You probably could have guessed that Robert Parker isn’t at high risk for becoming unemployed anytime soon without me explicitly stating it, but I thought I should clear up that I’m not after his job, in case there develops any rampant speculation on that topic in the future.
This is because I have never been, am not, and will never be a Wine Tasting Maven.
The point was driven home to me quite clearly and forcefully last week at the 2010 Premiere Napa Valley’s Perspective Tasting, held on two floors (Chardonnays on the top floor, Cabs on the bottom floor) in the meticulously kept sensory analysis classrooms at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. To put it mildly, tasting three successive comparative vintages of Napa cabs and Chards, blind, lined up one after another in a mostly white, sterile environment was the equivalent of having a joy vacuum attached to my wine-loving soul and turned on full-blast.
Sterile. Quiet. Introverted. Not a drip of social aspect or drop of true enjoyment in sight.
I briefly contemplated the alternative activity of banging my head against the CIA’s gorgeous walls of earthtoned, irregular stones, until I bled and then passed out. As it turned out, I tasted some wines instead (more on the specific wines in a minute. Or two.). But I didn’t truly taste them – not the way I’d define ‘truly tasting’, anyway.
This isn’t the fault of the wines, vintners, CIA, or the other tasting participants – it’s my fault, without a single shred of doubt. I am simply incapable of tasting wine – I mean, really tasting it – that analytically. I’m sure that Parker could rip through that scenario in record time and then, just for shits and giggles, quiz himself on the merits of the 92-96 point scoring wines in the bunch 11 years later. I watched friend and fellow symposium attendee and panelist Alder Yarrow sniff, spit, and scribble his way through every single one of the dozens of numbered carafes on display in the blind Cab tasting, as if he were a pleasant, well-poised, humanoid-shaped and purple-toothed machine.
I will never be that guy.
And I never want to be that guy…
Which isn’t to say that Alder and Parker have got it wrong, just different of course, and if my inability to power through a blind tasting will forever doom me to B-list wine writer status, then so be it. I feel confident that I can do a lot of things, but I can’t change who I am.
And what I am is someone for whom wine appreciation has to involve a measure of social connection – be it to the earth, to another person, another place, a plate of food. Connection is the name of my game, and my participation in Premiere Napa Valley has cemented that focus in my brain indelibly. The guy who prizes connections, who remembers the individual vino that made his toes curl (good and bad), who needs soul in his wine tasting experience.
Yeah, I am that guy.
I’m not dissing blind tasting, of course – it has its merits and if it’s your job to critically and clinically evaluate wines, then I can think of no better way to go about it. But for me, I’m sure as shit not enjoying myself when the volume of brown-bagged wines starts to creep up into higher numbers; into the “let’s make a job out of this” territory.
I do enjoy blind tastings from time-to-time, specifically because they often rev up the surprise-o-meter into the red – rarely do I walk away from a blind tasting without preferring at least one wine brand that made me take notice of – or in some cases totally reconsider – the producer. Here are some of the wines that I sampled at the Premiere NV Perspective tasting that pleasantly caught my tongue (and nostrils):
Chardonnays (2006, 2007, & 2008 vintages tasted):
- Beringer Vineyards 2008 – oozing with tropical fruits, balanced and while it finished a little hot, it’s not too hot.
- Rutherford Hill Winery 2008 – Prettier than many in the tasting, and it helped to set a theme for me (in that I preferred the 2008s on display to their earlier counterparts, many of which were clearly oxidative… and we weren’t supposed to be tasting sherries).
- Shafer Vineyards 2006 – an exception to my 2008 preference, this beauty brought some serious acid structure to the party.
Cabernet Sauvignons (2005, 2006, & 2007 vintages tasted):
- Pride Mountain Vineyards 2006 – They’ve hyped the hell out of the 2007 vintage for Napa Cabs, but by-and-large I found the 2007s in this tasting to be downright brutish and, in quite a few cases, clumsy; not poorly made, just not delivering a consistent, harmonious profile from nose to finish. Pride’s `07 was a nice exception and had very good tannic balance, but I still preferred their 2006 with its deep, deep, deeeeeep black cherry fruit action.
- Silverado Vineyards 2006 – One of the most supple of the entire Cab bunch, with tons of blueberry but still having a balanced “attack.”
- Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery 2006 – If you were looking for a Bordeaux-like Cab, then you would have been in the wrong room during this tasting; that is, until you hit this wine. I was struck by how brilliantly structured this wine seemed, and that it could easily have been overlooked for not being ‘”lush enough” for a Napa Cab. But if Napa can produce more wines like this, you wouldn’t hear me complaining one bit.
There you have it – some surprises, at least for me. Will I stop blind tasting entirely? Of course not – mostly because often times I don’t have a choice in the matter. I may have to do it, but I don’t have to like it…