Tag Archives: blind tasting

Traveling the Old World: A European Red Blind Tasting

Some may remember the Malbec tasting Nina and I hosted last month. We had so much fun that night, that in our drunken state of mind we all agreed to have another tasting soon. And so it was, last week, that the same group of friends gathered. We had agreed to make it a blind tasting and had chosen an area as wide as possible, European Reds, so that we could actually play around with the wines and no one would feel intimidated talking about them. Blind tastings can be a very humbling experience if you think you have some wine knowledge at least, and it is a great equalizer as everyone is free to associate as much as they want.

If you are contemplating a tasting with friends at home, here are some tips that I jotted down a while back but are still helpful, I believe.

We met at 6.30pm (I actually went earlier because I just had to play Wii with our hosts’ son). Everyone brought one bottle of wine, which added up to seven bottles because one fellow wino was sick. I had brought a Riesling to clean our palates with after the tasting, the 2003 von Hövel which I wrote about last week. One of our friends had volunteered to arrange the order of bottles and conduct the tasting so that all others were in the dark except for their own wines.

Because it worked, we had the first bottle of wine with a traditional Roman pasta dish, Pasta cacio e pepe. The first wine, a bottle of 2009 Banfi Chianti Classico (13% ABV, Italy – Sangiovese-based), poured in a medium, clear red color. The aroma intensity was on the lower end of moderate, and the wine smelled young. There was not much I could detect in the nose, very subdued. The wine tasted dry, was light with fresh acidity and low tannins which were fairly balanced. I got some cherries and an overall fresh note from this wine with medium length. I thought this was a decent light wine. My guess was a Sangiovese-based Italian, from 2010 or 2009.

Up next was a 2011 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais (France – Gamay-based), which poured in a pale to medium red and was slightly hazed. The nose was aromatic with some age, showing tobacco, cedar wood, hay and some grape aromas. The wine was dry and light bodied, with low tannins and moderate aromas. On the palate it had quite some unpleasant heat, hardly any fruit with a harsh and disappointing finish. It tasted like it had its best days way behind it. I did not care for this wine much, and guessed 2011 Northern France or Austrian wine.

2010 Banfi Chianti Classico and 2011 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais AOC

The third wine was a 2012 Domaine Pral Beaujolais nouveau (France – Gamay-based). It showed a medium ruby red in the glass. Its nose was young and aromatic, with red fruit, jammy raspberry, gooseberry, pear mustard and roses. Quite the nose!! On the palate this dry, medium bodied wine was smooth with medium tannins and great balance. It showed strawberry and red fruit aromas, was floral and had some red currant to it. There was some heat in the end which I did not care for too much, but it was a very yummy wine with a long finish. Very pleasing. My guess was a 2010 Northern French wine.

And up was wine number four: A bottle of 2009 Andrieux et Fils Gigondas Côtes du Rhone (14.5% ABV, France – Grenache, Syrah, Mograve). Of deep ruby red color, the nose was aromatic with some age, and had plum, coffee, earthy aromas and some dark chocolate. Very different from the last wine! The wine tasted dry, with a medium-full body, smooth acidity and medium to high tannins. All in all it was very balanced and flavorful, with a very long fresh finish. It was the most complex wine of the night thus far and impressed pretty much everyone (as far as I remember). My guess was a 2010 Côtes du Rhone.

2012 Domaine Pral Beaujolais nouveau and 2009 Andrieux et Fils Gigondas Cotes du Rhone

The fifth wine, a 2010 Bodegas Ateca Atteca Old Vines (15% ABV, Spain – Garnacha), poured as a deep, ruby red and slightly hazy wine. The nose was aromatic, young and very weird: water colors, chalk, cherry and petrol. Not at all what I am used to, very intriguing. The medium bodied wine tasted dry with smooth acidity and medium to high tannins that were fairly well balanced. On the palate it was flavorful, with very ripe aromas, spice box, chocolate, and very juicy. There was a hint of residual sugar which made it absolutely fascinating. I liked this wine a lot, it was probably my favorite of the evening. Pretty early on, I decided in my head that this must be a Merlot from a Southern European area. Not sure about the age, but I kept yelling “This is a Merlot” across the table….

The sixth wine was a 2009 Az. Tilli  Concetto Terre di Chieti IGT (15% ABV, Italy – Merlot). It showed deep to dark ruby red with a slight haze. The aroma intensity was powerful, with berry compote and raisins. Very ripe, very impressive nose. I could have dove into this for longer. The wine was medium-full bodied, with fresh acidity and medium tannins, all very well balanced. On the palate, it had depth and was incredibly smooth, very likable with mostly red berry aromas. The finish was medium long. The Concetto is just a super yummy wine, I like it a lot. This one had to be a Merlot (by that point I knew that it was Nina’s wine, which she had bought in Germany at a wine store we both like with the one purpose of throwing it in at a blind tasting).

2010 Bodegas Ateca Atteca Old Vines and 2009 Az. Tilli Concetto Terre di Chieti IGT

The final wine in the tasting was a bottle of 2008 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Domaine de la Bila-Haut L’esquerda (13.5%  ABV, France – Syrah, Grenache, Carignan). It was the wine I had brought, and it proved to be the most controversial. I had bought it during Wines Till Sold Out‘s big sale the week before and it arrived in the mail just in time. I did not have a chance to try it before this tasting. It poured in a very dark, almost purplish red. The nose turned pretty much everyone completely off, and I have to admit it was the most unpleasant nose I have come across in quite a while: dirt, sulphur, manure. That is all one got for the first 30 minutes. With a heavy emphasis on manure. It was, frankly, disgusting. I was very surprised,  had not expected that at all. After 30 minutes, there were some red fruit aromas fighting their way through, but it was still not enjoyable to smell. On the palate, the wine was extremely intense, mostly earthy. There was some cassis, but mostly dry, dusty earth aromas. I still defended it and want to see what it tastes like after an hour or two in the decanter (I have a couple more bottles). What I tasted at this tasting though, was not very enticing…

2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut L'esquerda

2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut L’esquerda

We finished the tasting, as is fast becoming a tradition, with a bottle of German Riesling Spätlese. I reviewed that wine over here.

Overall, I was very impressed with this tasting: Most of the wines were really good, and there were some really great surprises in it for me. We all played the guessing game, and it was fun. The best surprise though was a friend from Nina’s undergrad days who just began working in Detroit. He and a friend of his joined us for some of the wines later on and oh my God, did the friend of the friend play the guessing game. He nailed the last wine, and was pretty much spot on with the others he tried. That was really impressive! Time was just flying by and  I am sure I see another tasting in the not so distant future…



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Thoughts on tasting wines at home

About a week ago, I was asked for ideas for blind tastings. As in what motto could work. I had a couple of ideas, and I figured why not share them, and some more general thoughts on tasting wine at home with friends.

I have great memories of tasting wines with friends at our or their home. There is something inherently communicative in wine. First of all, wine is a sensory experience: We look at the wine, then we smell it, and then we taste it. If the bottle has a cork, we even get to hear the “plopp” when it comes out. Second, wine is also an emotional experience. We taste a wine that we picked out, that we have some sort of connection with. That is even true for supermarket wines, because there was some reason in the first place why we bought that bottle. Maybe we have tried the wine before and are curious about how it will taste like now. Maybe it is a first, and we are not quite sure. Maybe it is a vintage that has some importance to us, and maybe we have been at the winery…there are so many emotions connected with opening a bottle. Wine brings all these emotions back to us.

So, we have a sensory experience and we have an emotional experience. I don’t know about you, but moments are usually enhanced by having a friend and loved ones around me because I need to share them. Sometimes it might be nice to have a bottle alone, but I definitely prefer sharing the experience under most circumstances. Besides, I also am curious what my friends think, how they see the experience while at the same time it is also a great way to find out what your friends drink and like.

In order for the tasting to work, I want to make sure that the people sharing the experience care about wine. In my view that is a crucial point. You can have a great evening with friends drinking wine when the wine is not supposed to be the star. But when you are tasting wines, when this is what you want to do with your friends that particular evening, then the ones joining you should be at least interested in wine.

So, apart from that, what am I suggesting?

First I’d narrow the field down a bit by picking a theme for the tasting: It can be grape varietal; or just the color of the grape; it can be a certain vintage; or a region; or even just wines from one specific vineyard that everyone cares about; your favorite summer wine or everyone brings a bottle of a wine they have never heard before….the topics really are endless and depend on your group. If my friends care as passionately as me about Mosel riesling, then we can do just a Mosel riesling tasting. If you don’t quite know, pick a broader topic.

I fell in love with this wine Yutaka brought for a white tasting at our place in July 2011: a 2000 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger…incredible.

My rule of thumb is to have around 6-7 people tasting, and every person is supposed to provide one wine each (you can up that number, too). With that number of people you need about one bottle per wine tasted and have some marginal leftovers. Also, I think 6-7 wines is a good number to start with…

After that, you have to make a decision on whether you want to do a blind tasting or an open tasting. In a blind tasting, everyone brings the bottle without disclosing what it is. Someone (usually the host or someone with some wine experience) should be designated to bring the wines in a tasting order (dry to sweet, light to heavy). That takes some experience, so don’t shy away from stepping up if you are the one with the most experience or relinquishing that position if you don’t feel up for it. The wine is then served covered (in a brown bag for example) and sampled without knowing what it is.

In my experience, a blind tasting is fun if people are willing and ready to share their thoughts on the wines without being afraid or hesitant, without fearing they might say something wrong (which is usually the case once everybody knows each other, feels comfortable with everyone). We did a lot of these blind tastings with my friends ManSoo and Yutaka, and what I learned from them is this: Nothing is wrong in the description of wine. If it tastes like soapy water or sweaty socks to you, then it does. So don’t be afraid to say it as you taste it. Nothing is wrong. But the exchange of ideas on what we smell or taste can help all of us identify traits in the wine that we otherwise might not have noticed.

For starters, especially if the group has not done a tasting together before, I suggest doing an open tasting. Everyone brings a bottle, as I said, and then you group them in the same way as for the blind tasting (light to heavy, dry to sweet). I suggest having everyone introduce the wines they brought before you try them. Let us know the story behind the wine, why did you bring it, what made you choose it, are there memories or anecdotes connected to it? I always want to know these stories…

Between wines, it is good to clean your palate with bread or water. I find bread the better cleaner, but that might just be me. If you’re not going for drunk, you might also hydrate once in a while…

One thing that we have begun to incorporate, is to provide everyone with tasting sheets by De Long Wine Discoveries, which are a great way to get you focused on what you have in the glass. It is by no means necessary, but definitely has helped me quite a bit.

As the evening progresses, the talk leads from wine to other subjects, and as the wines keep flowing the conversation flows, too. Don’t focus too much on the wines, but let them have their place at your table, like friends or acquaintances that came to the party. I suggest taking some notes, it always helps me to remember afterwards. But it is just as fine to free-float. The main thing is enjoying the company and the moment. As pretty much always.

I also suggest starting with some food before the tasting, a pasta dish or just a cheese platter or something. It is better to have something in your stomach before you start.

We’re having a tasting with a group of friends tonight. I’ll let you know how it went…

PS: As the host, you want to make sure to have some back up bottles ready (something sparkling or desserty), to serve before the tasting or after, in case there is some need…which there often is.

The line up at a red wine tasting in January 2011 (started with a sparkling wine, finished with a port)

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