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WINE TASTING FOR MASOCHISTS
July 2002


The phone rang on Tuesday and it was the famous (or is the correct word 'notorious'?) Oliver McCrum calling.

"Would you like to participate in a blind-tasting of wines tomorrow night?  It's at my place and we pour a number of wines and then everyone tries to correctly identify the wine."

I arrived at the appointed hour and met the tasting group, a bunch of famous wine aficionados, all of whom are in the wine trade.




The wines are decanted into coded bottles, each taster tasked with having to identify, as closely as possible, the identity of each wine.

In other words: "S & M FOR WINE TASTERS."

These guys gather on a monthly basis to torment and torture one another by blind-tasting, assessing and then trying to identify the wines at hand.  Then each is subjected to the ridicule and derision of others when they've identified the Pouilly-Fume as a Pinot Noir.  Oh no, wait!  That's The Wine Spectator who's done that.

No...these are sharp fellows who attempt to identify the wines which have been harvested by left handed pickers, as opposed to those who pick on the right.  These are fellows who attempt to determine whether the wine was punched down in vat by a guy wearing a size 9 shoe or a size 11 (and whether or not he had his socks on at the time!).  
Hey!  Some guys go bowling or fishing.  This group sips and spits.

Oliver offered two white wines, telling the group his selections are "pairs of wines, one selection from the old world, the other a new world bottling of the same variety."

The room is relatively silent, each taster tapping his vinous data-base for recollections of previously-tasted wines.  There is always some wiseacre in the room and usually, it's me!  It turns out Oliver's salon was filled with them!

"How many shirts do you own?" inquired one chap.

That's an odd topic for conversation during a wine-tasting!

"Gee, I don't know...but why do you ask?"

"Well, I don't think I've ever seen you in the same shirt twice!" he replied.

"Hiram," I said, "I see you about two or three times a year, so I have about a half a decades' worth of shirts!"

Meanwhile, the first two wines were intriguing.

Both were aromatic and fresh, seeming to me to be made without the use of oak.  I identified the first one as being an Old World Riesling, but expected it was German or Austrian, since it didn't show the power or sweetness of many fashionable Alsatian wines.
The second wine was very fruity and extremely floral and fresh;  most probably the New World version and, given that it didn't smell like Gewürztraminer, I expected this to be Riesling.

Others were in the same camp, pegging the wines as Riesling.  One fellow pegged the wines as Tocai Friulano.  Another wrote about the oak of one of the selections.

The coordinator of the tasting, having poured the wines, goes about his business in the kitchen, preparing some victuals for after the humiliation ritual.


Oliver returned to the head of the table, reading aloud each taster's assessment of the wines.  He then selects a "winner," and much like Drew Carey on "Who's Line is it Anyway?," he awards something like a thousand points to the taster who's come closest to identifying the wine.

If you haven't had the "pleasure" of being a contestant on that obscenely embarrassing TV show called "The Weakest Link," and wish to experience a similar level of humiliation in being "voted off" the stage (or thrown off the island), then you'll want to organize a wine event of this sort!

The first wine was a Trimbach Riesling, their 1997 "Cuvée Fréderic Émile.  

The second wine turned out to be from Tasmania, a 2001 Piper's Brook Riesling, which I thought might be from Washington State.  I should have realized that few American wineries would have the guts to vinify a Riesling as dry as this!!!


Next came six bottles of red wines.  



Here was a daunting task!!!

I was a bit blinded by the strange character of a few of the wines and ascribed the "flaws" as "features" of very "old school" wines from a previous generation of winemaker.  Knowing Oliver imports some terrific Piemontese wines, I made the mistake of presuming the wines were somewhat ancient (20+ year old) examples of Italian wines.  I'd have done better to take the blinders off!

Some of the more "wise" participants of the wiseacres (do they call them "wise-hectares" in Europe, I wonder?) suggested a couple of the samples were fatally flawed and demanded that Oliver find suitable replacements.  This caught the host off guard, of course and he was under the gun to rummage about his wine cellar for appropriate wines in order to preserve the sanctity of his tasting's theme.

WINE MY NOTES and (de-railed) Train of Thought

What It Turned Out to Be

A Medium deep, youthful ruby with lots of fruit notes.  Berryish and showing a hint of plum and a fair bit of wood.  Lots of vanillin...New world, but what?  Mildly tannic and needs time to soften, but not as astringent as Cabernet Sauvignon.  Maybe a California Sangiovese?  But it's so fruity, I'll go with a more obvious variety like Cabernet Franc.  (Could it be an Austrian variety such as Blaufränkisch or Zweigelt??)  I finally guessed it to be an oaky Lemberger (Blaufränkisch) or New World Syrah since it's so dark and fruity.   BABCOCK 2000 "Eleven Oaks Ranch" SANGIOVESE

One fellow actually identified this as a California Sangiovese!  
B This is one of the wine which was replaced by a second bottle.  The first one was really earthy and showed odd notes of tobacco leaf or an old amphora smell, so I was going with something Italian.  
The second bottle was a medium-light ruby color with a slightly earthy, woodsy fragrance.  Showing hints of tomato leaf and some composty notes...there's a bit of cocoa here, too.  Slightly 'sour' on the palate, it has a touch of cherry and leather.  Maybe it's an older Sangiovese which still has a lashing of tannin??  Or perhaps it's an older Syrah.  I'm going with "older Syrah from the Northern Rhône."  
JABOULET 1985 HERMITAGE "LA CHAPELLE"

Several tasters pegged this as Northern Rhône and I think one even guessed the correct vintage!
C Clear with a mahogany color and a slightly rusty, orange tone to the robe...earthy and dusty aromas with notes of an Italian red wine of substantial maturity...it's not especially tannic, though...hints of caraway seed aromas...dry on the palate with tangy acidity, so perhaps it's a Barbera?  Older and yet sharp...I'm going with a Piemontese Barbera from 15-20 years ago, perhaps an early effort in barrique-aging but not as carefully farmed (low yields) as is fashionable today.   AU BON CLIMAT 1985 OREGON PINOT NOIR
"Temperance Hill Vineyard"


I'm impressed that a number of tasters pegged this as Pinot.  I totally missed the clues: color, acidity and never found "Pinot Noir" in the nose!
D Clear appearance, with a garnet center but a rusty, brownish robe...smells like meat, reminding me of the fragrance of salami that's aging in someone's cellar in Italy...Definitely odd and very mature (and then some) on the nose.  Faintly sweet fragrance with slightly metallic notes.  It's rather shrill on the palate and though it has structure, I fell this is "brain dead" in terms of fruit.  The nose being so strange, I'm going with another Italian variety...probably Nebbiolo from a modest, ancient vintage...perhaps a 1983 Barolo?? DOMAINE DE LA POUSSE D'OR
1985 VOLNAY
Premier Cru
"Clos des Soixante Ouvrées"

Man!  I was relatively distant on guessing this, though I should point out that sometimes a Piemontese Nebbiolo has shown itself to be similar to a French red Burgundy, though usually more tannic.
E The first bottle showed very "aged" notes...dusty and earthy with dried rose petals and tea aromas...again, I am reminded of old Barolo.
The second bottle has a medium-intense ruby color, with mildly dusty and "brushy" aromas...it's dry on the palate and moderately astringent with some "grip."  Big, bitingly tannic after a while...perhaps it's a tannic, somewhat out of balance rendition of Sangiovese?  Or maybe it's a New World version of Nebbiolo??  As it airs, I find a disturbing fragrance that's sharp and volatile, reminding me of some apple distillates...I'm going with odd, weird Californian Nebbiolo.  
LA GERLA 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Geez!  I had this pegged as tannic Sangiovese at one point and then when it came time to place my bet, I went with California Nebbiolo!  Can't say I was much taken by this wine, in either case!

F

Can't tell about the clarity here, as it is SO dark in color...really deep ruby red and very youthful.  Lots of fruit...deep, berryish notes...fruity...woodsy, cedary notes, reminding me a bit of some Dolcetto wines that have been "enhanced" with Barbera.  It's very pretty on the palate, with good acidity and a mild dose of tannins.  It is packed with fruit on the palate and shows a sweetness from oak, too.  If I have a guess (above) as an Austrian variety made locally, perhaps this is its Old World 'cousin'?  I'll guess an Austrian red from the Burgenland, probably a Blaufränkisch.... BABCOCK 2000 Santa Barbara SYRAH

Well, I was going with something a bit off-the-beaten path with my guess of Austrian wine.  This is a delicious red wine, though, but I'm afraid it's in the same class as many (more expensive) California Syrahs which are not (to me, anyway) reminiscent of a French Rhône Syrah.  


After all was said and done, all was not said, nor done.

We then had a bit of food and some more vino.  I'm afraid I added to the confusion, bringing out a bottle of a white wine.  The color was slightly golden and the rogue's gallery of tasters pegged it as perhaps an "older California Chardonnay...and you know what I mean by 'older';  something like a 1997!" said one wag.  Others pegged it as being from the 1980s, though.
Nobody could have imagined the real age of the wine, nor its identity:
1971 CUVAISON Napa Valley CHARDONNAY

After a bit more banter, I got around to tasting Oliver's bottle of 2000 Dolcetto from the 'Langhe Monregalesi' appellation.  This was deep, dark, juicy and delicious!

I disappeared to locate my "mobile cellar" and produced a bottle which elicited a number of surprised expressions.  One taster, the sharp Drake McCarthy (of Diamond Wine Merchants' fame) quickly identified it as a "Lacrima di Morro d'Alba" wine.  This is a deeply colored red wine which has the fragrance one associates with Gewürztraminer.   I noticed a few people making note of this wine (Marotti Campi is the label) as it is a wonderful glass of wine.  One member of this tasting group was a bit shocked to learn of the wine's modest ($13.99) price tag.

 

 Oliver treated the group to a couple of more wines, retreating to the kitchen to secretly decant these.  One was a Leoville Las Cases from the late 1970s, the other a marvelous bottle of 1985 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape (which Hiram pegged as an example of a 1985 Bandol).




 

 

 

Famous Wine-Tasting Artist Walt Wysocki displays some of his artistic tasting sheet as Champion Wine Taster David Netzer (or Mr. Anita Torpey, if you prefer) and "Half-A-Dollar Bill Mayer" look on.

 

 

 

 

 

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