There is nothing as satisfying as reducing wine tasting to snobbery. There are enough studies that show that wine experts cannot tell between wines, and that consumers prefer cheaper wine. The former conclusion is easily debunked by watching a the film Somm, or watching any blind tasting where the wine expert is able to deduce the type of wine.
Wine tasting is not a science, though it has certain scientific qualities, such as the process of elimination and deductive reasoning. That is to say that, for example, an old world wine made in the new world style will make a taster guess new world. Similarly, a bad wine from a Premier Cru will elicit the wrong classification. In the 2017 Oxford-Cambridge Varsity blind-tasting match, it is curious that only 1/12 tasters identified a Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the same for a Rioja (see here). However, they had very good success with Beaujolais and New Zealand Pinot. Certain wines are easier to identify, and both Beaujolais and New Zealand Pinot fit that bill, though your correspondent mistook the two in a recent tasting where the Beaujolais was extremely high quality. CDP’s are not particularly difficult wines to blind-taste, which makes it likely that the wine poured did not taste like a CDP. Riojas, on the other hand, range stylistically, and can easily be mistaken for Bordeaux or new world.
Blind tasting is intrinsically linked with appreciation for wine because it is the only way to appreciate the intrinsic quality of the wine without being affected by factors such as producer and price. Learning the ancillary facts is a nice way to appreciate the history of the wine, but unimportant initially. Blind tasting was my initial foray into wine. Then, it became rarer as I tried to explore a larger variety of wines. Blind tasting is a way to create confidence in your judgement, but doesn’t allow for exploration of new material. In the past two weeks, I revisited blind tasting by working through two flights of 6 wines. The results provide for some interesting conclusions.
In the first set, we nailed the German Riesling and Bordeaux, and were close to the Austrian Pinot, Rioja Blanc, and Bourgueil, and South France GSM. We whiffed on the Cru Beaujolais, Mendoza Sauvignon Blanc, and Juracon (the later 2 are not “regulation”). My counterparty’s identification of the Rioja Blanc was particularly impressive. The miss on the Cru Beaujolais was disappointing. Our guess placed it in the geographically adjacent Burgundy, and we knew there was something unburgundian about it but could not place it anywhere else. In hindsight was an avoidable error. A week later, a much lower quality non-cru beaujolais was easily placed there.
In the second set, we nailed the white burgundy, the Vouvray and the Bordeaux. We got close to the Sancerre (what we guessed initially before changing to New Zealand Sauv Blanc), Chianti (guessed Barolo) and Napa Cab (guessed Chilean Cab). The most interesting point was that the Napa Cab, which was by far the most expensive wine, was our least favourite. We had initially thought it to be a low quality right-bank Bordeaux, a wine that was made for export. Then the minty-ness sent us to Southern Hemisphere. The tasting reiterates a view that I have long held, which is that Napa wines are the worst value in the world. A Napa cabernet under $80 retail is generally not worth drinking. And this one shows that even at $80, is still not enjoyable. Potentially it can improve with time but for now, it tasted like exactly what we guessed initially - a cheap Bordeaux made for export to the US.
This fact of Napa Cabernet also helps debunk the second charge against the wine industry - that consumers prefer less expensive wines. One phenomenon of uneducated wine buyers is that when purchasing more expensive wines, buyers will gravitate toward expensive regions such as Napa, expecting it to be better than the no-name regions. In fact, wine prices are fairly predictable by blind tasting, and are highly correlated to quality within the same region. That correlation disappears when moving between regions. For the best results, purchase expensive wines from unknown regions. And definitely stay away from Napa unless you know what you are doing.
Wines from the 2nd tasting
BAILLY-REVERDY SANCERRE CHAVIGNOL 2017 72
CH. DE LA CRÉE ‘LES TOURELLES’ MONTAGNY 1ER CRU 2014 80
DOMAINE HUET ‘HAUT LIEU’ VOUVRAY SEC 2017 96
CH. MALESCOT ST. EXUPERY ‘LA DAME DE MALESCOT’ MARGAUX 2014 72
NAPANOOK NAPA VALLEY 2015 180
CASTELLO DI BOSSI CHIANTI CLASSICO 2015 60