February’s Bring a Bottle Club was off into unchartered territories … again. It was, however, the last time when we had some clues. The custom has been for each person to bring their bottle or bottles suitably shrouded but for all to know who has contributed each wine. This inevitably leads to inferences being made … or wild surmises: it’s X’s wine so it is likely to be Italian, its Y’s wine and so it is probably 20 years older than anything else … But from next month we shall be even more in the dark as we are going to cut the cord which binds each bottle to the person who brought it. In the meantime, how did we get on with the odd clue?
Using all the evidence is the golden rule in blind tasting. At least one of our number surmised that, as this bottle was brought by a member who had just returned from New Zealand, this was like to be a Kiwi, but, as it was presented as a joker, not an obvious one. Pear drop and powerful, quite simple ripe apple and melon on the nose and palate, pleasantly rounded fruit, a touch of nougat on the crisp short finish. Pinot Gris, Rod Easthope, Hawke’s Bay, 2012, I thought it was old world (not using all available evidence!) but was at least in the right general area with a guess at Pinot Blanc for its general neutrality.
Rather more obvious was this second wine which all agreed was Riesling. The wine opened up with quite powerful ripe apple aromas and some minerality – not a whole petrol station full but just a pleasant edge. The palate was beautifully knit together with lime juice elements and good acidity. Most went for a new world source but were a bit puzzled by its coolness, so Clare and Eden Valleys seemed a bit improbable … rightly. In fact it was Peregrine, Riesling, Central Otago, New Zealand 2007. this area is so strongly associated with Pinot Noir that we forget that other varieties are available too. (And yes it was brought by our recent NZ traveller …)
White wine number three was a serious puzzle. Powerful fruit but not of an obvious kind. Brought by someone with a lot of old wines in his cellar but not manifestly old. It didn’t fit any obvious pattern: pale gold in colour, pretty nose, actually quite powerful with honey and grapefruit aromas; good palate weight and balancing acidity; long. Ripeness was also a strong theme. We wondered about Chenin Blanc in the new world, while one perceptive taster plumped for the Manseng family. La Pierre Blanche Jurançon, Sec, Dom Bellegarde, 2008, Unusually for a Sec it is mainly Petit Manseng: 30% Gros Manseng, 70% Petit Manseng.
The next white started a run of three which showed that the intervention of the winemaker can lead to wines which are not expressive of place or at least don’t reflect the standard expectation. This started quietly, with rounded fruit (even ‘toffee-coated fruit’), while others found a sort of tinned pineapple juice taste; certainly creamy and only medium acidity, but with some fruit sweetness. Nobody was near a Chenin Blanc from the Loire, but apparently it is selling well in our local wine merchant: Fleuve Blanc, Jean Francois Mérieau, Vouvray 2005 One point to bear in mind for this wine and the next is the possibility of bottle shock – both wines had only recently hit these shores.
From one unrecognised French classic to another. Aromas of medium intensity, a slightly surprising sulphur note (given that this bottle had been open for a few hours), then ripe apple and lemon-to-lime fruit with some mineral notes; the palate was more expressive than the nose and finished with quite high acidity reflecting the wine’s youth. Bourgogne Blanc, Chardonnay, Domaine des Terres de Velle, 2011; we agreed at least that it was expensive at £18.
Not recognising Chardonnay is forgivable as it is quite a subtle variety without pronounced flavours of its own. But Sauvignon Blanc? That normally either shouts at you (grassy, green) or at least whispers (if oaked). But what about a floral note with a touch of coffee bean? Had the winemaker dropped the coffee beans in the wrong machine? There was a certain lime note on the palate and good palate weight with a long, lean, finish. Clearly Sauvignon comes in all shapes and sizes: Gavroche, Touraine Sauvignon, 2011.
Sometimes you don’t recognise a wine tasted blind but you don’t worry about that too much as its sheer quality wins you over. This wine was difficult in that the grape produces many poor wines and a few excellent ones – and it is rarely oaked as this was. Pale gold, a sophisticated, slightly oxidized, developed nose (hint of yellow sultanas, dried grass, thyme), a substantial palate, clearly from a warm place but not obviously varietal, bone dry, real acidity through the oiliness, long and nutty. But the components do not really do just to the excellence of the integrated whole: Evoè Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Panizzi 2007. Declared the white wine of the evening.
The BBC has a dishonourable tradition of strange rosés after an infamous example of a 10-year old English pink wine which was well past its best. I am pleased to say that this, nearer red than white, the wine was a lot better than that, if almost as obscure. Phaedra, Xinomavro, 2011, Greece, said to cost £3.99, was mid salmon, even coral, in colour, with a bright, slightly confected, ‘boiled sweet’ nose, fair palate featuring sweet fruit and medium in length. Certainly drinkable.
Our first red of the evening was another of those classic blind tasting moments – I know this is familiar but I can’t place it, I am sure I have drunk something like this recently. Its sheer restraint on the nose did not help, nor did it give off any of the obvious clues of the cheaper versions of this wine, so none of the banana or bubble gum smells related to carbonic maceration. And that is probably because this example was made in the modern ‘Burgundian’ style, ie like a traditional, quality, red wine: Henry Fessy, Brouilly AC, 2009, one of the ten Beaujolais cru: restrained, cooked black fruit, a sensation of warmth, some dusty, smoky notes, medium in weight and with noticeable tannins.
The part of blind tasting I find most difficult is drawing the inference from what you can detect. You look at, sniff and taste the wine, you collect a reasonably impression of its characteristics … and then you have to infer from your perceptions what the wine is – which is the difficult bit for me. This second red was a clearly a warm climate wine of some weight, with attractive, intense, ripe black fruit and some menthol. We all went for Australian Cabernet Sauvignon but without much conviction because it was not ‘blackcurranty’ enough. So if not Cabernet (or Syrah), then … Grenache: Cornella Vineyard, Grenache, Heathcote, Jasper Hill, 2005.
My one real triumph of the night! This wine presented as pale ruby with an aged-looking rim, ‘reluctant red fruit’ as one of our number observed, some farmyard notes (‘old sock’ was a less enamoured comment), moderate, grippy tannins, with some ripe fruit on the palate and finish. The overwhelming consensus was for the best known pale red variety, Pinot Noir. But I could not square that inference either with the fruit profile or the rather too prominent tannins and so went for Nebbiolo, correctly, a rarity. We were not overly impressed by the quality but happy to make the acquaintance of Nebbiolo di Carema DOC 2007, the most northerly of the Piedmontese DOCs.
And finally we had a wine that was not shy and self-effacing; not a blockbuster, but assertive and full of Californian confidence – but of course we did not know that. It showed some ageing on the rim, with quite marked ‘compost’ and really warm black fruit on the nose and palate, along with chocolate, leafy, dusty and dried fruit (figs, raisins) notes and enough acidity to hold it altogether. We found it difficult to place except that it was obviously from somewhere warm: Clos du Val, Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, 2005.
If we have this much trouble when we have the clue of who brought the wine … what is it going to be like when we are fully in the dark?