Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting

Every month or two we try to organise a blind tasting in Barcelona, typically focusing on wines from around the world. Last night was our first after the summer break and we tasted our way around 6 different, mono-varietal wines from around the world of wine with two whites and 4 reds. It’s not a completely 100% blind experience so for each wine there was a choice of 3, each with tasting notes, with only one being correct. As always, it was a lot of fun and a great way to not only try different wines, but learn a bit about how they’re structured, how they taste and what really defines them in comparison with other wines from around the world. Below is the descriptions that were handed out, as well as the revealing of which wine was which!

Wine 1 is a:

Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain: The quintessential Galician white wine, particularly where Paella is involved! Albariño tends to be pale to medium lemon in colour and very aromatic, with notes of ripe citrus fruits, peach, white flowers and often sweet herbs or even a touch of honey. Acidity is high, especially in the leaner expressions to the north, and the flavour on the palate leans more towards citrus zest and sweet herbs.

Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace, France: Renowned for their dry Rieslings, Alsace has a continental climate and long ripening season that allows for intense versions of this grape to be grown. Typically pale to medium coloured, these wines are typically aromatic with notes of ripe citrus fruits, green fruits and often a touch of smoke or wet stone sensation, although not usually from oak contact. High acidity is a given and alcohol levels can also reach 14% quite often. Grand Cru Riesling will be tight and unyielding in youth, yet full of energy and will still be aromatic,

Chardonnay from Chablis (1er cru), France: Chablis is a distinctive style of Chardonnay, coming from the cool climates of northern France. Pale to medium in colour, these wines can differ slightly, mostly depending on whether they’re oaked or unoaked. Regardless, the notes will often resemble lemon and lime zest, green fruits and a flinty, smoky note when young which will soften with age. Acidity is extremely high and there’ll be a sharp, steely sensation on the palate which may be softened by malolactic fermentation.

Conclusion: It was indeed a Chablis from France that kicked off our evening, correctly chosen by 5/10 of the attendees. All the options were high acid varieties, so the trick was to define the texture on the palate and see if wine-making or a tell-tale aroma would give the game away. The real defining factor was the presence of tightly-grained, smoky French oak which this Chablis had aged in for 12 months. Highly unlikely in both the case of Albariño and Riesling, but very common for good quality Chablis from the Premier Cru level and upwards. Delicious wine as it happens, as is so often the case with Drouhin, and as I always say; everything in life is better with a glass of Chablis!

Wine 2 is a:

Verdejo from Rueda, Spain: One of the most famous white wines from Spain, hailing from Rueda, and made in a few different styles. Most Verdejo tends to be unoaked, with a pale colour and aromas of citrus fruits, green fruits and something herbaceous, almost laurel-like. Acidity ranges from medium to high but alcohol is usually kept in check, and the wines can be soft and very appealing.

Semillon from Hunter Valley, Australia: One of Bordeaux’s great white grapes has a very different expression in Australia. When it’s young, Semillon has a lean, mean structure and flavour with noticeable lime zest, smoke and masses of acidity, accurately described by the top wine-maker in the region as ‘Battery acid’. With age, these flavours broaden into honey, toast and roasted nuts.

Pinot Gris from Marlborough, New Zealand: Pinot Gris is still best known for its simple, homogenous expressions from the north of Italy. In New Zealand, however, a riper style is aimed for. Notes of citrus, green fruits and riper notes of melon and peach are usually expressed here, somethings with some soft herbal notes and an almost ‘beery’ character to the wine. Alcohol levels are typically over 13% and there is often a bitter sensation on the finish.

Conclusion: Not one of the best known wines in the world, but 8/10 correctly guessed this to be a Pinot Gris from New Zealand! Loveblock is the same organic producer whose Pinot Noir I recently presented at our New World Wine Tasting and their Pinot Gris is on an equal footing; soft, slightly spicy and utterly delicious. Everyone ruled out Semillon due to the lower acidity and lack of a smoky, nutty aroma, whilst two detected the soft herbal notes of the wine and confused it with a well made Verdejo. However, the round, glycerol-heavy nature of the wine, the stone-fruit dominated flavours and slight, cleansing bitterness on the finish led most people to the right path. Nicely done!

Wine 3 is a:

Gamay from Cru Beaujolais, France: Another pale coloured wine, Gamay wines tend to be restrained on the nose with aromas of fresh red fruits, violets and sometimes very light hints of oak. Alcohol tends to be no higher than 13.5% and tannins are noticeably low, although the fresh acidity makes for a refreshing beverage.

Cabernet Franc from Chinon, France: Cabernet Franc is a red variety that ripens in cooler conditions, making it a favourite in the Loire Valley of France where it produces incredibly characteristic wines. Pale ruby colours and fresh, tangy red fruit flavours are common, as are herbaceous, stalky aromas of leaves and undergrowth. Tannins are usually quite firm but not overpowering and acidity is high, making for a light, refreshing style of wine that rarely exceeds 13% alcohol.

Dolcetto from Piedmont, Italy: Quite literally ‘little sweet one’ due to the its low acidity and bright fruit flavours, Dolcetto is usually a simple, very quaffable style of wine grown in several appellations in northern Italy. Despite the medium levels of alcohol and acidity, tannins can occasionally be quite prominent and compete with the fruit. At its best, these wines are best drank young and tend to be simple and uncomplicated.

Conclusion: For our first red of the evening, I wanted to choose something aromatically distinctive and 7/10 correctly noted that this was a Cabernet Franc from Chinon. Whilst the structure could be of help, this was more related to flavour profile and the cool climate of the Loire and its effect on Cabernet Franc. Fresh red fruits, a touch of graphite, violets and a strong, herbaceous character led the majority here, to a delicious bottle of Les Petites Roches 2011 by Charles Joguet, an iconic producer of Chinon.

 

Wine 4 is a Pinot Noir. Where’s it from?

Pinot Noir from Baden, Germany: Germany is now the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world, known locally as Spätburgunder. Baden is the warmest region in the country and so accounts for the majority of plantings of red grapes. Stylistically, German Pinot Noir is traditionally very pale, yet sometimes over-oaked. Ripe red fruits married to touches of vanilla and toast whilst maintaining low alcohol is common, with earthy, undergrowth aromas coming through with age.

Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand: Not quite as pale as traditional Burgundy or German Pinot Noir but still lightly coloured. Pinot Noir from Central Otago is often very aromatic, with notes of candied fruits, light oak and often hints of leather and undergrowth. Look out for bright, persistent flavours on the palate and occasionally hints of reduction, which can smell a little rubbery. The bright fruit flavours are a good sign of New World Pinot Noir and these wines from New Zealand are often very perfumed.

Pinot Noir from Oregon, USA: Pinot Noir in Oregon is still establishing itself as a style, with top producers like Drouhin and Bergstrom now producing wines of class and style. Slightly darker and riper in colour than the majority of traditional cool-climate European Pinot Noir, Bright, ripe cherry fruit dominates, with noticeable oak influences and often noticeably high alcohol levels. Likely to be more structured and firm in comparison to a Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Conclusion: As soon as I read out the name of the winery, heads dropped. Only 1/10 correctly identified the origins of the wine, which I think is partly due to no-one having tried a good quality Pinot Noir from Germany before. The clue was in both the structure and the profile; Baden produces much lighter, classic Pinot Noir than the two, New-World options. At 12.5% alcohol and full of just-ripe red fruit and undergrowth with a touch (20%) of new oak, this is classic Spätburgunder. Ziereisen are one of the better producers in a region dominated by the grape variety, and manage to walk the line between over-extraction and oaking  with remarkable ease.

Wine 5 is a:

Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina: The ambassador grape of Argentina, Malbec is noted for its soft fruit flavours, soft tannins and an easy-drinking style. Sometimes criticised for being a little simple, it often tastes of plums, damsons, and dark chocolate with hints of violets. Whilst top quality examples do exist with a more complex array of flavours, they are sadly rarely seen outside Argentina itself. The classic Argentinian Malbec is often incredibly dark, with purple hints but younger examples can be lighter in profile.

Pinotage from Stellenbosch, South Africa: Pinotage is a love it or hate it kind of grape, as it really smells and tastes unlike any other grapes in the world. Almost exclusively grown in South Africa, the wines tend to be deeply coloured with aromas of blackberries, mulberry and often a smoky, dark aroma, with hints of coffee often strongly related to the oak regime used in wineries within South Africa. Occasionally volatile aromas can taint the wine and the tannins can often be quite aggressive.

Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain: Ordinarily a medium-bodied grape, the continental climate of Ribera del Duero and consumer demand leads to darkly coloured, rich wines that are often alcoholic, powerful and heavily structured. Often blended together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Malbec, these are often heavily oaked wines designed for early drinking pleasure, although the very best can age for decades. Aromas of dark fruit, noticeable oak (French and/or American), leather and tobacco are common.

Conclusion: A classically styled Ribera del Duero went down a treat, and was also correctly identified by 6/10 as the wine in their glass. Pinotage is the first to be discounted, owing to the difference in structure and also flavour profile, but differentiating Malbec and Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero isn’t as easy as it sounds. A key difference is that, with age, Tempranillo develops a beautiful array of leather and dried tobacco aromas not often emulated in Malbec, whereas Malbec tends to have a softer, riper tannin profile. Bohorquez are an old-fashioned producer, making wines in the style of Alejandro Pesquera minus the brett! A lovely wine just hitting its stride at 10 years old.

 

Wine Number 6 is a ….Wildcard entry! No clues for this one:

For the final wine of the evening, there were no clues or help, just a glass of wine in front of everyone. It was a pale, garnet colour with a very pronounced nose of dried cherries, rose petals, violets, smoke, toast and wet earth. Highly acidic and with plenty of ripe, firm tannins and a wonderful flavour intensity, this took most people to one place; Northern Italy. I wasn’t expecting anyone to know the exact region, but the fact that most people went for Nebbiolo from Piedmont, or in one case a remarkably astute guess of Lombardy, is fantastic! It is indeed Nebbiolo from the north of Italy, in fact in the extreme reaches of Lombardy, in the Valtellina region. Lacking the weight and gravitas of some of its more famous cousins in Barbaresco and Barolo, the wines here tend to be leaner, more floral and incredibly refreshing. Ar.Pe.Pe are the most famous producer, having built a reputation for their long-lived, regionally defined expressions of Nebbiolo. A great way to finish a wonderful evening of tasting!

 

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