Thursday, March 31, 2011

Further Adventures in Blind Tasting

A lot of people don't like blind tasting, but I enjoy it a lot. The point for me is not to try to guess the wine, although that is fun and definitely a part of the learning experience. The point for me is to remove a very important stimulus from the experience of evaluating wine - knowing what the wine is, and whether or not I'm "supposed" to like it. I like to think that I'm not so superficial that I cannot separate my evaluations about a wine from my preconceived notions about that wine. But still, it's good to check in on these things from time to time.

My favorite way to blind taste is to get together with a group of friends and ask everyone to bring a bottle to serve to the group. The key, obviously, is to gather people who will enjoy the experience of evaluating wines while blind, not people who will view this as a competitive event in which they must guess wines correctly or be embarrassed.

My friend Tista was in town recently and I decided to use his visit as an excuse to gather some friends and have a blind tasting dinner. Everyone brought a bottle to accompany a certain dish and we had a great time talking about the wines. Let me tell you people, as if you didn't know this already - blind tasting is rather humbling. But it can be great fun too if you're with the right people, and I definitely was. I'll share some of the details with you:

Tista brought a wine to serve with vegetable soup and he told us as the bottle was being passed around that the wine is not yet imported to the US. I liked it very much, with its red fruited nose, herbal notes, and its bright energy. I guessed a red grape-based wine from Champagne, probably Bouzy. One taster noted an oxidative note on the nose, which turned out to be rather astute as the wine is the first sparkling wine made by Equipo Navazos, the 2007 Colet Navazos, made from Xarel-lo (one of the Cava grapes) grown in Penedès. So with Bouzy I wasn't really so far off - same continent. But that doesn't matter, as I liked the wine, but I believe I liked it less than I might have if I had known it was an Equipo Navazos wine. It's possible, anyway.

Here was another great moment - I smelled and sipped a red wine that a friend brought to pair with an egg and mushroom custard. The wine smelled wonderful and it was just delicious. It had a vague cinnamon aroma that I associate with carbonic fermentation, and texturally it felt like high quality Beaujolais to me, but one with a little bottle age. There was a prominent tannic feel to the wine, but very fine tannins. All of the sudden it hit me, and I knew what the wine was. 2007 Foillard Morgon Côte de Py, I proudly declared. I beamed as I waited for my friend to reveal the wine, and started thinking about how to be graceful while accepting the amazed congratulation of my friends. "You might have noticed that it is a Bordeaux-shaped bottle," my friend said as he took the bag off of the bottle of 1998 Chateau Simone Palette Rouge. Everyone liked the wine, by the way. It was one that everyone agreed on.

Here was an instructive moment - some one poured a red wine that they brought to pair with slow roasted pork, and it was really a great wine. Lush and deeply fruited, silky and graceful, with a nose that gained in complexity as it opened up in the glass, showing floral and earthy notes. There was a clarity to the flavors, unadorned with any kind of excess. It felt like a mature wine but not an old wine, and I had no idea what it was. Some one said it was a Cabernet Franc. Sounded plausible, but it didn't remind me of the Cabernet Francs that I know from the Loire. Turned out to be the 1983 Opus One (!!!). This is a wine that I NEVER would select from a wine list, auction, or retail shop - not a wine that I would buy. Not that I'd ever tasted one (a taste once, but a newer version). Just based on reputation. This wine honestly was excellent though, and a very generous contribution to our evening.

I didn't get them all wrong, in case you were wondering. A friend brought another wine to pair with vegetable soup and as soon as I smelled it, without even tasting it, I knew that it was Gruner Veltliner, and it had this particular funky vegetal aroma that I associate with Grüner from the Wagram. I still had a modicum of confidence at this point, by the way, as vegetable soup was the first course and I hadn't yet mistaken Simone for Foillard, among other gaffes. Turns out that I was very close - it was the 2007 Ludwig Neumayer Grüner Veltliner Zwirch, from the Traisental. More importantly, while I haven't yet found the Wagram Grüner that I love, I really liked this wine, and it was best as it disappeared. It was pungent and pure and very nicely focused, a well balanced and delicious wine that was perfect with the soup, to which I had added a bit of dill and ground caraway seed.

There were many more wines that evening, many of them very good, I learned a lot, and everyone seemed to have a good time. You should try this sometime, a blind tasting dinner. It's good fun.


leviopenswine said...

I was trying to recognize all the participants, and even though I thought I knew some of them really well from past meetings, it was still really tough to put a name to all the faces.

-Levi D.

TWG said...

Nice that you got to drink two bottles you wouldn't choose on your own.