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A Pinot Noir Lesson for Self with Tendril Cellars

October 3, 2018 6 comments

Tendril Cellars winesBack in May, we virtually met with Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars and talked about … many things wine, of course – you can find this conversation here.

Tony is one of the few winemakers I know who teaches people about his wines by conducting organized tastings. As I didn’t have an opportunity to attend any of those events, I decided to run a lesson for myself on the same subject. How you ask? Easy – by tasting the wines blind.

I can literally see the surprised looks and raised eyebrows. How is it a blind tasting if I know already everything about those wines? You see, the lineup I had included 6 wines. Out of those six, four were different Pinot Noirs – different vineyards, different winemaking process, different price points. Obviously I was not planning to try to identify the exact wine, but still – will I be able to taste the difference, and maybe identify the most expensive wine? Comparing Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir should also be a fun exercise, as those are two siblings ruling the world of Champagne. Yep – lots of opportunities for having fun.

Okay, blind tasting it is. The bottles are wrapped, the numbers are randomly assigned. May the taste buds serve me right!

Tendril Cellars Blind tasting

Here are my notes for the wines while tasting them blind:

1 Light golden color
Vanilla, golden delicious,
Bright acidity, vanilla, apples, a touch of honey

2 toasted notes, yeast
Perfect acidity, Granny Smith apples, a touch of honey, toasted notes on the palate, outstanding
white pinot?

3 Dark ruby
Earthy, Rutherford dust on the nose, a touch of roasted meat,
Beautiful palate, soft plums, round, espresso, excellent acidity, wow. ThightRope?

4 Ruby
Concentrated nose, mint, eucalyptus
Concentrated palate, acidity, eucalyptus, sage, violets on the palate. Very unusual. Single Vineyard?

5 Dark ruby
Wow. Blueberries, raspberries, restrained
Very smooth, silky, bright fresh fruit, acidity, firm structure, excellent balance, never-ending finish. Wow. C-Note?

6 Dark ruby
Nose old world style, forest floor, mushrooms, great restraint
Round palate, blackberries, baking spices, soft, delicious. Outstanding. Extrovert?

Tendril cellars after blind tasting

Everyone knows that the best part of the blind tasting is … unwrap! The moment of truth, pure and simple. Here are my notes for the tasting of the wines non-blind, 3 hours after the blind tasting (in the same order):

1 – 2015 Tendril Cellars Pretender Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $60, white Pinot Noir)
A bit darker color (golden)
Vanilla, butter
Plump, round, crisp acidity, acidity on the finish (very extensive), plump body.
8, excellent. Reminiscent of a nice Marsanne.

2 – 2015 Tendril Cellars Chardonnay Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $40)
Honey, gunflint, vanilla
Brioche, Granny Smith Apple, a touch of butter, clean acidity, excellent
8, outstanding.

 

3 – 2014 Tendril Cellars Extrovert Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $48)
Beautiful, classic, open Pinot, with cherries, sage, and plums.
Soft cherries and plums on the palate, clean acidity, sage, violets, delicious, wow
8, delicious.
8+/9-, a pure standout. Polished, velvety, seductive, like a light touch on the hand which makes your whole body to vibrate. More reminiscent of CA Pinot than dark and loaded

4 – 2014 Tendril Cellars TightRope Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV, $64)
Very tight, espresso, licorice, blackberries
Beautiful, sweet fruit, noticeable tannins, very round, medium body, cherries and cherry pit.
8, excellent.
Complex nose of herbs and spices, exotic and unusual.
Wow, great power and complexity, not a typical Pinot, might be more of a Zinfandel or even Syrah profile. Needs time, lots more time.

5 – 2014 Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir Mount Richmond Single Vineyard Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $60)
Very unusual. Beets and caramel on the nose, with a touch of dark chocolate.
Blueberries and caramel on the palate, nice salinity, raspberries. Medium+ body. Excellent
8
Very ripe after 2 days been open (air pumped out). Beautiful palate, minerality-driven, cigar box, eucalyptus, tense, powerful. Can be mistaken for a Rioja of a nice caliber.

6 – 2014 Tendril Cellars C-Note Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $100, 100% Whole Cluster, 100% new oak)
Sublime. Can be described only via allegories, such a finesse. Dark chocolate and cherries. Excellent
Equally delicate on the palate, crisp acidity, bright, sweet plums, and tobacco. Outstanding.
8, excellent
Nose is incredible. First, you want to smell.this.wine.for.a.long.time.
Superb, elevated wine, complex, great finesse, and needs time. 8+

As you can tell, I failed miserably. I didn’t identify any of the wines – however, this was perfectly in line with my expectations. What was definitely interesting is that despite the four Pinot Noir wines been all from Oregon and at about the same age, they were absolutely, unquestionably, distinctly different – and strikingly delicious.

Of course, I extended the pleasure of tasting some of those wines over the few days, which is reflected in the tasting notes above.

 

Here you are, my friends. Blind tasting or not, the Tendril Cellars wines are worth seeking – the virtual tasting will simply not do it – these are the wines to experience. And if you need to choose only one, I can let you in on a secret (don’t tell anyone!) – the Extrovert was my favorite. Cheers!

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 3 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
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium
Aroma characteristics: touch of funk, mint, underbrush, blackberries
Development: youthful
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: cassis, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries
Finish: medium-
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

Wine 2012
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium+
Aroma characteristics: tar, tobacco
Development: developing
PALATE
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
CONCLUSIONS
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:

#1:
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!

#2:
N: blueberry pie notes
P: beautiful, bright, cassis, blueberry pie with tobacco undertones on the second day, excellent
V: Lange

#3:
N: savory,
P: crispy, fresh, great fruit
P: 2nd day – firm structure, perfect balance, dark cocoa, cassis. Truly an enjoyable wine
V: nice finish,

#4
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?

#5:
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

#6:
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.

#7:
N: nice balance, good fruit
P: great, dusty palate, firm structure, excellent, precision
V: outstanding

#8:
N: nice dusty nose,
P: crispy, tart, limited fruit
V: not bad, but not great.
V: day 2 – past prime 😦

#9:
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.

#10:
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!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Plonk in the Headlines, Gambero Rosso and more

January 16, 2013 6 comments

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #43, Which One Doesn’t Belong. In the quiz, you were given a list of 6 well know Burgundy wines and you were supposed to identify the one which shouldn’t be on the list and explain why. Same as last time, we have exactly the same two winners – both vinoinlove and thedrunkencyclist were able to correctly identify that Clos de Lambrays shouldn’t be on the list of Grand Cru Monopoles. Monopole essentially is a single appellation in Burgundy which is owned by single family/winery. Clos du Tart, La Grand Rue, La Romanée, La Romanée Conti and La Tache are all Grand Cru Monopoles ( they all have their respective single owners), but tiny portion of Clos de Lambrays has its own separate owner, which makes it unqualified for the “Monopole” denomination. Congratulations to our winners, they are doing great winning the second quiz in the row – will see how long their winning streak will last, but for now they definitely got the unlimited bragging rights.

And now, let’s move on to the interesting stuff around the grapevines. First, the upcoming presidential inauguration created a lot of waves (rather a small tsunami) in the wine world, by selecting Korbel undrinkable plonk as a sparkling wine of choice, and also calling it a “Champagne”. Considering absolutely astonishing availability of great sparkling wines (authentic!!!) made in this country, from New Mexico to California to Virginia to New York, I can only raise both eyebrows (I would raise more if I would have it) at this selection. For a better coverage, you should read what Dr. Vino and Chris Kassel have to say about it. I truly hope that this selection is not indicative of what we should be expecting here in US of the next four years…

What do you think of a blind wine tasting? Do you think it is humbling? You bet. Do you think it is educational? I’m sure it is. But don’t take my word for it – here is an interesting article published by the Wine Spectator and talking about blind tasting experience – I think it will be well worth of your time.

Last but not least – Italian wine lovers, rejoice! Thanks to Stefano from Flora’s table, we now know that Gambero Rosso, one of the most respected and prestigious Italian wine guides, will run the wine tasting events around the US over the next few weeks.  For more information about Gambero Rosso events, please visit Stefano’s blog.

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!

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 2 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 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!

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!