Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part III

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.

I ended up skipping a week and opting for a lunch last week due to a severe case of needing a small break from studying in general. However, this week I was full of energy again and ready for round 3!

White Wines

Wine #1: The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a pronounced aromas of ripe green apples, green pears, lemon, grapefruit, peach and a touch of apricot. There are some gentle, floral aromatics along with some sweet herbs; tarragon and thyme.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity (a little creamy), medium alcohol, medium body, a medium + intensity and a medium + finish. A fresh, aromatic style of wine with some weight on the palate despite the clearly young, vibrant style. Very refreshing and altogether a very well made wine.

Guess: Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Reality: Alvarinho (same grape) from Vinho Verde in Portugal from the 2015 vintage

Wine: Quinta do Soalheiro Primeras Vinhas 2015

Located in Melgaço, Vinho Verde’s warmest, driest sub-region, production at Soalheiro is focused on Alvarinho, known as Albarino in neighbouring Galicia, Spain. It is Vinho Verde’s star variety and Soalheiro are one of its finest exponents. Antonio Cerdeira illegally planted 4 ha of Alvarinho in 1974 and, following changes in the law, released his first Alvarinho in 1982. Today his daughter, Maria tends the estate’s 10 ha of organically certified vines, while her brother Luis makes the wines.

Conclusions/Learning points: Bam, nailed it. After having confused Albarino with Sauvignon Blanc only two weeks ago, this was a much needed victory with regards to this grape variety. Even better than that, I took a little time sorting through the evidence and coming to some logical conclusions; high acidity but with some creaminess, medium alcohol and quite a bit of florality, sweet herbs – all pointed me in the right direction. Very good start and a delicious wine; I wish I could buy more of it!

Wine #2: This wine has a medium gold colour. The intensity on the nose is pronounced and clearly oxidative in style. Ripe apricots, peach, nectarine, lemon curd and oxidised golden apple are present, along with the toasted almond, rich nuttiness of carefully oxidised wines. Plenty of oak as well with lots of toast, smoke and vanilla.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, a medium + body, a pronounced intensity and a medium+ finish, ‘Lemon curd on toast’ was my summary of the wine, although more specifically it was a gorgeous assemblage of really ripe, oxidised fruit, old oak and nuts. With the moderate alcohol levels and still elevated levels of acidity, I could only think of one wine this could reasonably be…

Guess: Viura blend from Rioja in Spain from the 2003 vintage

Reality: Viura blend from Rioja in Spain from the 2003 vintage

Wine: Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 2003

Lopez de Heredia are one of the truly classic bodegas of Rioja, having been founded way back in 1877. They now own over 170 hectares of land around the region, with Vina Tondonia making the majority of this with a little over 100 hectares of land. In a region that often changes to suit fashions, Lopez de Heredia have stayed stalwartly traditional, with long, slow elevage in American oak and delayed releases; their most recent Gran Reserva white wine is 1996, to give an example!

Conclusions/Learning points: I can’t remember the last time I got off to such a good start in a blind tasting, although it is worth pointing out that this is a very specific wine, and I knew it from memory as much as anything else. I did briefly consider the idea of white Cotes-du-Rhone/Montsant/Priorat/Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but the alcohol levels weren’t right and the wine seemed too evolved. Still, very happy to be doing so well right off the bat.

Wine #3: The wine has a medium lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of aromas, with some clear and obvious reduction (screw-cap? New World?). The aromas are pleasant, with ripe lemon, lemon zest, green apple, apricot, nectarine and a touch of green pineapple. There is some oak usage here as toast and vanilla are both detected, as well some some yeasty, pastry dough aromas suggested battonage, or at least extended lees ageing.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol, medium+ body, a medium+ intensity and a medium finish. Nothing in particular stands out, hence all the ‘mediums’, but this is a nicely balanced wine with good fruit, nicely integrated oak and a the only downside being a slight reduction.

Guess: Chardonnay from Gisbourne in New Zealand from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Chardonnay from Tasmania in Australia from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Stefano Lubiana Estate Chardonnay 2010

Steve Lubiana is a fifth generation wine-maker from Italy who arrived to Tasmania, Australia, back in 1990. Along with his wife, Monique, they now produce a portfolio of pure, crisp wines from cool climate, biodynamic vineyards in the Derwent Valley. The wine-making focuses on the nature of the grape and the fruit first and foremost, and this Chardonnay is joined by an excellent Riesling and a Pinot Noir that I have yet to try. Sparkling wine is also produced broadly in Tasmania and the Lubiana Estate makes this as well.

Conclusions/Learning points: So, grape and vintage completely correct and I also correctly identified that we’re in the New World, so that’s very positive. I called New Zealand as I thought the alcohol was slightly higher than it actually was, and that the fruit profile was perhaps a little more tropical. According to my note, my guess was in the right place so I suppose I must have mistaken some bottle development for fruit ripeness, which took me in the wrong direction. A shame, but encouraging nonetheless!

Red Wines

Wine #4: The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe cherries, strawberries and red currants. There’s also a lot of savoury, earthy characteristics here suggesting bottle age and development, with some barnyard, undergrowth and gravelly/earthy aromas. There’re some hints of old oak as well, with a lightly toasted, smoky aroma.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe, firm tannins, medium+ alcohol, a medium body, a medium+ intensity and a medium finish. A nicely balanced wine with some fruit still singing nicely, with a good level of development; my favourite time to catch wines in their life cycles. Not a heavy wine in terms of tannins, or alcohol and clearly made in a cooler environment, although with no hint of under-ripeness.

Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy in France (Village level – Volnay?) from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Pinot Noir from the Ahr in Germany from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Meyer-Nakel Blauschiefer 2010

Meyer-Nakel enjoys the reputation of being one of the finest producers of Pinot Noir in Germany. Based in the Ahr Valley, a diminutive region of barely 550 hectares in the north of the country, they produce a selection of red wines including this lovely balanced wine, produced from vineyards grown on blue slate. The best wines in the portfolio are the single vineyard expressions with longer oak regimes and a lengthy drinking window, as with all top Pinot Noir based wines.

Conclusions/Learning Points: Same issue as my last tasting; what is the difference between Pinot Noir produced in Germany and Pinot Noir produced in Burgundy?! Clearly I need to attend some sort of master class where this is compared. Again, very encouraging that both the varietal and the vintage were correct. Fortunately, Monvinic have a wonderful selection of older, German Pinot Noir as well as some affordable, younger bottlings so I will have the chance to try a good few more yet.

Wine #5: This wine has a clear, deep ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe and jammy black fruits; blackcurrant, cassis and cherry. There’s a strong herbal sensation, with lots of mint, eucalyptus and even a touch of green bell pepper. New oak seems present with pronounced vanilla, nutmeg and clove influences, along with some toasted, smoky notes.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, full ripe, soft tannins, high alcohol, a full body, pronounced intensity but unfortunately only a medium finish. A rich, ripe and powerful style of wine that screams ‘Australia’. Very modern in style but also fresh and really quite delicious, although a single glass would be sufficient!

Guess: Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra in Australia from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Shiraz from Coonawarra in Australia from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Katnook Estate Shiraz 2010

As part of the Wingara Wine group, this winery was purchased by Freixenet in 2001. It continues to be directed, however, by Wayne Stehbens, who has made the wine in a 19th-century stone woolshed (used in the region’s early vintages) for the past 20-odd years. Much of the grape production has been sold to others but Katnook’s reds have been characterised by their intense, concentrated, ripe (often very ripe), sweet fruit and tight structures when young. The stars of the production are Cabernet Sauvignon based, but the Shiraz and Shiraz Prodigy wines are also very popular.

Conclusions/Learning points: Damn, that was close to a very good call! With the rich dark fruits, herbal notes and what I thought were clear Cabernet Sauvignon descriptors, I was disappointed not to get this one, despite getting the region, country and vintage correct. What’s the difference between incredibly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz? I need to look this up as I was expecting a little more black pepper and spice from Shiraz. A friend told me that she always gets a spectrum of blue fruit in over-ripe Shiraz/Syrah; I will have a closer look the next time and see if that helps at all. Still, a solid call and would have scored me a lot of points in an exam.

Wine #6: This wine has a pale ruby colour. There is a medium intensity of fresh red fruit; redcurrant, cranberry and raspberry. The wine isn’t overly aromatic or complex and there’s a hint of earth, toast and smoke but little else.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity and medium+ firm, sticky tannins. The alcohol level is medium and the body is medium. As with the nose, the flavours are quite simple, fresh and pleasant but lacking excitement. There’s a little grip to the tannins but really nothing much to point me in the right direction. It could be Gamay, tannic Pinot Noir, Mencia, cool-climate Garnacha….

Guess: Mencia from Ribeira Sacra in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Reality: Sumoll/Tempranillo blend from Catalunya in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Wine: Gran Autocton Negre 2015

Autocton Gran Celler is a brand new project from Albert Jané of Acustic Celler in Montsant and Priorat. The grapes are grown from both the Penedes and Tarragona but vinified in the old, family winery in Mas Vilella in the Penedes. The focus is very much on indigenous varieties, hence the name of Autocton, and the appellation is DO Catalunya. The wines have only been very recently released into the market from the 2015 vintage.

Conclusions/Learning points: Hrm. There’s a part of me that was a little irritated to be presented with a Sumoll/Tempranillo blend, but in a way it was nice to have a curveball at the end of a very successful tasting in total. I can’t think of a single characteristic that defines Sumoll comparatively to other varieties, so I’ll have to have a think about this one. Not a bad wine in all but at the asking price in Spain, there are quite a few others I would head towards first.

One of my best ever tastings; to nail 3 wines and get so many details correct about the others is a huge improvement for me. This time around I took a little extra time to clear my mind and really dig into the wine, which made a big difference, as I sometimes have a tendency to rush. I learnt a lot and also discovered a few more weaknesses to work on in my tasting, but I went home with a big smile on my face and I’m already looking forward to next week to see if I can repeat it with any level of consistency!

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