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Weekly Wine Quiz #3 – Judgement of Paris

March 24, 2012 1 comment

Our last weekly quiz was about of the most significant dates in the world of wine – 1855. Another very significant “wine” date is 1976 – this is when famous Judgement of Paris took place. Depicted in the movie called Bottle Shock (second movie called Judgement of Paris is in the works), it was an event where a number of California wineries submitted their wines for the blind tasting against their French counterparts. The judgement was done blind and by the French wine critics, and California wines came on top of the French for many of those critics. This was the event which squarely put California on the worldwide wine map.

So here is the list of California wineries which participated in the Judgement of Paris, except one – again, my recommendation is that you will try to figure it out without reaching out to Google for help. Have fun. Cheers!

Experiencing Judgment of Paris, Courtesy of Stew Leonard’s Wines

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

And again I have to thank folks at Stew Leonard’s Wines for putting together an interesting wine tasting event. This time we had an opportunity to relive legendary Judgment of Paris of 1976, a wine tasting event which put American wines on international wine map.

In 1976, a blind wine tasting took place in Paris. In that event, wines from Napa valley in California were put against classic French wines – and Californian wines won over French hands down, all in the event judged by the French wine critics and such, which became a turning moment for the whole American wine industry.

I have to mention that I just realized something: while I know some of the Napa wines presented at this Paris event, I have no idea what French wines they were competing against. Nevertheless, let’s talk about the wines presented at the tasting.

Starting with the white wines, there was Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from Napa valley, positioned against Michel Lelu Pouilly Fuisse from Burgundy. Chateau Montelena was one of the actual winners in the Judgment of Paris event (great story of Chateau Montelena is presented in the movie Bottle Shock). I don’t know if this Poilly Fuisse wine participated in the 1976 competition, but Chateau Montelena Chardonnay just beat it completely. The Pouilly Fuisse didn’t have much of anything going ( it belonged to the “also wine” category), where Chateau Montelena showed nice fruit and just right amount of oak, vanilla and butter – delicious!

Talking about red wines, the Stag’s Leap Artemis was also one of the original participants  in the 1976 Judgment event. In the Paris tasting, it was competing against the Bordeaux. During the tasting at Stew Leonard’s Wines, it was “competing” with another Napa red, called Hansom. Both reds are from the great 2007 vintage and need more time to fully develop. Hansom, which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, was a bit “overdone” to my taste, and it had noticeable “burnt fruit” on the palate – this is my personal terminology, which means that fruit and alcohol are not in harmonious balance with tannins and acidity. Artemis, which is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with small addition of Merlot and Petit Verdot, was very elegant and round, and the only thing it is asking for … is more time. It probably needs another 5-7 years to achieve true greatness. I assume that you can guess form this description that Artemis was my absolute favorite in this tasting.

In addition to tasting these four wines, I was able to try one more “off the record” wine, courtesy of Larry, who was manning the tasting station. I call it “off the record” because the wine was not the part of the tasting, but it simply happened to be open, and Larry was kind enough to give us a taste. The wine was called Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 from Horse Heaven Hills area in Washington. To describe it quickly I would say that it was similar to Hansom in style, only done right – fruit forward but well balanced with enough acidity and tannins to make it a very pleasant wine (at $19.99 it is also a good value).

To conclude, I can only again say thank you to the Stew Leonard’s Wines folks, for putting together one great wine tasting after another. And they have done it again, by the way – it is Dom Perignon weekend at Stew Leonard’s Wines – don’t miss it!

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!

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