Blind Tasting Dinner with Laura Maniec

Happy New Year to everyone! It's been a crazy few weeks with lots of travel and time with family, and it was great to take a break from "real life". Unfortunately, my day job picks up 1,000% once the new year starts, so it'll be a hectic two months, but I'm trying not to think about it too much!

The greatest thing that happened over the break? I watched the series Uncorked on the Esquire channel. If you haven't heard of this series and are a wine enthusiast, I definitely recommend checking it out. It is similar to the documentary Somm where it follows a group of candidates for the Master Sommelier (MS) exam.  I found it very entertaining and enlightening to see the process these people go through. One of the Master Sommeliers on the show that was training, mentoring, as well as judging the candidates was Laura Maniec, co-owner and founder of Corkbuzz restaurants. They have two locations in NYC and one in Charlotte, so I was thrilled to see the woman behind one of my favorite restaurants! She is one of 32 women to have earned the MS certification, so she's definitely someone to look up to in the industry. K and I went to eat dinner at Corkbuzz last week and they mentioned that Laura was coming in town to host a blind wine tasting dinner. That sounded awesome and I really wanted to meet her, so I jumped at the opportunity!

The dinner was great. As Laura mentioned, she was just "hosting a dinner party" for some of the Charlotte patrons, and it definitely felt that way! The dinner was three courses and five wines were selected for blind tasting... two with our first course, two with the main course, and one with dessert.  She poured both wines at the same time and then we went through the descriptors just as sommeliers do during the MS or other certification exams. At the end, we had to guess the grape varietal, region, and vintage! I was nervous at first, but in no time, I was having fun. My tasting skills definitely need to improve if I ever wanted to join the sommelier world, but it was a great starting point and fun experience! Laura was a fabulous host and graciously answered everyone's questions. I will definitely be back to Corkbuzz for more events in the future!

Wines We Had

Course: Crab Bisque with cauliflower, celery root, and nutmeg

Wine 1: Domaine des Baummard Savennieres, 2011, Loire Valley, France, $26

This wine was a Chenin Blanc and confused everyone! It was very crisp and refreshing with higher acid, so we deduced it was Old World. It had flavors of bruised apple, pear, tree fruit, and had little evidence of oak. Grapes guessed were Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine 2: LIOCO Chardonnay, 2014, Sonoma County, California, $24

I found this one to be easy to identify having had several Chardonnays from the area. I also think the Chardonnay grape, especially if there is a hint of oak, has a very distinctive nose to it, so I called this one. Others also suggested Sauvignon Blanc, but I found the color to scream Chardonnay, and there was no citrus or tropical fruit to it.

Course: Pork tenderloin with pumpkin puree, spaghetti squash, and onion jam

Wine 1: Albert Bichot Santenay 1er cru "Clos Rousseau', 2012, Burgundy, France, $30

This wine had a big nose, so I was surprised when the flavor didn't really come through for me. It had more earthy notes, which indicates Old World. Other aromas were some red and black fruits. It was lighter in body, so I immediately thought Pinot Noir. I know Pinot Noir is most well known from Burgundy in the Old World, so that was my guess. I wrote down a random year (I had heard 2012 was a great year for Pinot Noir in the US, but there was really no reason other than that), and I got it right! I was proud. Might as well give me my MS pin now...

Wine 2: Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso, 2012, Tuscany, Italy, $34

This wine was my favorite. It smelled amazing and definitely was more full-bodied than the previous wine. I had absolutely NO clue what it was, but I did note hints of spice in the nose, which I love. It ended up being a blend from Tuscany which included Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. The Syrah is what brings out the spice/pepper notes, while the Merlot kept it smooth with chocolate flavors. It was delicious and we ended up purchasing a bottle at the end of the dinner.

Course: Maple Panna Cotta with graham cookies

Wine: Elderton Shiraz, 2012, Barossa Valley, Australia, $30

This wine was the most full bodied and had the darkest color. It had the spice notes again, so I should have wondered about Syrah. Other wine varietals that provide spice are Granache, Petite Sirah, Malbec, and ZInfandel. I'm not sure how you would distinguish Old World versus New World on this one, but hey, I'm not an MS. I enjoyed this wine, so I think I should try more of this varietal.

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