WanderCurtis Wine, Tasting Tips: Improve your blind wine tasting skills.
These last few months of forced isolation have provided the perfect opportunity to hone our blind wine tasting skills while enjoying a brief weekly escape from the tedium of lockdown..
Kiran, Stuart and I have taken turns to drop off decanted blind samples of wine to our doorsteps (carefully sanitising the bottles and minimising any contact, of course) then analysing them via Zoom with each other. More recently we have been doing this outdoors in each other’s gardens – all with minimal hints and desire to fool the others using various techniques such as decanting into the completely wrong bottle and glass shapes for the type of wines being tasted!
We want to share our notes with you as well as some of our learnings about how to find the ‘tells’ for some of the wines that gave us trouble.
After all, wines with friends is always better than wine alone!
The wine notes and learning points are detailed below:
Tasting 1 – April 26th 2020 – First Zoom tasting
Adam’s – deep ruby red, fruit forward, mainly black and blue fruits, compact a bit tight at this moment, nice touch of oak. Opinion was a new world wine probably Cabernet, still tight so age given as quite young 5-10 years.
Torres Mas La Plana 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – an early killer blow dealt given that this was a wine at one of our tastings. Challenge set.
Stuart’s -Burnt smoke, spice, black fruits, complex, thoughts were Syrah given fruit profile and spice, we narrowed down to old world and Rhone Syrah. Age was thought to be very young, around 5 – 8 years.
Cote Rotie Guigal d’Ampuis 2010 Rhône – A good piece of deduction by the boys
Kiran’s – tertiary notes definitely old vegetal, compost, urine, pale colour. Could not distinguish varietal as too old all tertiary, but smelled of an aged Bordeaux. We were very close on age and left bank Bordeaux blend (Stuart said 1995)
Chateau Langoa Barton 1996 – pretty much nailed this one
Don’t forget all the places around the world producing quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Italy, France (Bordeaux of course), Chile, California, South Africa not to mention Australia! Spain had us fooled despite having conducted one of our wine dinner tastings at Frederics with this wine!
Tasting 2 – May 3rd 2020 – Zoom
Adam’s – lemon citric petrolic nice mouthfeel length, but not oily! Kiran and Stuart believed this to be Semillon based, new world, and fairly old like 10 years.
2012 ‘Margaret’ Peter Lehman Sémillon Barossa – spot on with the detective work
Kiran’s – delicious, red fruits perfume, wild strawberry, earth, floral, violets, mixed spice
We thought classic NZ Pinot and likely Central Otago given perfumed red fruit in abundance and quality. Stuart and I both though of C Otago Pinot Noir, and thought Felton Road Bannockburn, about 6-8 years old.
2010 Mt Difficultly, Bannockburn Pinot Noir , central Otago. This was at a great drinking age and showed how well NZ Pinot’s can be a decade on, unfortunately Kiran’s last bottle!
Stuart’s – complex, herbal, cinnamon, spice, savoury, blood meat, good acidity and tannins, thought Italy because of structure. Kiran and I had a lengthy discussion about whether it was Nebbiolo or Sangiovese, and then correctly landed on Sangiovese, a younger wine, like 5-8 years old.
Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Argiano – a tough one but we landed on our feet
Ageing potential of New World wines is often underappreciated.
If stuck between Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, think about the tannins. The merciless tannins in Nebbiolo will be the tell.
Tasting 3 – Sunday May 10th 2020 – Zoom
Stuart’s – White, lots of colour, golden, oxidative hazelnut texture ++ full body Med acid more like a red re:body, lees, wood, drying tannin slight salty savoury after taste whisky. Stu says floral orange blossom. Guess was Rhone varietals and a blend.
St Joseph Blanc 2015 Vins de Vienne Roussane/ Marsanne – excellent work!
Kiran’s – red. full of raspberry’s very ripe, blueberry with medium drying tannins and med + acid. Reminded of Italy savoury blood meat kept thinking of beef Florentine? Possibly Barolo or Brunello but not coal tar roses and not mixed spices of Brunello, not harsh enough tannins
Key was blood savoury after taste liquorice. Then we thought possibly Brunello.
It was actually a GSMC mix, which fits G red fruits ++ M savoury blood salty, liquorice spice great wine and in retrospect there wasn’t enough acid and tannins for Barolo/ Italy and red fruits much too overt, almost new world,
Coudolet de Beaucastel 2009 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault – what a delicious wine, we were all very animated about how enjoyable this was
Adam’s – cocoa, coffee, chocolate, wood ++ , Kiran cola, black fruit, floral, Stuart Balsamic vanilla coconut wood, delicious drinking beautifully.
Stu got Rioja but I asked him what else it could be and diverted him to GSM mix. Correctly guess Rioja, and approximate age (10-15 years, possibly 09)
Contino réserva 2007 – missed out on which maker despite having tried it on numerous occasions so a little disappointed
Italy and Spain laterals of Sangiovese v Nebbiolo
GSM blends can be like Chianti/Tuscan but Italians are more acidic and tannins a bit harsher.
Noted that Coudolet de Beaucastel is an EXCELLENT wine, and I (Adam) went on to buy a case of 2016 which is delicious, moreish and nearly gone already!
Tasting 4 – Sunday May 17th – Zoom
Adam’s – Blackberry pepper Med + acid, drying tannins a little austere poor year tasted more old world thought GSM Rhone blend. The wine had that garrigue character, and a lightness with good acidity so thought potentially a higher altitude wine but Stu and Kiran dismissed Malbec
Zuccardi Mountain vineyards Uco valley, Argentina,2014 Malbec – fooled by this one
Kiran’s – med acid ++ pickled lemon, floral, Stu apricots, flowers. long (no petrol). Very full body, a more heavyweight wine. Stu and I got aromatic varietal, were torn between Gruner, Riesling and possibly Albarino.
Riesling FX pichler 2013 smaragd Austria – a beautiful fuller bodied style of Gruner
Stu’s – Wow wish I hadn’t dropped my bottle on the pavement!
Big nose+++ polished wood, floral, pot pourri, tar, liquorice, in the finish sandalwood caramel acid ++ tannin++ drying
Awesome wine very complex nose and well-balanced palate – thought aged Barolo, around 15 years old.
Azelia 2001 Barolo Bricco Fiasco – this was in such a beauty
Learning points – Laterals to GSM think Malbec as red plum and black fruits similar structure, medium tannins and med low acidity. Malbec, weak spots need better strategies to identify it, and most definitely drink more high-altitude Malbec!
Showed just how great Barolo ages over many decades. Other great vintages include 1999 2001 2004 2006 2010
Tasting 5 – May 24th – Zoom
Adam’s – lots of fruit, leather. Medicinal, cough linctus, menthol eucalyptus liquorice. Kiran and Stu both got Shiraz, Stu thought it was Shiraz Cab blend, about 15-20 years old.
Henshke Keyneton Euphonium 2001 Shiraz-based blend. Such a pleasure to drink!
Kiran’s – Honey poss. Botrytis, ginger. Old feel, me honey and hay, phenolic feel slight bitterness on the finish and some tannins – surprising.
Med + acid not high, Stu bruised apple thought possibly aged Chablis, too honeyed, about 10 yrs old.
Domain Huet Chenin Blanc 2012 – this one got us, although we both thought about Chenin at some point
Stu’s – pot pourri ++ light colour ? Pinot soft powdery tannins salty savoury aftertaste
Kiran wood ++, nutmeg clove spices, balsamic character. Final thoughts – Kiran – very clearly Rioja
Rioja Alta 890 Gran Reserva 2001 (95%Tempranillo) – experience counts!
Learning points – Remember laterals for very old wines, age brings soft elegance colour fades like old Rioja resembling a Pinot.
Australian wines 20+ years old can age beautifully
If find botrytis in white wine think Chenin, Gruner
Must drink more Chenin!
Tasting 6 – Adam’s Garden
Kiran’s – Initially Gewürztraminer nose terpenes floral ripe stone fruits
Glycerol thick oily lovely mouthfeel medium + acid
Not floral enough for Gewürztraminer no bitter finish acid a bit higher thought viognier poss Gruner did not get white pepper
Stu found mineral seashell herbaceous wood. Didn’t get this one.
Emmerich Knoll smaragd 2010 Reid Shutt Gruner Veltliner known as a floral site, fantastic wine ++
Adam’s – Tarry medicinal spirity initially closed. Later floral cherry in alcohol
Stu complex Coca Cola violets flowers
Kiran complexity spirity spices development ? Uccelleria Brunello 2010
Barbaresco Produttori di Barbaresco Riballa 2007 – absolutely lovely and changed a lot as evening went on tannin++
Stu’s – Adam initially Pinot old excellent quality turmeric nutmeg cinnamon spices tea dried flowers pot pourri not much fruit, compost+ manure earth tertiary
Tannin+ drying and acid high
Thought could not be Pinot re tannins ? Chianti? Age about 10-15 years.
1999 Comte Armand Pommard 1er Cru “Clos des Epeneaux” known for tannin profile. Missed this wine which was in a fantastic place
High quality Burgundy from certain sites can have firm very present tannins also wood age adding to tannins, so don’t rule out Pommard when you get these characteristics
Tasting 7 – Zoom
Stu’s – Classic toast smoky buttery Malo nose, Chardonnay, honeysuckle, caramel, lemon tart, lovely good acidity but not cleansing or laser like sharp linear (Burgundy)
Both thought Chardonnay
Kiran – Kumeu River? me on reflection NZ too, slightly richer than Burgundy but very close. Landed quite firmly on NZ Chard
Vidal Legacy Hawkes Bay New Zealand 2014 – – great score for Kiran and me!
Kiran’s – Very pale brick red, nose dried roses hint of tar liquorice some herbs tannins medium soft sl drying Med + acid
Thought Nebbiolo re nose and colour, quite perfumed.
Sesti Rosso di Montalcino 2013 – In retrospect tannins too soft for Nebbiolo
Adam’s – Very fruit forward blackberry possible cassis
Eucalyptus medicinal herbs Stu and Kiran thinking Aussie Cab/ Shiraz re fruit.
Stu didn’t like tannins slightly bitter and poss out of balance with alcohol
Revealed that it was French
Corbières Serres de Mazard 2017 50% Syrah, 25% Carignan, 20% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre.
(After notes probably some carbonic maceration as fruit a little confected/esters) Decanter outstanding in April 2020 edition
Which region In France produces such fat ripe fruit forward wines akin to New world? Languedoc
New world vs. warm climate Languedoc wines – look for old world techniques like carbonic as a possible differentiator
Tasting 8 – Stu’s garden
Kiran’s – Initially smokey toast oak vanilla aftertaste caramel some lemon rind but predominant 2y Oak
Nice texture and balance Med +acid alcohol texture
Stu and I both thought Bordeaux semillon sav blend, lacked florality and prettiness of Sauvignon mix. Fruit was missing on this wine.
Château Bouscaut Semillon Sav Graves Pessac Leognan 2012 – the oak and pyrazines were the giveaway on this one
Adam’s – Kiran and Stu instantly said Rioja
Balsamic coconut American oak chocolate bounty bar spice turmeric clove cinnamon nutmeg red fruits. Plush anything you want it to be open and giving
Thought réserva Rioja about 10 years old
Protos Gran Réserva Ribera Del Duero 2004
Stu’s – Alcoholic. Double tiers of legs! Full body
Closed, struggled to get much
Smokiness perhaps red fruit
Tannins medium/ low
Hard to gauge soft tannins Med acid high alcohol bit of spice red fruits ? Hint carbonic/ esterification. Thought southern Rhône blend Grenache predominant
2013 Chapoutier Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Grenache Syrah Carignan
Tasting 9 – Adams garden
Kiran’s – Terpenes variety, white flowers peach aromatic nose
Same palate, acid medium to med + not searing acidity
Something petrolic on nose implies age thought poss Riesling but detected some texture from lees or oak not done in Riesling
Difficult one to nail aromatic variety warmer climate possibly Riesling,Gruner, Albariño ,Viognier, Stu thought maybe pepper
Blank Canvas Gruner Veltliner 2013 New Zealand – this one fooled us and had some new French oak to make it even harder. The next day Kiran’s NZ Gruner even better, really textured with botrytis honey petrol smoke mandarin smaragd like but I still don’t find white pepper!
Stu’s – initially nose of glue dope ? VA heady potent
Once that blew off violets blackberry black plum cocoa chocolate baking spices 5 spice wood tannins Med + soft acid medium, high alcohol body high
Thought 14.5% Adam getting a bit drunk
Probably Rioja possibilities Brunello but not acidic or red fruit enough new world Syrah too much oak not obvious black pepper or burnt rubber smoke
Alion 2003 Ribera del Duero – A big glamourpuss of a wine, drinking beautifully. Shame that was the last bottle…
Adam’s – All tertiary old, mushrooms earth leather
Stu clearly bell pepper and cedar
Thought 20 yr old + left bank initially then to Right bank
Fruit dropped away
1998 Pomerol Chateau Taffellier – a wine Stu gave me a few years ago
Bonus wine – Kiran
Prunes raisins alcohol full sweet residual sugar almost a port
Adam reminder of trip to Puglia, thought Primitivo
Other possibilities Amarone or Ripasso bit too raisinated and sweetness
Tasting 10 – Kiran’s house
Adam’s – First Rosé of the tasting events
Kiran instantly reminds me of strawberries and cream like a Pinot based champagne
Stu red fruits smells like Pinot acidity not that high
Adam smoke toast oak aged sl some red fruit nice texture and mouthfeel
Other possibilities Grenache Shiraz Carignan Cinsault
Became more complex Floral herbaceous
Sylvain Pataille le fleur de pinot 2016 Rose from Pinot oak aged. We tasted this in Sylvain’s cellar last summer and yet we missed it. Shows how hard blind tasting can be.
Kiran’s – Huge whiff of cassis pure black fruits later cedar chocolate some hints of pyrazine picked up by Stu ripe, explained as yellow pepper by K
Adam definitely Cabernet based wine very ripe either excellent year Bordeaux or new world toying on Sophia Craggy Range. Stu def Bordeaux, but A not really getting the classic Bordeaux green pepper herbaceous pyrazine notes
Adam, could not put it down for 30 mins and needed top ups. If not New world then is it favourite BDX red. Pontet Canet?
Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac 2005 – Good shout here!
Stu’s – Freaky wine very dark colour
Initially blood meat savoury
Then coffee ++ chocolate
Than some red fruit floral
Kept changing on us
Hardest wine yet like a schizophrenic high risk patient, constantly changing character
Dark colour black fruit. Obviously barrel aged possibly Syrah Rhône blend but admittedly no confidence with this
Galatrona Petrolo Merlot 100% Tuscany – made in the style of the great Pomerols like Le Pin and Petrus, 100% Merlot. A crazy wine.
Don’t forget Merlot, it can make the most sensuous and serious wines ! Merlot is also still the most planted grape variety in France with a lot planted in Italy and many other countries below:
- France (~280,000+ acres) Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon
- Italy (~93,000+ acres) Toscana, Campania
- United States (~55,000+ acres) California, Washington
- Australia (~39,000 acres) South Australia
- Chile (~25,000 acres) | Argentina (~13,000 acres
Remember more red fruits, raspberry, plum, black cherry and others Mocha ( strong coffee/chocolate in this wine not necessarily wood but from the grape variety) vanilla clove tobacco graphite cedar
Tasting 11 – Stu’s house
Adam’s – wine white, oak toast, smoke, coconut, vanilla, also ripe stone fruit peach
Nice balance oak alcohol body a bit oak dominated.
Stuart instantly California Chardonnay
Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Santa Barbara 2018
Kiran’s – Nose cheap red, Stuart instantly disliked.
Adam confected pear drop ? Carbonic esterified red and blue fruits some smoke
One dimensional initially then – violets smoke more tannins changed over time
Thought GSM Rhône re low tannins red fruit Med acid
Zaha Toko Vineyard Malbec 2016 Paraje AlteMira Mendoza – fooled yet again by Malbec!
Stu’s – Bretty nose horses leather band aid all tertiary
Can’t find fruit – Brett/spoiled?
Not much came through poss. green pepper capsicum poss cassis but mainly tertiary thought old BDX
Château Feytit Clinet 2012 – bottle was clearly not in good condition or the wine was just in a dumb funk
Then tried the 2005 Feytit Clinet over cheese and ManuU v. Southampton
This was more Pomerol-like – Liquorice possibly plums coffee chocolate plum soft round tannins
Learning Points – Don’t forget Malbec if getting a GSM (red fruit, med/low acid medium tannin profile)
Other Blind wine tasting thoughts:
- White wines low acid – Gewurztraminer, Marsanne, Viognier
- Whites with phenolic bitterness – Gruner Veltliner, Albarino, Pinot gris
- Oak aged whites Chardonnay -Sauv/Semillon Bordeaux, Marsanne, Viognier Rhone, Rioja Viura
- Whites with botyritis (ginger, honey bitterness glue) uneven ripening – Chenin Blanc, Gruner Veltliner
- Aromatic whites – Gewurz, Torrontes, Muscat, Viognier
- Minerality – Chablis (?phenols,acidity,sulphur compounds) – Chardonnay is a master transmitter of terroir