One of the quirky charms of Overton’s ‘Bring a Bottle Club’ is the practice – usually followed by one of the regular members – of bringing a joker bottle to be tasted blind, like all the wine. There are not many other places where you could taste a 10-year old English rosé, a Maltese red or a white Nero (that’s the clue) di Troia. However, as there is no conferring before the tasting on what people will bring, the ‘joker’ factor will spread to the usually more conventional choices of others. When this happens, blind tasting becomes a somewhat random series of increasingly desperate guesses. It is still possible to comment on the ripeness of fruit, the weight of the wine and much more, but identification becomes mission impossible. And so it proved on a pleasant summer’s evening when the chance to be inside out of the rain belied the fact that this was the July meeting of the ‘BBC’. You could say that the most recognisable alcoholic beverage of the evening was the one in the first picture below. Plus a fine picture of post-Kilimanjaro beard …
This first wine is a major classic and should have been recognisable. Slightly oxidised, pale gold, floral, sharp apples and honey, some sweetness. But there was a long debate over Riesling v. Chenin Blanc, the majority wrongly favouring the former: Le Haut-Lieu, Vouvray Sec, Huet 2002. When you don’t spot the most distinctive wine of the evening, you know you are in trouble.
Having started with Riesling on the mind, here was another perhaps more obvious Riesling. But there was still something strange about it – trying to locate it in the world’s Riesling zones was not productive … Edgy acidity, some mineral notes, but then ripe apple and stone fruit … What nobody had in mind is a Riesling /Albarino blend grown at 1000m of altitude in NE Spain: Ekam, Castell d’Enclus, 2010. Much praised by Jancis Robinson and stocked by Caviste.
OK, this one should have been easy and most got the grape correct: fairly austere if oaky nose, some concentrated citrus fruit, medium acidity, good length. It turned to be the oaked version of a fine NZ producer’s Chardonnay. But even those who drink Kumeu River regularly thought that the oak overwhelmed the fruit in this example: Maté’s Vineyard, Chardonnay, Kumeu River 2004.
On an evening of unusual wines, this was – deservedly – the official, full-on, joker. And yes, it does say Barossa Valley Gewurztraminer on the label. My note says ‘light, quite floral, lime [fruit]’ but nothing that might suggest its grape variety as grown in more typical locations: Goldilocks would have needed more forensic questioning to lead her to 4 Bears, Gewurztraminer, Barossa Valley, 2008.
Another oaky number if again in a subtle and expensive way, then good rounded fruit, all pointing to barrel fermentation, but where? As Caviste has become something of N Spain specialist, this would be a fair surmise but trying to place this blind was impossible: made from 100% Verdejo, Naiades, Naia Viña Sila, Rueda DO, Spain, 2007.
This was the Rosé which I brought, partly to make the point that there are pink wines that will stand up in this company. So the cloud of unknowing briefly lifted at least for me. Fragrant strawberry fruit, excellent structure, unusually for a rosé, fermented in a barrel, good length, most thought it was Provencal. In fact it is from further south: Le Rosé, Domaine Gardiés, Côtes-du-Roussillon, 2011.
Oh dear, seriously off-piste again. Dense colour, minty and a touch burnt on the nose, dried fruit and black cherry, medium tannins, medium length …. no idea. It was bought as a joker. I think it is fair to say that no one had tasted (a powerful and slightly clumsy) Cretan Syrah before: Diamantopetra, Diamantakis Winery, Crete, 2009. Made from Syrah and the local grape Mandilari.
My wine again and one that has been taking up a space in the rack for a few years. Quite dense in colour and texture, probably at its peak with delicious, perfectly knit together red and black fruit, some leather notes and the slightest touch of green leafiness. People were really surprised at the weight and density of this quality Cabernet Franc: Coteau de Noiré, Phillipe Alliet, Chinon 2003.
Petit Verdot … Sicilian Petit Verdot of course! PV to its friends is a minor but spicy Bordeaux variety which the adventurous experiment with in hotter climes. Here the nose was restrained and hinting at the powerful black fruit dominated palate. Chianu Carduni, Baglio di Pianetto, IGT Sicilia, 2004 is late picked at the end of October and is the product of heat and long hang time on the vine in the Palermo district of Sicily.
To complete this mission impossible, another unusual wine: bold new world fruit, hugely extracted plus lashings of fine oak; chocolate, red and black fruit, but no one obvious varietal clue. This turned out to be made by Masi from the Veneto, northern Italy, producing wine from Amarone-style semi-dried ripe grapes but with a blend of Corvina and Malbec … in Argentina: Masi Tupungato, La Arboleda, Argentina 2008, 14.5% abv.
We are now looking forward to BBC2 on Austria (plus Germany as necessary) when at least there will be a theme – and no doubt a joker, but hopefully not five!