Sunday, March 27, 2011

March Madness! Wine Tournament

No, really. My friend Don created a fun basketball-style bracket for a single-elimination wine tournament, and we were lucky enough to attend last night. Thanks to the lovely Lisa, all wines were tasted blind (in decanters, each with a unique ribbon, and only she knew which wine was in which decanter).

There were four regions (and two wines in each region, for a total of eight wines): West (California) vs North (Oregon/Washington) and

South (Latin America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand) vs East (France, Germany, Spain, Italy) The winners were poured off then, against each other, and after three rounds we were done.

All wines must cost more than $30 retail.

Side note: Horatio brought an entire roast pig from Uwajamaya (apparently they have three different cooking methods: Hawaiian, Asian, and ???). Somebody carved it and we enjoyed it immensely. What a great hostess gift! You have to get past that head, though . . . ;)

West started out, where my wine (Hartford's Russian River Zin) fell to a wine that turned out to be a real surprise: Madrigal's Petit sirah. Who knew that neither CA wine would be a cab or cab blend? My Zin wasn't quite opened up when it lost; later it had by far the best aromatics of the group and was delicious; everyone agreed; I think it might have been first or second overall if we re-ran the tasting once it was at its peak.

East featured two Italian wines: A Barolo and a Barbaresco. One of them was corked (smelled of wet moldy cardboard); I see very, very few corked wines. Someone said it's more of a problem in places like Colorado, where the extreme low humidity allows more gas exchange past the cork. The other seemed thin to me. I have Barolos laid down because they're supposed to be great after twenty years or so, but this one didn't do it for me.

South was fun: The eventual runner-up was a Chilean Cab; very good wine. The wine it beat really opened up later and could have been the overall winner at that point: An Aussie Shiraz.

North had the winner: L'ecole No. 41 Apogee. It beat a 2008 Oregon Pinot noir. It's a good wine but I think there are many better from Walla Walla. However, again we see the quality of WA wines, versus CA and lots of other places.

My tasting successes:
1. I think I was the first person who correctly identified that it was a Pinot (a difficult choice, as it was very young and had enough grip to pose as a thin Cab, strange as that sounds). Also I was sure the North winner was a Cab blend (telltale leather and purple fruits in the nose). I was sure both Europeans were Italian wines--the Sangiovese's high acid was a giveaway, and both wines were too thin in a way that I see in Italy.
2. I recognized my own wine immediately.
3. I knew that we weren't drinking from France or Spain, nor a Malbec from Argentina.
4. I did not, however, detect the Aussie Shiraz. Syrah has such a wide range that it can fool you, and I just don't know Shiraz from Oz well enough yet. Also, the wine was completely shut down and easily lost its first round, but later it was amazing. And I had no idea the CA winner was a Petit Sirah. You must admit that was kind of a curveball.

Some stuff I learned:
1. The timing of when you drink a wine, after it's been opened, is critical. If you chug through a glass in short order you probably will never know what the wine is capable of. It is more critical than I realized to get a wine (especially a younger one) fully aired out and to let it rest on air for a long time; only then will it show itself fully. We saw this with the Zin and the Shiraz. However, the Chilean Cab was heading down when it lost in round three. Nobody puts the "opening/closing" cycle on a label, so how are we to know? Best practice is pour your wine early and let it sit in the glass for a long time, then begin tasting and smelling it and observe how it is changing. Start drinking it faster when it reaches an impressive point (if it does). If it starts falling, finish it immediately. I cannot count how many times I have gotten tipsy at a dinner and for no special reason, towards the end, my wine just sits for a long time in its glass. Later when I go back to it, it has evolved and sometimes is much more fantastic. If we swig from our glasses quickly, we miss out on those special moments. Learn to savor! Be patient! Wine needs to be coddled, until it must finally be converted from a bottle to a memory.

2. A retailer I spoke with thinks that many newer wineries will fail soon, but he expects them to be snapped up into larger corporate ownership, rather than just torn down. This will likely result in more homogeneity of the wine, with fewer craft makers asserting their unique stamps on the wines. Overall, a bad thing for wine consumers. Commoditization has some benefits, such as lower average prices, but the loss of individuality will hurt.

Thanks to Don and Lisa for a great wine event!

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