Grapevine Archive for Wine Champions 2012
What is a blind tasting?
Put simply, a blind tasting is one where the identities of the wines are concealed. All focus is on what?s in the glass and, having banished capacity for bias or preconception, every wine is given a fairer hearing. The Society?s buyers select our annual Wine Champions lineup via a series of blind tastings.
From tasting room to dining room
Rightly, our buyers take their responsibilities very seriously and academic levels of preparation, scrutiny, note-taking and re-tasting (not to mention, of course, spitting) are prerequisite in the intensive Wine Champions sessions.
Socially however, a relaxed blind tasting party can be enormous fun, as well as an informative experience for anyone with any level of interest in wine; and making the transition from studious tasting room to convivial dining room is very easy.
Here are a few tips:
The best way to start is by drawing up a list of guests who?d be prepared to bring a bottle.
Setting a price limit is normally a sensible strategy, and not merely for reasons of social harmony. Some readers may recall Sir Cliff Richard being filmed pouring scorn on his own modestly-priced Algarve table wine having been served it blind directly after a £400 bottle of Claret! This is a perfect example of how some thought will be needed when establishing your order of batting (of which more below).
It might well be worth suggesting a general theme for the tasting: great fun and helpful for you and your guests when working out what bottle to bring. Themes will depend on personal preference and level of interest.
Tried and trusted themes include:
? Guess the grape variety
? Guess the country or region
? Guess the price
Seasoned blind tasters may want to up the ante:
? Guess the grower/producer/château
? Guess the vintage
?or use a combination of any or all of the categories above. Some may like to add a competitive edge to the proceedings. To spice things up you may want to ask your guests to prepare ?Call My Bluff?-style wine notes for their wines to try and match the blind-tasted wines with the right wine tasting note, region, grape or price.
Perhaps you have a favourite theme for a blind tasting that we haven?t covered?
If so, we?d love to hear what it is, and any other ideas you might have. Do leave us a comment or share your ideas (and photos) via Facebook or Twitter.
Whatever is decided, the goal should be for you and your guests to find a lineup of delicious, interesting wines. As such, going a little left field can be particularly rewarding, whilst ensuring that any committed oenophiles present won?t be able to show off too much!
Concealing the bottles
Ideally, ask your guests to conceal the bottles before they arrive, but once over the threshold the ?bagging up? should be standardised to ensure no one recognises the bottle they brought.
A brown paper bag and some sticky tape should suffice (this has the advantage over tinfoil in that it conceals potentially telltale bottle shapes), but you can purchase slightly smarter means of concealment ? such as bottle bags ? at various places should you wish.
Don?t forget to remove neck labels and foils to make sure the bottles? identities will be concealed completely.
Working out a batting order
It is hardly worth pointing out that negotiating a lineup starting with a dessert wine and finishing with bubbles would spell disaster for digestion and enjoyment alike.
Accepted wisdom is usually to begin with any sparkling wines (dry before sweet, and if you have a mixture of vintage and non-vintage wines, it is best to begin with the latter before moving on to older wines) before whites (the drier and younger examples to begin with), reds (lighter and younger wines first) and then any sweet and fortified wines.
These rules should suffice for most lineups, but our team of Wine Advisers will be happy to assist if you have any more specific queries.
To this end, it might well be worth coming up with some loose categories (for instance ?white, dry, young?) to reveal just enough about the wine to put it in the best place. If there is a notable disparity between the prices of the wines, a further Sir Cliff-inspired category may also be helpful; for instance, bottles under £6, £6?£9.99,£10?£15, £15?£20 and so on.
For advice on serving temperatures, please refer to our Enjoying Wine guide.
? A set of numbered sheets for your guests to write on, or to complete in line with the theme of the night.
? A sufficient number of glasses. If you haven?t enough to hand, you might like to ask your guests to contribute, or you could peruse The Society?s range of glassware. Alternatively, members living near Stevenage may wish to take advantage of glass hire from The Cellar Showroom. Other local wine merchants may also offer a glass hire service.
? Water, and plenty of it ? goes without saying!
? Nibbles: also goes without saying, but do be wary of serving anything too strongly flavoured that might over-compete with the wines for your tastebuds? attention.
We recommend encouraging your guests to partake in crackers, bread and so forth between tastes: as well as lining the stomach, they work wonders cleansing the palate ready for the next wine.
? Finally, if you plan to make your tasting a competitive affair, an optional prize for the winner.
Taste and enjoy
After all that, it?s time to pour, discuss and enjoy the wines!
All we would advise from personal experience is to swirl your glasses generously and to take your time as you go (some wines can change a phenomenal amount with a bit of time and a bit of air).
Have a lovely time.
?I have visions of squid!?
Thus the studious silence of the tasting room was broken by buyer Marcel Orford-Williams. I myself do not eat seafood, but have often noticed that others exhibit a pathological yearning for it when exposed to truly great dry white wine. It has become something of a personal litmus test to see how well a white has gone down with others.With chardonnay and sauvignon blanc having their own sections, the remaining 104 white wines in the Wine Champions ?short?-list were separated into two lineups. This gargantuan aromatic free-for-all should perhaps have been the most demanding tastings of the lot. However, of all the heats I was fortunate enough to participate in, this was probably the most enjoyable. Marcel, and others, seemed to agree.
As we processed through (what turned out to be) wines made using cortese, macabeo, bacchus, garganega, falanghina, muscadet, grüner veltliner, furmint, vermentino, clairette ? to name but 10 at random ? and many more, one thing became apparent beyond doubt: whether you have a taste for seafood or not, the sheer diversity of white wines outside the traditional comfort zones of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay et al has never been more rewarding.
The lineups were divided loosely by price, and it was a particularly pleasing moment when it dawned on us how many outstanding candidates had been found before we had even got anywhere near the ?over £10? section.
As was the revelation of the overall winners once the votes had been tallied: this is the twelfth annual Wine Champions, and in terms of countries, regions, grape varieties and styles, this is almost certainly the most diverse selection of white wines it has offered yet.
As for their ? and the other winners? ? identities, members will have to wait another few weeks. It will be worth it.
The ?Red Rhône Varieties? section of the Wine Champions tastings encompassed some 87 wines, and therein a wide-ranging insight into how syrah, grenache and its numerous bedfellows express themselves throughout the Old and the New World; both in the vineyard and, given both camps? partiality for blending, the winery.
The ?wow? factor was never far away as we navigated our way through these wines; nonetheless, a Wine Champion must back this up with the all-important ?now? factor (see my first post for a brief outline of the rules), and several simply needed a little more time before they would be able to merit the accolade.Partly for this reason some of the best performances in this large category came courtesy of the more reasonable end of the price bracket, the formidable tannic architecture of many top-end candidates being absent, but not the sumptuous, open flavours of the fruit.
Of course, when quality and readiness did align at the higher end of the scale, the outcome was predictably superb, and members should also look out for the Fine Wine Champions, which will be featured shortly after the initial offer in The Society?s Fine Wine List.
Given the nigh-ubiquitous lustre of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage et al today, it is remarkable to think that the red wines of the Rhône only reached this level of acclaim in the latter half of the twentieth century. Hitherto, ?rustic and thick enough to stand a spoon in? seemed the précised verdict of many. But quality has changed for the better (as to a lesser extent have our tastes) and, combined with an embarrassment of brilliant vintages (2010, 2009, 2007, 2005?), the wines? favour continues deservedly to soar.Today?s wine world is a fast-revolving one, and while the New World?s embracing of these full-bodied styles has been wildly successful on the whole, several wines strike me as having undergone a similar transformation of late, albeit in double-quick time.
South Africa is a good example, from which some shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre wines were themselves given a lukewarm reception for an abundance of spicy and bucolic flavours. Yet in many of the examples on show I found this quality had coalesced with fresh, appetising fruit profiles ? and the results were wonderful.
Blind tastings remain the unparalleled way to dispel the preconceptions of fashion, and I do hope members don?t miss the chance to try these wines for themselves.
On paper, tasting hundreds of wines sounds like a lot of fun; and it is.
Nonetheless, some tastings are inevitably more difficult than others and the respective heats for the chardonnay and rosé categories were cases in point for different reasons.
Were you to have listened in on the chardonnay heats, you would therefore have been forgiven for thinking you?d stumbled into an antiquated card game.
I often think of chardonnay as the vinous equivalent of a lightning rod: not a hugely interesting device in terms of its raw materials (with apologies to any enthusiasts who may be reading), but amazing in its ability to conduct the power the elements can throw at it. It is a relatively neutral grape but when planted in certain places throughout the world it expresses incomparably multifaceted flavours.
Add to this the fact that it responds well to both stainless steel and wood and in blind-tasting environs its diversity becomes profound to the point of perilous. It therefore took Joker-playing, re-tasting, olfactory scrutiny and debate before everyone was happy that the wines had all been given a chance.
Then there was the ?pink morning? scheduled for the all-important task of selecting the ready-best of our 2011 rosés. In the event, the morning erred considerably more to the grey side, being as it was the coldest of the year thus far.
For myself, this lent the tasting an element of Zen as I sought those wines that transported me most vividly to the lazy summer afternoons which I hope await me later in the calendar. Remarkably, I think it worked; in any case, the buyers? final votes revealed some very strong performances indeed.
These particular occasions impressed upon me just how much perseverance and concentration (not to mention talent) is required to taste objectively through large and/or complicated lineups. I can certainly now vouch first hand that Society members are in good hands/noses/palates with the buying team, and promise that the 2012 Wine Champions will be all the more delicious thanks to these meticulous ? not to mention egalitarian ? efforts in the tasting room.
I?ve been fortunate enough to participate in the ongoing Wine Champions blind tastings, with a view to keeping Grapevine readers updated about the preparation for one of The Wine Society?s most consistently popular offers.The invitation to taste 579 wines with some of the finest palates and most knowledgeable buyers in the UK wine trade was a daunting one, for two obvious reasons contained within that phrase. However, the process proved to be an incredibly enjoyable and only mildly debilitating education.
The rules of Wine Champions are simple: the wines are tasted in categories under strict blind conditions (labels are all concealed as in the picture below, thereby allowing no room for potential bias) before votes are cast to crown the champions.
A ?champion? is a wine at the top of its game, giving of its delicious best. The offer is all about what?s in the bottle, and how it tastes in the here and now. It goes without saying that the buyers work incredibly hard to select all the wines in The Society?s range, but the evolutionary nature of wine throws up the most wonderful surprises.
In this regard, the 2012 line-up certainly did not disappoint.
The three forthcoming dispatches from the tasting room seek to relate my personal impressions of this process (which, having worked at The Society for only a year, was new to me). Though I am duty-bound not to reveal the results, I hope they will whet readers? appetite ahead of the winning wines being unveiled in June. The first will be posted tomorrow.