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You Can Pick Your Friend’s Wine

In July I posted about the Riesling tasting I had a small part in organising. Before that we did one for Cab Franc and both of these were pretty professional. Alex Harber put his top-notch wine mind to the task of creating a pleasing order, each wine had its own brown LCBO bag, and guests were given paper rating sheets.

Last weekend a smaller group of friends, me included, did the same on a much more casual scale. Each of us brought a bottle of red to be matched with a steak dinner and a bottle of white for the turkey we had the next night. The identity of our wine was disguised and after sampling we each picked a favourite.

Red wines

The reds were:

  • Henry of Pelham 2007 Cabernet-Merlot, Meritage (Niagara)
  • Open 2009 Cab 2 Merlot (Niagara)
  • Karlo Estates 2008 Cabernet Franc (PEC)
  • Château la Commanderie du Bardelet 2008 (Bordeaux)
  • Ogier 2007 Heritages Cote du Rhone (Rhone)

From these the Open Cab was the surprise favourite (at $11.95 it’s about half the price of the Cab Franc from Karlo Estates) while the Cotes du Rhone and its intense raspberry flavour attracted some strong second looks. I should mention that the cork in the Pelham bottle had shrunk and leaked. I couldn’t detect any off flavours but this wine may not have been at its best.

White wines

The white lineup included:

  • Creekside 2008 Butler’s Grant Riesling (Niagara)
  • Château la Grave 2008 Privilège Minervois (Languedoc)
  • Harwood Estate 2008 Pinot Gris (PEC)
  • Cono Sur 2009 Viognier (Chile)
  • Louis Latour Ardeche Chadonnay (Rhone)

Here price did correlate with preference as the tough to find Château la Grave beat its more affordable competition. That being said the Niagara Riesling (about $15) received a vote and the Chilean Viognier ($10 and a fistful of Air Miles right now) was a fairly solid second favourite.

From this experience I think I can offer a few pointers for casual blind wine tastings.

Brown bags: Empty Sun Chips bags will do (if noisily) in a pinch but a stack of the one-bottle bags from the LCBO are better.

Small portions: It’s best to start each taster off with a couple ounces and then let them revisit favourite bottles after the reveal.

Appoint a steward: He might have his objectivity compromised but someone needs to ensure the wines are properly disguised,  at the correct temperature,  and that no one’s glass runs dry.

Set a price limit: By including wines I’ve been sent (like the Karlo Estates this time) I’ve been guilty of violating this rule but the point here is that no one really learns anything when a $25 bottle betters $15 competition.

Notes: Four or five wines is about the upper limit before I need a piece paper to keep track of my likes and dislikes.

Why bother with the effort beyond giving everyone a glass and plunking the bottles in the middle of the table? More than most other products wine has some pretty serious subconscious expectations attached to the bottle. Certain regions are for serious wine drinkers; bottles with butterflies on the label can’t have good wine inside; and tall, German-style white wine bottles are always sweeter than squat French bottles. Obviously, none of these are strictly true and I think you’ll be happily surprised at how a casually-organised blind tasting can open your eyes to new wine possibilities.

When the price of a bottle of wine creeps above twenty dollars demand-side factors begin to assert themselves (i.e. the price relates to what the market will bear) and I think our enjoyment of the wine can become more a response to our expectations that this will be a special experience than what is in the glass. Personally, I appreciate the opportunity to set these influences aside and concentrate on what I’m seeing, smelling, and tasting.

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