Monday, September 22, 2008

Further Adventures in Blind Tasting

Here are five red wines. They could be anything from anywhere in the world. Would you like to taste and try to identify them...blind?

For some people, even experienced wine lovers, this is an exercise in apprehension and annoyance. For others, it is a pleasurable and challenging experience. I still find myself in the latter camp, although I am so woefully inexperienced in many of the world's major wine regions, you would think that I wouldn't want to play this game. I love it though, because it generates thoughtful and unbiased discussion, IF you're playing with cool people.

My pal Asher took me to his friend's party the other night and we played this game. Not all of us - most of the people there probably thought we were quite odd. But a few of us blind tasted five red wines and tried to name them. It was an especially pure test for me because I have no idea what this guy keeps in his cellar, no clue about what he likes to drink. Never met him before. So it's really just about trying to determine what is in the glass.

Depending on your point of view, I either stunk at this game, or maybe I was okay at it. With only one wine was I able to immediately say "this wine is from here and is made predominantly with such and such a grape." But I was close in weird ways on the other wines, and I was proud of my logic, anyway. Listen - this is not easy to do.

Wine #1 was the only one that I felt immediately confident about. It just screamed California Cabernet to me. Asher agreed, and then went further saying that it was from one of the vintages between 1993-1997. It turned out to be a 1994 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Fay Vineyard.

Wine #2 did not show much varietal character. It smelled like an old world wine and it felt pretty tannic with a roasted earth character. So I went with a Grenache based Rhone wine. It turned out to be a 2002 Domaine Virely-Rougeot Pommard 1er Cru, Les Chanlins (I think). I still maintain that there was nothing whatsoever Pinot about this wine. Asher basically nailed it, by the way. He guessed a 2005 Burgundy, young and tightly closed.

Wine # 3 was a total mystery to me, and it was a style of wine that I almost never drink. Heavily oaked, little varietal character that I could detect, not much to go on. The dominant smell was vanilla oak, and the nose reminded me of some of the modern Riojas I've tasted, so I went with that - a moderately aged, modern style Rioja. It turned out to be a 1997 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino. Hey, same continent right? And I was correct in that it was, in fact, a red wine.

Wine #4 was super bright with cherries and acidity, full bodied, and also very tannic. It didn't seem like a baby, just highly tannic. There was a lot of oak on the nose. I again went with a Rhone wine, this time thinking
Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It turned out to be a 1998 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle. Again, Asher basically nailed it. He called it as a Northern Rhone wine, but he thought it might be Chave. I swear to you, it didn't taste like Syrah. Don't worry, it's not you, it's me. I'm the idiot.

Wine # 5 was a tough one, everyone was completely stumped. I sensed a sea-water umami kind of thing on the nose that I've found before in mature Burgundy, although I wasn't getting much else in the way of Pinot character. And although the nose offered mature notes, it was still incredibly tannic on the palate, as if it was born a few days ago. With some vigorous swirling I got hoisin, anise, and other savory notes. Maybe this is a Burgundy with a few years on it, from a year like 1996 where the wines can still be tannic beasts at this stage. And the mouth feel and overall character of the wine could be Pinot - too light for the Bordeaux grapes. I was just guessing here, but I went with a 1996 Chambolle Musigny, and I threw in Les Amoureuses for good measure. Turned out to be a 1996 Prunotto Barolo Cannubi.

This was such a great exercise, and so much fun to do with people who were totally non-competitive and interested in discussing the wines and the enjoyment of tasting them. I've never had a Banfi Brunello before, or a Jaboulet Hermitage, or a Prunotto Barolo. And can you imagine the generosity of this guy, Asher's friend Bruce? He decides to have a blind tasting and these are the wines he opens when 20 people are wandering around his apartment.

So what do you think? Are my guesses completely lame, or do you see where I was going? Have you done this? How did it go for you?


Edward said...


Very passable picks. I think it's always easier tasting wine from someone whose cellar your know well. My brother and law and I taste blind every month or so, and I know he is keen on older Australian wine, which narrows down the range of things I need to consider. Not that I ever manage to get more than a 50% 'score'.

Anonymous said...

Souns like a very cool experience that you had there! I think blind tasting is a very good exercise. I always find it amazing what comes to mind when you dont have a clue as to what your tasting! I like the way you shared your thoughts before knowing what it is-that is the most interesting part of blind tasting, I think. Nice one on the 1996 vintage!

Unknown said...

You did a great job at deciphering these mystery wines. Without even the slightest insight about the personal preferences of the host you applied a keen nose and palate, logic and group discussion and came up with some incredible guesses.

Many would agree that given some bottle age, good Nebbiolo can often resemble Burgundy, so your Chambolle guess on the Barolo was on the money - and you nailed the vintage!

With 5 wines from France and Italy and one ringer (Napa), which both you and Asher promptly pegged almost to the vineyard, you got incredibly close on most of the wines. I doubt that could have done as well - but hopefully we'll find out one of these days.

It was great to enjoy some cellar gems with a few people who share the passion. Most of my friends could care less if it's Hermitage or Yellow Tail, let alone tell the difference.

I hope we can do it again soon, maybe with a few more of your readers in NYC.


Joe Manekin said...

Neil - good guesses, and for a relative newbie to this game (or that's what I gather from reading, anyway) it sounds like you more than held your own. Most importantly, as you mentioned you had fun and learned something.

I usually participate in similar double blind tastings once a month.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot. I showed this piece to my girlfriend and now she's too scared to drink wine with me.

Brooklynguy said...

thanks for all of these kinds things you're saying. And again Bruce - this was incredibly generous of you. it can be such a great learning experience provided the environment is right, and this one was right on.

and sorry asher. you'll have to un-scare her somehow. i'm sure you'll find a way.

Vinogirl said...

Sometimes I like to taste blind...other times I just wanna get rat-faced! This particular selection of wines sounds like a lot of fun.