In a blind tasting, there is the occasional moment when you put your nose in the glass and know what the wine is. When I say ‘occasional moment’ that’s what it is. The rest is the application of experience to the aromas, flavours and styles of wine – and most of us just don’t have sufficient experience of wines to do a very reliable job. Not only is the world of wine constantly expanding but aged wines introduce a whole additional range of complexity. But the good news is, it’s great fun trying.
The first two wines on a blind tasting evening were sparkling and as it turned out the same range of grapes, one was Champagne and the other was made from the classic Champagne grapes grown elsewhere. Most people got the Champagne right but on a quality judgement, not a regional one, and were relieved that they were right!
Nyetimber (England) 2002: nice fine bubbles, broad biscuit nose, quite full-bodied, good acidity over a modicum of sweetness, something not quite right on the palate, disjointed
Taittinger (Champagne) 2004: again fine mousse, some signs of bottle age, but longer, richer, more complex than the first sparkler, only surprise was when it was announced as Bollinger but in fact was Taittinger … and after only two sips of wine.
Domaine Raymond Roure, Jaboulet Aîné, Crozes Hermitage 2002
This was one of the wine’s Janet and I brought so it was easy – at least for me as Janet hadn’t seen it being chosen! This site was bought by Jaboulet in 1995 and comprises 5 hectares on the steep slope north of Tain l’Hermitage. The wine is 100% Marsanne from 60 year old vines planted on calcareous clay – and so makes for an interesting contrast with its Ozzie cousin to follow. Some developing honey notes on the nose along with white pepper and herbs; quite classic melon and mineral flavours, dry finish, herby.
Tahbilk, 1995, Victoria Australia
I thought this was regional France, Gaillac perhaps. In fact, the deep aged yellow colour and intense apple nose was old Marsanne from Oz. It was a bit short in the mouth. The latter was the only sign that this was an inexpensive wine that was really worth keeping for 15 years and, as such, quite a rarity. Completely different from the Crozes, especially for the minerality of the former.
Gewurztraminer 1997, Montana reserve, Gisbourne, New Zealand
This was the final ‘white’, though in reality, this Gewurz after 13 years was somewhere between mid yellow and a rather unreal orange-pink tinge. The lighting in the pub was not great but this certainly wasn’t a typical white wine colour. Flavours of apricot, peaches and candied peel, the primary lychees and roses so typical of the grape variety was long gone. Nobody guessed the grape variety or the unusual location.
99 Rows, Pinot Noir, Martinborough, 2009, a new wine on offer to Caviste, and the first of three Pinot Noir wines in an (unplanned) row. However, we had been told in advance that it was lamb shank for dinner so that may have had people reaching for this grape variety. This was quite different to the next two, dense in colour for this normally pale variety, quite extracted with good red fruit (strawberry, raspberry but also almost plum), but not very typical for Pinot Noir – more PN heading towards Syrah! The consensus was that at about £18 there are better New Zealand Pinots to be had – unless you like a very extracted style.
Back to the old world for
Dom. Blain Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet 2004 and Dom. Rene Engel, Vosne-Romanée 2004, both Burgundy
I had my one moment of intuitive certainty for the evening at this point: approach glass, sniff, that’s Pinot Noir, think about it, it’s from Burgundy. I did say so audibly, but safely, to Janet sitting on my right. Fine strawberry/raspberry fruit, young acidity and tannins, lovely Pinot Noir, moderately juicy, subtle. Montrachet is now so heavily associated with white wines but in fact only a couple of decades ago it was principally planted to Pinot. My notes got a bit confused at this point – the two Burgundies seem to have been blended into one…
La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 1997
This was the other option as the ‘lamb wine’ and a very good lamb accompaniment it made too – interesting there are some similarities: principally red fruit (strawberry/raspberry to red plum), medium weight, medium alcohol, good acidity to cut across the fattiness of lamb and medium tannins. Like Pinot Noir, Rioja is a relatively easy wine style to spot tasted blind, though most thought it was Reserva rather than the Gran Reserva it turned out to be. With Tondonia, this is one of the great Rioja houses and so it proved.
Two final reds followed, both in full on, assertive style. Cape Mentelle, Margaret River 2003, Australia and the big Super Tuscan, Bruno di Rocca, Vecchie Terre di Montefili, 2001. Showing that it is not luck but experience that counts, our most experienced taster got these both correct, ie Margaret River Cabernet and a Super Tuscan Cabernet blended with Sangiovese respectively. We were duly impressed. Both are excellent wines in their own style. Cape Mentelle oozes dense, well balanced black fruit and mint but with lots of following acidity. It tasted very young for its seven years. Bruno di Rocca is a warm climate Cabernet but held in check with the sour cherries and acidity of Sangiovese. It was a particular pleasure to have this last bottle unveiled and Janet and I had a wonderful visit to Vecchie Terre just outside Greve in the Chianti Classico area a couple of years ago. No doubt we were offered either the top Chianti or the Super Tuscan to taste as the climax of the visit and we certainly will have chosen the former. So this wine was like meeting a semi-acquaintance, a friend of a friend.
And finally, and it was a bit of an epic night, one of the circle had been nominated to bring a sweet wine. The picture, below right, was intended to show ‘man and glass in sweet harmony’ and nearly does. Unfortunately, the photographer missed the exact moment of the reverential rapture but this gives you the idea. The wine, as you can see, was Bass Phillip’s Botrytis Semillon 1997, a splendid Australian sticky. It had a great marmalade orange nose, good sweetness, not that luscious, but with remarkable acidity – it must have started life with some zip to be this fresh now. All in all, a great evening, in which wine experience showed. For the rest of us, it’s just more practice.