December 27, 2007


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Drinking blind
What you can learn without the label
By Tim Protzman

How do you drink your wine?

If you’re like me you pick up the bottle, look at the label, maybe study it a little, insert the corkscrew, pull the cork, pour it into the glass. Swirl, swirl and sip.

Nobody, make that very few people, does this: place the bottles into a brown paper bag, tape the top shut so only the neck and cork show, remove the foil and pull the cork, throw the cork away, close your eyes and shuffle the bottles around three-card-monte-style and then drink the wine.

Usually at a blind tasting (when you don’t get to see the label) the big question is which wine is better. You could be tasting a flight of California Cabernets, all from, say, 2004 and you’re comparing the nuances, flavors and which wine tastes best.

This weekend we had a blind tasting. Each person brought a bagged bottle, foil removed and ready to have the cork pulled. The object was not to determine which wine was best, but to determine which wine was which. We would actually need to sip the concealed wine, taste, assess and pronounce. Everybody thought it would be easy. I didn’t. I knew that being unable to look at the label takes away more than half the information. And like we see on TV, the taster who sips, chews and announces, “a Chilean syrah, from 2004” is very rare. The fact is without the label it’s really, really hard to tell what varietal you’re drinking. Think you can do it? Piece of cake? Then go ahead, try. Here are the results of the Wine Rookies Pre-Christmas tasting:

I thought I had an advantage because I knew that the shape of the bottles would be a clue, but Kyle decided to pour the wine in the kitchen and I only got to see the half filled glasses emerge on a serving tray. Squiggy, whose palate has progressed to the point where he no longer needs to taste the wine, only sniff it, was the most stumped. He hadn’t studied up on his varietals. I found it really tough — with hundreds of different styles of shirazes and chardonnays around and pinot noirs that come close to syrah, it really takes a trained set of taste buds.

• Wine #1 When Kyle brought it out Liz shouted; “It’s a white!” and of course she was correct. I tasted and thought chardonnay, but then rejecting my initial gut instinct I started to think gruner veltliner.

“Not swampy!” proclaimed Squiggy, using his nasal litmus test reserved for white wines.

“Chardonnay,” said Hayley.

Two more people chose chardonnay. I went with the Gruner veltliner, And Squiggy thought it was pinot grigio.

We revealed the wine to be Bearboat Russian River Chardonnay 2005, $11.99. Each of us noticed the oak. Some mentioned butter. A few tasted lemon.

• Wine #2 It was red. It had hints of tar and black pepper. Currant and a touch of blackberry. Squiggy said it was foreign and won’t elaborate. Debbie and Don said it was a Nero d’ Avola, which was a great guess. I said a mid-priced Californian pinot noir and Jeannine said shiraz. She was right — 2003 Jindalee Shiraz, $8.99. Kyle’s a tightwad, but he knows a great value.

• Wine #3 Its light red color told me it was young and probably not a shiraz. Mike said Chianti and got extra points for knowing it was Sangiovese grapes. I thought it had chocolate, but the others said it was leather and smoke. I guessed Cabernet Franc. Hayley pegged it as a Beaujolais, which is Gamay.

Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly, $10.99

• Rise and fall of the four wine. I loved the wine. I was intoxicated by the acrid yet appealing aroma, like when you were in junior high and they were having spaghetti and you could smell it in the locker room.

Most thought it was a pinot grigio, but the hint of sweetness made me think Viognier. The real identity was Rain 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. Sweet to me but regular to most of the others. Lemon verbena, honeysuckle and unripe pear flavors with a typical touch of cat urine aroma. That should have been the tip- off, but it’s not always apparent.

Which brings us to the question: do we taste what’s really there when we see the label or do we taste what we’re supposed to taste? Pinot noir: do I really taste the tar, violets and cherries? Or do I imagine them because I know they’re supposed to be there? This will be the subject of our next blind tasting.

• Wine 5 Deep red color. Heavy, silky taste. A profound wine. Tannic, though. Hints of fruit: dried strawberries, cranberry and currants. Chocolate, sage and blackberries. My guess was a Chateauneuf du Pape, which was grenache and syrah. Mike went with malbec, and Hayley said a wacky cabernet sauvignon. She was part right. It was Neyen Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon blend (70 percent carmenere, 30 percent cabernet) from the Colchagua Valley in Chile. .

12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right

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11/29/2007 World of drinkin'
11/22/2007 Thanks for the Napa cabs
11/15/2007 Drinks with Diwali
11/8/2007 Candy Corn hangover
11/1/2007 Drinks with History Channel
10/25/2007 Schooled in Shiraz
10/18/2007 Spooky wines
10/11/2007 Location, location, location
10/04/2007 Shiraz history
9/27/2007 Ingenious appellation
9/20/2007 Small world of wines
9/13/2007 How not to get screwed
9/6/2007 Wine lover's shopping trip
8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
8/16/2007 Emotional tasting notes
8/9/2007 Stop, wine thief
8/2/2007 Be your own sommelier
7/26/2007 You do know your wine
7/19/2007 Booze free association
7/12/2007 Raiders of the sidewalk
7/5/2007 A sustainable buzz
6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
6/7/2007 Our lady of the Rioja
5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
5/17/2007 What the best bears drink
5/10/2007It's OK to be pink
5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
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Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce