Last night a blind tasting of eight wines and unchartered waters for many. Riesling and Pinot Noir from far and wide. The question then, Who are you?
Riesling, perhaps the greatest white wine that people rarely drink. Indeed, no one present had ever drunk a Riesling produced beyond Alsace. The gamut was large, vintages descending from 2015 to 2007, and the only clue I gave was that the wines were all produced in areas beginning with an “A”: Alto Adige, Austria, Australia and Alsace.
Riesling’s defining, and often beguiling trait, is its acidity, and none of these four disappointed. 2015 Pacher Hof from Alto Adige showed some residual sugar with rich notes of peach and apricot. It was frankly better than I expected, and aged three, it is not showing any petrol notes or hardy concentration on the palate. F X Pichler’s Wachau 2012 Oberhauser Riesling is a curious beast, and for my taste, the weakest link here. Again with some soft residual sugar in its base, it was showing soft orchard stone fruit but with persistent petillance that suggested incomplete fermentation . It’s a tasty wine, but lacked a little definition.
The two stars though were the last two wines, the driest of the flight and easily showing more gravitas. 2011 The Contours Riesling from Pewsey Vale in the enticingly named Eden Valley high above hot Barossa, showed searing acidity on opening, but calmed down with air to give lemon, lime, smoke and toast. A classic, but with plenty of stuffing to go the extra miles. Last and ostensibly the finest wine of the flight was Trimbach’s 2007 Cuvée Fréderique Emile. From Ribeauvillé’s grand cru vineyards of Geisberg and Osterberg. This cuvée is picked late and blended as a signature wine of Trimbach‘s range. Deep lemon in colour, the wines showed an intimidating austerity, suggesting it has closed down rather, with petrol notes dominating the exotic fruit of mangos, with classic green apple and lemon. It really is very fine, if currently rather chaste and was thus, inevitably, the least favoured of the group. (At least until I told them what it was!) On a straw poll I was able to give everyone (generously) a fifty percent pass. They all guessed correctly which was the Australian and which was the Austrian. A fine effort, but confusing the Fréderique Emile and Pacher Hof just emphasized the whole point: to take people out of their comfort zone and examine the wines for what they are, or at very least, for what they appear to be…
And so, in Burgundy’s heartland, to the big event, Pinot Noir. I was surprised not to see a certain kernel of Pinotnoiristi, the fervent, intégriste Pinot tifosi from my two previous tastings (voir passim). I suspect the idea of actually being put to the test, having their obsessive belief that Burgundy’s Pinot is the finest of all things in the finest of all possible wine worlds – and being found out – rather put them off. And I cannot deny this surprise gave me a certain satisfaction.
We started with an extremely pale, translucent Sancerre rouge from 2015 Domaine Vacheron. Sancerre is actually closer to Beaune than Angers, shares a cool, continental climate and similar calcareous, granite based soils, albeit with its famous “silex” or flint. It was not a hit, with some immediately screaming, “New Zealand!”. I can’t work out why, but prejudice will as prejudice does. It is in fact an extremely elegant rendition with a central vein of sweet red-fruited cherry and strawberry. Bright, filigree and nuanced, I liked it. Second up was a distant friend from home, Domaine Drouhin‘s Dundee Hills 2015 Pinot from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Again, a very solid not abusively fruit driven rendition, with firm but unobtrusive use of oak and a faithful ode to Pinot from a distant cousin. Comparing this with the WIne Society’s Lemelson Thea’s Selection 2014 tasted recently at home is like chalk and cheese. The one all sweetness, oak and spice, the Drouhin, elegance, refinement and restraint; a testament to Drouhin’s Burgundian roots.
Third was Hubert Lignier‘s 2015 Morey St Denis Tres Girard. Ar first taste, this is serious stuff. Morey must surely be the most underrated village in Burgundy, put in the shadow by its more illustrious neighbours Chambolle and Gevrey. I thought at this point, and was slightly disappointed, that this would be the wine of the flight and that Burgundy would inevitably mark its rightful place as the owner of Pinot Noir.
And then came along Kevin Judd, erstwhile wine maker at Cloudy Bay, now owner of Marlborough’s Greywacke estate. Now this was odd, as when checking the wines before the tasting, I had felt that this 2014 Pinot Noir Greywacke was the one wine in the lineup that was manifestly not from Burgundy. But after decanting and a little air, its noisy edges had been rounded and it was a clear equal to the Morey St Denis. I suggest it’s a wine with less potential longevity, but it has much immediate class and charm. And it was also the favourite of all the guests. And it was a pleasure to tell them their wine of the night was made by an Englishman.
As to the guests, they scored a resounding zero in identifying the wines, with just one guest correctly suggesting Vacheron’s wine was French. But as I said to everyone at the start, getting the answer right is not the point. On the rare occasions I have correctly identified a wine blind, I have felt like the king of the world, but for the most part it is just a frustrating exercise of ticking as many boxes as you can, before ultimately getting it wrong. Stock up the experience, and use it next time.
A second tasting of the olive oils of Montalcino’s Fuligni and coastal Bolgheri’s Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) gave sustenance and soaked up the wine. The guests chatted, interacted and generally had a good time.
And that, ultimately, is what wine is all about.