Sunday 22 July 2018

An acquired taste

'Blind tasting wine is something that most people in the industry find challenging'
'Blind tasting wine is something that most people in the industry find challenging'

Corinna Hardgrave

When my children were small and I was faced with the terrifying prospect of entertaining 20 of their tiny friends on their birthdays, I came up with a fun guessing game to keep them amused. One by one, the tots were blindfolded and subjected to a taste and sensory challenge. I resisted the temptation to include anything like Tabasco or wasabi, it was familiar food like apple, cucumber and freshly squeezed orange juice; although I did have a bit of fun with the sensory bit. They had to stick their hands into cold sloshy porridge. Squeals all round.

The thing is, none of them got all of the tastes right, although some came close. And it is the same thing for wine. Blind tasting wine is something that most people in the industry find challenging, even if they have been in the business for yonks. But there are some people who are better at it than others, not just because they may have a better palate, but because they have spent a lot of time doing it. It's a bit like a muscle, the more you train your palate and the more frequently you practise doing it, the better you will be at blind tasting.

One of the most famous blind tasting events was hosted in 1976 by Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who had a wine shop and wine school in Paris. He and his business partner, Patricia Gallagher, came up with the idea of hosting a Californian wine tasting to coincide with the bicentennial of American Independence. To ensure that there was no prejudice against the new Californian wines among the expert French tasting panel, they decided to do it blind. So the American Chardonnays were tasted alongside some of Burgundy's top white wines, and the Cabernet Sauvignons were tasted with top Bordeaux. For both the whites and the reds, the Californian wines came out top, Chateau Montelena as the best Chardonnay and Stag's Leap as the best Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting became known as the Judgment of Paris, and as you can expect, the French spluttered with indignity and there was hell to pay. Soon everyone in the wine business knew Steven Spurrier's name.

The tasting has been replicated many times, with different line-ups of wine, and always interesting results. Recently, David Whelehan, one of Ireland's leading wine experts, who will be familiar to people from his appearances on TV3, invited Steven Spurrier to Dublin to host a Judgment of Dublin tasting to launch the opening of the new Whelehans Wines Tasting Rooms and Wine School in Loughlinstown, where he has a wine shop and restaurant.

The tasting was blind and conducted under the same conditions as the original Paris Judgment, so yeah, a little bit like sitting your Leaving Cert, except with wine involved. We tasted three flights of wine: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and marked our scores for each wine out of 20. The sheets were collected, and as the scores were totted up, Steven, who was also tasting the wines blind, talked through the different wines.

What is interesting about doing something like this is that you don't have to get everything perfectly right. Taste is such a subjective thing. So there were varying opinions around the room. The French won in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay categories and the Australian Yalumba Signature narrowly beat a Bordeaux in a close finish.

I have four wines here which would be fun to try if you'd like to give it a go. Split the cost with a group of friends and host your own Judgment of Ireland.

 

4 wines to try

Oyster Bay Chardonnay 2016, €14.99,

13.5pc; Tesco, SuperValu and Dunnes.

We always think of Sauvignon Blanc when we hear Oyster Bay, but New Zealand makes some superb Chardonnays, and this is a good, reasonably priced example of the more restrained style with crisp flavours of lime, a touch of peach and just a whisper of oak. Good on its own or with grilled fish or vegetables.

 

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2014, €55

13.6pc; Whelehans Wines, 64 Wines, Searsons, Terroirs, Green Man Wine, Mitchell and Son, Sweeney’s, all Dublin; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny.

This Californian Chardonnay is beautifully structured with acidity from the lemon, lime and apple flavours balanced with notes of nectarine and peach.

 

Sunnycliff Australian Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, €9.99

13.5pc; Spar, Eurospar, Londis and Mace outlets

Very Australian in style, this easy drinking Cabernet Sauvignon is concentrated with generous flavours of blackcurrant, bramble, and a hint of vanilla and spice. Perfect for drinking on its own or with barbequed meat and vegetables.

 

Chateau Puy Castéra Haut-Médoc 2012, €20.43

13pc; Wines Direct at Arnotts, Mullingar and winesdirect.ie

With a perfume of violets and the characteristic note of pencil shavings, this Bordeaux, from a family-owned estate in the Médoc is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, giving it flavours of blackcurrant leaf and black plum.

 

Grapevine

Gin is still a huge trend, and if you fancy having a real taste of summer, try Dingle Original Gin, winner of 'Best Irish Gin' in 2017. Made in the classic London Dry-style, it has a fresh floral character which echoes the terroir of Kerry in the mix of botanicals used, which include rowanberry, fuchsia, bog myrtle, hawthorn and heather. Serve as a sipping gin with large cubes of ice, a wedge of fresh orange and a sprinkling of juniper berries, or as a longer drink with a good quality tonic water. RRP €37, available nationwide. For more, see dingledistillery.ie.

Grapevine

Oyster Bay Chardonnay 2016, €14.99,

13.5pc; Tesco, SuperValu and Dunnes.

We always think of Sauvignon Blanc when we hear Oyster Bay, but New Zealand makes some superb Chardonnays, and this is a good, reasonably priced example of the more restrained style with crisp flavours of lime, a touch of peach and just a whisper of oak. Good on its own or with grilled fish or vegetables.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2014, €55

13.6pc; Whelehans Wines, 64 Wines, Searsons, Terroirs, Green Man Wine, Mitchell and Son, Sweeney's, all Dublin; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny.

This Californian Chardonnay is beautifully structured with acidity from the lemon, lime and apple flavours balanced with notes of nectarine and peach.

Sunnycliff Australian Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, €9.99

13.5pc; Spar, Eurospar, Londis and Mace outlets

Very Australian in style, this easy drinking Cabernet Sauvignon is concentrated with generous flavours of blackcurrant, bramble, and a hint of vanilla and spice. Perfect for drinking on its own or with barbequed meat and vegetables.

 

Chateau Puy Castéra Haut-Médoc 2012, €20.43 13pc; Wines Direct at Arnotts, Mullingar and winesdirect.ie With a perfume of violets and the characteristic note of pencil shavings, this Bordeaux, from a family-owned estate in the Médoc is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, giving it flavours of blackcurrant leaf and black plum.

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