Archive for the ‘Blind tasting’ Category

Let Your Palate Lead The Way

October 19, 2020 1 comment

Wine can be intimidating.

Scrap that.

Wine is intimidating.

I’m always the first to disagree with the exact words I just wrote, but go watch the movie Somm, and tell me if you agree. Don’t have time to watch the movie? Go read about the German wine quality system, and then try to explain it to someone. Yes, wine is intimidating.

And no, it is really not.

If you are on a quest for the world’s most coveted wine expert title, such as the Master Sommelier – thinking of wine will keep you up at night. But if you want to casually enjoy a glass of wine, there is nothing intimidating about it.

Wine is simple. Wine is binary. You either like it or not. There is nothing else to it.

All you need to learn about the wine is to … trust your palate. Let your palate lead the way. It can be unnecessarily difficult, as humans generally are easily intimidated and influenced – “everyone likes it!”, “I paid $100 for this bottle”, “the experts said it was the vintage of the century”, “there were only 500 bottles produced”, yada, yada, yada. And nevertheless, the wine is personable, the wine is individual, it is only you who can tell if you like the wine or not – no matter what anyone else thinks or says. If you will learn to trust your palate, the intimidation will be gone out of wine at that very moment.

The best (and possibly the only) way to deal with this intimidation is through the blind tasting. When you are presented with a random glass of wine, you have no options but just to form your own opinion – swirl, sniff, sip, spit, repeat – say whatever you want, but all the external influences are out. It will be your own palate which will tell you “yeah, can I have more, please”, or “never again”. The value of the blind tasting goes even further than just conquering the wine intimidation – it also helps to deal with preconceived notions. Do you have a friend who keeps saying at every occasion “boy, I hate Chardonnay, how much I hate it”? Now imagine that person praising the delicious wine in their glass, only to find out that that was that exact Chardonnay they thought is the worst wine ever? In the wine world, blind tasting is the ultimate judge and jury, and your palate is all you got to rely on – and thus you have to simply trust it, as you are you.

Learning with and about your palate is not necessarily simple. Yes, you can go to the store, get a bunch of wine and create your own blind tasting – but it might be difficult not to cheat, right? How about leaving that arrangement to the professionals? Cue in the Palate Club.

Palate Club offers an opportunity to learn about your palate through the blind tasting – and then use that knowledge to find the wines which might better match your preferences. The way it works is this. You start by ordering a tasting kit. You can start with the red or white wines, and the cost of the kit at the moment of this writing is $49. The kit arrives neatly packed in the box, with 4 half-size bottles (375 ml) wrapped and numbered.

The next thing to do is to download the Palate Club app on your phone, install it, and create your profile. Once you have done that, you are ready to discover your palate’s wine preference. After you taste the bottle, you need to rate it using the app. The process is very simple as you have to rate the wine between the 1 and 5 stars. Once you rate the wine, you get a page with all the information about that particular wine. Once you will rate all four wines in your set, you will get your initial wine palate profile.

In your palate profile, you will find characteristics such as oak, fruitiness, acidity, and other – along with explanations for the numbers in your palate profile. Every time you will rate another bottle, the values in your profile will change accordingly – what you see below in the picture, are the new values after I rated the wine number 5. Right on your profile page, you will also receive recommendations for the wines to try. As palate Club is a wine club, you can also sign up for the regular wine deliveries which will be based on your preferences.

Blind tastings are always fun – and I never do too well in them. For what it worth, below are my notes and the names of actual wines – you can see that I got ways to go to work on my blind tasting skill:

#1: California Pinot? Plums, smoke, medium to light body. Touch of an alcohol burn (wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Carneros)

#2: Not sure. syrah? Clean acidity, nice round fruit, Rutherford dust, good power. California Cab? (wine: 2015 Côtes du Rhône Réserve)

#3: Chianti? Nice cherries, needs a bit more body. I would rate it 3.5… why is that never a thing? (wine: 2014 Chianti Classico)

#4: California Cab or Cab blend? Dark fruit, baking spices, good acidity, round tannins. A touch of the alcohol burn, similar to the first wine (wine: 2015 Mendocino Zinfandel)

Now, let’s go back to the major point of this post – trusting your own palate to avoid intimidation by the bottle of wine. Would the Palate Club help you reach this goal? In my honest opinion – yes. Of course, the profile which you create has limited value outside of the Palate Club, as outside of the Palate Club nobody rates fruitiness and tannins of the wine on the 100 points scale. However, the fact that you can get your friends together and play with your wines and learn your wine liking and not liking is really something to appreciate and enjoy. Blind tasting holds the ultimate wine truth, and with the palate Club’s help, you can uncover it – and learn a thing or two about your own palate. I think this is a win-win. What do you think?

Usual Grapes, Unusual Places – The Oenophile Games

December 17, 2017 5 comments

I love blind tastings. I’m talking about totally non-intimidating blind tasting, done in the relaxed atmosphere, where the goal is only to have fun – in other words, not when it is part of the test. The blind tasting as part of the test is really not fun – as Kirsten the Armchair Sommelier eloquently put it in a tweet “Nothing intimidates quite like a brown paper bag!!” – as a WSET diploma candidate, I’m sure she knows what she is talking about first hand.

So I’m talking about fun blind tasting here. Blind tasting removes all sources of bias, as only minimal information is available about the wine you are about to taste, depending on the theme of the tasting, and you can’t be influenced by the pretty label, by the big name or by the well-known place (ahh, this is the wine from Napa, it is definitely better than this one from New Jersey, right?). You are one on one with the liquid in the wine glass, and your only goal is to decide whether you like the wine or not and whether you like it more than the one you had before, or if you still like it more than the one which you had after. Of course, you can make things a lot more interesting by trying to guess the grape, the origin, the vintage and whatever else you would desire, but the beauty of the informal blind tasting is that you free to do as much or as little as you want.

The best accompaniments for the wine are good food and a good company. We started wine dinners with the blind tastings with friends more than 7 years ago. Our first blind tasting was about Pinot Noir, then we had one about Sparkling wines (the thought of this one still gives me shivers as it was utterly confusing), also Chardonnay, Mourvedre, Barolo and many, many others. We decide on the theme, set the rules (how many bottles, price limits or not, what wines can be considered, what wines will not fit and so on). The bottles are put in the brown bags, the numbers are randomly assigned to the bags, the wines are poured and off we go. We usually try to figure out group’s favorite, which sometimes easy, and sometimes it is not. The results are always most unexpected, and everybody gets a chance to say “I can’t believe it”.

The theme for this tasting was “usual grapes, unusual places“. Today, the mainstream grapes are totally international. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Bordeaux, in Napa Valley, in New York, in Argentina, Virginia, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Czech Republic and other hundreds of places. Same is true about Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Grenache – and even Tempranillo and Sangiovese are not an exception. Now the question is – can we still recognize Cabernet Sauvignon from Uruguay as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir from the Czech Republic as Pinot Noir?

To play the game, the group of 10 wines was assembled. I couldn’t make up my mind on what to bring literally until the day before the tasting – kept changing my preferences. Nevertheless, we got together, the table was set and the wines were poured. As everybody was set on bringing the red wines, I decided to make things more interesting and brought two of the white wines to start the tasting with. Here are my notes and guesses on the 10 wines we tasted (obviously I knew what I’m tasting in the first two whites):

Wine 1 – beautiful nose, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, restrained palate, green, touch of pepper, contrast with the nose, interesting

Wine 2 – beautiful nose, plump, velvety, beautifully soft, silky smooth, outstanding, vanilla, delicious.

Wine 3 – typical Bordeaux blend on the nose. Tremendous salinity on the palate. Then acidity. Bordeaux blend from NJ. After 30 minutes – Barbera?

Wine 4 – Grenache nose, smoke and tobacco on the palate. My guess is Rhone varietal, but most likely Grenache

Wine 5 – Rutherford dust on the nose, touch of black currant, chipotle on the palate, herbal, unusual, very nice. Bordeaux varietal. Going for Carmenere.

Wine 6 – beautiful nose, Bordeaux-style, lots of smoke on the nose. Somewhat sweet on the palate. Core Bordeaux? or Syrah blend? Cab Franc dominant blend.

Wine 7 – smoke, dark fruit, beautiful tannins, cherries, beautiful. Bordeaux blend? Somewhat of extreme tannins.

Wine 8 – muted nose, mint, anise, Rutherford dust. Good acidity, soft, round. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 9 – fresh, open, clean vanilla, dark fruit, excellent. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 10 – beautiful nose, but a bit astringent. Interesting. Bordeaux varietal?

Before the wines can be revealed, we had to figure out group’s favorite. Everybody was allowed to vote for one of the two white wines, and then two votes for the favorites among 8 reds. Here are our votes (out of 8 people):

Wine 1 – 4
Wine 2 – 4
Wine 3 – 2
Wine 4 – 0
Wine 5 – 0
Wine 6 – 6
Wine 7 – 5
Wine 8 – 2
Wine 9 – 0
Wine 10 – 1

As you can tell, both whites fared equally well with the group clearly splitting the decision. Also for the reds, there was a clear winner and a clear runner-up, with the rest of the wines not faring that well – wine number 6 was preferred by the most, and wine number 7 was the second favorite. Now, the most anticipated part of the blind tasting – the reveal:

Wine 1: 2016 Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca Suisun Valley, CA (12.6% ABV)
Wine 2: 2007 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley (14% ABV)
Wine 3: 2004 Bodegas Carrau Vilasar Nebbiolo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, 100% Nebbiolo)
Wine 4: 2014 Chateau Famaey Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, 100% Malbec)
Wine 5: Changyu Cabernet Sauvignon China (Cabernet Sauvignon?)
Wine 6: 2012 Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste New Mexico (13.5% ABV, 50% Barbera, 50% Merlot)
Wine 7: 2014 McManis Barbera Jamie Lynn Vineyard California (13.5% ABV, 100% Barbera)
Wine 8: 2015 Cantele Primitivo Salento IGT (13.5% ABV, 100% Primitivo)
Wine 9: 2014 Macedon Pinot Noir Macedonia (13.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir)
Wine 10: 2014 Agnus Merlot Serra Gaúcha Brazil (14% ABV, 100% Merlot)

Let’s look at these results. First, let me talk about the wines I contributed for the tasting. For the whites, they were both excellent – I got this Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca from Jeff The Drunken Cyclist as part of our Secret Santa fun, and the wine was delicious. The second white, Krupp Brothers Marsanne was a rare closeout score a few years back. Sadly, it was my last bottle, but the wine needs to be drunk, so I’m glad I had it in a good company – I consider that to be one of the best California white wines, for sure for my palate. Now, the red which I brought was another story – it was the Changyu from China, for which I terrorized my Chinese-speaking friend trying to ensure that it was Cabernet Sauvignon and trying to figure out the vintage or ABV (fail). Well, the worst part was that many people not just disliked it, they literally hated it – and I had other reds from Changyu while in China with much higher success. Oh well.

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The winning wine Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste was made out of the New Mexico grapes by the winery located in Arizona, with one of the grapes being Barbera – talk about rare and unusual. McManis Barbera, second favorite, was also quite unexpected – but looking at my notes and having tasted few of the California Barbera wines, I made a wrong guess with somewhat right descriptors. As you can tell, almost everything tasted to me like a Bordeaux blend – clearly, I don’t do well in the blind tastings, but one way or the other, this was lots of fun! And just think of the range of wines we tasted – Malvasia Blanca, Marsanne and Barbera from California, Nebbiolo from Uruguay, Merlot from Brazil, Pinot Noir from Macedonia, Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Merlot and Barbera from New Mexico – wow. The Malbec and Primitivo didn’t really belong on one side – but then on another side they kind of fit the bill too as Malbec from France is literally unknown to the wine consumers, and Primitivo is pretty much in the same boat, for sure in the USA. All in all, we clearly accomplished our goal of tasting usual grapes from unusual places.

Then, of course, there was food – lots and lots of delicious food, which everybody contributed to – I will just give you a quick overview in pictures, and that really only a fraction of what we had (at some point you get tired of constantly taking pictures of food…

We also drunk more wine, and this one was a standout. An unassuming California blend from Marietta in Sonoma – NV Marietta California Old Vine Red Lot Number Twenty. This is non-vintage, field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay, now, wait for it … which should be about 40 years old??? Current wine is called Lot Number 66, so if this was the Lot number 20, then we are simply making an assumption here… The wine was delicious – yes, it was mature, so showed the layer of delicious dried fruit and ripe plums – but it still had a perfect amount of acidity for everyone to say “wow”. I plan to write to the winery, so hopefully will be able to figure out the age of this wine, but this was clearly another amazing example of California wines which can age – and patience well rewarded.

Great fun and great learning experience, hands down. For anyone who is into the wine, the blind tasting is an endless source of enjoyment. If you love wine and never participated in the blind tasting, you really should fix it – get your friends together and have fun! If you need any “logistical support”, please reach out – will be very happy to help.

Ahh, and by the way, there is something even more intimidating than a paper bag – a black glass. But then your friends may start hating you, so tread gently. Have fun, my friends. Cheers!


Geekiest Way to Celebrate #MalbecWorldDay – #WineStudio Blind Tasting with Achaval-Ferrer

April 21, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer WSET 3 tasting Starting in 2011, April 17th is the day when we celebrate Malbec – one of the noble French grapes, which almost disappeared in France, but found its new life in Argentina, where it became a star. I don’t want to bore you with the Malbec history – you can read it on your own in many places, including few posts in this very blog (here is a bit about the history of the Malbec grape, and here you can take a Malbec quiz).

Typical “grape holiday” celebration usually includes an opening of an upscale (high end, memorable, etc) varietally correct bottle. Our today’s celebration was a bit different, as it was based on the concept of pure, unadulterated, geeky wine lovers’ fun  – a blind tasting, and, of course, guessing.

This blind tasting was a part of the educational program run by the WineStudio during the month of April. In case you are not aware of the Wine Studio, it is a brainchild of Tina Morey, and it is wine education and marketing program which helps to expand people’s wine horizon and help them discover new regions, new grapes and new wines. April program, quite appropriately (April is designated as a Malbec wine month), was focused on the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, one of the very best wine producers from Argentina.

To facilitate the blind tasting, all the participants received a set of two bottles, some wrapped in colorful foil, and some in the black plastic – mine were the second type:

About an hour before the session I opened the bottles to let the wines breathe a little, as it was suggested by the organizers. And then the session started.

Of course, this was not the usual blind tasting. There are many ways to run the blind tasting, some of them quite extreme – for instance, tasting the wine without any known information from the black glass – an extreme sensual challenge. Going less extreme, in a typical blind tasting you will have at least some kind of limits installed – Pinot Noir grape, for instance, or wines of Pauillac. Our #winestudio blind tasting was on one side a lot less challenging, as we knew that the wines were made by Achaval-Ferrer, so we didn’t expect to find Petite Sirah in any of those bottles, and we even knew the vintage years, 2013 and 2012. At the same time, for sure for me, it was almost more challenging, as I was trying to guess the wines based on what I knew about Achaval-Ferrer and thinking about what they might want to showcase in the tasting,  instead of focusing on the actual wines.

We were asked to evaluate wines using WSET Level 3 tasting grid (you can find it here if you are curious). Here is a summary of my tasting notes – I’m distinguishing the wines by their vintage:

Wine 2013
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium
Aroma characteristics: touch of funk, mint, underbrush, blackberries
Development: youthful
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: cassis, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries
Finish: medium-
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

Wine 2012
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium+
Aroma characteristics: tar, tobacco
Development: developing
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: red and black fruit, salinity, raspberries, anis
Finish: medium
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

As it is usually the case with the blind tastings, I didn’t do well. I really wanted the wines to be pure Malbec and Cab Franc, and this is what I included into my final guess:

then, of course, I second guessed myself and changed the answer:

When the bottles were finally unwrapped, we found this beautiful Bordeaux blend called Quimera  been our Quimera for the night – it is no wonder every back label of Quimera explains the name: “Quimera. The Perfection we dream of and strive for. The search for an ideal wine”.

The wines were 2013 and 2012 Quimera, both classic Bordeaux blends, but with a high amount of Argentinian star variety – Malbec. Both vintages had the same composition: 50% Malbec, 24% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 8% Cab Sauv and 2% Petit Verdot. Just as a point of reference, I still have a few bottles of 2008 Quimera, and that wine has 40% of Malbec. Both wines were beautiful, but very different in its own right – and they will for sure age quite nicely. This was definitely a treat and yet another testament to the great wines Argentina is capable of producing.

Here you go, my friends. Another great night at #winestudio, celebrating the grape well worth a celebration. Next Tuesday, April 25, we will be tasting Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc, their new single-varietal bottling – been Cab Franc aficionado, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Join the fun – see you at 9 pm! Cheers!

Of Cabs and Tomatoes, or Having Fun with a Blind Tasting

November 29, 2016 7 comments

“By the way”, my friend texted me, “your text says “tomato wine” – was that an autocorrect”? My response was “Nope. You’ll see”.

Drinking wine is fun (if you disagree, you shouldn’t read this blog). There are many things which we, oenophiles, self-proclaimed wine aficionados, can do to maximize that fun. We age wines, we decant wines, we use fancy openers and pourers, we play with temperature and glasses of different forms and sizes.

One of ultimate fun exercises oenophiles can engage in is a blind tasting. Blind tasting is a “truth serum” for the wine lovers, it levels the playing field for all. Blind tasting eliminates all “external” factors – price (ha, I paid $300 for this bottle, beat that), prestige, winemaker’s pedigree, weight of the terroir (ahh, Bordeaux, it must be amazing), cute and elaborate labels, critics and friends opinion – and leaves your palate one on one with the content of the glass. Don’t say “I hate Chardonnay and I never drink it”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Don’t say “I don’t like Australian wines”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Anyone who ever played the game of the blind tasting can surely attest to what I’m saying here. If you never experienced fun and joy of the blind tasting, you are missing and you are missing a lot – but it is easy to fix.

Our tradition of wine dinners goes back more than 5 years, and most of the wine dinners include blind tasting part (here are the posts for some of the past events – Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay). A few weeks ago, we managed to align everyone’s schedule for a wine dinner and a blind tasting with a simple and non-pretentious subject – Cabernet Sauvignon :).

wine tasting readyRemember the dialog at the beginning of this post? I have friends who know my obsession with the wine, and always try to surprise me with various oddities. One of such oddities was a bottle of tomato wine which they brought from Canada. I didn’t want to drink that wine by myself, so the wine dinner was an excellent opportunity to share it with friends. As guests were arriving, I decided to play a role of the mean host (okay, not too mean). Outside of the friend who knew about the tomato wine, the rest were presented with the pour of the white wine and the request to guess what grape that might be. Literally nobody wanted to believe that this was a tomato wine – I had to show the bottle as a proof.

Have I tasted this wine blind, I’m sure I would be in the same boat as all of  my friends – this 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec (16% ABV) was fresh, with good acidity, touch of raisins on the nose, medium to full body and notes of the white stone fruit on the palate – for me, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from Loire) is the one which comes to mind to give you the best analogy. This wine is produced from the locally grown heirloom tomatoes – and it is also a vintage – I’m seriously impressed (find it and taste it).

And to the blind tasting off we went. 10 wines were wrapped in the paper bags, opened and randomly numbered (my daughter usually does the honors), then poured into the glasses. The only thing we knew that all the wines will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon – no price or region limits.

Below are my notes, in our tasting order, both with my initial impressions and some updates over the next few days as I tasted leftover wines. And by the way, don’t think of this tasting of some stuck-up, snotty process – we openly exchange our thoughts, but each person’s individual palate is an ultimate purveyor of truth here:

C: almost black
N: restrained
P: bright fruit, pronounced tannins, delicious.
P: 2nd day – outstanding, firm structure, eucalyptus, dusty profile, tannins are still fresh.
V: 2013/2014, new world , considerably improved by the end of the tasting!

N: blueberry pie notes
P: beautiful, bright, cassis, blueberry pie with tobacco undertones on the second day, excellent
V: Lange

N: savory,
P: crispy, fresh, great fruit
P: 2nd day – firm structure, perfect balance, dark cocoa, cassis. Truly an enjoyable wine
V: nice finish,

N: strange, rotten cabbage, musty cellar
N: 2nd day: an improvement, tobacco with touch of barnyard on top of cassis
P: nice, bright,
P: 2nd day: great improvement, very enjoyable, shouting a bit of mature fruit with bright acidity and touch of fresh plums.
V: India?

N: coffee, mocca, dust, excellent
N: 2nd day: coffee and roasted meat
P: nice fruit, bright, spicy
P: 2nd day: palate shifted towards savory too much meat. Probably perfect with the steak, but craving more balance on its own.
V: nice, young

N: blueberry pie, nice
N: 2nd day: pure candy on the nose, more of a lollipop quality, or may be stewed strawberries.
P: sour cherry, wow
P: sour cherries continuing, albeit more muted than yesterday
V: nothing from Cab, but nice. An okay wine.

N: nice balance, good fruit
P: great, dusty palate, firm structure, excellent, precision
V: outstanding

N: nice dusty nose,
P: crispy, tart, limited fruit
V: not bad, but not great.
V: day 2 – past prime 😦

N: nice, classic
N: 2nd day: added perfume and explicit anise notes
P: beautiful, excellent, mint, classic
P: 2nd day: dark, powerful, compressed, espresso, a lot more dense than the day before.
V: excellent
V: 2nd day: less enjoyable than the day before, closed up, lost the finesse.

N: young berries, same on the day 2 but a bit more composed.
P: young crushed berries
P: 2nd day: a bit more restrained. Young berry notes without supporting structure. Not my wine, but might have its audience.
P: 5th day: the sweetness is gone, and the classic Cab showed up, touch of cassis and mint, excellent
V: 1st day – it’s ok, 5th day – very impressive

During the tasting, we decide on two of our favorite wines. After tasting is done, we take a vote, with each person allowed to vote for two of their favorite wines. These are just two favorites, without prioritizing between the two. Below are the results of the vote for our group of 11 people:

#1 – 1
#2 – 1
#3 – 7
#4 – 1
#5 – 0
#6 – 2
#7 – 4
#8 – 1
#9 – 4
#10 – 1

As you can tell, the most favorite wine was wine #3 (7 votes out of 11), and the second favorite was a tie between wines #7 and #9, each of them getting 4 votes out of 11. Now, drumroll please – and the most favorite wine of the blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting was … 2006 Staglin family Cabernet Sauvignon! Staglin Family Cab is definitely not a slouch in the world of cult California wines, and the group clearly fell for it. Here is the full lineup, in the order of tasting:

cabernet wines from the blind tastingHere are the details for all the wines:

#1: 2012 KRSMA Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Hampi Hills Vineyard, India (13.5% ABV)
#2: 2013 LangeTwins Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (14.4% ABV)
#3: 2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley (14.9% ABV)
#4: 2002 d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia (14.5% ABV)
#5: 2014 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon WO Robertson, South Africa (14% ABV)
#6: 2015 Vinca Minor Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley California (12% ABV, 1 barrel produced)
#7: 1995 Château Clerc Milon Grand Cru Classé Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV)
#8: 2000 Château Lanessan Delbos-Bouteiller Haut-Médoc AOC (13% ABV)
#9: 2009 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali Cabernet Sauvignon Sicilia IGT (14.5% ABV)
#10: 2014 Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon California (13.5% ABV)

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10 wines, 6 countries, 10 different regions, $7.95 – $150 price range, 1995 – 2015 vintage range – I think we did pretty well in terms of diversity. Staglin Family being the favorite wine is not that surprising (but still interesting, considering that it is the most expensive wine in the lineup at $149). My biggest surprises, though, were super-solid KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon from India (India? really?), an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Sicily (who would’ve thought!), and the cheapest wine in the group, Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95), which opened up magnificently 5 days after the bottle was opened – of course, nobody has a desire to wait that long for the wine, but forgetting a few bottles in the cellar might be a right move.

The dinner quickly followed the tasting (after 110 glasses were safely removed from the table). I don’t have much in terms of pictures, but we had Russian Meat Soup (recipe here) and beef roast as the main dish. The deserts were pretty spectacular and paired very well with Cabernet wines:

And that concludes my report about our great fun with Cabernet Sauvignon wines and the blind tasting. Now is your time to share your blind tasting and odd wines stories – and if you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I want to know your opinion about them.

Lastly, if you never experienced the pleasures of the blind tasting, you must fix it as soon as possible. Cheers!

Beauty of Chardonnay and The Game of the Blind Tasting

June 29, 2014 15 comments

DSC_0358Blind 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…

DSC_0368And the  wines were:

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:

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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:

Bodegas Alvear PX de Añada

Bodegas Alvear PX de Añada

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!

I Love Surprises

October 26, 2012 12 comments

Do you like surprises? Yeah, I see you saying “that depends” – ahh, as we grow up, the life is teaching us to be cautiously optimistic when we hear the word “surprise” – from unadulterated “Yay, surprise!!!”,  thanks to the gentle pressure of the life lessons it becomes “hmmm, surprise???”.

Anyway, this post is about good surprises, so you can already sigh with relief. Let me get to it. Today I saw an e-mail from a friend which briefly mentioned “blind tasting”. Okay, as the whole e-mail was about something else, I ignored that “blind tasting” part. Then, when I heard the entrance door opening and closing, I figured that my friend had arrived. By the time I got downstairs to the kitchen, I was greeted with this:

Yes, call me slow, but only now I realized that the “blind tasting” part was related to me and that the bottle is actually waiting for me.

Okay, so double blind tasting – I’ve done that before, it was fun, so yes, let’s do it again. The cork is out, wine goes into the glass. Perfect fresh ruby color, bright and inviting. Fresh, very fresh raspberries on the nose, some hint of sweetness – based on the initial assessment, the wine appears to be young and gives an expectation of being somewhat lighter on the palate. Also, the nose has that touch of green (really a touch) and earthiness. My friend is impatiently pacing back and force – “what can you say, what can you say” she rather demands.

Okay, I think it is a young wine, 2 to 3 years of age. Also, based on the nose and appearance, my guess is that it is one of he local wines – Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York Hudson Valley – my thought is that it is one of the indigenous varieties, like Chambourcin or Marital Foch.

She seems to be satisfied with my assessment, and we are moving on. On the palate, the wine shows some cherries and raspberries, and somewhat unusual (for me) tannins, in a very front of the mouth (I believe the wine spent time in oak, but I’m curious what type of oak it was exactly. Then the wine finishes with the hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. The wine is perfectly drinkable by itself, but should also nicely complement some charcuterie and lighter cheeses. All in all, it is a nice bottle of wine in my opinion, and I would put Drinkability at 7.

So now I’m allowed to remove the foil, and this is what I find:

As the back label says “made from the best California grapes”, I’m clearly out of luck with my varietal guess. But at least I got the place (totally by accident, but – WOW – the wine is from my home town, Stamford!!), and the age – it is 2010 vintage, so I’m right there with my 2-3 years old guess.

There you have it – as I mentioned many times in this blog, blind tastings are fun! I’m definitely impressed with the fact that the wine of this level can be produced by the amateur winemakers, but hey – everybody got to start somewhere!

Wishing you all great wine experiences! Cheers!

Taste Expectations, Or Notes From The Blind Tasting

February 28, 2012 3 comments

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 a good amount of fruit with some explicit black currant notes and a 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 are no longer valid and don’t match reality any longer? I have 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 it 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 is 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, not 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 a 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 their own, both Barolo and Brunello were good wines, but if I would order either one in the restaurant with the goal of pairing it 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 a very good, full-bodied 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 the metal imprinted label. The second sparkling wine was even more unusual – Abrau-Durso Semi-Dry – a sparkling wine from Russia, made by the reincarnated famous producer of sparkling wines for the Russian Tzar (the 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 it 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 a 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 drank 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 maybe even your friends!


Champagne Blind Tasting – Don’t Try That At Home?

March 6, 2011 10 comments

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:

  1. 2006 Bodegas Carrau Sust Brut Nature Vintage, Uruguay
  2. Franciacorta Bellavista Cuvee Brut, Italy
  3. 2006 Jacques Germanier Blanc de Blancs Brut Millesime Grande Reserve, Switzerland
  4. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence, France
  5. Champagne Thierry Triolet Brut, France
  6. 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee Brut Vintage, Georgia
  7. 2007 Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cuvee, South Africa
  8. J Cuvee 20 Brut, California
  9. 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!

Can Wine Tasting Be Double Blind?

September 22, 2010 2 comments

Can wine tasting be double-blind? You think this is a misnomer, right? Let me explain myself. The basic premise of the “blind” wine tasting is that the taster has no idea what is he or she is dealing with, and by using swirling, sniffing, gargling and any other techniques should identify grape (or grapes), the place where the wine was made, and ideally the producer and the year. For the example of amazing blind tasting I have to refer you to the movie Bottle Shock (if you are into wines, definitely worth watching).

In general, tasting wines 100% blind is rare. What I mean is that even in the case of the blind tasting, there are some limiting factors which help you to identify the wine. For instance, when the wines are tasted blind for Wine Spectator ratings, usually the territory and a year and well known (and the goal of the tasting is simply to rate the wines as good and bad, not to identify grapes and producer). Even when I was tasting the wines for the Certified Sommelier exam (for more info – see About section), it was known that there will be no Pinot Grigio in the glass and grape choices would be really limited.

So what would I call a double-blind wine tasting? I was asked to taste home made wine and provide my opinion. I was asked a number of times and couldn’t refuse. I do call this double-blind – all I know is that the wine is made at home of someone leaving in Connecticut, and I don’t even know if it is made out of grapes or may be berries? Of course the whole purpose of this exercise was only to say whether I like the wine or not (no need to identify producer and the year 🙂 ), but who doesn’t want to play detective in such a case? Yes, I want to guess the grapes, and I want to guess it right!

While sharing my detailed tasting notes is really useless, as absolute majority of my readers will never taste this wine, I would like to still share a short summary. First and foremost, I did like it! I honestly don’t classify myself as a wine snob – I would gladly drink two buck chuck, as long as it tastes good. But I had a lot of home-made wines before – they are all sweet concoctions, mostly made out of fruit with addition of powerful alcohols – so they really have nothing to do with actual grape wines. This wine actually looked, smelled and tasted good, so here my notes, for what it worth:

Color: dark garnet.

Nose: wine opened with freshly squeezed berries, like raspberries and blueberries, complemented by lime zest.

Palate: very nice fruit (again raspberries, blueberries, ripe plums, some tropical fruit – very unusual for red wine), complemented with vibrant acidity and good tannins.

As you can see, it is a description of a very nice wine – and it was very nice indeed. So was it perfect? Well, it took me some time to realize what this wine was lacking. It was lacking place. There was no notion of terroir, no earth and no minerals. This wine can be from anywhere (and being made in Connecticut, it definitely is). Again, the wine was very drinkable, and a lot of commercially made wine have no notion of place whatsoever – but I think this is something to note when tasting the wine, so here it is.

What would you put as a grape(s) under such description? My top guess is Zinfandel, and if not, my next guess is Syrah. I don’t know the right answer, and I promise to share it – once I will find out.

And as I mentioned before – blind tasting is fun! Get your friends together and play the wine detectives game – I guarantee you a great time!

Pinot Noirs Battle – Let the Best (but Most Unexpected) Win

August 10, 2010 12 comments

When tasting the wine, there is a lot of factors that will affect the perceived taste ( like/don’t like). Some of those factors are objective, like temperature (chill the wine, and some flaws will disappear), and some of the factors are rather subjective, like your mood.  I want to talk about another factor that is hard to categorize, but it can greatly affect what we think about wine. It is one and the same factor which comes in many forms – label, producer, cost, rating,  and wine critic at the end of the day. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, there are the best of us who can simply disregard all the known facts, and simply taste the wine for what it is. However, the majority of us (myself definitely included), will be influenced by what we know. Ah, Robert Parker rated this wine 93, it must be really great… This bottle of wine cost $100 – it must be great…

Well, there is a good way to eliminate this factor – it is called blind tasting. Considering this is summer, we decided to try a lighter red grape in the blind tasting format – so we chose Pinot Noir. The great thing about Pinot Noir is that it is grown in many different regions, and while the grape is the same, the wines from the different places will taste quite differently.

How do you run a blind wine tasting? Very easily. Each person brings a wine bottle in the paper bag and then opens it. All the bags are assigned random numbers. Then the wines get poured into the glasses which are standing on the mat with the numbers. Voila! Now all the wines can be tasted and independently assessed – no intimidation by any of the factors we mentioned above  – in the glass they all look [almost] the same (oh, boy, I can be bitten up by professionals for such a lame claim, but oh well…).

We had 6 Pinot Noirs and went through them one by one, assessing the color, smell, and taste of each, exchanging thoughts ( like “I think this is California” or “I can’t smell anything”), but not enforcing opinions. Here are my short notes as we went along (you can actually see the picture of all 6 wines and then see how funny my notes are):

#!:  New world, too much alcohol – 2006? (Actual wine: Chateaux Corton Grancey 1999, Grand Cru Corton, France)

#2: New World, California, 2007/2008? (Actual Wine: Sea Smoke Southing 2007, Sta. Rita Hills, California)

#3: Not bad, needs time, Chile? (Actual wine: J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir 2007, Arroyo Seco, California)

#4: Bright acidity, fresh fruit, Oregon? (Actual wine: Terra Noble Pinot Noir Reserva, 2009, Casablanca Valley, Chile)

#5: Classic – perfect smoky nose (Actual wine: Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2008, South Africa)

#6: Young and reminded of Monastrell. Very nice (Actual wine: Wine by Joe Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon)

Once we tried all 6 wines, it was time to tally it up and proclaim the winner, after which all the wines were revealed out of their bags. I would think that considering the title of the post, you already guessed that something unusual is coming. True, though for me it was way too unusual. So the two winning wines were tied up – #3 and #5, both got the same number of votes. I can understand wine #3, J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir from Monterey county, California. California is known as the place for Pinot Noirs, especially with the help of the movie Sideways. But wine #5, which I thought had all the traits of the classic Burgundy – please tell me honestly, how many of you heard of ( never mind trying) Pinot Noir from South Africa?! Of course, there are great wines from South Africa – Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, but Pinot Noir? And nevertheless, wine #5 was Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa.

So here you have it – blind wine tasting, which removes all the intimidation and decision influencers, and leaves you one on one with the wine in a pure and honest fashion. No hints “oh, that should be good because…”, no pretension.  Of course, there can be flaps. Wine #1 was spoiled (probably oxidation), so it should really be excused from the judgment. At the same time, wine #2, Sea Smoke Southing, would probably be decided a winner, simply because it is a cult Pinot, and it cost $80+ – if you can find it. And yet in the blind setting, it didn’t generate much response. Of course, there is always a happy chance that none of us has a sophisticated palate – but at the end of the day, the definition of the “best wine” is simple – it is the one which YOU consider the best, so I think we shouldn’t worry about it.

To conclude – get your friends together and try blind tasting one day – you might be surprised, but you will not be disappointed! Drink the wine, and have fun doing that :).


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