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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The importance of blind tasting

More expensive wines taste better than cheaper wines. Wines from famous wine regions are better than unknown "lesser" wine regions. Of course they do, or why else do some brands become famous and costly? If someone were to hand you two glasses of wine and told you that the wine in one glass cost $100 per bottle and the other cost $10 per bottle, you could certainly tell the difference. Could you? A Ferrari performs better than a Toyota (nothing against Toyota, I have one!). But what happens when you actually prefer the Toyota to the Ferrari? Are you a fool to actually like a cheaper and less prestigious automobile over the highly acclaimed trophy?

Wine critics have come up with an answer to this predicament. Blind tasting is supposed to remove any bias towards the reputation and the price of a bottle of wine and focuses the attention solely on the contents of the bottle. Usually, wines of a similar style or from a certain region are tasted together to judge wines against their peers. Sometimes less-expensive or less-renowned wines show better than their superstar cohorts. This is great news if you are looking for wines with a high quality-to-price ratio.

However, some argue that tasting blind removes important information about the wines. Knowing vintages and origins of wines are important for fully understanding the context of a wine that you drink. But drinking and tasting are different animals. When you are enjoying a wine over dinner or for a few hours with friends, you want to be able to discuss the characteristics and merits of the wine that you are consuming. When critics taste wine they only want to consider the aromas and flavors that are currently present in the bottle and describe this information to consumers to aid them in making purchase decisions.

Blind tastings are also useful for regular wine drinkers who want to learn more about wine and train their palates on what certain wines taste like and which wines they prefer. I recently attended a small gathering of such individuals. Six wine enthusiasts, including myself, blind tasted 10 Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. We knew the contents of the bottles before hand, but then wrapped the bottles in foil, mixed up the order and labeled the mystery wines 1-10. We split a few steaks, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus while we sipped our way through the lineup. We each took notes and talked about the wines and some of us ranked the wines before we unveiled the bottles. No official results were tabulated, but a few general opinions were described and I will mention them, along with my tasting notes and ranking below.

The wines ranged in price from $20-$100, in vintage from 1986 to 2007 and were from Bordeaux, Colorado, Napa Valley and Tuscany. In the order of tasting, here are my notes:

Wine 1: Dark purples that lightens at the rim. Aromas of brown sugar, leather, juniper and a hint of dill emanate from the glass. On the palate it is almost meaty, with slight floral flavors complementing blackberries and molasses. Good.

Wine 2: Deep brown sherry like color. Mushrooms, forest floor aromas are present but secondary to the dominant soy sauce scents. It tastes like tofu and bamboo shoots soaked in soy sauce. Definitely a wine past its prime. Average.

Wine 3: Dark garnet. This wine is very aromatic. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, figs and dried orange peel tease the nose. Unfortunately, this one fails to deliver on the palate. Slightly spicy with old leather flavors fade quickly and this one does not hold up to the steak. Average/Good.

Wine 4: This black/purple inky wine smells of cedar and black fruits. This one is a big, tannic wine that needs more air. It is tight but gives rich blackberry and currant flavors. Good potential, but needs more time to open up. Good.

Wine 5: This is probably the wine with the most finesse of the night. It is a light, clear ruby color. Brown sugar, caramel aromas are complemented by hints of spice and violets. It is very smooth with well-integrated tannins. Red and black raspberry, plums, toffee, a slight spiciness and a hint of sweetness all combine to create complex and interesting flavors on the palate. Very Good/Excellent. It is also my WOTN.

Wine 6: A contrast the previous wine, but almost as good, this wine is an inky dark purple color. The nose is spicy and shows a bit of heat. It tastes big and jammy, though not overly tannic. This is a smooth and simple wine but it is tasty. Good/Very Good.

Wine 7: Another black/purple colored wine. You can smell the oak influence on the nose along with gobs of dark fruit and glycerol. It takes of blackberry jam, black cherry and oak. A nice wine that needs a few more years. Good/Very Good.

Wine 8: This dark red wine smells of dark fruits, cigar and soy sauce. This big, powerful wine is straightforward on the palate and dominated by tar, tobacco and tannin. A bit big/young. Good.

Wine 9: Another complex wine. Dark ruby red color. At first sniff, I got toast with blackberry preserves. Subsequent smells yield pencil shavings and vanilla. A very complex palate shows off black currant, vanilla, bacon fat and soy. Most Bordeaux-like of the night. Very Good.

Wine 10: Dark purplish brown wine that looks like balsamic vinegar. It smells like balsamic (not in a bad way), blackberry maple syrup and spices. It tastes a bit hot with simple spices and a touch of sweetness along with subtle tobacco flavors. Good.

Top wines of the night:
#1: Wine 5
#2: Wine 9
#3: Wine 6 (followed very closely by 7)

Wines unveiled:
Wine 1: = 2007 Reeder Mesa, Land’s End Red, Meritage, Grand Valley, Colorado
Wine 2: = 1986 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine 3: = 1998 Heitz, Bella Oaks, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine 4: = 2001 Casanova di Neri, Pietradonice, Sant ‘Antimo DOC, Italy
Wine 5: = 2006 Plum Creek Winery, Grand Mesa, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Grand Valley, Colorado
Wine 6: = 2001 Trefethen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District
Wine 7: = 2006 StellaGrey, Napa Valley Red Wine
Wine 8: = 2001 St. Clement, Orropas, Napa Valley
Wine 9: = 2003 Chateau Lascombes, Margaux, France
Wine 10: = 1997 Cuvaison, Howell Mountain

This just goes to show you that big name wines from the famous Napa Valley or expensive super-Tuscan wines don't necessarily taste better than wines from Colorado! I will note that all of the wines were good and I would enjoy drinking any of them.

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