Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Tale of Two Tastings

Summer of 2011 has been a one way ticket to rehab! I’ve visited some fantastic wine regions, tasted some rare wines at charity events (including an 1863 Madeira) and although not wine related, I think I broke the record for Mai Tai consumption over a 7 day period while in Hawaii! However, what I want to share with my readers the most are my two blind wine tasting experiences.

Blind tastings can be done in several formats. They can be detailed and complex, complete with scoring for color, bouquet and taste. Some folks even prefer to limit the tastings to one type of grape varietal. For me personally, I like to keep things as simple as possible. The first tasting I want to discuss is one that I hosted. Mrs. Winologist was making her world famous Korean short ribs. Because there is NOTHING better in the whole world than a glass of red wine with those ribs, I decided to have our guests bring a bottle of red wine in a brown paper bag. Each wine was given a number and a corresponding numbered sheet of paper. Once our guests sampled a wine, we had them write a score between 1 and 10 based on how much they liked or disliked the wine(remember I said I like to keep it simple?) I planned to take all of the scores for the wines and derive an average for each bottle to determine a winner. Of course, there was more to this data gathering than just trying to pick a winner. The inner wine geek in me wanted to see if there was a significant difference in price versus taste.

Unfortunately, this was the wrong crowd for data gathering. It started out as planned where people were scoring appropriately with limited abusive commentary (best line was “I can’t taste this because of its ranch smell”). However, once the short ribs had been devoured, a sort of chaotic wine anarchy took place. Bags came off the wines and left the tasting table. Some guests simply stopped using their glass and drank from the bottle. In the end, I had no idea which score went to what bottle. It has taken me several phone calls and emails to figure out who brought what wine and try to piece meal together some possible useful information. There were a few results and wines that surprised me.

First of all, this crowd was as rough with their wine critiques as they were on their livers. The average bottle score for the evening was 4.9 out of 10. The low score was a 3 (my first attempt at making wine) and only three of the twelve bottles scored above a 5. The winner of the evening was a Joseph Phelps wine with a score of 8.7. Although the alleged winner was not inexpensive, price seemed to have little to do with preference. To make up for my offensive homemade wine, I entered a 2007 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet that was VERY expensive. It only scored at the average of 4.9. One of the more unique entrants was the Australian powerhouse Molly Dooker Velvet Glove Shiraz. This was the only entrant that was not from U.S soil and clearly offered a style all its own. While the Velvet Glove was very fruit forward, there was plenty of structure that is exemplified in quality made wines. The experts appear to be impressed as well as it scores in the high 90s in most wine publications. That said, the price point is WELL beyond the Winologist’s comfort level and having a guest share that bottle of liquid gold with us was like having Christmas in the summertime.

The two wines I found to be the best value 2006 Silver Stag Cabernet and 2004 Reynoso Family Vineyards Syrah. These quality gems were brought by two guys who are the epitome of this wine blog: great wines on the cheap! The Silver Stag was big and bold with classic California flavor and was a Costco purchase. It was priced around $30 dollars but I would have paid twice that amount and felt I got a great deal. However, I could not find any more information on the winery that was updated so they might be a victim of the 2008 recession. Although I tasted the Reynoso late in the evening when my taste buds were slightly impaired, I was able to immediately connect with this wine. I found it to have the characteristics of a French Syrah, which is unusual for a Rhone style wine from the Sonoma Valley. Although the Reynoso website shows most of their wines priced in the upper twenties, my buddy Brady says he picked this up in a grocery store for under $10 bucks!

My second blind tasting was much more civilized and equally enjoyable. Our friends Lance and Angela had us over for dinner and requested we bring a bottle or two of Syrah. While, this was going to be an exclusive Syrah blind tasting, we were also opening bottles that had some age on them. Again, all the wines were numbered but it appears Lance has experienced chaotic tastings before as he only allowed our group to taste one bottle at a time. Although we were not scoring the wines with numbers, each person commented on what flavors they picked up and whether or not they enjoyed the bottle. All of the Syrah’s were from California except The Laughing Magpie 2007 which is made in Australia. What is unusual about this Syrah (Called Shiraz if you hail from “down under”) is they actually blend a small amount of white wine into it. I’ve had this wine before and while I’ve tasted better vintages, this wine is a good value at under $20(thanks Rich and Sandy for bringing this one to dinner).

For me, the highlight of the evening was getting to know Bill and Carrie Manson. They just bought a winery called Cielo Estates which is a stone’s throw from my house. Aside from being wonderful people, both Bill and Carrie made me realize the true difference between being a home winemaker like myself and someone who tries to earn a living making wine. They both spoke with passion about their product and more importantly, they had the experience to back up what they were talking about. We were treated to one of their reserve wines, a 2009 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah that was simply delicious. The price point at $28 dollars a bottle is at fair value. For me, I would think of it as a wine I would open with friends, but not something I would crack open for an everyday meal by myself.

As for the Syrah’s we tasted that had been in the cellar for a few years; I would argue waiting around didn’t really help. None of older wines tasted were more than 10 years old and I had tried the wines shortly after they were released. While the general consensus among many wine experts is aging wine develops its character, I would argue that this is not always the case. Our host Lance would even go further and claim that many American wines are simply designed to be consumed young. The aging of wine is a topic that could be debated for an eternity but I will leave you with one final thought; if a wine tastes good today, why wait for tomorrow?

If you’ve managed to read this far, you've probably concluded that although blind tasting formats can differ, the ultimate outcome is having some fun. As summer draws to an end and we approach harvest time (also referred to as Fall) consider having one last social gathering. When a guest asks what they can bring; tell them a bottle of wine and a paper bag.

Until next time-


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