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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!

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Magnum Marathon, Globalization!, #MWWC6 and more

December 11, 2013 9 comments

Barbera DamilanoMeritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #84, grape trivia – Barbera.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about red grape called Barbera. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Based on the latest DNA analysis, which well known Spanish grape appears to be a close relative of Barbera?

A1: Spanish grape Monastrell (known in France as Mourvèdre) appears to be a close relative of Barbera (but ohh so different).

Q2: What well-known grape became popular blending partner of Barbera as of late?

A2: As of late, Nebbiolo, a close neighbor of Barbera, is often used in the blends with Barbera to round up the resulting wine.

Q3: The new technique was introduced in making the wines out of Barbera in the second half of the 20th century, which helped to improved the quality of the wines. Which one do you think it was:

a. Malolactic fermentation, b. Fermentation and aging in the small oak casks, c. Carbonic maceration, d. Reverse osmosis

A3: b, Fermentation and aging in the small oak casks, seems to be the preferred method to tame the acidity and add some tannins to the resulting wine, making it also age-worthy.

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Barbera-based wines rated in the Classic category

A4: False. But I have to admit that Barbera is only marginally there, with just 2 wines having 95 rating.

Q5: Fill in the blanks: Barbera typically ripens two weeks later than _____, but at the same time it is two weeks earlier than ____.

A5: Barbera typically ripens two weeks later than Dolcetto, but at the same time it is two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo.

Talking about the results, Jeff, a.k.a. the drunken cyclist, answered all 5 questions correctly so he gets (again) the prize of unlimited bragging rights. Well done! I also would like to mention Alissa, who put the quiz upside down and instead of answering the questions in the quiz, asked me a very interesting question. As a “bonus question”, I would like to pass it on to you: “Outside of Asti is a place which pays homage to a man who helped with the unification of Italy, commercialization of Italy’s wine industry, and houses the first regional enoteca in the Piedmont region. Name it.” If you know the answer, don’t be shy and comment away!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First, don’t miss the WTSO Magnum Marathon tomorrow, December 12. Starting at 8 AM Eastern time, WTSO will be offering large format wines, at least 1.5L or more in size. The wines will be priced from $24.99 to $499.99/bottle, and the new wines will be offered every 30 minutes or sooner, if the previous wine will sold out. The new wines will be announced only on Twitter, follow @WTSO so you will not miss out.

Next, I came across a very interesting article by Mike Veseth of The Wine Economist fame, talking about Globalization of wine and food. Actually, his article in itself is already an aggregation of a number of other articles. It is definitely worth a few minutes of your time, so please head to Mike’s blog to read it.

Now, it appears that The Drunken Cyclist is definitely a star of today’s Meritage. In addition to correctly solving the quiz, he is behind two noteworthy events. First, as a winner of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #5 (#MWWC5) – Congratulations, Jeff! – he announced the theme for #MWWC6, which is going to be … Mystery. Sharpen your pencils, or may be flex your fingers, get your thinking cap/hat/fedora on and start writing. #MWWC6 Rules and regulations can be found here.

Second event is also a brainchild of TDC, and it is a secret Wine Santa project. The idea is to get all the bloggers (and readers) who is interested in playing a secret wine Santa by sending the wine to the completely unsuspecting recipient (and of course also getting the one him- or herself) to provide their address information back to Jeff, who will then randomly assign the aspiring alcoholics in pairs. All the rules can be found here, and if you are interested in participation, make sure to get back to Jeff not later than this coming Friday 12/13.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #84: Grape Trivia – Barbera

December 7, 2013 10 comments

wine quiz pictureThe Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, with the focus again on the red grapes, and today’s subject is Barbera.

It is interesting to see the level of difference in the available information for different grapes, especially when it comes to the historical data (not that it is unexpected). When it comes to the grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon, absolute majority of the different sources converge on the 17th century as the time when Cabernet Sauvignon become known as the particular grape. When it comes to Barbera, the range of opinion is rather stunning – some sources say that Barbera was mentioned for the first time only in 18th century, some say it was 13th, and some of them put it even back to the 7th. Therefore, I can’t tell you when Barbera first became known as a grape, but as a fun fact, do you know that Barbera is 3rd most planted grape in Italy, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano? Today, there are about 70,000 acres of Barbera planted throughout the Italy

Barbera is one of the main grapes in Piedmont, where it is often planted right next to its noble neighbour, Nebbiolo. Typically Nebbiolo takes over the best spots on the hills, and Barbera is planted right under. Some of the best Barbera wines are produced in Asti, Alba and Monferrato areas in Piedmont, with Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato having the DOCG  status (highest quality standing in Italian wine classification). Of course Barbera is planted in many other regions in Italy, such as Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and others. Barbera spread out all over the world with Italian immigrants, nowadays planted in Australia, United States (California, Texas and others), Argentina, Brazil, Israel and other countries.

Barbera grapes have dark thin skin. Barbera has a well known tendency for overproduction, so the plantings have to be controlled to achieve higher quality of the wines. Barbera typically has high level of acidity and low tannins, which makes winemaking somewhat challenging to produce wines which will be able to age well – of course ageing in the oak barrels helps with that. One of the well known characteristics of Barbera wines is intense berries aroma, and the wines typically have a medium body, at least in the classical Italian versions ( some of the New World Barberas can be quite bombastic). Barbera wines are generally food friendly with their inherent acidity, and they complement quite well a wide range of traditional Italian dishes.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Based on the latest DNA analysis, which well known Spanish grape appears to be a close relative of Barbera?

Q2: What well-known grape became popular blending partner of Barbera as of late?

Q3: The new technique was introduced in making the wines out of Barbera in the second half of the 20th century, which helped to improved the quality of the wines. Which one do you think it was:

a. Malolactic fermentation

b. Fermentation and aging in the small oak casks

c. Carbonic maceration

d. Reverse osmosis

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Barbera-based wines rated in the Classic category

Q5: Fill in the blanks: Barbera typically ripens two weeks later than _____, but at the same time it is two weeks earlier than ____.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

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