The winners of the Blind Tasting Challenge were:
Consumer – Wendy Spicknell – retired
Culinary – Murray Bancroft – chef
Wine Trade – Chris Turyk – Unsworth Winery
(One winner per category.)
Blind tasting is “the great leveler” is what host Tim Ellison told me after I’d just been humbled in the Vancouver International Wine Festival Blind Tasting Challenge. And he was right. You think you know what a wine varietal tastes like, but without having the bottle as reference your knowledge is quickly halved. Or, in my case quartered.
The tasting was held at the sumptuously-appointed Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, near Granville Island. Each table setting held 8 glasses and a 2 page test on which I was to add my name and email address in case I won. As if.
In his instructions about the one-hour test, Ellison warned, “Do make an effort to not copy down the person sitting next to you’s wrong answers, because you know they’re nowhere near as good as you are.”
I admit to glancing around once or twice to check out my neighbors answers and concluded that indeed they were wrong.
The first two glasses held white wines and they proved to be the only ones I guessed correctly.
The riesling was evident from its exotic fruit and snappy acidity, yet guessing the varietal was not enough. The test also asked questions like country and region of origin, plus multiple choice questions about the oak program, alcohol level, optimum serving temperature, vintage, as well as clues meant to either prompt of confuse us, like when the grapes were harvested (March/April or Sept/Oct). Pitfalls galore.
I said the riesling was from Okanagan, Canada only to find out it was an entry-level, petrol-free German riesling from Gunderloch, named Fritz. Ok, so I was close.
The second wine I almost totally aced, guessing it was a California chardonnay, fermented sur lees and with malolactic acid (some things are so obvious), but I blew it by checking “stainless fermented/oak barrel aged” instead of “oak fermented/oak aged.” The wine was a 2010 Napa Valley chardonnay from Antica.
Wine number 3 was the first red wine, and I disliked it immediately. It was so lacking in focus and body, that out of desperation I called it a gamay from Vancouver Island. (No offense, islanders!) Turns out it was a Borgogne Pinot Noir from Louis Latour. But knowing the producer is a historic one does not make the wine taste better.
The next wine was a Mission Hill 2009 SLC Merlot, which I called a pinot noir from Chile. Ack!
For number 5, I fell into a trap that always gets me: confusing a cabernet with a syrah. I called this one a syrah blend from Australia when it was the 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Rodney Strong in Sonoma County. Ok, so it was technically a blend with a little malbec and merlot, but imagine my shame of not recognizing a wine from my old neighborhood!
The next wine was a shiraz, a Tyrell’s Rufus Stone Heathcote Shiraz, but I called it a sangiovese blend from the Puglia region of Italy. Oy-vey!
Wine #7 I almost got correct. Using the clue of “Name the other country where this grape variety is also planted and dominates exports,” I called it a Malbec from Cahors, France with Argentina as the “other country.” Only two people guessed it was a Tannat from Ch. Montus Madiran Brumont and I kicked myself for not going with my first inclination. Still, kinda close.
The last wine was rather young, sweet and cheap tasting, so I assumed it was a Languedoc grenache blend. In fact, it was the Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo Salento from Puglia, Italy. My only consolation here was that I’d identified the other wine as being from Puglia.
After the blind tasting and the winemakers revealed the wines, there were more groans than “Yesss!” so I don’t feel alone in my 25% score. This is only the third time I’d sat in on a formal blind tasting, but I’ve decided it won’t be my last.
Later, we were treated to a hors d’oeuvres buffet prepared by the institute’s students, which was a sweet consolation prize. I was able to chat with Rick Sayre of Rodney Strong and he told me how he felt BC was a really great international market for wine.
As I glanced around at the enthusiastic tasters I understood what he meant. BC really is a real multi-culti wine market, with a lot of sophisticated tasters and wine professionals who appreciate and celebrate the vast wine world. I realized I’d rather go blind than to have it any different.
Come back later for more reporting on the Vancouver International Wine Festival including my next post, about where wine meets hockey. These are two of my favorite things!