April 22, 2013

Tasting blind

I tweeted earlier today about an interesting experience last night.

I went over to the home of one of my growers to deliver some wine and a check toward grapes purchased last fall - it's not unusual to be paying for grapes from one harvest for many months forward (though I really want to finish things out for 2012!).

When I showed up, he had two wines waiting in bags, plus a plate of delicious orange chicken he cooked for his family in some crazy black chumba wumba pot, or something like that. I don't ask questions when the food's that good, and I'd already had dinner.

The wines could have been from anywhere, and given the slightly spicy chicken and rice, really the wines could have been white. But they were red. And the first was fairly dark in color. One sniff and it was obviously from the new world, meaning not Europe. That's the first base of blind wine tasting - old world or new? How does one distinguish? It's not easy, but you know it when you know it. A new world wine will smell like fruit, and old world wine will usually smell like soil.

So I said, new world, and it's Pinot Noir. And it's Oregon. There was just something about the wine that said Oregon, like a unfamiliar block in town that you know even if you don't necessarily know this part of town perfectly well. This was clearly Oregon, plain and simple.

Then I thought - volcanic soil or old ocean sediment? Clearly the latter. Why? Hard to say, but there's a dark fruit aspect to sedimentary soils in Oregon that, again, yuou know it when you see it. I even thought this might be from the grower's own vineyard on Ribbon Ridge, but I said it's either Ribbon Ridge or maybe the neighboring Yamhill-Carlton growing area.

I unveiled the wine and...it was my own 2006 Vincent Pinot Noir Wahle Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton. How interesting. I sort of nailed what it was and where it was from, but didn't recognize it as my own. In my defense, I haven't had that wine in a while and, even when I knew what it was, I still didn't pick up the little hallmarks that I know, or think I know, from that wine. Perhaps it's just aging and changing, but at least it still seemed youthful and pretty good, even if not my favorite style. This 2006 is from a warm, ripe vintage, which I don't usually favor, but I didn't peg it as homebrew. I honestly thought it was "really good" wine from a producer more interested in larger-scaled wine. Ha!

So, on to bottle number two. This one was lighter in color, more translucent but a bit fruity smelling like I tend to find in new world wines. For a minute I wasn't sure. It had to be Pinot Noir, but was it from Oregon in 2011, a vintage of more restrained, French-style structure? The flavors said no, this was from Europe. We just don't get the acidity that this wine had, the element so many local wine lovers cite when they say they don't like European wines - they're too dry.

I found the wine expressive aromatically, flavorful if lighter bodied in the mouth and a touch short on the finish. I guessed Michael Ganoux Bourgogne, thinking it was from a recent vintage. The wine? 2007 Louis Jadot Savigny Les Beaune Les Dominode 1er Cru. Not a bad guess at all, though a much nicer terroir than simple Bourgogne. With time in the glass, the wine unfolded aromatically - beautiful - but remained tight on the finish. This won't ever be generous wine but I'm sure a few years will soften the finish. The rest is lovely.

And the point of all this? Not to brag on the parlor trick of blind tasting. I didn't nail these wines. I can't pick Burgundian vineyards, if that's what you're after. But we did talk a bit about how I think it's hard to pick out wines, not like picking out the silhouette of a loved one, the soft jaw line or the unique shape of one's ears or something like that. The way a person looks, their lovely uniqueness, that's hard to disguise or miss even in silhouette. Wine? Getting close is saying a lot, and though I didn't recognize one of my own children (essentially), I found it interesting to see what I did recognize - something true about each wine. Something you have to listen for, not speak. I love that about wine.

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