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
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
"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 Gewrztraminer,
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 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!
wine was a Trimbach Riesling, their 1997 "Cuve Frderic mile.
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
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.
MY NOTES and (de-railed) Train of Thought
What It Turned Out to Be
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 Blaufrnkisch or Zweigelt??) I finally guessed it to be an
oaky Lemberger (Blaufrnkisch) or New World Syrah since it's so dark
BABCOCK 2000 "Eleven Oaks
One fellow actually identified
this as a California Sangiovese!
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
JABOULET 1985 HERMITAGE "LA
Several tasters pegged this as
Northern Rhne and I think one even guessed the correct vintage!
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!
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
"Clos des Soixante Ouvres"
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.
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
LA GERLA 1995 Brunello di Montalcino
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!
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 Blaufrnkisch....
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 Rhne Syrah.
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,
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 Gewrztraminer. 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 Chteauneuf-du-Pape (which Hiram pegged as an example of a 1985
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"