Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blind tastings

In early December, I took part in a blind tasting of about 20 syrah/shiraz wines from various regions. Majority of the wines were from California, Australia, France and South Africa. This is generally the best way to conduct learn about regional differences in wine, using a selection of wines made from the same varietal from assorted regions, and comparing their differences. When you blind taste a totally random assortment of wines, you might learn differences in grape varietals, but won’t gather much insight into regions and their varying styles.

Anyway, by about half way through the tasting, the distinctive flavor profile of each region was very apparent. The Australian wines, mostly from Barossa, had an easily identifiable (over) ripe cherry and eucalyptus flavor. The wines from France, mostly northern Rhone wines, had an earthy substance and dry, chalky finish. The Californian wines were very ripe, with a distinctive liquorice hint to them. And the South African wines were a straight down-the-middle balance between Californian and French styles: ripe fruit with a slightly earthier feel.

Overall, the unanimous opinion was that each region offered some great wines, that the Australian and Californian wines were easily drinkable, if a little unrefined, and that the French and South African wines offered more balanced and impressive choices. And the group wasn’t a bunch of wine professionals, but included some first time tasters, so these findings were interesting.

Not everyone can buy 20 bottles of wine and taste them all at one sitting, but I think if most of us did this, we’d be surprised by what we preferred in the end. Certain wines offer great satisfaction initially, but upon later reflection seem a little showy, but shallow. In the end, the wines that appeared a little subtle at first, turned out to offer greater long-term enjoyment.


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