In June, we held the fourth of what has become an
ongoing series of wine tasting parties. We started with a small group of just six couples
interested in wine but with varying levels of wine knowledge ranging from almost
none to considerable -- it was more
important that we would have fun that really be able to identify the wines. The group was
formed with the following guidelines:
We will have a blind tasting and casual dinner roughly every
other month so that we rotate through the entire group once a year. The host couple
may, at their discretion, invite more people to join the fun. The evening's host selects the theme for the evening such as:
"Napa Cabernet under $50", "Single vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon", "'Second
wines' of Bordeaux", "Australian Shiraz over $30", or whatever. Each couple
brings one bottle that fits the theme. The labels are hidden with paper bags so
that this becomes a blind tasting. Everyone tastes each wine before dinner and
selects their top three wines so we can have a consensus favorite. At dinner,
we can finish the tasting wines or raid the host's cellar assuming, of course, that
the host consents. And we should have fun doing this.
Two books that we've used to guide
our efforts are:
gathering for mature California cabernets, the host for this evening was
intrigued that the consensus favorite of the last tasting had not been one of
the magnificent older wines -- but rather was a much younger wine. He wanted to
test whether people could distinguish between old and young wines with a
side-by-side comparison tasting of California cabernets. Accordingly, the ground
rules this time was that each couple should bring two bottles of wine: one from
1995 or earlier and one from 1996 or later. In order to minimize differences of
style for the side-by-side comparison, we were asked to bring each pair of wines
from the same winery. We had a full
complement of tasters this time (plus a guest couple) which meant that we had
fourteen different wines to taste! With one exception, this particular tasting
was almost entirely a Napa Valley wine tasting.
The wines were opened roughly 30-60 minutes
before tasting and were not decanted. We
gave each member of the party a simple
scorecard so that they could
make notes on what they thought of each wine. in addition to asking everyone to list
their top three favorites (#1, #2, and #3), we also asked everyone to indicate, for
each pair, which of the two wines was the older one. The wines were tasted blind so as
not to needlessly influence people's votes for their favorites by the prestige
of the label or to give away the age.
The table below lists the wines in order of the
tasting -- the consensus top three are in red. This was a fairly consistent
tasting as one clear favorite was clearly separated from the rest with both more
votes cast as the #1 favorite and more votes overall than any other wine.
Smooth but open. A little harsh and biting
with some hints of raspberry or other berries.
Color is more orangey on the edges of the
glass. Strong notes of cherry. More acidity and tannins than the 1997. More
like a Bordeaux.
Deep ruby color. Full-bodied in flavor with
hints of cherry. Tannic and a bit rough/sour. Maybe over the hill?
Flavor hints of licorice with plenty of
tannins. Smoother, better balance than the 1991.
Joseph Phelps "Insignia"
Color is very deep red -- even deeper than
the 1994. Chocolate and cassis notes with balanced acidity. Very young with
lots of fruit and tannins.
Joseph Phelps "Insignia"
Very dark red color. Notes of chocolate and
raspberry/blueberry with a long, mellow finish. A bit acidic.
Tannins were evident but smoothly integrated.
Nice bouquet. Peppery with a little bit of
chocolate on the finish.
Tannins were evident but had a long, long
finish after a fruity start. An older wine.
Aroma is a bit musty and earthy but it opened
up with a bit of air. Very smooth with notes of licorice and chocolate.
Nice but a little 'tangy' or peppery.
Notes of chocolate on an earthy, aged base. A
bit flat or just 'off'.
More tannins that are well-integrated.
Fruity, forward with notes of cherries. Smooth and full-bodied.
Some notes of chocolate but almost too old. A
We lost one of the scoresheets so only 13 were scored.
With 14 wines to taste, some people got a bit, ahem, confused as the tasting
went on. 9 of 13 scoresheets had all the maturity scores completed. Also, since
it happens last, only 10 people remembered to vote on their consensus favorite.
The consensus ranking is determined by 3 points for each #1 listing, 2 points
for #2, and 1 point for #3. Any ties are broken by the number of #1 votes, etc.
Both the Stag's Leap and the Casa Nuestra pairs broke the
age guidelines -- both bottles were 1995 or older. There was still a
significant age difference so this was insignificant.
One couple brought a mixed pair of wines (Newton and
Oakville Ranch) and each were 1995 or older.
The results were very interesting. On the question of whether
our tasters could determine which wine of each pair was older, the results seem
clear that we generally could distinguish the older wine.
80% (66 of 83 possible complete votes) of the marked
scoresheets were correct on the age comparisons between the wines.
In terms of correct scores, only one pair was judged
correctly by everyone marking their results -- the Oakville Ranch and Newton
pair. Although this could be due to people's acumen and good sense, it could
also be that the wines were from two wineries and may have been made in a
No one got all seven
wine pairs correct; the Mt. Eden, Insignia, and Duckhorn were the wines that most people
got crossed up on.
We simply forgot to ask which of each pair of wines was
preferred -- maybe we'll do that in another tasting...
Although some people forgot to vote at the end, the hands-down favorite of the tasting was the 1994 Joseph
Phelps "Insignia". On the basis of having more #1 votes, the 1999 Joseph Phelps
Insignia barely edged out the 1999 Duckhorn. Both of the Stag's Leap wines and the 1994
Newton deserve honorable mentions as they were only one point behind.
Following the tasting, we polished off the rest
of the wine in conjunction with our dinner. I'm sure that I've forgotten some of
Appetizers: Traditional antipasto plate with roasted peppers
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