Overton’s blind tasting group found itself well beyond its comfort zone this week. Blind tasting is difficult enough with such subtle differences between wines and the convergence of styles between the so-called old and new worlds. But if you try tasting some wines which are well beyond your normal range you quickly discover how much we depend on models clearly imprinted in our tasting memory. Pinot Noir is pale in colour and has aromatic red-berried fruit, soft tannins and crisp acidity. Cabernet Sauvignon, by contrast, is deep ruby in colour and has aromas of blackcurrant fruit and leaf, a hollow mid-palate and great tannic structure … So what happens when you try to taste wines made from Saperavi or Agiorgitiko? you have no compass, no reference points, you wander helplessly around Eastern Europe waiting for a Tokaji to turn up … and when it does it is rather atypical!
But the good news is that it is not just us. Here is what Berry Bros & Rudd have to say about the impressive Mezes Maly, Dry Furmint, Royal Tokaji, Hungary 2009: ‘the palate seems to alternate between dryness and sweetness; it is in fact dry, but has such opulence that its texture defies description’ We had a long debate about just this point: did the wine have 6g of residual sugar per litre or was it dry? But we were impressed by the lemon sherbet nose, the peaches and sour cream and the medium-plus length.
Sometimes knowing more doesn’t really help. Our first wine, Plancic Ager Barriques 2006, was a little oxidised and had citrus rind notes and was very, very dry. It was, in fact, Croatian from the island of Hvar and is made from the local grape varieties, Bogdanuša and Parca … but that doesn’t really help does it! The person who bought it then shared with us that at the time of purchase he had thought that it was red.
There is only one conclusion to draw here: if the wines are completely beyond your comfort zone, taste them sighted! You will at least then focus on the quality or lack of it. And there was certainly some quality here. If we take the grape varieties, Saperavi showed some real promise again (Satrapezo 2010), Kekrankos and Agiorgitiko were OK and the international varieties were well made: Pinot Noir from Soli, Bulgaria and Pinot Gris from Verus, Slovenia.
And when we got to the Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Tokaji Classic Winery, 1998, it was certainly complex and redolent of citrus rind and waxed furniture … but the acidity was poking through the sweetness, perhaps indicating that this was on the road downhill. But at least we have a tasting memory for it.