Archive for September, 2009

Blind Tasting Challenge Recap – White Wines

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Last week’s tasting was a little different than usual – instead of focusing on a particular varietal or region, we did a little blind challenge of white wines throughout the world. There were 5 wines, each a single varietal, from 5 different countries; the challenge was to correctly identify the country (or varietal) for each wine. I only picked wines that were widely grown and representative of their country and showed good varietal typicity. To make it a little easier, I gave a list of 6 countries that the wines could possibly come from along a list of what varietals typically came from those countries. The choices were Spain, United States, Argentina, France, Germany, and Italy.

Wine 1: Crios de Susana Balbo 2009 Torrontes, Argentina: If you’re familiar with Torrontes, this was one of the easier ones, as Torrontes is a very distinctive grape – aromatic and floral, with a bit of stone fruits, lots of white flowers, and an almost perfumy mouthfeel. The 2009 Crios just got released, and it’s delicious – as usual, a standard-bearer for the varietal. If the varietal’s Torrentes, then it had to be Argentina (Torrontes is not grown much elsewhere – a small amount is in Spain, but too little for the parameters of this tasting.)

Wine 2: Newton 2007 Chardonnay, Napa/Sonoma, United States: Not as easy as it sounded – this wine has much more acidity than most California Chardonnays (which is why I like it), so that threw a few people off. Still, the richness, ripeness and relatively high alcohol content screams New World (i.e., anything but Europe). By default, that was the US or Argentina. Classic Chardonnay characteristics of malolactic fermentation (giving a creamy, buttery texture); some spicy oak; and pear/lemon curd / apple flavors. Most people got this one.

Wine 3: Johann Peter Mertes 2005 Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken, Mosel Germany:Probably the easiest of the bunch. Drier than most German Rieslings (halbtrocken means “half-dry”) – I didn’t want to make it too easy – but still noticeably sweeter than the rest. High acid, no oak, and a floral / petrol / tropical fruit confirms Riesling; low alcohol and sweetness level points to Germany. Almost everyone identified this correctly.

Wine 4: Thomas & Fils 2007 Sancerre “La Crele”, France: This was a challange, and the wine didn’t show loads of overt fruit (which was a clue in itself). High acid, very minerally, great structure. Lots of wet pebble flavors, and some underlying white grapefruit that grew over time. A complex wine, and very representative of Sancerre. Acidity + citrus leads you toward Sauvignon Blanc, wet-pebble minerality points to France.

Wine 5: Marco Felluga 2007 Pinot Grigio “Mongris”, Collio Italy: In my mind the hardest of the five, because Italian Pinot Grigio is generally less defined than most other varietal/regions. Again, though, that’s a clue. This wine has more texture and structure than most Italian Pinot Grigios, with great phenolics, flavors of golden raisins, and underlying fall spices. Those characteristics are hallmarks of Pinot Grigio,; this wine had more concentration and structure than most. A few people got this one.

Overall, everyone had a great time; no one got all five right, but Tim Hansen came the closest with four. I’m looking forward to how the red blind challenge goes in a couple of weeks.

Grenache Tasting Recap

Friday, September 4th, 2009

A great Grenache tasting on August 25 – well-attended, and the wine showed both excellent varietal character and also how different the wines can be around the world. Grenache is the thrid-most planted red varietal in the world (behind Cab. Sauv. & Merlot); it’s known for bright red berry fruit, good acidity, and a full body without a lot of tannins. It accumulates sugar easily but needs a long warm growing season to ripen fully, so the wines are always on the higher side for alcohol content.

Bodegas Borsao 2008 Monte Oton, Campo de Borja: This is my favorite under-$10 red that we sell; it’s a phenomenal value, and delivers a lot of wine for the money. Unoaked, so retains the pure essence of Grenache’s juicy berry fruit, with some underlying minerality to add complexity. A crowd-pleaser, and an unbeatable everyday or party wine.

Unti 2006 Grenache, Dry Creek Valley: This wine disappointed me a bit at the tasting; I’ve loved Unti’s Grenache in the past but found this to be initially a bit woody and closed in. I recently had the 2004 from our personal cellar and that was phenomenal, so thinking the wine might be a bit young I saved a bit for the next day. Voila, it opened up beautifully with a day of air. Complex, layered, balanced. A great one for the cellar for a couple of years. (Or else with few hours of decanting.)

Betts & Scholl 2006 The O.G. Grenache, Barossa Valley: Lush and jammy, with big fruit and some smooth vanilla and oak to match. More interesting than most Aussie Shiraz’s because Grenache’s naturally high acidity balances out the richness. Unabashedly New World, very well made for the style. This was a big hit at the tasting.

Montirius 2007 Cotes du Rhone: At about $18, vies with the Borsao for the best value at the tasting. 2007 was a phenomenal year for the Southern Rhone, and this wine showed why. The Montirius is a blend of 73% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 7% Mourvedre – a fairly common blend in the Southern Rhone (some producers also use Cinsault) – and the additional varietals give darker fruit, some spiciness, and a bit of tannic structure. This wine had the scrubby garrigue that the Southern Rhone wines are known for, but exquisite fruit and great balance. Long and layered; an approachable style for those unfamiliar with French wines but still true to type.

Domaine de Marcoux 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape: Easily the best wine of the tasting (of course, it’s the most expensive!). 2005 was another classic Rhone vintage, and this wine has the stuffing to easily age well for another decade. 80% Grenache, with 15% Syrah and 5% Cinsault/Mourvedre, with an average vine age of 50 years. Incredibly rich and full, wtih red and black fruits, licorice, a bit of smokiness, minerality, and herbs. Great acid / tannin structure, opened up nicely as the tasting went on. A great way to end.