The November ‘bring any bottle you like’ version of Overton’s blind tasting group produced three categories of wines – bankers (wines you had a chance of spotting), ‘on a good day’ (if the force is with you) and ‘you have got to be joking’. Plus one in the ‘mission impossible’ class as well. Most quality wines tell a story of the climate the grapes were grown in, the particular aromatic and taste characteristics which derive mainly from the grape variety. But then you add in vintage variation, numerous choices in how the fruit is grown and in wine making, and ageing. What you might think is a simple exercise of recognition or deduction becomes very demanding indeed.
Three wines were relatively straightforward. The Contours, Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley, 2007 showed powerful ‘petrol’ and lime juice notes and mouth-filling weight which pointed to Riesling and indeed Eden Valley in South Australia. Meanwhile, Indigene, Spinifex Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2001 had all the black fruit and chocolate you could wish for with a substantial presence and soft tannins. The marked garnet rim pointed to some bottle age, here 12 years. Nearby, Joshua, Teusner, Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro, Barossa Valley, 2007 had raisin, dried figs and roasted notes with rich jammy fruit. The blend makes it perhaps more difficult to spot but warm climate GSM was spot on. If only all blind tasting was this (relatively) easy!
On a good day
You might have expected Champagne Moutard 2006 to be an easy pick given Champagne’s northerly location and classic if complicated wine making. But this wine was made from no fewer than six grape varieties, three of which – see the list on the bottle above – are unusual for Champagne. Baked apple and crystalline sugar on nose and palate, tart malic acid (definitely very cool climate) and some yeasty, even meaty notes, perhaps derived from time in the bottle both during second fermentation and then bottle ageing. We should perhaps have known what this was but no one was sure. Sadly Les Folatieres, Puligny-Monrachet Premier Cru, Dom. Gerard Chary, 1995 which should have been a real treat was oxidised at the beginning of the evening and showing an impressive range of toffee and fudge notes by the time we tasted it – badly out of condition. In theory Grande Garde, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Saint Benoit, 2001 should have given up its easily with CNP being classically a big bodied, soft tanned wine with some fruit expression but not aggressively so. However, given its leanness we had as many votes for northern Rhône as for the south.
You have got to be joking
Normally you would think that a Chardonnay, a Bordeaux blend and an Amarone would be a gift in a blind tasting, the first two being common and the latter a unique style. But Saulheimer Chardonnay, Muschelkalk, Thörle, 2012 had hints of pine resin on the nose and of tinned pineapple on the palate. One experience taster did plump for Chardonnay but the rest of us were at sea. But then this is from Thörle whose Riesling is notable for not tasting of Riesling. Similarly, Il Cacciatore, Curtefranca Rosso, Lo Sparviero, 2009 was attractive, light and fruity, so unlike many Italian Bordeaux blends and better for it. Thirdly, Amarone, Cantina di Negrar, 2005 was sadly just a disappointment – closed up, some concentration but oxidised and average. Normally a very reliable co-operative in the hills above Verona this did not deliver the complex combination of concentrated fruit and long-aged effects that one hopes for.
And finally, there was a wine which was a real local speciality to the point of breaking a well-known maxim – there are no dry botrytised wines, just sweet – or faulty – ones. Ronc Soreli, Otto Lustri, Venezia Giulia Bianco 2010 from Friuli begs to differ. This is made from the grape formerly known as Tocai and now as Friulano with a little bit of Riesling. The key point is that only botrytis affected grapes are selected which means around five passes through the vineyard. After the wine has fermented it is matured in stainless steel casks for 10 months and kept on the fine lees. The result is a crisp refreshing palate with a hint of lemon marmalade which is the result of the partially desiccated grapes. There is some added richness but this is a completely different style to standard, sweet, botrytis-affected wines and would go well with a range of chicken or fish dishes. As for being able to work out what it was in a blind tasting … it certainly belongs to the ‘completely impossible’ category.