to right):
Here is an actual list: 2007 Comm. G. B. Burlotto Barolo Verduno; 1995, Chateau Haut-Corbin Saint-Emillion Grand Cru; 2009 Petracupa Greco di Tufo; 2005 Pascal Marchand Pinot Noir and L’oca Ciuca Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – now compare that with my guesses above…
In case you are curious – of course we voted for the favorite – Brunello (#5) was a clear winner, with Greco de Tufo (#3) trailing it closely behind (one point difference).
Where is the case of broken taste expectations? Fruit forward, bright and loaded wine with well masked tannins and almost non-existing earthiness, bright purple in color – 2007 Barolo? I’m very far from Barolo expert, but this doesn’t match my expectations of Barolo, albeit well decanted. Even winning Brunello was quite uncharacteristic, lacking earthiness and tartness, the traditional Brunello bite. I can’t comment on Greco do Tufo (it was actually quite nice), and the only varietally correct wine was 1995 Bordeaux. Am I making too big of a deal from varietal correctness and taste expectations here? It depends. On its own, both Barolo and Brunello were good wines, but if I would order either one in the restaurant with the goal of pairing with food, that could’ve been quite disappointing…
Okay, I can’t leave you with this sad impression of disappointment – it was not that bad at all. Also, we had a great cast of supporting wines, even with some pleasant surprises.
First, two sparkling wines. Chevalier de Grenelle Cuvee Reserve Saumur AOC, a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc with 10% Chardonnay was very good, full bodies sparkling wine, with good notes of apple and toasted oak. In addition to good wine, this was also a very special bottle – a magnum with metal imprinted label. Second sparkling wine was even more unusual – Abrau-Durso Semi-Dry – a sparkling wine from Russia, made by reincarnated famous producer of sparkling wines for Russian Tzar (original company was created in 1870). This wine had just a hint (a whiff) of sweetness, lightly toasted apple and nutmeg on the palate. Very refreshing and delicate. I suggest you will find a bottle and try for yourself – there is a good chance you might like it.
And for the last surprise – 2002 Fontanafredda Barolo DOCG. Why surprising? If you will look at the Wine Spectator’s Vintage Chart, you will see that 2002 was regarded as a very bad year for Barolo, with the rating of 72 and recommendation of wines being past prime. I decanted this bottle at some time in the late morning, and by the early evening, when we actually drunk it, it opened up very nicely – while it was lacking powerful tannins, otherwise it was quite enjoyable wine, very balanced with quite a bit of finesse.
Play with your wine, get friends together and do the blind tasting – I guarantee you will learn something new about your palate, your wine preferences and may be even your friends!