Blind surprise yields victory for Chardonnay in … Virginia State
January 13, 2013
Blind tastings can be a lot of fun because you are not sure of what to expect. They should never be interpreted as Sacred Truth. So much depends on (1) who is tasting, (2) when tasted, and with what, (3) aeration rates for some bottles that were not as favorable, (4) you get the picture …
But, there is a but. When done in a proper context, blind tastings can reveal some truth to our senses. When there is a logical setting. For example, a comparison of premier cru Burgundy from a specific region in a single vintage.
For a neighborhood garden club in Arlington, Virginia, I had decided to put together a tasting called “The many shades of Chardonnay” which would include wines made from this grape from all over the world with all sorts of price points. I sourced 12 bottles, opened them one hour before the tasting (simply leaving them uncorked, no decanting) and wrapped them up in aluminum foil. I had removed the corks and entire capsules to make it impossible to identify the wines. Each aluminum wrapped wine bottle was numbered one to eleven. The tasting began with a brief explanation of the Chardonnay grape.
Some participants were casual drinkers and had no clue that Chardonnay’s claim to fame was not its name but rather the locations where it is planted: namely in Burgundy (and Champagne). This I explained, with further facts about the evident Chardonnay craze in California in the recent past. “Why did that die out,” one participant asked me. “Fashion,” I quipped. “Like bell bottom pants.”
No, California Chard has not died out. By some accounts, up to 25% of world plantings of Chardonnay are in California. But the taste for oak soaked buttery Chard has – thankfully – fallen by the wayside. And then further explanation that Chardonnay can be found in many other places, from Italy to Chile, from New Zealand to Virginia State. And that it can be made differently: sometimes new oak aged, sometimes fermented in a steel vat and that’s it: no oak.
Which brings be to the surprising result of this particular tasting….
Out of the eleven wines tasted blind, the Linden Hardscrabble 2009 obtained the most votes from participants. “Most votes”, you may ask? How did that work? After we went through each wine, I asked the some 15 active participants to each pick out their “top three” wines based on what they had just tasted. Each person could only vote three times. They voted on the “numbered wine”. That is to say that I did not unveil the wines before the vote. So, for example, when I asked participants to vote on wine number one – the first wine they tasted blind – wine number one obtained 7 votes from participants. In other words, seven of the 15 participants picked wine number one as being in their top three of the evening. Wine number one, incidentally, tied for third place in the vote.
For more information on Linden Vineyards in Virginia, see this post from my good friend and fellow blogger Christian G.E. Schiller. He writes an excellent account of his visit there, with photos.
Here the rankings from the blind tasting held in Chain Bridge Forest (Arlington, Virginia) on Saturday evening 12 January 2013, with my personal observations (I did not vote)
Wine 1 (Ciampagnis Vieris Vie di Romans DOC Friuli-Isonzo 2009: $40) 7 votes = 3rd place (tied with Wine 7) This Italian wine had a somewhat oily texture, rather viscous, but there was a salty freshness as well. I liked it, overall, but could not help but detect just a slightly cloying aspect.
Wine 2 (Januik Cold Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley Washington State 2009: $30) = 3 votes = 5th place I was expecting something a bit fresher from a northern US state, this being my first ever tasting of a Chardonnay from Washington State. While exuding apple aromas and flavors (more yellow apple than green), it seemed a bit warm for me on the palate. I preferred the Italian wine.
Wine 3 (Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County California 2010 $22) 1 vote = 7th place (tied with Wine 10) This Southern Californian wine seemed the most typical of what one expects from a California Chard in its price range, I suppose. There was a bit of buttery richness, but not much else, with a finish that tailed off and a certain heat on the finish that was unappealing.
Wine 4 (Linden Hardscrabble Virginia State 2009: $35) 9 votes = 1st place! Now this was the huge surprise. I had toyed with the idea of throwing in a 2002 vintage Puligny but did not at the last minute… Perhaps results would have been different. But, no matter, this wine surprised everyone. The nose was very appealing, with purity and fruit but not overly ostentatious. There was a subtle aspect to the nose, with even herbal aspects. Many were impressed with this blind. The only clue that this was New World was certain warmth on the end palate, but when it was unveiled, everyone was mightily impressed. Bravo for Virginia!
Wine 5 (Henri Boillot AOC Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Perrieres 2005: $100) 8 votes = 2nd place I was not surprised that a wine with such pedigree obtained this many votes. There was a very pleasing precision on the palate with contained opulence – the wine developed in glass nicely. Having said that, I think there was some mild form of premature oxidation here, with some nut based notes. The color was rather evolved. Then again, 2005 is not ideal for white Burgundy….
Wine 6 (William Fevre Chablis AOC Grand Cru Les Clos 2007: $75) 6 votes = 4th place. I really liked this wine for its mineral purity, more than the resulting vote and would have put this firmly in 3rd or second place. It balanced ripe richness with that quintessential Chablis linear purity with a subtle yet lingering finish.
Wine 7 (Bouchard Pere & Fils AOC Pouilly Fuisse 2009: $30) 7 votres = 3rd place (tied with Wine 1). In terms of price/quality ratios, this wine was my personal overall favorite. It exuded finesse and ripeness without one bit of heat… in spite of the 2009 vintage.
Wine 8 (Three Wishes Non Vintage “America” appellation: $3) zero votes. Now, I am glad that no one voted for this as their top three. An initial dilute aroma of unripe apple is about the best thing. Mid palate is hardly present before it falls off the cliff. At least it is cheap. An office party wine for colleagues who have not a clue? I would not wish this on anyone. Strictly good for cooking, I would say.
Wine 9 (Tabali Reserva Especial DO Limari Valley 2009: $18) zero votes. I found this far better than Three Wishes. There was fruit and mid palate presence. Having said that, it was “lost in the mix” because rather ordinary.
Wine 10 (Craggy Range Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay New Zealand 2010: $22) 1 vote = 7th place (tied with Wine 3) I may have liked this more than the average. There was a fine smoky aspect to the nose that appealed to me. Not overly smoky but present, and combined with green and yellow apple. Very fruit forward, varietal in nature, if nothing too complex. But still, for the price, worthy of note. I later heard that the estate is gorgeous, from a participant who had visited New Zealand.
Wine 11 (Varner Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Block California 2010: $50). 2 votes = 6th place). This proved a disappointment for its cool climate pedigree. There was an overly lemon aspect to those nose – someone during the tasting blurted out the name of the wood cleaner “Lemon Pledge” and that set the tone… I liked the palate, because it had substance, but the nose was rather one dimensional. For the price, not very appealing.