Blind tasting improbability index

As stated many times on this blog, exposing yourself to trial by blind tasting is a mug’s game.  My worst moment was failing to identify the grape variety of an Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer. After I knew what it was its typical rose water and lychees aromas were as obvious as it gets.  And yes there are a few easy hits – Riesling, young or aged, tends to announce itself, classic Pinot Noir should not be too difficult – but generally it is extremely challenging.  The brain plays funny tricks on you; smells and tastes are difficult to pin down; increasingly, New World producers are successfully imitating the ‘European’ restraint, while the climate warms up in Europe producing ripe fruit which could come from warmer locations. So what the world needs is a blind tasting improbability index, the BTII to the cognoscenti: 0 for wines so bland that they could be made from a blend of the European wine lake  or grape varieties so obscure that even the grape grower doesn’t really know what they are called, 7 for classic Bordeaux blend in a cool climate, 9 for young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and so on. 

On ‘the index’ (as I as sure it will be known), wines at the late April Bring a Bottle Club scored pretty low: one grape variety which nobody had heard of before, one rare blend, a red wine from a famous white wine maker, and a white wine from an appellation almost uniformly associated with red.  And I thought there was supposed to be only one joker per evening! Ok – there were also two Clarets, one showing classic characteristics, the other rather atypical.  Let’s give the index its first outing. 

IMG_0151 Curiously amber in colour, this had some oxidised notes as well as toffee and floral aromas.  On the palate is was a bit waxy (?Marsanne) with a rather drying finish. It turned out to be Domaine Tempier, AC Bandol Blanc 2003 – probably suffering from the heat of that year. Mostly Clairette with Bourboulenc, Ugni blanc and 3% Marsanne! But an unusual white from a famous red AC: BTI index 2 or 3 at most, though well done to those who thought it was a Rhone white which was in the right area. 
By contrast this wine had a BTI score of 7 or 8.  Restrained green herbaceous and grassy notes, some very mild pleasant oak on the palate, more assertive ripe fruit towards the finish. TerraVin, Marlborough Te Ahu 2008 is a very good oak-fermented Sauvignon Blanc.  My only real success of the evening as I spotted correctly the grape variety, the oak and the New World origin despite the restraint.  IMG_0153
IMG_0155 Medium deep ruby in colour, quite aromatic on the nose, a rather thin palate of plum, cherry and perhaps a hint of chocolate.  I joked that from the colour it could not be Pinot Noir; in fact it was a blend of oak aged Pinot and Rondo – which I later learnt has some non-vinifera genetic material in it which gives it good protection from winter frost and downy mildew.  Useful in northerly climates:  Wickham Reserve 2008, a local vineyard here in north Hampshire. Joker no. 1 and BTI index of 2  or perhaps 3 for a wine that is local. 
Joker no. 2 and BTI index of –2 (ah, you mean you didn’t know the index has negative numbers?). Which red wine has some bell-pepper and cedar notes but then high acidity and tannins, a rasping palate of some interest but not very polite manners?  A clue (of sorts): it is a relative of a grape variety which makes a famous white wine.  Step forward (and then backward quickly) Listán  Nero, the red version of the Palomino variety, the main stay of Sherry.  Tajinaste, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, 2010 IMG_0157
IMG_0159 By contrast, this wine should have been both a great treat and a relatively easy spot, BTI index 8.  Moderately rich fruit, leafiness and a rather farmyardy note on the nose, with fair fruit but very high acidity and marked tannins on the palate.  An old Bordeaux favourite, but in this particular example the balance of wine was not quite right for chateau or vintage:  Ch. Batailley, AC Pauillac Grand Cru Classé (fifth growth), 2002
Same BTI score or a nudge up as this wine did exactly what it was expected to do.  On the ruby/garnet border in colour with a broad rim, well integrated oak effects, restrained red and black fruit, medium acidity and tannins which were a bit chalky:  still in Bordeaux but rather humbler if absolutely true to type:  Ch. Cissac, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, 2000.  Enjoyed by all, wide consensus as to its identity. IMG_0166


Classy and elegant nose, oak, red and black fruit which managed to be both sumptuous and restrained, The fruit is bright and very attractive – but doesn’t fall entirely into one obvious varietal or wine style, but there is no doubting the outstanding quality. I guessed right but was not really sure as the intensity and structure of the fruit threw put a question mark against Tempranillo:  R. López de Heredia Tondonia, Vina Cubilla, 2005. Marketed as a Crianza but much better than that would suggest.  65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, with some Mazuelo and Graciano.  Wine of the evening, BTI index 7.5.
A bonus bottle with the cheese which followed the Red Lion’s superb lamb dish.  Pronounced wood notes, rich, caramel, something spicy, obviously fortified, rather too chunky on the palate for my liking:  Marks and Spencer’s Dry Oloroso Sherry, made by the excellent Lustau.  BTI index 8.5. Score could be higher but, sadly, we just don’t drink much quality Sherry.  Dry Oloroso

Average BTI score over eight bottles? a miserly 5. This shows how difficult an evening it was – but note that the average conceals a lot of very low scores and some high ones.  The BTI – like our tasting skills – might need some honing. 

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