Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Sampler Blind Tasting

I was disappointed with the blind tasting at The Sampler in South Kensington London last week. It was a divine idea, and I was really looking forward to testing myself in the run up to my WSET Advanced exam.

Find out about other tastings at The Sampler here

It was very good value for the wines they had chosen, and organisation of the tasting was fantastic, but the execution left a lot to be desired. I don't blame The Sampler per se, I blame the knob know-all who turned up and ruined the evening for the rest of us. Unfortunately the lady who was running it didn't have enough gravitas to put him in his place and coach the rest of us back out of our shells.

Sitting down at three tables, a bit too spaciously to talk to the others around our table, we were given two glasses of sparkling wine to start with, a piece of paper to write our notes, and a tasting guide. Great, I'll start my process of elimination to figure out what I've got...
1. Many fast small bubbles, light gold colour, pronounced aroma with biscuit flavour, high acidity, so traditional method...
2. Slow small few bubbles, light lemon colour, low intensity aroma, citrus fruits, so tank method...

I hadn't got to whether I thought it was Cremant or Champagne, Prosecco or a NZ sparkling, when the lady asked us: "So does anyone have anything to say about these two wines looking at the tasting notes, perhaps a comment on how they think it was made?" Immediately followed by the gentleman to my left shouting "On the left is La Chapelle and the right is that Spanish sparkling you have". The lady tried to lead him away into talking more about how he got to those answers and what that meant about how the wines were made, but he only cared if he got it right, so she replied politely "no, and no". I thought that might shut him up, but unfortunately not.

The next three we were told are the same location, same year, but different quality. I got to as much as it might be a pinot noir, but a cold one, was it Burgundy or Oregon, and the same gentleman (perhaps I shall stop calling him a "gentleman") yelled "It's Gevrey-Chambertin isn't it? 2011 isn't it?" And indeed it was. *Sigh*

I think this left the rest of us unwilling to participate in this game. I think even the lady hosting the tasting couldn't be bothered any more. I had only got to smelling the next two wines (both of which smelled delicious) which differed by age as the clue, when we were told it was Rioja Paternina Conde de los Andes Gran Reserva 1994 vs 2001. To be honest, if we're going to compare ages of two wines, I think one of them should be recent - you couldn't distinguish the colour between these wines because they were both old.

The final pair I immediately said to my friend "Bordeaux" then we both drank it. No tasting, no comparing notes, no discussing the merits of different producers (the comparative measure between the two), no calculating left- or right-bank, Medoc vs Pauillac. All excitement in the exercise was lost. no-one cared, except the knob to my left. A women on my table was still very enthusiastic, especially once she saw what the prices of the wines had been (average of £37, the cheapest being the Prosecco at £11 and the most expensive the Leoville Barton at £80).

I vowed not to return to a Sampler tasting, because I was worried if I went back and encountered this type of experience again it would sadden me. It's not fair on people who want to have fun with wine, to enjoy wine, to learn about how method, quality, age, and producers affect the taste of the wine. The Sampler is encouraging for all levels of wine experience, but if they can't control the few to protect the masses, I'd rather go somewhere else. Having said that, I can't stay away - they have a tasting coming up which will showcase The Scholium Project, a very innovative concept for the wine world, and I must go. Maybe I'll see you there, but please don't be a knob.

Read about the Scholium project here

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