It was MLK day, and between the extreme cold and my sick wife, I’d spent the last several days in the house. I needed to get out, and I had a meeting at 5:30 anyway, so I left home a little early and went to Trio, a local cocktail bar owned by the same people who own V. Mertz which is, in my estimation, Omaha’s single best restaurant.
I walked into Trio and was surprised to see a group of local Somms of various credential and professional walk all lining the bar with crystal stemware, notepads, and brown-bagged wine in front of them. As you might expect, one of them was muttering softly about his observations while the rest listened in rapt contemplation of his words. It was like walking into a library; I immediately knew to hush. I sat down at the bar and listened, and when my friend Matthew came out from the back, he introduced me to the group, poured me a splash of the wine they’d been concentrating on, and asked me to join in. I hadn’t been planning on tasting that day, but I was’t about to miss an opportunity like this.
I recognized a lot of the tasters from various industry events. They run local wine bars or work for local distributors. They’re sharp, dedicated industry professionals, and I felt a bit out-classed. As I was seated at the end of the bar, I had a chance to taste the wine while the rest announced with varying degrees of certainty what they thought the wine was. All said old world, and most thought the wine was young — within five years. I agreed on both points, swishing the wine around in my mouth without the benefit of the previous five minutes of discussion. A majority landed on Saint-Emilion, a Right Bank region in Bordeaux that would make the wine Merlot-based. Merlot, I thought casually to myself. Is it soft enough? Nah. I think this is Cab Sauv. I think this is from Pauillac. As I had just arrived, Matthew didn’t ask me to state what I thought the wine was. I may have muttered “Pauillac” to myself, but if so, nobody heard.
The bag came off and, as you can see, I shoulda said something. Really though, I just got lucky. I might have looked brilliant, walking in and accurately blinding the wine that nobody else got, but it would have been a facade. Maybe I just like saying “Pauillac.” “Pwee-ack.” (Say it with me.) I had my reasons for thinking the wine was Cab, or at least not Merlot, but at the end of the day blinding wine is quite difficult and I’m far from good at it… yet. I was eager for the opportunity to do more of it. I joined in for the next wines.
In the tasting that followed, this time expressing my thoughts aloud to the group, I proceeded to place a Brunello di Montalcino in Southern Rhone, call a Mendocino County Pinot Noir a Columbia Valley Syrah, label an Alsatian Gewürztraminer a white Burgundy despite its obvious nose and, just for good measure, guessed that a particularly smooth, blue fruit-laden Argentine Malbec a Washington State Merlot. Batting zero, that’s me. Hey, at least I generally landed in the correct hemisphere, eh?
I didn’t take a detailed tasting note on the Chateau Gaudin, the one I thought correctly was Pwee-ack. I wasn’t really in a tasting mindset when I walked in and I didn’t have anything with me to write on. Excuses really. But the thing I’ll say is that, to me, this wine tasted like Pauillac, and while I failed to correctly identify a single other varietal or region for the rest of the afternoon, let alone producer of vintage, the vague notion that a wine tasted like, well, like terroir to me, like a Cabernet-centric blend from the Left Bank of Bordeaux, well, it suggests that maybe my palate isn’t the complete and utter lost cause that I sometimes worry it might be.
As I’ve remarked upon in prior blogs, I’ve watched some truly excellent sommeliers miss the mark by whole hemispheres and whole decades on more than one occasion. The fun part is I’m learning. With the Alsatian Gewurz, I actually said to Matthew, who is the most accomplished Somm I personally know, before calling it Chablis that “The nose makes me want to call it Gewürztraminer, but the palate is throwing me.” This lead to a very informative conversation about the various characteristics that Gewürztraminer grapes can take on, depending on all the usual factors that make wine unique. I learned a lot on my accidental blind tasting yesterday, and to me it’s the learning that makes wine so much fun.
Cheers to having more to learn,