Tasting wine like a sommelier - Printable Version

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- wondersofwine - 01-31-2008 09:20 PM

Zely & Ritz Restaurant in Raleigh is sponsoring a series of blind wine tastings under the above title. I missed the first one which featured French wines--three whites and three reds. Last night's was New World California wines.

We tasted three whites before eating, saving some from each glass to pair with the appetizer of mussels with pineapple, kiwi and white wine sauce finished with vanilla and chives.
Then we tasted three reds, saving some for the entree of beef sirloin with currant risotto and blackberry sauce finished with cocoa powder. Dessert was sour cream and lemon (or was it orange) pound cake and coffee.
Nancy Agasi had to make some last minute substitutions on two of the white wines because the intended wine did not arrive in time for the dinner. I did not do well on identifying the wine varieties, let alone specific regions. The first wine, one of the substitutes was a Pinot Gris but several other varieties were suggested before anyone got the correct one. I normally don't care for Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio but this one was very good. 2006 Carr Pinot Gris, Turner Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, 14% alcohol. Lighting was poor at the communal table but others found the color to be pale straw or even gold. Transparent in glass with some legs. 14% alcohol. I got pear, apple cider and pineapple on the nose. Quite a bit of mouth presence mimicking the nose. Somewhat unctuous. Well received in general. Would have been available for $18 a bottle (and I would have purchased some) but the distributor ran out and the winery may be sold out as well.

Wine #2, a substitute white that Nancy had never tasted before was pretty much a disaster. Some pungency and hint of ammonia that made me wonder if it was a bad Riesling. Not all that fruity. Nancy poured a smaller pour of the wine she had intended to serve (not enough to go around so more like 2-oz. pour) and it was the same variety but a total contrast to #2. This one, which we refered to as #2 and 3/4 had some lemon, vanilla and oak on the nose. Vanilla and buttery flavors. A more typical California Chardonnay but quite attractive in its way and went well with the mussels probably due to the tropical fruits and vanilla used in the sauce. It proved to be a Kenneth Volk Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County, weighing in at 14.8% alcohol. I didn't see the label for vintage but they currently advertise the 2005 wines on the website. I had never heard of Kenneth Volk but this was a good example of the buttery rich style of Cal Chards. I checked the website and the chardonnays sell for under $30 a bottle and the Pinot Noirs vary from $24 to $48 a bottle.

The third white wine was gold with a somewhat peachy tint. It was more viscous than a couple of the other wines and suggested melon or mango scents. It was a Shadow Canyon Viognier from Santa Barbara. (Again, I didn't see the vintage.) It was available for $24.

The first red I thought might be a Pinot Noir (kind of a dark color but some Pinots can be that dark) or a Cabernet Franc (although more likely to be produced in the Finger Lakes than in California.) It turned out to be Syrah which was my third guess! Nancy says she gets a cedar scent with Cabernet Franc which would have eliminated that as the variety since no one smelled cedar. It was a deep berry red and opaque. I thought the nose was of overripe fruit of mixed berries. It was the Copain Saisons L'Hiver Syrah from Mendocino at 13.7% alcohol. (The ripe fruit made me think it might be from Paso Robles--not Mendocino!)

I liked the #2 red and pegged it for a Merlot as did others at my table because it seemed to reflect plummy fruit with mild tannins--not much acid for a young red wine. Were we ever wrong. It was a 2005 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from Twenty Bench at 14.1% alcohol. The wine is usually priced at about $18 to $20 making it a reasonable choice for a beef pairing. I couldn't get over a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon being that mild on tannins. Twenty Bench is a new project of Jim Regusci of Regusci Winery made by the Regusci winemaker, Charles Hendricks.

Red wine #3 was a little more identifiable as a zinfandel. It was dark and opaque in the glass with some pepper and wild berries on the nose. This was the 2004 August Briggs Napa Valley Zinfandel.

Like the French vs. New World half-blind tasting in DC, this was a humbling experience but fun. I will try to go to the third in the series which will probably feature Spanish or Italian wines. I don't even pretend to know much about them.

[This message has been edited by wondersofwine (edited 02-01-2008).]

- dananne - 01-31-2008 10:40 PM

As always, great notes and it sounds like it was a blast.

I've had a few of these -- the Twenty Bench is a wonderful Cab at the price, and I've found it to be pretty consistent year-after-year since I posted this:

Haven't tried the '05 yet, but they've got it at the local Whole Foods, so I'll toss it in the buggy soon.

We had a wonderful visit at August Briggs when we were out there in August, and we brought back several wines, including a very nice '05 RRV PN, the '05 Napa Zin, an '05 Pinot Meunier (which tasted like an aged Willamette PN), and we joined their wine club, so a couple of the '05 Cabs came in the mail in November. All very good stuff, and we were excited to find them sort of by chance on a rec from the good folks at Duckhorn (who WW set us up with). They bottled an '05 Charbono, which was one of the best, most interesting wines I've had in a long time. If anyone has the chance to try it, and it would be hard to find because of the small production, jump at the chance!

I've not had that Copain, but we had a smashing PN from them last year, a single vineyard one from Anderson Valley. Have also heard good things about their Syrah, so I'll take a look for the one you tried. Have looked for other PN wines from them, but distribution seems scarce or non-existant around here. The one we tried was a wine Anne brought back from Vintage Wines in San Diego.

Again, great notes!

- wondersofwine - 02-04-2008 12:53 PM

Reread your note on the Twenty Bench and WW's comments as well. Seems like they are trying for an approachable Cab that doesn't need cellaring. I will have to see about purchasing some. I may still be able to get some through the restaurant in Raleigh (working with the distributor.)