I always look forward to the quarterly blogger tastings at Ridge; Christopher Watkins, the mad genius behind these always fun, occasionally wacky, and definitely fascinating tastings greeted us in the barn of the Monte Bello winery with a Cheshire Cat grin. I knew this would be good!
It happened to be the day of torrential downpours, and driving up the hill was a challenge, to say the least. Dodging waterfalls, mudslides, and tree branches, this adventure is not for the faint of heart. My trusty old German, fortunately, is all-wheel drive, which comes in useful for navigating mountain winery roads and wine trails full of rental cars. Fortunately, the rain had let up as I was making my way up the hill, but as soon as we were tucked safely in the barn with our glasses, it began to pour small lakes. Fortunately, no one was going anywhere for a while.
Sitting on the sideboard were three flights of three wines. What were they? Only Christopher knew. All we know is that a) we were tasting blind, as we always did; b) there was something similar about all of the wines being poured c) there was something different about all of the wines being poured. Our task, as the few, the proud, the bloggers, was to determine what those similarities and differences were.
Well! OK…I smiled with trepidation. I am not very good at blind tasting, but it’s an adventure and a learning exercise. Here we go – dissecting the Three Blind Mice.
Flight 1 was off to a bang. The first wine seemed like a zin. Big, powerful, full of berry spice. I loved the brambly fruit with a spicy kick, and a hint of anise, but it felt young, almost like a barrel sample. It was slightly cloudy, and was a brighter pinkish purple in color. Wine 2 was subtle and more restrained. Rich and dense, it was a brooding big brother, and a bit closed. We all felt that this needed a bit more time. The final wine was my favorite of the flight, with dusty earth, and chewy tobacco. It was zesty with white pepper and cranberry.
What was I to make of this flight? They didn’t taste like the same varietal at all, with a mix of zin, grenache, and a Rhone blend. Perhaps the same vineyard site? Perhaps the same vintage? A lively discussion across the table brought up the through that these were blending trials.
Flight 2 The first wine leapt out of the glass, stood up, and shouted “Cab!” to me. With smoky bulue black fruit, and stinky green pepper it seemed classic to me. It was a bit tight, with leather
and dusty oak, but had rich Cabernet flavors, and showing muted blackberry. The second wine, was rich in bramble berries, with black pepper and meaty notes. I thought it was Merlot, with big tannins but bright juice. The final wine in this flight was velvety smooth, meaty, and rich with purple red fruit.
Bordeaux blends perhaps? It seemed to be that there were a lot of similarities between these three wines in flight 2, so my supposition is that this is a vertical of Monte Bello.
Flight 3started off powerfully, with packed full powerful red berry. This was screaming zin to me! The first wine, with juicy red fruit, was followed by wine 2, which was fuller, spicy and rich with floral aromas. Definitely yummy. Wine 3 was bright pomegranate and spice.
This flight sparked a lively conversation about the differences between olallieberries, marionberries, and blackberries. I think we finally settled the the Olalliberry was the clear flavor in this group, which made me nail them as zinfandels, but that left the question open – how were these three wines tied together? The zins come from Geyserville and Lytton Springs. The cabs, from Monte Bello. But, upon further pondering, Dave (@scmwine) and I were thinking that this was a collection of Jimsamore Zinfandel.
So where does The Reveal that leave us? What do you these wines were? I could see what tied the flights together, within the wines, but I was trying to to determine what tied all nine wines together. The differences were clear to me…or so I thought!
Flight One was a complete brain teaser, consisting of the same wine, in three different bottle formats. Not surprisingly, the magnum tasted like a barrel sample, since they tend to age slower.
Flight Two was more of a classic vertical, with a 2004, 2005, and 2006, all in the same bottle format. What a difference a year makes!
And finally, Flight Three, which was the complete shocker. These were not only not zinfandel, but they were all the same wine. That’s right! The same wine. The same vintage. The same vineyard. Identical in every way.
So what did I learn? I learned that blind tasting is challenging both physically and intellectually. I also learned that bottle formats clearly make a difference in texture and flavor profile. But perhaps the most fascinating tidbit of all, you can taste the same wine a thousand times, and every time, it will taste unique; wine is a living beast, and the human mind is a powerful influence.
Which brings to mind, while I didn’t attend the Neuroscience of Wine Tasting at WBC, experimenting with how you taste impacting what you taste.
Only from the twisted genius mind of Christopher Watkins! I can’t wait for the next caper!