Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Search of the Missing Link(s): A Wine Tasting

There is an avid and motivated group of wine drinkers residing in the Orlando area who meet regularly to indulge in their passion.  This group has formed a syndicate which buys and holds wines for the benefit of the group.  Individual members can, and do, have wine holdings of their own. This group holds syndicated tastings wherein either the community wine is used or where the wine used is supplied by an individual who is then reimbursed by attendees.  The group also holds non-syndicated tastings where each attendee provides bottles from his/her cellar and the cost of the following meal is divided between attendees.  The event held last Saturday night fell into the latter category.

I am not a member of the group but was invited to last Saturday's tasting by Ron Siegel, a good friend who has written a guest post for this blog in the recent past..  The format of the event was a blind tasting wherein each attending couple brought three wines which were linked in some way and the tasting group was expected to decipher the linkages.  I had never tasted with this group before, nor had I participated in such a format, so I had some angst in putting my offering together.  I did not complete my final list of wines until 3:00 pm; the event was scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm.

The tasting was held in the basement cellar of the famed Winter Park restaurant LUMA on Park.  A total of 13 people participated in the event.  The cellar room at Luma has a beautiful cocktail area where we drank champagne and ate hor d'oeuvres prior to the start of the sit-down tasting.  At the completion of the cocktail hour, we were called to take our seats for the actual tasting.

This turned out to be a very challenging format.  In the blind tasting that we do at Antoinio's on Friday afternoons, you are asked to identify the varietal and age of a single wine at a time.  In this format, you are being asked to decipher the linkages between three wines and these linkages could include varietal, year, country, etc.   The difficulty posed is that the first wine may give one indication which may be totally reversed by the second wine which is then further set ablaze by the third wine.  Further, the conclusions are discussed publicly -- which serves to place further doubts in your mind about your conclusion -- before the actual revelation of the labels.  Each individual poured his/her own wines with assistance from the dedicated wait staff.

As the table below shows, an equal number of the offered wines originated in the US as did from France and the dominant varieties were Merlot and Pinot Noir.  A majority of the offered wines were from the decades of the 1990s (seven) and 2000s (also seven).

The distribution of the linkages is shown below and the most common linkages were a single varietal or a single varietal distributed between two countries.

The outlier linkage was the Steve's flight, the first flight tasted.  We were provided information that the bottles were priced at $6, $66, and $466 and we should identify which wine was associated with each price.  I approached this with a jaunty step because I was sure that differences between the high- and low-end wines would be easily discernible.  That was not the case.  I expected the $6 wine to be relatively young and fruity but no such characteristic showed up.  The flight (Flight 1) was revealed to consist of a 1979 Charles Krug Cabermet Sauvignon, a 1986 Chateau Margaux, and a 1980 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.  According to Steve, the effective price for the Krug when bought at auction is $6; I checked a retail site and it was $27 at that store.  The other difficulty is that old Napa Cabs can be very Bordeaux-like on the nose and palate.  The Chateau Margaux also did not show as well as it should. We were bamboozled.

The most consistent flight in terms of quality was Russell's Merlot flight which consisted of two St. Emilions (2000 Magrez Fombrauge and 2003 Bellevue Mondotte) and one Bolgheri (Masseto).  Russell had decanted these wines previously (the only one to do so) and had then returned them to the bottle and to his cellar.  These wines showed beautifully both on the nose and the palate and was the only flight that was retained in its entirety by the group for continuing consideration.

The most complex linkages were associated with Ron's offering.  His wines were the same variety (Cabernet Sauvignon) from the same year (1990) but from three different regions (Bolgheri, Napa, and Bordeaux).

The flights are presented in the pictures below.

Flight 1: 1979 Charles Krug, 1985 Chateau Margaux, 1980 Jordan

Flight 2: 1990 Louis Latour, 1989 Drouhin Vosne-Romanee, 2004 Evan's Ranch Pinot Noir

Flight 3: 2000 Magrez Fombrauge, 1996 Masseto, 2003 Bellevue Mondotte

Flight 4: 2006 Derenoncourt Merlot, 1995 Masseto, 1982 L'Evangile

Flight 5: 1994 Rex Hill Pinot Noir, 2001 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, 2004 Vosne-Romanee Beaumont

Flight 6: 2006 Flor de Pingus, 1996 Castillo Ygay, 2006 Remirez de Ganuza Trasnocho

Flight 7: 1990 Dominus, 1990 Chateau Montrose, 1990 Solaia


  1. Nice post... introduces one into the intricacies of blind tastings and the mental gymnastics that it inspires.

  2. It was definitely a challenging evening. The Margaux was a 1985, although I don't think a 1986 would have shown much better.

  3. @HlyTerroir it was hard work but a lot of fun. Also got to meet some new adherents.

  4. Steve, the caption associated with the figure does say 1985 but I messed up in the text.

  5. Thanks for including the 1980 Jordan in your tasting. Would love to stay in touch. @jordanwinery

    Jordan Vineyard & Winery

  6. Will ensure that the lines of communication remain open.