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!

 

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part IV

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.

Monvic is open once again after the summer break, hurrah! With a little over 4 months until the Unit 3 exam, it seems like a good idea to get back practicing again. To ease myself in a little more easily, and also due to meeting a friend for lunch on the same day, I thought I’d do a quick 15 minute, 2 wine tasting. 1 white, 1 red, both mono-varietal. Whilst blind tasting isn’t an easy discipline, this should be about as easy as it gets!

White Wine

The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe citrus fruit, green apple, green pear, fresh stone fruits and a chalky, stony quality. A touch of white flowers and no discernible oak.

On the palate the wine is dry with high, bracing acidity, medium alcohol, a medium body and a medium+ intensity and finish. This tastes like either an incredibly young wine or a grape variety that naturally has a lot of natural acidity, although there is a nice texture to the wine; it certainly has some weight. Relatively neutral in terms of profile with a nice, fresh character and a gorgeous, saline finish, but as with the nose I couldn’t discern any obvious wine-making. Really delicious stuff but feels tight, like it’s being drank very young.

Guess: Godello from Valdeorras, Spain, from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Chardonnay from Chablis, France, from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Daniel Dampt and Fils Cote de Lechet 1er 2014

From a long lineage of vintners, Vincent Dampt continues the family tradition of excellence at Domaine Daniel Dampt et Fils, which was established by his father. The estate currently consists of 30 hectares, including 16 hectares of Chablis and 14 hectares of Chablis 1er Cru. The recently constructed cellar is equipped with stainless steel tanks which is intrinsic to the fresh, mineral style of Chablis produced here. The purchase of modern, powerful cellar equipment has enabled the group to increase its production of bottles, which now stands at 150,000 bottles per year.

Conclusions/Learning points: Gah. This is very much a case of thinking about something too much and coming to an overly obscure conclusion. Reading my tasting note back, it’s screaming Chablis. Prominent acidity, fresh citrus and green fruit flavours, no obvious oak but a decent weight with some texture… of course, Godello. Still, the profile matches for both, it’s just a case of playing the game a little bit and going with the more likely choice. On the positive side, this was a really delicious wine from a producer I hadn’t tried before. Really looking forward to finding more of his wines!

Red Wine

The wine has a pale cherry-red, ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe red berries, currants and a hint of strawberry. Nicely perfumed, there’s some violet, floral notes here as well as some earthiness and just a touch of stalkiness – whole bunch fermentation? Hints of toast, pepper and a subtle char might be coming from old oak and there’s also a high toned, volatile aroma that lifts everything quite nicely. Very old world and slightly minimal intervention in style.

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. Whilst slightly generous on the nose, this is a leaner wine on the palate with some grip and bite to the tannins. Much leaner in terms of flavour profile as well, with that fresh berry fruit and herbal character coming to the fore. Still fresh and well balanced, but not at the same level as the Chablis before it.

Guess: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Reality: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Wine: Foillard Morgon Eponyme 2013

Jean Foillard is a disciple of Jules Chauvet, a noted enologist who believed in fashioning Beaujolais in an altogether different way from the modern standard of semi-carbonic maceration. Foillard’s 8ha (cultivated organically though not certified) include one of the best sites in the whole Beaujolais region, Morgon’s Côte du Py. Important to the style are low yields and very ripe grapes, which are subject to a long cool vinification, practically zero use of sulphur and minimal or no filtration.

Conclusions/Learning Points: Thrilled to nail this wine, particularly as I followed a very logical process to get there. Possible grape varieties included Gamay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, almost definitely old world, suggested by the firmness of the tannins and the lean/mineral flavours. Lack of a strong black pepper and/or smoked meat character made Syrah from Croze-Hermitage unlikely and the tannic structure and slight peppery note made it unlikely to be Pinot Noir, so Gamay it is. Morgon was a bit of a shot in the dark, I’ll admit but most of the more minimal interventionist styles I’ve tried have been from producers with land there, including of course, Foillard! Very happy to get one of these completely right, even if I messed up the Chablis. Onto a full tasting next week!

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!

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part II

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.

Back to Monvinic for round 2!

White Wines

Wine #1: The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a pronounced aromas of ripe peach, green apples, green pears, white flowers and a touch of honey. There’s a hint of brioche indicating potential lees usage and lots of ripe citrus fruit.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There is a medium+ intensity of candied lemon, lime, green apple, green pear and apricot. There’s the same florality as the nose as the finish is medium+ and wonderfully dry. A really delicious wine with a nice mixture of different flavour components, some textural quality to the palate and lots of refreshing acidity. Great stuff!

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

Reality: Sauvignon Blanc from Martinborough in New Zealand from the 2015 vintage

Wine: Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Alana Estate is a small project located in Martinborough, on the south end of the northern island in New Zealand. Founded in 1993, Alana has since been acquired by Mike Cornish and operates under the ‘Waipara Vintners’ company. Since 2011, the estate has focused heavily on sustainable viticulture and employed Alex Craighead, a minimal intervention friendly wine-maker to take Alana in a new direction. They currently produce a variety of wines, all from plots of older vines, with a focus on Pinot Noir.

Conclusions/Learning points: Swing and a miss. Martinborough is mostly known for its powerful, spicy expressions of Pinot Noir but Sauvignon Blanc is a close 2nd in terms of plantings. This is my first taste of a Sauvignon Blanc from this part of the country but due to the wine-making philosophy of their new wine-maker, I can’t be sure if this would be a ‘typical’ style of Sauvignon Blanc from the region. One of my biggest issues in blind tasting is trying to stop myself from making my mind up when presented with obvious evidence, so it’s also possible I smelt floral aromas and ripe stone fruit and my mind went straight to Albariño. I did try the wine immediately thereafter and it wasn’t what I would associate with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but then the vast majority that I’ve tried comes from Marlborough, which has a very distinctive style. I suppose I’ll have to track down a few more and see!

Wine #2: This wine has a medium lemon colour. There is a medium+ intensity of ripe golden apples, peach, bruised green apple and pear. There’s some oak here with light toast and smoke notes, as well as a slight oxidative aroma of roasted almonds and some hay.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a medium intensity of green apple, green pear and some riper, golden apple. Definitely some oak here with more smoke, a slight bitterness and even a touch of tannic grip. The finish is medium+ and a little savoury.

Guess: Viura from Rioja in Spain from the 2012 vintage

Reality: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France from the 2012 vintage

Wine: Vacheron Sancerre 2012

Domaine Vacheron are one of the most recognisable names within the Loire Valley of France, with over 47 hectares under vine, the majority of which are Sauvignon Blanc. The estate is now certified as a biodynamic producer and produces many single vineyard expressions of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a new focus on improving the quality of their Pinot Noir.

Conclusions/Learning points: Well, that answers my earlier questions about the New Zealand wine; I apparently suck at blind tasting Sauvignon Blanc. That makes the learning point very easy at least; drink a lot more of it! This isn’t the first time I’ve completely missed a Sancerre and the reality is that I need to spend a bit more time learning what these wines are all about. I also clearly mis-read the acidity.

Wine #3: The wine has a medium lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe melon, golden apples, peach and pear. There is clear oak usage here in a slightly clumsy fashion; a little too much smoke and cloves for the fruit characteristics of the wine to really come through. Oxidative notes of hay, mushrooms and almonds. A little unbalanced and not very fresh.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium+ alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a medium intensity of ripe lemon, golden apple and again, too much oak influence. Smoky, a little rubbery and lacks freshness.

Guess: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2012 vintage

Reality: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Gramona Ovum 2014

Gramona are a well established producer of high quality Cava and still wines, having been founded in 1921 in the Penedes region of Spain. They focus mainly on indigenous varieties for their Cavas to great effect, with III Lustros and Cal Battle in particular being exceptional wines. They also produce a line of still wines, often focusing outside on international varieties grown at slightly high altitudes, including Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Conclusions/Learning points: I always inwardly wince when I correctly identify a Spanish wine based on some of the obvious faults and flaws associated with some of our wine-making here. Despite the excellent quality of Xarel.lo wines around Catalunya, the overly oaky, oxidative aromas are still present and unfortunately are linked to Xarel.lo more often than not, due to its tendency to oxidise easily. Gramona are a very good producer but this wasn’t a good wine, and I thought it was older than it actually was due to the lack of life and freshness. Still, considering how wrong I got the first two whites I suppose I should be happy to get it right!

Red Wines

Wine #4: The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe cherries, blackberries, plums and damsons. There’s some oak usage here, but subtly done, with light hints of vanilla and smoke and just a touch of undergrowth/stalkiness. Really quite bright and aromatic, with subtle oak and herbal notes; lovely!

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+ ripe and firm tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium body. There is a medium+ intensity of ripe red and black fruits, oak and the same herbal influences as detected on the palate. The finish is medium+ and full of the same juicy fruit and a lovely, dry mineral sensation. A well balanced, delicious wine.

Guess: Garnacha from Sierra Grados in Spain from the 2013 vintage

Reality: Mencia from Bierzo in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Raul Perez El Rapolao Lomas de Valtuille 2013

Raul Perez is one of Spains most famous wine-makers consulting on projects all around Galicia in the north-west of the country. However, his own winery and family home is located in the village of Valtuille de Abajo in Bierzo, where many of his finest wines are made. Raul Perez is a big part of the movement towards expressing the terroir of Spain from single vineyards and smaller zones, and I expect his success to continue along with the excellent quality of his wines.

Conclusions/Learning Points: I love this wine! Funnily enough, I had written a tasting note for it around 5 months ago and a comparison of my blind note is almost identical to my non-blind note, which is very reassuring from a tasting point of view. So, the error comes then from how I deducted from the note, but where did it come from? Probably the fruit profile; Garnacha is typically more red fruit oriented than black, and the ripe tannins rather than the austere, dry nature of wines from Sierra Grados. Not too disappointed, though, as I was very much in the ball-park and the tasting note was accurate.

Wine #5: This wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe and slightly dried red fruit; strawberry and cherry stand out here. There’s some developing barnyard aromas, leather and undergrowth/forest floor. Just a hint of light oak usage with a touch of smoke, but nothing obvious.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe tannins, medium alcohol and a medium body. There’s a medium+ intensity of the same flavours as described on the nose, with a medium finish. The balance of flavours and structure is excellent here and again, exactly the sort of wine I love to drink. Lightly evolved but with lots of primary fruit left.

Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy (Village level) in France from the 2011 vintage

Reality: Pinot Noir from Baden in Germany from the 2011 vintage

Wine: Ziereisen Baden Schulen Blauer Spatburgunder 2011

Weingut Ziereisen are a small project from Baden in Germany, focusing almost exclusively on their expressions of Pinot Noir, although there is a small quantity of Pinot Gris and Syrah also grown. They tend 11 hectares of vineyards and produce 4 different expressions of Pinot Noir, divided between vine age and vineyard site.

Conclusions/Learning points: I’ll happily take this, having gotten both the grape variety and vintage correct. Trying to determine the difference between the same grape grown from a similar climate is notoriously difficult unless there clear wine-making differences between the regions, which in this case there isn’t. I messaged Neel Burton, the author of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, to get his take on it. The response was “Honestly, it’s very difficult!”. So, happy to get the grape and the vintage right again, and I’ll try to pin-point minute differences at future non-blind comparative tastings.

Wine #6: This wine has a medium ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe black fruit; plums, cherries and blackberry. There is a strong note of cracked, black pepper, smoked meat and dried herbs. There’s something dark and bloody about this wine; a tell-tale sign of Brett, I believe.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity and medium+ firm, sticky tannins. The alcohol level is medium+ and the body is close to being full. The flavours match the palate wonderfully with lots of ripe black fruit, pepper and smoked meat leading into a long, savoury finish. All three red wines I’ve been served today are of an excellent quality and I really enjoyed tasting them!

Guess: Syrah from Croze-Hermitage in France from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Syrah from Croze-Hermitage in France from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2014

Alain Graillot is a locally born wine-maker, who has become a benchmark of style of quality in Croze-Hermitage over the last 30 years. Low yields, old oak and sustainable viticulture are the hall-marks of Graillots style and now joined by his son, Maxime, the future looks bright for the domain. Whilst other producers are now ramping up their efforts in Croze-Hermitage, both the red and the white wines from this estate remain in demand.

Conclusions/Learning points: The only thing better than nailing a wine is nailing a wine at the end of a tasting! This just screamed cool-climate Syrah from the get-go, so the question was simply placing the region and the vintage. It didn’t have the meat of Hermitage, nor the juiciness of St Joseph and so Croze-Hermitage was realistically the only place it was likely to be produced in.

Really happy with this tasting. One learning point remains the same and that is the constant battle to not try and ‘guess ahead’ of the tasting note itself, but to try and remain neutral until all the evidence has been gathered… easier said than done. That and I need to drink more Sauvignon Blanc. A LOT more Sauvignon Blanc!

Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting

Our monthly blind tasting has been going for some time now, and last night was probably the most successful so far. We’ve experimented with many different ideas in the past, with a lot of tastings being themed. We’ve looked at blind tasting the same varietal at different price points and seeing if we could determine which wine was the most expensive, and which one we liked the most. We compared the same varietals as grown in the Old World vs the New World, we’ve looked at comparing different qualities of the same varietal under blind conditions and of course, we’ve done blind tastings where the objective is simply to try and identify the wine itself.

This tasting was focused on the latter and is probably the most fun aspect of blind tasting; guessing the varietal(s), the region and the country of origin. For the sake of simplicity, we chose 6 mono-varietal wines from around the world and asked the tasters to either make a tasting note or categorise the most important aspects of the wine in their heads. Once they had a good read on the wine, we handed out three separate, generic descriptions for wines and asked them to match their conclusion with the choices available. Some were considerably easier to spot than others and the results are quite interesting, with some wines being almost entirely correctly guessed and others where the analysis was correct, but the choice of three similar options took people down the wrong path. A lot of fun and an opportunity to try some delicious wines from around the world, whilst learning a little about blind tasting. Below is the descriptions that were handed out, as well as the revealing of which wine was which!

Wine 1 is a:

Garnacha from Navarra, Spain: Typically light in colour and often quite aromatic, Grenache from Navarra tends to be lightly oaked, fruity and best drank young due to the lack of structure. High alcohol and a peppery characteristic are signs to look out for on the palate as well as ripe red fruits; strawberries and cherries are often consistent tasting elements of Grenache, as well as hints of fennel and licorice.

Pinot Noir from Waipara, New Zealand: Not quite as pale as traditional Burgundy or German Pinot Noir but still lightly coloured. Pinot Noir from Waipara 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.

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! A lot of Cru Beaujolais is treated like any other red wine, so don’t get lost looking for obvious evidence of carbonic maceration!

Result: Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir 2009. The trick here was to pick up on the confected, bright fruit aromas which were almost like boiled sweets. All the wines listed are pale and all could potentially have quite soft, medium tannins and acidity, so the clue was in the flavour profile. 7 of the tasters guessed correctly, with two being led astray by confusing the fruit aromas with the effects of carbonic maceration and guessing Beaujolais, although the high alcohol (14.5%) is also a clue that it’s probably not from a moderate climate in France. Only 1 vote for Grenache. A good start!

Wine 2 is a:

Merlot from Pomerol, France: Merlot is the dopple-ganger of all red grapes, a little like Chardonnay for white wines. In Pomerol, the iron-rich clay soils create a powerful, structured style of Merlot that is closed in youth and blooms later in life, to reveal a succulent, rich wines full of fruit and soft tannins. Deep colours are normal, as are a high level of smooth tannins and a huge flavour profile.

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, leather and tobacco are common.

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.

Result: Terrazas de los Andes Malbec 2014. This one really threw people and it was quite mean to put Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero as an option, as the two flavour profiles can be closely linked. Telling them apart when tasted blind is very difficult and as a result, 6 tasters guessed incorrectly that this was a Spanish wine. Only one vote for Merlot from Pomerol and 3 correct guesses for Malbec from Argentina. This was the ‘Wine of the Night’ and was roundly enjoyed by everyone. There’s a reason that Malbec is considered a ‘crowd-pleaser’ and enjoys so much popularity around the world! Delicious, soft and very quaffable.

Wine 3 is a:

Cabernet Sauvignon from Central Valley, Chile: Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red variety in Chile and for good reason; it really works here! The style tends to be quite modern and the wines are darkly coloured and intensely flavoured. There’s no mistaking the rich aromas of cassis, nor the strong scent of capsicum and eucalyptus. The wines here are often obviously oaked, with sweet notes of vanilla, coffee and baking spices, whilst the tannins are quite high but usually soft to allow for early consumption. A world-beater!

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, leather and tobacco are common.

Result: Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. New World Cabernet Sauvignon is a pretty distinctive beast, with the ripe cassis aromas, notable green bell pepper and often strong aromas of eucalyptus, this was correctly identified by 8 tasters. This was a close second for ‘Wine of the Night’ and my only gripe is the silly, heavy bottle it’s produced in. Good work by the Torres family and a very well done to our tasters!

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.

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.

Result: Charles Joguet Cuvee de Terroir 2010: Probably the easiest of the evening and correctly identified by 9 of our 10 tasters as Cabernet Franc. The cool climate of Chinon is essential for this benchmark style of the grape, with its high acidity, medium, crunchy tannins and herbaceous notes. Completely the opposite of the Malbec in that quite a few people weren’t a fan of the style, but did an excellent job of identifying the wine correctly.

Wine 5 is a:

Nebbiolo from Barolo, Italy: Nebbiolo is grown throughout Piedmont but Barolo is where it is at its most dramatic; tar and roses is the classic short-hand tasting note for Barolo. Nebbiolo creates pale coloured wines that bely their structure, with Barolo in particular full of powerful tannins and roaring acidity, allowing these wines to age for decades quite comfortably. The aromas of Barolo can be quite haunting, with cherries, dried herbs, smoke and floral aromas combining beautifully, although this can at times be spoiled with excessive amounts of new oak. Barolo tannins are the real key point to look out for here.

Garnacha from Navarra, Spain: Typically light in colour and often quite aromatic, Grenache from Navarra tends to be lightly oaked, fruity and best drank young due to the lack of structure. High alcohol and a peppery characteristic are signs to look out for on the palate as well as ripe red fruits; strawberries and cherries are often consistent tasting elements of Grenache, as well as hints of fennel and licorice.

Syrah from Croze-Hermitage, France: The flatter vineyards of Croze-Hermitage in France created an incredibly characteristic style of Syrah, with a strong, black peppery characteristic often dominating. Larger oak barrels sometimes facilitate the growth of brettanomyces (a type of yeast) often with meaty, savoury aromas resulting. The colour of the wine is paler than other Syrahs in the region and the tannins are medium but quite firm. Dark fruit characteristics and fresh acidity make this a very food friendly style of wine, which helps the austere nature of the wine.

Result: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2014. Previously I’d correctly identified this myself in a tasting at Monvinic and I knew I had to include it in the line-up, as it just screams Old World Syrah! Some of the tasters went astray with the majority believing it to be a Nebbiolo. I’ve done this myself before, as the generic idea of Syrah is a deeply coloured wine with ripe fruit aromas. When grown on the flatter plains of Crozes-Hermitage, however, the wines tend to be fresh, peppery and savoury with a relatively pale colour and often quite an austere profile. Only 4 correct identifications on this wine but a great opportunity to learn about the differences in Syrah!

Wine 6 is a:

Sangiovese from Tuscany, Italy: Sangiovese is the most widely planted variety in all of Italy, and has come to define the style of many regions such as Chianti, Brunello and Montalcino. The classic aromas and flavours of Sangiovese are sour-cherry, tomatoes, raspy, dried herbs and almost a tea-leaf character. Like Nebbiolo, both acidity and tannins are characteristically high which often leads to a dry finish. New oak can lend aromas of vanilla and spice in addition when more modern styles are produced.

Mencia from Ribeira Sacra, Spain: This grape from north-west Spain is becoming increasingly popular for its fresh, acidic profile with fresh black and red fruits, soft herbs and firm tannins. Oak is rarely the dominant factor in wines from this part of the country although some older oak can be used to help soften tannins and stabilise colours. Delicious when young and the best examples can gain complexity with some bottle age.

Nebbiolo from Barolo, Italy: Nebbiolo is grown throughout Piedmont but Barolo is where it is at its most dramatic; tar and roses is the classic short-hand tasting note for Barolo. Nebbiolo creates pale coloured wines that bely their structure, with Barolo in particular full of powerful tannins and roaring acidity, allowing these wines to age for decades quite comfortably. The aromas of Barolo can be quite haunting, with cherries, dried herbs, smoke and floral aromas combining beautifully, although this can at times be spoiled with excessive amounts of new oak. Barolo tannins are the real key point to look out for here.


Result: Bibbiano Montornello Chianti Classico 2010: In terms of misleading information, I thought this might be the hardest of the evening along with the Malbec and Tempranillo hints earlier. The difference between Nebbiolo and Sangiovese structurally can be quite slight, with both having notably high tannins and acidity. Flavour profiles differ, with Nebbiolo being the more savoury of the two, and Sangiovese leaning more towards a distinctly herbal note. Another clue was that the Nebbiolo was listed as coming from Barolo, the most powerful expression of Nebbiolo. This was an almost even divide with 6 tasters correctly guessing that this was a Sangiovese and 4 heading towards the north of Italy. No guesses at all for Mencia, which was great!

Whilst the given information can be misleading, I think we’re going to try something similar again for next months blind tasting. It’s a great way to learn about your palate, the world of wine and also how to distinguish between very different and very similar styles of wine. Looking forward to the next one already!

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