Corkbuzz Class: Blind Tasting 101

Have you ever been in awe of blind tastings? Like in Somm or Uncorked, I am always blown away by the candidates when they do their deductive tastings. I am constantly thinking, "How do they know that?!" Grape, vintage, region?! It all seems so overwhelming.

When I came across a Blind Tasting 101 class at Corkbuzz, one of my favorite places to learn about wine, I was incredibly excited! I don't know if that makes me a huge nerd, or not, but regardless... I was happy to see they were offering a class that would hopefully demystify the deductive tasting process. You can imagine how disappointed I was to learn it would be over 4th of July weekend, so I would miss it. The positive note to this story? Corkbuzz offered to put together a private class for us, as long as we could get six or more people together. We immediately brainstormed who enjoyed wine like we did, and they luckily were in. 

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How was the class structured?

We each got three whites and three reds, all classic examples of their grape varieties. This meant there were no blends or "funky" representations of a grape. They were one grape type from a region that is known for grown this grape type. Our instructor, Austin, had just passed his Certified Sommelier examination and was VERY patient with us. He walked us through the grid and then we went through each wine as a group filling out the grid. 

What is the grid?

The grid is how candidates go through and complete their deductive tasting. It contains information on sight, nose, palate, and finally a candidates initial and final conclusion. You can find examples of a grid for red wine here and white wine here thanks to the Court of Master Sommeliers. Here's another interesting post about the grid by Wine Folly.

What did we learn?

Deductive tasting is difficult! But it's also a learned process. You have to start making associations and consistently study them to become a master of deductive tasting. For example, with Chardonnay, the New World uses the most NEW oak. What happens when you use new oak on Chardonnay? It imparts that vanilla, buttery, oak flavor on the wine more so than when you use old oak. So if you get a white wine that has those aromas and flavors, you automatically lean toward New World regions (i.e. California, Australia, etc.)

Other fun facts:

  • Due to the malic and citric acids found in white grapes, all white wines will have apple flavors and citrus flavors. It just depends which is more prominent and what kind of apple or citrus flavors. Is it taste like a red, green, or yellow apple? Is it an under ripe apple or a rotting apple? Does it smell of lemon juice, lemon zest, or lemon rind?
  • Warmer climates typically cause a wine to be fuller bodied and less acidic than grapes grown in cooler climates.
  • The Tempranillo grape in Spain and Sangiovese grape in Italy are very similar. One way to tell the difference between when doing a tasting is that Spain uses oak while Italy does not.
  • Austin described Merlot as "Christmas", so think baking spice, vanilla, and mocha. I loved this description... mainly because I love Christmas.
  • Green pepper is a common flavor in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
  • A candidate can get the final conclusion incorrect and still pass the tasting portion. As long as you describe the wine 60% or 75% correctly depending on the level of exam, you can pass!

Overall, it was a great class. I felt like I learned a lot, and now all I have to do is practice! If blind tastings sound interesting to you, stay tuned for tips on how to host your own blind tasting party next month!

A Blind Tasting: Two Whites

This past Friday, K surprised me with a blind tasting! It was actually only "half blind" because I knew he bought a Chablis, but I had no idea what the other wine was. It was going to be fun to (1) try to pick out which was the Chablis and (2) identify the other wine type.

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I picked out what I thought was the Chablis based almost solely on color. Keep in mind that a Chablis is a Chardonnay from the northernmost part of Burgundy, France, and they are unoaked. It's difficult to tell in this photo, but the one on the left was much lighter in color or less "golden", and since oak gives white wine that deeper yellow or golden color, I guessed that the clearer one had to be Chablis. I was right! What I didn't expect was that the second one was also Chablis. I was tricked! The wines had such different aromas to them, so it surprised me to learn that they were both from Chablis. Here are what the two wines were:

Wine 1: Petit Chablis, Domaine L. Chatelain; $19.99 from Total Wine. This wine was lighter in body and more crisp than the second. I identified notes of apple and citrus on the nose. I would say that once I tasted the wine, the citrus flavor was definitely of lemon. There was a tartness to it, which was due to the higher acidity level. I actually considered that this may be a Sauvignon Blanc because of the lemon taste, but because of the apple and pear notes, I concluded this was the Chablis. Click here if you'd like to see the winery's website.

Rating:

Wine 2: Chablis, Domaine Chenevieres, 2013, $19.99 from Total Wine. This wine was medium bodied and a more golden color. It had a weird nose to it... something I could not identify. When I tried the wine, there was definitely a creaminess to it compared to the tartness of the first wine, so I was really thrown off as to what it was. Once I turned over the post-its of what each one was, I saw that the tasting notes of the wine were "apricot, peaches, flowers, and spices". I knew immediately that the aroma and flavor I could not identify was apricot. This combined with the peaches is what gave the wine the "creaminess" I tasted. 

Rating:

I personally preferred the first Chablis, despite it being the lowest rung of the Chablis totem pole, since I like crisp, fresh whites. Regardless, I look forward to trying more wines from the region and learning more about the nuances of Chablis!

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.