The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jan 16, 2010

Wine Tasting

I imagine that 2009 was rather good for investment banks, for suddenly their client entertainment budgets expanded, Christmas parties were on full swing, and I received an invitation or two to corporate events. Most recently, I went to the Haymarket Hotel near Piccadilly where a Wine Investment Challenge was held under the aegis of one of our brokers. This was organised in the basement of the hotel right by the swimming pool, which occasioned no end of surprise as the air was thick with chlorine.

So if I was unable to identify the wines, I can safely blame it on the Cl2.

The challenge was organised by Taste of the Vine, which is run by Francis Gimblett, a wine aficionado and stand-up man. He is famous for having unwittingly insulted Gerard Depardieu and then spending several years of his life chasing down the man, and then writing a book about his experiences. Here he tried to rouse the crowd with a wise-crack or two but people seemed more interested in downing their cocktails and piling onto the canapés. He quickly moved on to the challenge itself.

On each of three tables were placed two wines (hidden in cloth), and the task at hand was to identify them based on some hints given out on a printed paper. At the first table, the challenge was to identify the Higher Quality wine from the two Meursaults of the same producer. One was a higher quality ‘premier cru’, the other one a standard issue. Higher quality wines have richer character and more length, we were advised. We had descriptions for each that went something like this:

1) Appearance: Medium Yellow; Nose: Pronounced, Crisp Apple; Palate: Dry, High Acidity, Medium Body, Crisp Peach and Cox Apple.

2) Appearance: Medium Yellow; Nose: Pronounced, Pineapple, Apricot; Palate: Off Dry, High Acidity, Full Body, Tropical, Mango, Buttery.

sauzet Francis explained the three kinds of noses. A High Intensity nose is of a wine whose bouquet can be smelled from about five inches away. A Pronounced nose can be smelled from about 3 inches. A Low Intensity nose can only be smelled with the nose (the human one) in the glass.

With my sense of smell somewhat at an ebb and clobbered by all the chlorine, both the wines appeared to have low intensity. They were fine whites, and no amount of swirling helped me to discern the medium yellow or deep yellow appearance that might distinguish them. In the end, entirely at random, I chose ‘Mango, Buttery, High Acidity and Off Dry’ as the higher quality Meursault, and the ‘Dry, High Acidity, Crisp Peach’ offering as the lower quality.

At the next table, the challenge was to identify the older wine. There were two vintages of a premier cru red Burgundy, each of a different vintage (1996, 2004, or 2006). The hint? ‘Older wines exhibit more organic, less fruity character.’ Armed with this advice, I inhaled, sipped, swirled, gargled, rinsed, flushed, pulled up my zip, washed my hands. Here were the descriptions:

3) Appearance: Dark Red; Nose: High Intensity, Tar, Dried Cherry; Palate: Medium Tannin, Full Bodied Game, Strawberry and Herb Flavours.

4) Appearance: Deep Purple; Nose: Low Intensity, Blackcurrant, Vanilla; Palate: Low Tannins, Low Acidity, Medium Bodied Earthy, Blackcurrant.

5) Appearance: Pale Red; Nose: Medium Intensity, Strawberry Jam; Palate: Light Tannin, High Acidity, Medium Bodied, Sweet Red Berry, Herbs.

echezeaux I have to say that the first wine in this set was exceptional; even as debased a palate as mine could tell that it was superb. But which description did it correspond to? I suspected it was the third, but only because it was indeed lighter in colour than the other one. The experts around me insisted it was a 1996, so I went with that and description (5); and I selected description (4) and 2006 for the other candidate.

Finally, I staggered over to the third table, where the challenge was to identify the climate where the wine was made. Both the wines were from the same grape, but grown in parts of the world. Warmer climates, we were told, gave sweeter smelling and more alcoholic, fuller bodied wines. Here were the descriptions:

6) Appearance: Dark Red to Purple; Nose: Pronounced, Cassis, Sweet Cherry, Mint; Palate: Off Dry, High Tannin, Full Bodied, Blackcurrant, Toasty Oak.

7) Appearance: Deep Red with Garnet Edges; Nose: High Intensity, Cedar Musk, Blackcurrant; Palate: Off Dry, High Tannin, High Acidity, Full Body Sweet Cherry, Earth, Currant, Game.

8) Appearance: Tomato Red, Brown Edges; Nose: High Intensity, Sesame Seed, Gherkin; Palate: Sweetish, Lettuce Acidity, Deep Body, Lingering Black Pepper, Cheese, Onion, Meaty Notes.

penfolds I confess at once that I was totally boondoggled at this table. (I was also a bit peckish and weighed into a lamb & couscous dish, which further polluted my palate.) Both were dark dark wines. Was there a hint of pepper in one wine and not the other? Perhaps. I chose Cooler and description (8) for the first wine, and Warmer and description (7) for the second.

By that time, my head was spinning. There weren’t any spittoons, and the generous quantities of wine doled into my glass had sloshed their way through my bloodstream most effectively.

Francis Gimblett then announced the correct answers.

It turned out that I got all the qualities correct at table 1. From then on, it was all downhill. The exceptional Burgundy that we all liked turned out to be the younger one. At the third table, my choice of (8) for the wine had been repeated by many others. Gimblett rolled his eyes and explained that that was the description of the hamburger he had had that day for lunch.

One chap got all the answers right and was awarded a fine wine for his effort. I was troubled to see he was a Sikh. A Sikh! Drinking wine! Heresy! And then he guessed the price of yet another wine, and won that as well. I didn’t stay on to see if he would win the last challenge of all – to enumerate the nine grapes that account for the majority of the wines produced in the world. (If anyone knows what these grapes are, please feel free to list them.)

And here are the wines themselves:

  1. Étienne Sauzet Meursault Premier Cru 2007
  2. Étienne Sauzet Meursault Champs Canet 2007
  3. Echezeaux Domaine Rene Engel 2004
  4. Echezeaux Domaine Rene Engel 1996
  5. Peter Michael Les Pavots 1997 (California)
  6. Penfolds Bin 707 1997 (Australia)

That first Meursault and the 2004 Burgundy were the top of the heap. I’d like to get a bunch of them just so I can pretend to know all about them, but, boy, they sure cost a ton. My birthday will come up sooner or later, so, guys, there’s no need to think too much about what to get.



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