Into the unknown

Tasting wines blind is a journey into the unknown.  This is quite literal at times – you are presented with a glass and, apart from being able to see whether it is white or red, you have no idea what it is, even after you have tasted it.  When the wines are obscure or quirky, that’s no big deal. When they are well known classics it is humbling and revealing.  Not only does it confirm that we taste with our eyes firmly on the label and are profoundly influenced by what we expect to find; it also shows how unclear the signals are that we get from our senses.

IMG_0580In our blind tasting group, a few people knew where to place St Aubin Premier Cru ‘Dents de Chien’ Olivier Leflaive 2007, but many didn’t.  I thought it could be Chardonnay, but went for a bit further south in Macon, but I didn’t feel really confident it was Burgundy at all.  The nose was strangely smokey, the palate showed some of the ripe apple fruit which you might have expected on the nose, plus quite high acidity.  The person who had brought it was a bit disappointed by the quality and perhaps that was the clue. if a wine doesn’t really show its character it’s much less easy to spot.  The picture above (taken in a rather dark pub) makes the wine look much darker than it was.

Perhaps even less true to type was Glenguin Estate, Christina, Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia 1998. Pale gold in colour, this led with apple aromas and wood, high acidity certainly, persistent but not subtle.  The odd thing about this wine was that it had not developed any of Semillon’s waxy fatness after over a decade.  After some testing of the idea that it was Chenin Blanc, the consensus moved to Australian Semillon, so in that we were right.

IMG_0587Pierro Chardonnay 2006, Margaret River, Western Australia For straightforward drinking, rather than guessing games (sorry that should be powers of deductions) the group preferred this highly attractive Australia of the three whites.  Young, slightly spirity nose (13.5% alcohol), but then delicious ripe apples, some smoke and vanilla from the oak.  On the palate the fruit balances the alcohol well, and is highly drinkable.  Most went for Australia but not the region, which turned out to be Margaret River in Western Australia.

Every blind tasting needs a curve ball, and Plantaze Merlot 2008, Lake Skadar Valley, Montenegro 2008 was certainly a wine (and possibly a country) new to all of us.    It had a certain richness to the nose and the palate, but beyond that it was well … unknown. The characteristic Christmas cake fruit of Merlot was not that evident, in fact it wasn’t giving much away at all.  But at least horizons were widened.

IMG_0598Cape Mentelle Margaret River, Western Australia 1989 showed a slightly browning rim, appropriate to its 22 years with scents of pear drops and liquorice. The best guess was that it was a Bordeaux blend from a warmer area, when in fact it is Cabernet Sauvignon, so we were on the right lines.  This wine didn’t really shine as it might have done, a slightly disappointing classic of its type.  The same group had tasted the much more obviously successful (if much younger) 2003.

The next wine proved to be a perfect match for the excellent duck breast served up by the Red Lion, Overton:  Yarra Yerring, Pinot Noir, 2007, Victoria, Australia.  It certainly was true to type, rich, full-bodied, not jammy or baked, benefitting from the cooling effect of the ocean and the rain around Melbourne. Red berries, first hint of farmyardy aromas developing, silky, quite dense, very delicious.  We agreed on the grape variety but couldn’t fix a country, other than this was in the New World.

Henschke, Henry’s Seven, Barossa Valley, Australia 2006 was all liquorice, spice, dense fruit, some jamminess.  Most went for Shiraz from Barossa, but in fact this is a complex blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre), and Viognier, a Northern and Southern Rhone bend in South Australia.


One of the star wines of the evening was a further Australian red, Giaconda, Warner Valley, Shiraz, Victoria, Australia, 2001.   There is apparently a tiny amount of Roussanne in this wine to give the aromas a lift, but the key point is that the vineyard is at a cooler 500m above sea level, resulting in a wine which has real freshness as well as dense, sophisticated fruit.  Notes of menthol, pepper, chocolate and sweet balsam; overall, a rich, powerful and subtle Australian Shiraz.

IMG_0617Dedicato a Marianna, Taurasi, Marianna, Campania, Italy, 2001 was a new wine and grape (Aglianico) to most present.  Janet and I visited Taurasi in 2009 and were mightily impressed by its very traditional wine making culture, it’s slow evolving wines and great hospitality.  This wine was in the old style, big, slightly musty from long years in huge barrels (botti), dark plums, some almondy, plum-stone notes, mulberry, fine tannins, balanced.  Not a crowd pleaser but one for those with time and a desire to try older styles.  It also has one of the most accurate back labels you could hope for, if in Italian!

Rocca Torricelle 1997, Puglia, Italy, to finish with, this unusual sweet wine made from late harvest Primitivo, with rich red fruit, a raisony, sweet edge but not that sweet; quite tannic, so perhaps better on its own or with cheese rather than dessert.

All in all a great evening: two Italians, one Burgundy, and surprising six Australians, not to mention one wine from Montenegro.  Some well trodden paths and some obscure byways.

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