Friday Blind – March 22

Friday Blind – March 22

“Wine Number One is a…”
“White wine!”

Every Friday morning, our resident Master Sommelier leads our team of Wine Curators and Sommeliers in a collaborative blind tasting. This is my favorite way to blind taste, as we can benefit from each other’s palates and expertise.

For the appearance, we settled quickly on pale straw with hints of green, no gas, no sediment.

On the nose, we like to nail down the fruit characteristics first (definitely tart, unripe), before we define which fruits are present (Granny Smith apple primarily, with some tropical notes like sharp pineapple and guava).

When we moved to non-fruit characteristics and someone called white flowers, I had a flashback to the jasmine-filled air of the Turnbull tasting room, my first job in the Napa Valley. Someone else managed to put a name to the ‘funkiness’ I had picked up on but couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t barnyard funk, or cheese-rind funk: it was sulfur, gunpowder and matchsticks. I coughed involuntarily.

We agreed to place the intensity of the aroma at medium-plus, and that there was no indication of oak influence.

Again, before getting into specific flavors, we try to describe the wine’s structure: acid, alcohol, body, tannin in red wine or phenolic bitterness in white. I’ve always had a tendency to overestimate acidity, often calling high acid when it’s actually medium-plus, which always led me to wonder: “If this is medium-plus, what does a high-acid white wine taste like?”

This wine answered that question. My mouth still full from the first sip, I could only manage a wide-eyed thumbs-up motion when asked the acid level on this wine, but as the group hedged their bets with a general murmur of ‘medium plus’ I shook my head, spat, and for the first time, felt confident in declaring the acid level high, which earned me a wise nod of agreement.

There was a consensus that this wine was fruitier on the palate than we were expecting based on the nose, and we learned that this can often be an indication of climate: A grape variety that is typically more restrained might offer more lush fruit characteristics when grown in a warmer region. This made me more confident in my initial impression, which I’d formed within half a second of sticking my nose in the glass: either a good sign or a bad one, as it can be hard to overcome an initial bias that strong, and especially since the grape variety I suspected was one we had just been talking about, so it was quite possible I’d fallen prey to the indomitable Power Of Suggestion.

On alcohol, though, I had to defer to the group, and we settled on medium. Same with body: I always associate high acidity with a laser sharpness that leads me to call lean, whereas they agreed that it was round, enveloping the whole palate and lingering on the finish, which I couldn’t argue with. Then we moved on to phenolic bitterness, which we generally ruled out as a prominent characteristic, although a colleague’s earlier call of a citrus pith aroma still lingered on the palate.

As I considered speaking up about the vague nuttiness I might be imagining, my colleague asked if anyone else noticed a creamy or buttery note, and I realized that we were both getting cashew. Cue a deeper and more enthusiastic nod. Between this and the full body, we revised our initial assessment that this was a youthful wine, noting that it could be on the lower end of vinous.

Taking stock of what we knew so far, we ruled out the three white grape varieties with pronounced phenolic bitterness: pinot grigio, albariño, and grüner veltliner. We also ruled out viognier and gewürtztraminer, which are much more floral than what was in front of us. Riesling was still on the table if it came from a warm climate. In fact, the only other times I’ve heard high acid called in a blind tasting were rieslings, but the lack of its signature petrol aroma gave me pause. I was glad when our concierge voiced my first and last instinct for the varietal, and I seconded her…

(spoiler alert)

I called sauvignon blanc from the Napa Valley, 5 years old.

I was gratified when the bottle was revealed to be a 2019 Miljenko’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc by Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, Napa Valley, making this my most complete and accurate call to date. Immediately, it had put me in mind of Josephine Sauvignon Blanc, which I must have poured a barrel’s worth of or more in my 18 months in the Turnbull tasting room in Oakville, not 2 miles south of Grgich Hills. The green apple, the tropical hints of guava and pineapple… it was all there, making me wonder if Grgich had blended in some of the more aromatic musqué clone of sauvignon blanc too. Neither the label or a Google search could confirm or deny this theory.

I always find it fascinating in these team tastings how we can rely on each other’s palates to catch things that we may have missed. Even someone whose palate is less developed can use their knowledge to conclude what the wine might be, based on their teammates’ descriptions.

What about you? Could you tell what wine I was describing before we reached the big reveal? If not, did you learn something?

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