White Sauvignon Blanc and other tales of the unexpected

Blind tasting is supposed to be such a serious business but sometimes … and good company and alcohol may have something to do with it … it dissolves into hilarity


and just a great evening together.  The tone of the this evening where people brought one or two wines to taste blind was set by one member of the group, who is in the wine trade, telling us about a local tasting she had attended with a friend.  She had been offered a wine and the member of the wine trade serving it (no doubt trying to be helpful) explained to her that Sauvignon Blanc was a white grape … And then, by chance the first wine of the evening, served blind, was itself a bit a bit of a curve ball, Sauvignon Rose (or, less romantically, Sauvignon Gris) from Tourraine in the Loire valley which despite its name produces wine as white as the usual SB.  Needless to say that led to rumours of elusive bottles of red Muscadet and pale-as-driven-snow glasses of Australian Shiraz.  Sauvignon, Tirage Limité, Jean Francois Mérieau, Tourraine 2008 was quite a honeyed colour (fermented in 25% new oak but no doubt the colour exaggerated by the dim lighting), floral and clean if with some complexity from being made in barrels, with battonage, and with a characteristic high acidity, which was the most obvious clue.  Nobody guessed its identity.

IMG_7227IMG_7219Next, by chance, two wines made from the same grape variety on two sides of the river Rhône, as it happened a junior and a senior version.  The first turned out to be Cuilleron Viognier, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes 2009 which was fresh and moderately fruity, peaches and pears, slightly waxy or full in texture, with a good refreshing finish.  By contrast Jaboulet’s Condrieu 1999 was a pale gold, with a pleasant toffee apple nose and a refined palate, less fruit now but sophisticated.  So the wines shared grape variety and a view of the river Rhône, but one comes with the famous appellation name and in this case had bottle age, while the other lives on its fruit, if mellowed by being partly fermented in oak.  The final white was an export from the Rhône, Roussanne, Grenache blanc and Picpoul grapes in homage to Beaucastel: Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit de Beaucastel 2006, California.  A yet more exotic wine, apples and toffee apples on the nose, forward fruit, long.

Five reds followed. These included one major surprise and one wine which I should
have recognised and didn’t.  We started with one – which went excellently with the Red Lion’s lamb dish – which was said to be a light wine and turned out to be B de Belair, Lussac-St Emilion 2001, the second wine of Château Belair.  Subtle notes of leather and spice combined with mature fruit, very drinkable indeed. We all went for Bordeaux, some of however on the wrong bank of the river.  It is a fact of life that the wine which is tasted when the food arrives gets less attention than it might, but this was a happy marriage.

The most unexpected wine of the evening was the second red, with pleasantly assertive blackberry, mulberry fruit and some spice very well knit together, and a very seductive texture.  We roamed around the world with this, most plumping for Syrah and then Australia … There was even talk of leaving the wine trade if this identification was wrong.  Of course I wouldn’t be telling you about this if it was right.  To everyone’s complete amazement the wine was Domaine Cheveau, Beaujolais-Villages ‘Naissance’ 2009.  I, as a confessed non-admirer of the Gamay grape, have tried a few of the 2009s as everyone agrees that it was a remarkably good  year. They are very good – but they do taste of Gamay (see Vinous variety); I find the palate rather layered, a series of flavours, rather than a unified experience.   This example was a sophisticated and refined glass of wine, full of fruit but not in an obvious way, and not a hint of cherry bubble gum which is a feature of much Beaujolais.  I know remember that we had been offered this wine by Caviste who said it was amazing … and now we believe them.  Some of the assembled resorted to the Blackberry to put in an order before the word spread too far.


The third red was the one I brought and, due to work commitments, had travelled to York and back for a day trip. L’enfant perdu, Domaine des Enfants, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2006, is a big number, a blend of Grenache, Carigan, Syrah and Lladoner Pelut, 50% of which is aged in large barrels, 50% in stainless steel.  Most people thought it was from Southern Italy or similar, which was fair enough.  I find it big and impressive and a touch unbalanced.  Dense plummy fruit and a slight rubber note, spicy, gutsy.

The final dry red wine again threw people.  It turned out to be a classic of its type, in a sense a typical Caviste wine which we had all drunk before, if a very different vintage, which we vaguely recognised couldn’t quite place:  inky black fruit, luscious and ripe, real substance: step forward Rockford Basket Press, Barossa Valley, 2001.

And finally, a sweet red which I at least should have recognised but didn’t – the group consensus was that it was Maury or Banyuls from the South of France.  From Italy I had in mind Recioto della Valpolicella, the sweet version of Amarone.  Picking up the theme of the evening, in a different vein, we suggested late harvested Sauvignon Blanc … in fact it was Aleatico dell’Elba, the characteristic, moderately sweet red IMG_7254made from the Aleatico grape from the island off Tuscany.  I have tasted the mainland versions of this which are good (eg from Bulichella) but Elba is where Aleatico is really at home in central Italy.  Aleatico dell’Elba, Fattoria delle Ripalte 2006 was a superb example with a nose of rose scents, balsam from old wood, gorgeously drinkable, sweet and long but with excellent counterbalancing acidity.  A fitting conclusion to an evening of white Sauvignon Blanc and other surprises.

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