Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting II

Wine Cuentista Barcelona

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 Christmas break and we tasted our way around 6 different, typical wines; 3 whites and 3 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 Spanish 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 whilst time spent on lees can add a touch of weight and a savoury character, there’s rarely any oak used.

Chardonnay from Burgundy (Bourgogne Blanc), France: Generic Burgundy can be sourced from anywhere within the region, with the majority of Bourgogne Blanc hailing from the warmer Maconnaise and Cote Chalonnaise. Expensive, new oak is unlikely but older barrels are common, as is malolactic conversion. As a result, expect a wine without overly distinctive flavours, likely hovering around ripe stone fruits, citrus, toast and perhaps a touch of vanilla. Usually soft and slightly buttery on the palate, with a medium length finish.

Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa: Whilst like Loire Chenin this can come in all shapes and sizes, most South African Chenin Blanc tends to be slightly more rounded in style and are mostly dry or off-dry. Colours can vary but due to the warmer climate, aromas and flavours tend towards ripe stone fruits, tropical fruits, honey and a nuttiness with age. Premium examples are also often oak aged, darkening the colour and adding notes of vanilla and sweet spices to the wine.

Conclusion: A nice set of choices to start off with. The wine was the Louis Jadot Bourgogne Blanc, as correctly identified by 4/10, with the other 6 opting for Chenin Blanc from South Africa. It couldn’t be typical Albarino as it’s simply too creamy, aromatically neutral and frankly, obviously oaked. That leaves South African Chenin Blanc vs Chardonnay. Whilst White Burgundy tends towards freshness, it doesn’t have the natural acidity of Chenin Blanc, nor the riper flavours that would come from growing in a warm, Mediterranean climate. A great example of generic White Burgundy; soft, creamy and very ‘correct’. 

Wine 2 is a:

Pinot Gris from Alsace, France: Pinot Gris is one of Alsace’s ‘noble’ grape varieties, produced in a variety of styles. Due to the long, dry growing season this is where full ripeness is most commonly achieved for this grape, resulting in pronounced aromas of ripe stone fruits, tropical fruits, honey and smoke. The wines often have a distinctly oily texture, high levels of alcohol and can occasionlly suffer from low levels of acidity, particularly in warmer years. Can range from dry to sweet, but rarely has any obvious oak character.

Gruner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria: Gruner Veltliner is the most important grape variety in Austria, and is something of a chameleon. From light, peppery and full of fresh fruits to aromatic and distinctly tropical, there’s not much that ‘Gruner’ can’t do. Even in the riper, fuller bodied styles Gruner Veltliner retains high levels of acidity and there’s often a peppery sensation on the palate. Wines from Kamptal tend to be on the fuller bodied side, with occasional botrytis (honey and bitter orange characters).

Chenin Blanc from Savennieres, France: Savennieries is a small appellation in the Loire Valley, producing high quality, dry Chenin Blanc. Often full bodied and reasonably high in alcohol yet with high levels of acidity to keep it in balance. Concentrated flavours, typically of ripe apples, pears, warm straw and beeswax, sometimes with a chalky, mineral finish. Botrytis and new oak flavours are rare.

Conclusion: I thought this one may trip a few people up, but I’m delighted to report that 6/10 correctly guessed this as a Gruner Veltliner! No-one guessed Savennieres, which I thought may lead at least a few down the wrong path, but Pinot Gris accounted for the other 4 votes. Even from riper examples of Gruner Veltliner, there will always be a much higher level of natural acidity than Pinot Gris from Alsace, lower levels of alcohol and rarely residual sugar. This is a terrific single vineyard wine from the famous Schloss Gobelsburg in Kamptal, tying for the favourite wine of the evening!

Wine 3 is a Sauvignon Blanc. Where’s it from?

Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, Chile: Casablanca Valley is a cool-climate region towards the coast of Chile’s Central Valley, cooled by the fogs drawn in from the Pacific Ocean. Due to the resulting extended ripening period, Sauvignon Blanc from this region tends to be quite full bodied, with medium-to-high levels of alcohol kept in check by good natural acidity. Flavours tend to consist of ripe citrus fruits, apples, some stone fruits and a smoky, herbal flavour.

Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand: The quintessential New World Sauvignon Blanc. Higher in alcohol that most examples from the Loire Valley, with bright, clean aromas and flavours of passion fruit, gooseberries, fresh grass and nettles. Acidity is nearly always high, although this can be diminished by small amounts of residual sugar; not noticeably sweet but creates a softer, smoother texture.

Sauvignon Blanc (Fume Blanc) from Napa Valley, USA: Fume Blanc is a term used in the US wine industry to describe an oaked Sauvignon Blanc; hugely popular on local markets there. Due to the much warmer climate in Napa, these wines will have clear tropical fruit aromas such as pineapple and mango, yet will still have the characteristic gooseberry and nettle character of Sauvignon Blanc. Expect some sweet vanilla and baking spice character from the oak contact.

Conclusion: Another tricky choice. Sauvignon Blanc can vary so much throughout the world and there’s always a consistency in flavours, so it’s all honing in on the details. A Fume Blanc from the USA is likely to have clear and obvious oak, of which there was none on this wine. So why can’t it be a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? Alcohol levels were higher than typical (14%) and there wasn’t the same intense, pungent aromas you’d expect from this sun-bathed region, with more textural weight from the long, slow ripening season of Casablanca Valley. 4/10 came to the correct conclusion, whilst 4/10 went to New Zealand and 2/10 thought it was a Fume Blanc.

Wine 4 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.

Tempranillo (Joven) from Rioja, Spain: Tempranillo is often thought of as being synonymous with oak of some sort, yet there is an abundance of young, juicy wines being made across northern Spain. Easily confused with Beaujolais as there is often carbonic maceration (fruity, bubblegum flavours result), and a similar pale colour. Fresh red fruits, refreshing acidity and soft tannins make for an eminently quaffable wine.

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. These wines are usually best drank young and tend to be simple and refreshing.

Conclusion: By far and away the hardest flight of the evening, with very little to choose between the different styles. This was the only wine where no-one came to the right conclusion, opting instead for Tempranillo or Gamay in equal proportions. Flavour profiles are very similar between these wines, with simple red fruits, touches of anis and something sappy and herbal. The clue then is in the structure, in this case the tannins. Dolcetto typically has a medium level of firm, noticeable tannins whereas both Tempranillo Joven and Cru Beaujolais tends towards lower levels of softer, smoother tannins. A difficult one, indeed!

Wine 5 is a:

Grenache from Barossa Valley, Australia: Barossa Valley is the traditional heartland of quality Australian wine production, with some of the oldest vines in the world located here. Grenache thrives in these hot dry conditions, creating full bodied, high alcohol wines with flavours of strawberry jam, white pepper and dried herbs. The alcohol can be noticeably high at times, and the tannins will be soft and smooth. Oak is common although not usually overwhelming, with vanilla and baking spices the give-away.

Amarone della Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy: Amarone is the result of drying high quality Corvina, Rondinella and other grapes prior to fermentation, increasing the natural sugars, acids and flavours in the grapes. The result is a deep ruby, and a very full bodied, concentrated and powerful wine. Alcohol levels will be high, as will the acidity, and there is likely to be noticeable aromas of dried fruits, leather, tobacco and it usually finishes with a bitter twist (hence, Amarone). More modern styles may have noticeable oak characteristics.

Zinfandel from California, USA: Up until quite recently, Zinfandel was considered to the the US’s own grape variety, until we discovered it was identical to grapes in both Puglia and Croatia. Still, it undoubtedly thrives in the warmer, drier climates of California, creating full bodied, highly charged wines. There is often a sense of jamminess to the fruit, which ranges from cranberry to strawberry, noticeable American oak influences contributing caramel, vanilla and sweet spices, and sometimes even a black tea character. Very distinctive.

I inexplicably forgot to take a photo myself, so stealing this from Cellar Tracker!

Conclusion: Then on the other end of the spectrum entirely, Californian Zinfandel! Another tough one, as all wines given are high in alcohol, full bodied and often tends towards over-ripeness. The Amarone is the first choice to eliminate as there isn’t enough of the soft, dried fruit character and the oak tends more towards American, with sweet caramel and vanilla. So, what’s the difference between Barossa Grenache and Zinfandel? The cranberry/boysenberry fruit profile and the almost raisin-like character that these wines take on, along with clearer influences of American oak. This led the majority astray with only 2 persons correctly identifying the wine as Zinfandel. 

Wine 6 is a:

Merlot from Pomerol, France: Merlot really expresses itself most classically as a single variety in the clay soils of Pomerol, on the right bank of Bordeaux. Often there is a mixture of ripeness levels, meaning both ripe red and black fruits, vanilla and spices from new French oak, ripe, grainy tannins and moderate levels of acidity. Alcohol’s can be high in warmer vintages, although tend to be more moderate than New World Merlot.

Barbera from Piedmont, Italy: Barbera can range from a light, delicate wine to something quite powerful and dark. At its best, these wines are deeply coloured and intensely fruity, with notes of black cherries, earth, cocoa and soft spices prominent. Acidities are generally very high, yet tannins are quite low, so additional time spent in barrel is increasingly common.

Tempranillo from Toro, Spain: Tempranillo is at it’s most powerful and rustic in the hot, dry plains of DO Toro. Over the years, the skins of these grapes have become thicker, more tannic and darker; qualities that inevitably pass over into the resulting wines. Ripe, dark fruits, black pepper, vanilla and often notes of dried tobacco are much like their cousins in Ribera del Duero. However, the grippy tannins, powerful alcohol and signature spicy note are key here; far more rustic than their polished neighbours!

Conclusion: We’ll finish with something a little closer to home, correctly identified by 8/10 for the most successfully identified wine of the evening. Darkly coloured, powerful, alcoholic, chunky tannins… it’s definitely Toro! The level of tannin is a clear indicator that it can’t be a Barbera from Italy, with its typically low level of tannins, and it doesn’t have the softness of fruit or structure to reasonably be a Merlot based wine; even the more structured Pomerol wines would have a gentler, more finely grained tannic base. 

A fun ,albeit difficult, evening of blind tasting! There will be another on the 8th February, with details released on the 1st on our Maestrazgo Wine Club page, so do be sure to check it out. It’s a great way to learn a little bit about your own palate, the process of tasting and have a great evening with a lovely group of people! See you at the next one.

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