The second wine caused the most confusion. It was a classic blind tasting dilemma - how to differentiate between Sangiovese and Tempranillo. Red and black cherries defined the core fruit of the wine with mouth coating tannins that were intense but not overwhelming. Acid on both wines was medium-plus, there was evidence of moderate barrel use, but not the signature coconut and pungency of American Oak one would expect to find in Rioja or the leathery finish of Sangiovese. The favorite call of the group with Chianti, maybe with a small blending dollop of Merlot. It turned out to be a Gran Reserva Rioja, but with a curveball. Cune uses both French and American oak. Exceptions will get you every time. These two varieties are so similar. When the wine is opened and the label is known, the flavors seem so correct. And so baffling when tasting blind.
We then tasted a 2007 Napa Merlot that was falling apart and disjointed. The alcohol was high as was the acidity which was surprising and out of balance. Our 'coach' suggested a problem with acidification. A red wine from Napa with that much alcohol would not have such a high level of acid, especially in 2007 which was a warm, generous vintage.
The last wine was a 2012 Napa Cabernet.There was the thought that the wine was a Malbec due to the rich, velvety quality of the fruit. My thought was that it was Cabernet due to the pyrazine character of the red fruit. A year or so ago I attended a portfolio tasting with Clear Creek distillery of Oregon. Tasting their Cassis was a true "Ah-Hah" moment as memories of aromas of years of tasting Napa Cabernets flashed through my senses. A redolent blend of intense red fruits with a pronounced herbal edge that cut through the flavors like a deep cut on a crystal goblet. And there it was, peaking out from the canopy of black fruit.
When blind tasting, the immediate temptation is to make an immediate identification based on matching the flavor in the glass with a flavor in our memory. Like making matches in a memory game like Concentration. As we work on these blind tasting skills, we are constantly being told not to make these immediate identifications. Rather, we taste and analyze. And then let the results speak and identify themselves. But memories keep popping out and making themselves heard.
"Will the real Cabernet please step forward and identify yourself!"
photo of Clear Creek Cassis by David Waddington