Early on I had blogged about the responsibility of wine knowledge and how people rely on you for recommendations. I have found out the one thing that is even more nerve racking than making a recommendation on a good wine… that is trying to identify a wine when you can't see the label. Yes, that is right, the evil and frustrating blind tasting.
A friend of mine hosted a wine gathering where each couple brought a bottle of wine. Each bottle was quickly wrapped in a brown paper bag and received a number as its only identification. Okay, this wasn't as bad as a pure blind tasting event as my friend had printed out, in advance, all the labels and tasting notes for each of the wines. So instead of a pure blind tasting we did a blind matching.
In case you are wondering a pure blind tasting often requires that the tasters are given wine without any details and are expected to rate them quality. The idea is to determine the ‘best' wine based on its taste alone. Considering the broad spectrum of where wines can be from, blind tasting are often limited to one type of varietal, style or a region.
For our event, the only rule was the wine had to be a red but could be from anywhere. Tasting notes were provided and the goal was to guess the wine based on the tasting notes. Below are the wines that we had tasted.
2003 Red Flyer, Red Blend
This red is described as an inky-dark wine, with medium to full body, and a lot of spice. The bottle with its catchy label houses a robust, full bodied, country style wine that, at this price, can be a house red for barbecue and that sort of thing. It's totally dry, with plumy-coffee flavors and sturdy tannins. Out of this world!! Made up of Syrah, Mouvedre, Grenache, Carignan, and Clone X
2004 Sausal Family Zinfandel
This estate red is produced from dry farmed vines that average 50 years of age. Following fermentation, the wine is aged twenty months in a combination of American and French oak barrels, adding complexity. The result is a soft and approachable red.
2005 Twelve Vineyards Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir
Another poor set (we were starting to believe it rains every year during bloom) resulted in our lowest yields ever. The year was a little cooler than 2004 and we picked right at our target sugar levels. The wine has higher acidity and slightly less alcohol which was very characteristic of the vintage, some of the angular edges had smoothed over. Another year of bottle age couldn't hurt.
2005 Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The dark ruby-colored 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon resembles a classic Bordeaux both in aromatics and flavor. A rich bouquet of cinnamon, spice, licorice, graphite and caramel are followed by integrated layers of cherry, currant, fresh cream and balanced, sweet tannin, all of which contribute to a youthful, bright, multi-layered wine.
2003 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2003 Frank Family Vineyard's Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon leads with generous aromas of dark chocolate black cherry and spice which are layered with dusty cedar and loam. The palate is vibrant and concentrated; bursting with ripe black cherries plum currant and blackberry which are balanced with well structured tannins providing a lasting grip while maintaining a refined elegance.
2003 Hess Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
It delivers keenly-defined cassis and black-plum fruit and picks up a nice boost in richness from its liberal oak. While it is well-balanced and fit with fairly trim tannins, it has the capacity to grow for a handful of years if left to age in the cellar.
2001 La Fiorita Laurus Toscana IGT
80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot. Rich, deep red in color. More modern in style, but oak is not really apparent. Round tannins and nice acidity. Dark berries, black cherry, some spice, and a pleasant earthiness. Very enjoyable and a nice value. While enjoyable now, it should continue to improve.
2005 Loxton Cellars Cabernet-Shiraz ‘Grandfather's Cuvee'
This wine is a classic Australian Cabernet-Shiraz. 70% Cabernet and 30% Shiraz. Australians consider cabernet to be a donut wine; there is a whole in the middle that is filled by the shiraz. Smoke, leather and spice in the aroma. Herbs, spice, current with black fruit in the taste.
As you can see there were some very similar wines and some that should be easily identifiable. The trouble is that when you get into a blind tasting everything that you think should be easy becomes more difficult. When you have the tasting notes it is like having the labels there. You can't help but persuaded by the words, vintage and reputation of the wine. You might think this would be easier but I think I might have fared better without the notes to confuse me. In my defense, I have never claimed to be able to pick out a producer or a vintage or a producer & vintage. I've always claimed that I could pick out the varietal.
Out of the 16 people there the best score was 3 out of 8. What did I get? I'm not telling but I was able to identify the wine I brought with me which is all I really care about. The next time you host a wine event make it blind tasting … you'll find the results very interesting.