Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.
As this was my first blind tasting session in well over 2 months owing to my studies for exams on spirits and sparkling wines, I enjoyed it even more than usual. For a first blind tasting after a long time without practice, I was reasonably happy with the outcome although as always, the real learning is in the post-tasting analysis. With that being said, here were the wines and the results!
The first wine has a medium lemon colour. There are pronounced aromas of ripe golden apples, peach, apricot, and a touch of white flowers. There is a note of wet stones, lime, lemon and a lovely honeyed note. Just the slightest hint of tell-tale kerosene.
On the palate the wine is off-dry with high acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There are pronounced aromas of candied lime, lemon, ripe green apples, pear, peach and honey. The finish is long with the same wet stone/mineral quality discovered on the nose. An excellent wine with a long life ahead of it; refreshing acidity, a lovely balance of both primary and tertiary flavours and a good intensity. It felt very typical of a high quality Riesling.
Guess: Riesling from Alsace in France from the 2009 vintage.
Reality: Riesling from Nahe in Germany from the 2011 vintage
Wine: Emrich-Schonleber Weingut Lenz Riesling 2011
Emrich-Schonleber is a small estate ran by Werner Schönleber and his family, which now comprises 18 hectares in the Nahe region of Germany, just south of the more famous Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It has been a family ran estate since the 18th century although only became focused on wines from 1965 onwards. Today their 18 hectares of land are given over to the production of wine, mainly focused on Riesling with elements of Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).
Conclusions/Learning points: I’m reasonably happy with this conclusion, as I judged the acidity, sweetness levels (14 g/l sugar) and flavour profile well. I misjudged the level of alcohol which ultimately took me to the wrong place, and the evolution of flavours which took me to the wrong vintage. I need to drink more good quality German Riesling as I still sometimes mistake weight of flavour for alcohol in terms of mouth-feel. Even delicate wines can pack a punch!
This wine has a medium lemon colour. There is a medium+ intensity of aromas, with ripe peach, apricot, nectarine and green banana. There is detectable oak here, contributing notes of vanilla, cloves, honey, bread dought and a slight nuttiness; almonds? The oak is a little heavy and there is a slightly rubbery note to the wine.
On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a pronounced intensity of almonds, vanilla, toast and very little fruit; very muted in fact. There is a lot of phenolic bitterness to the wine which dominates into a relatively short finish (medium-). A reasonable quality wine but missing fruit and balance.
Guess: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2014 vintage
Reality: Chenin Blanc from Swartland in South Africa from the 2014 vintage
Wine: A.A Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2014
A.A Badenhorst is a venture between two cousins in Swartland, South Africa, where they cultivate 28 hectares of old bush-vines. Although this wine didn’t fare well in my blind tasting assessment, I have enjoyed their other products over the past year, especially the white and the red from their ‘first tier’ of wines.
Conclusions/Learning points: A swing and a miss. This is a good example of taking a single aspect of the wine and allowing it to dominate the conclusion, in this case the relatively clumsy oaking and oxidised notes, both of which I encounter with lower quality Xarel.lo here in Catalunya. Normally acidity would be a tell-tale sign from Chenin Blanc but according to the fact-sheet on this wine from the A.A Badenhorst website; “… and slightly lower acids than previous years.” Pleased to judge the alcohol correctly here and if I were taking this as part of a WSET exam, marks would still be high indeed as I judged both the flavour profile, structure of the wine and usage of both lees contact and oak vessels. According to their website, A A Badenhorst focuses on the production of ‘natural’ wines so I suppose typicity may have been a slight issue in the wine selection? Anway, I wasn’t even close in my conclusion!
The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of fresh aromas, with green apple, green pear and gooseberry coming to the fore. There is ample fresh citrus here with both lemon and lime, wet stones, freshly cut grass and elderflower. Clearly a very fresh and youthful wine with no discernible oak.
On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There is a pronounced intensity of lemon, lime and gooseberries, wet stones, green apple and green pear. An incredibly crisp, lean style of wine with plenty of mineral nuances. The finish is mouth-watering and medium+ in length. A very good quality wine with clean, refreshing flavours, a balanced structure and a good intensity and finish. It doesn’t speak strongly to a particular grape but is exactly the sort of sharp, white wine I enjoy, particularly on a hot summers day.
Guess: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France from the 2014 vintage
Reality: Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain from the 2014 vintage
Wine: Zarate Balado 2014
Adega Zarate is one of the oldest wineries in Rias Baixas, in the sub-region of Salnés. Tracing their lineage all the way back to 1707, the family have been recognised as a top quality style of fresh, mineral-driven Albariño since the 1950’s and have pioneered many of the new technologies, stainless steel etc, that the region now takes for granted.
Conclusions/Learning points: Another miss, although not a million miles away, this time. High acid, semi-aromatic varieties tend to quite alike and the differences can be very small. The irony of this is that I actually like and drink this wine a lot, but it isn’t like most commercial Albariño s as it doesn’t showcase the peachy, floral side of the grape and focuses more on the citric, mineral style. I’m not too sure that I can learn a great deal from this one, other than to perhaps include more grape varieties in my final grouping as I didn’t even consider Albariño!
The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium intensity of fresh and slightly dried strawberries, cherries and red apple skin. There is a light hint of smoke, pepper and tertiary aromas of undergrowth, grass and a touch of leather.
On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium- ripe and firm tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium- body. The flavour intensity is quite similar to the nose but rather dilute and the finish is medium. This is a reasonable quality wine but I was underwhelmed with the intensity of flavour, as well as the simplistic nature of the wine as it felt like it had a little bottle age.
Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy in France (Basic level) from the 2011 vintage
Reality: Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) from the Ahr Valley in Germany from the 2010 vintage
Wine: Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder 2010
The Ahr Valley is one the most northerly German wine regions, although at a tiny 550HA it is not well known internationally. This was my first experience their wines but Werner Näkel has been producing mainly red wines here since 1982, when he first took over the family estate. I’m not a fan on this single showing, but looking forward to trying more of their wines in the future! I did briefly consider Switzerland as an origin for this one…
Conclusions/Learning Points: Well, happy enough to correctly guess that is was Pinot Noir. The confusion for me on region was the medium alcohol (13.2%, correctly judged) but the very light, ‘dilute’ flavours and lack of complexity. As with the wine above, I’m not sure there are too many lessons to take from this other than comfort in the fact that it would be a truly horrible exam if it included a red wine from the smallest producing region of Germany!
This wine has a deep ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe blackberries, plums and black currants. There’s something light oak influence here with toast and cloves, and a touch of dried herbs and leather. Not overly complex but fresh and pleasant, with some development.
On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity, medium+ firm and slightly sticky tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium+ body. The flavours are fresh and accessible, the wine is well structured and there’s some development of flavour. It tastes Italian but I can’t think of a grape variety that encompasses all the above, or even a blend. The finish is medium+. A very good quality wine that was a lot of fun to taste and deliberate over.
Guess: A Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Bordeaux Superieur in France from the 2010 vintage
Reality: Montepulciano from DOC Rosso Conero (Marche) in Italy from the 2008 vintage
Wine: La Calcinara Folle Conero Riserva DOCG 2008
La Calcinara are a small estate in the heart of Candia, Italy. They’re a relatively new establishment having been founded in 1997 by Mario Berluti and focuses exclusively on the Montepulciano grape planted on 9 hectares of land. A new winery for me but happy to try more based on this experience!
Conclusions/Learning points: A mile away in the end and this one is very much down to lack of knowledge and experience with Italian wines. In my tasting note I wrote at the side “it tastes Italian” but I didn’t have the theoretical knowledge to take the deep colour, the flavour profile and reconcile that with both high acidity and the firm, sticky nature of the tannins. One for the memory bank!
This wine has a pale garnet colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of dried red fruits like cherry, strawberry and red plums. There is clear and obvious oak usage with vanilla and dill, as well as a plethora of tertiary characteristics like dried tobacco, leather, mushrooms, wet leaves and a touch of volatile acidity.
On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium- slightly grippy tannins, medium alcohol, medium bodied and a medium+, very savoury finish. The flavours on the palate are almost entirely tertiary and this is clearly an old wine. Incredibly savoury but there is also a sweetness to it, I believe contributed from the American oak which leads me to my conclusion.
Guess: Tempranillo blend from Rioja in Spain from the 1990 vintage
Reality: Tempranillo blend from Rioja in Spain from the 1995 vintage
Wine: R.Lopez Heredia Vina Cubillo 1995
R. Lopez de Heredia are an iconic producer from Rioja, being one of the very first wineries to establish themselves there back in 1877. Arguably the most traditional bodega in Rioja to this day, they pride themselves on staying true to their roots and their wines reflect this, with long, slow maturations in American oak for both white and red wines the norm. If you’ve ever wondered what quintessential Rioja was all about, pick up a bottle of Tondonio/Bosconia/Cubillo with some age on it (The 2004 Reserva sells for 20 euros in Spain; insane QPR) and enjoy!
Conclusions/Learning points: Not much really, as aside from the vintage I was right on track. It’s always nice to finish with a win, especially as this is the sort of classic Spanish wine which may well come up on an exam. Vintages are difficult to be specific about as a wine gets older and the trick is to figure out the quality of the wine, and then try to discern how far along the path it is. I slightly over-rated the Cubillo and as a result, I thought it was older than it actually was. A better quality wine would have more structure, fruit and intensity at the age of 22 years old, but I’m splitting hairs really.
Overall, a really enjoyable tasting! It’s good to be back with the more general wines of the world and I have a full 9 months of studying and practice ahead of my final exam in January 2018. There’s lots to taste and lots to learn, so I will be back next week for more!