Monday, March 18, 2019

Blind wine tasting is hard!

This week I attended a blind wine tasting hosted by Wine Australia, and I thought, "easy, I'm going to smash this", and although Aussie wines are some of my favourites, I haven't done any blind tasting since my WSET exams five years ago (gosh is it that long?!). I got it wrong. I got it all wrong.

We were given a piece of paper where we could write our notes, and given another which posed 7 questions about the wines, which we had to hand in at the end. Answer papers were marked and the top 4 people given recognition (no-one listed below the top 4, and no scores revealed - thus preventing any (my) embarrassment). It was a lovely experience and my fellow wine tasters were charming.

There were three flights of wine - Flight 1: four white wines, Flight 2: three red wines, and Flight 3: four red wines. We had to guess the single grape variety in each flight, decide which wines were from the same region in each flight, and identify the one wine of the day that was not from Australia (and where it was from). Straightforward right? It would seem... until you throw the way my brain works into the mix. Let me explain...

Flight 1:
My first thought was Chardonnay, of course these are Chardonnay, but hang on wine #1 is oily - in the way that cocoa butter is oily, and lemon aroma, so a bit like eating a Hotel Chocolate Lemon white chocolate. Yum. But not typical of chardonnay. There's a slight spritz on the tip of my tongue - again atypical for Chardonnay, hang on could this be Semillon? It has a full body - tick - and is not very complex (i.e. doesn't have many different flavours coming through - similar to a pinot grigio) - tick. Then I looked at the legs (the viscous drops down the side of the glass, which indicates alcohol level), and wiped it from my mind, no, no it can't be a Semillon, as Semillon has low alcohol, these thick legs mean high alcohol... so I continued tasting Flight 1 thinking the wines were Chardonnay (both wines 2 & 3 had buttery notes - typical of Chardonnay, but also possible for Semillon). But then, Wine 4 threw me - it was quite light and pale, with citrus and mineral, and dental floss (or, rather, a medical tasting eucalyptus flavour) - this can't be Chardonnay screamed the devil on my left shoulder! The angel on my left was too timid to remind me of the typical Chardonnay characteristics I had experienced with the other two wines.
I wrote Semillon on the answer sheet. These wines were Chardonnay. Then they asked which wine is from Barossa and although the eucalyptus is blatantly a clue for Wine 4, I wrote down Wine 1, because that white chocolate flavour made me think it had to come from a hot climate. I wonder now if that white chocolate is a result of a process during winemaking (such as Malolactic fermentation - I can cover this another day), rather than a characteristic representative of the terroir (the place where the grapes are grown). Bobbins!

Flight 2:
The wines were very pale in colour and had delicate aromas (i.e. you can't smell a thing), the wines had brownish edges, a sign of ageing. Wine 5 tasted of charries and burnt toffee, Wine 6 reminded me of eating fresh red fruits and buttered toast in the mountains, and Wine 7 felt like red velvet and made my lips tingle. It must be Pinot Noir - it's a widely-grown grape in Australia, it's pale, and ages well. But then, my brain switched again, I know that Austalians are using a much wider variety of grapes than we normally think of, and there was something distinctly savoury about these wines, and that brown colour that made me think it could be something else... ooh... Nebbiolo?! I wrote that down. WRONG - they were Pinot Noir - Doh! I saids wines 5 & 6 were made in the same region: wrong again! Wines 6 & 7 were.

Flight 3:
These wines showed characteristics of jammy fruit, blackcurrants, and vanilla. Where they differed to each other was Wine 8 had cooler climate sturcture (less jammy, higher tannins), Wine 9 was more Ribena-y and spicey and was ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS, Wine 10 had a brick colour to the edges, Wine 11 was cherries, chocolate, and a bitter finish, Wine 12 had a tar aroma. So the debate was Shiraz versus Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, none of the wines had the characteristic Eucalyptus found in Aussie Cab Savs, so these wines were more typical of Shiraz. However, cherries, chocolate and a bitter finish (Wine 11) are atypical for Aussie Shiraz, as is the roughness of a tar aroma (Wine 12). So I wrote down Cab Sav. What I didn't think to consider was Wine 11 was not an Aussie Shiraz, it was from Chile; and Wine 12 was a £9 bottle of wine, which caught me out! In my blindness, I wrote that Wine 9 was the not-Australian wine, and because a) I had convinced myself these were Cabernets, and b) my other favoured region for wines is California, I wrote down Cali as the origin of the non-Aussie wine.

Stung on every question. I may have studied extensively and passed my WSET exams, but without practice you lose your touch. I intend to go back next month and try again, this time I hope to report better results! #practicemakesperfect

Thank you @Wine-Australia