Recently, I served as a judge at a wine tasting held by the Tasting Panel Magazine. I am, as one of my fellow tasters (and former employees) so delicately put it, “a veteran taster” ( read: crotchety and opinionated) (which really helps with this whole blog thing). He’s not wrong – it’s not my first Rodeo Drive (because, of course, I did a long-ago stint in Beverly Hills). Yet I am still somehow continually surprised by the depth and breadth and sheer enormity of what I DON’T know (about wine in particular - everything else, it’s implied I’m clueless).
Blind Tasting is the Wine Geek-qualizer. It proves that even the most jaded wino is unduly influenced by outside factors (labels, history, personalities, public opinion, high rating scores) and humbles the most self-assured taster (the James Beard Award-Winning Chef I sat next to actually guessed a number of the wines fairly accurately but was reticent to share his beliefs with the crowd prior to the unveilings).
This particular tasting was labeled ‘Aromatic Whites’. In tasting through the 14 wines, I found myself less interested in guessing region or varietal and more geared to consider food pairings. Also, I frequently wrote asides as to where I perceived the wines to be in terms of age-ability, IE, when will this evolve to become whole? Some wines were flat and lacking, others showed disparate parts that nodded to future potential, and a couple fell into the ‘Mr Right Now’ category. As a group, the wines were built for summer – some to sip at the pool, a few ready to pair with brats (as in bratwurst – your relationship with your children’s behavior and your alcohol consumption is your own business) (that said, I can relate), others calling for shellfish companions, still more best suited for a bit of fruit & cheese & bread.
The big reveal of the day was the little-known Mercer Winery from Washington State. Their pinot gris was excellent, great body, complex flavors, loads of juicy joy that belied its’ humble pinot gris-ness. Better still, the awesome Mercer riesling that was a dead ringer for an Austrian Grand Cru (and at a mere fraction of the price). Some big name producers showed well, as well – Ste Michelle’s new Anew (riesling with a splash of gewürztraminer and muscat, full of petrol and apple pie) (which is much tastier than it sounds, I swear), Archery Summit pinot gris (propped up with an Alsatian yeast that gave it a distinctive Maytag blue nose) (as in cheese, not washer & dryer), and Franciscan’s new sauvignon blanc / chardonnay / muscat blend, a truly delicious wine that signals a bold change for a winery not known for such rolls of the dice (muscat from Napa? yet it really added to the wine’s flavor and aromatic tiers) (yup, muscat tiers, I went there).
One more wine created a lot of revisits and mental gymnastics – Argiolas vermentino from Italy’s Sardinia region. It was mostly mouthfeel and textural, a hypothetical blend of vermentino and marsanne (which was my actual tasting note comment - someone mentioned it should read parenthetical, but I felt they were just being hypercritical). Caramel, candle wax, lemon curd, peach skin, Rainier cherry, all hidden glimpses and dark shadows (not the Johnny Depp version), a wine that is sure to age into another wine, and then perhaps yet another. A wine that I would serve with wood oven-grilled branzino topped with balsamic reduction glaze right now – and then do so again in two years just to taste the changes.
Price doesn’t generally factor into blind tasting. However, the Argiolas and Mercer wines will all be roughly $15ish retail, if you can find them, which says to me that, even though these are aromatic wines, you don’t have to pay through the nose.