Experimenting with the blind tasting order

If you have organized a blind tasting before, chances are high that you will have prepared wines from white to rosé ro red, and from light to heavy. To start with white before red makes perfect sense of course. Although you might come across wineries in Bourgogne who will present their reds before the whites, in Meursault for example. And I have experienced myself that to have a white, rosé or sparkling wine after a series of reds can be nice and useful to “cleanse” your palate, especially if the reds are quite powerful and tannic. But in general white goes before red.

When you come to the order of the reds , things can get slightly more difficult. The basic idea is to start with light and move gradually to more powerful and structured reds. The reason for this this is pretty obvious : if you have a young, structured Bordeaux before a Burgundy, you might miss some of the nuances of the latter. Especially the build up of tannins in your mouth makes it difficult to appreciate the structure and the quality of the tannins of a lighter wine. Chewing on bread and drinking water in between wines will help, but in general you will try and build up from light to powerful.

One issue, however, that I have come across regularly in tastings, is the contrast between ripe and fresh in red wines. What do I mean with that? Let’s take the example of Burgundy again : if you follow the basic guidelines, you will want to start with the Burgundy (so a pinot noir) before you move to wines with more body/alcohol or wines with more tannins. My experience is that it works, as long as you stay in the same category of “freshness”. If you move from a Burgundy to a Loire Cabernet Franc and then to a Bordeaux, for example, that will perfectly work out. It’s more difficult when you move from a fresh, cool-climate style of wine to something riper. The last time I experienced that was when I had a glass of Valpolicella Superiore after I came home from a tasting of Loire Cabernet Franc. The Valpolicella came across as sweet, something I had not experienced when I drank that wine before. Normally I would perceive the fruit of the Valpolicella as ripe, but in balance with the acidity. When I had it after the Loire Cabernet Franc, I perceived it as sweet, round, and lacking tension. We’re talking about the same wine!

So when I had a blind tasting at my place last week with two Burgundy lovers, I decided to experiment a bit with the order. I reckoned that if I put the riper wines before the  fresher, more elegant wines, the riper wines would show well and there would not be a negative effect on the fresher wines that followed.

These are the red wines I gave :

  1. The Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore 2016 of Stefano Mancinelli. (in my previous blog post you can read that these are very aromatic wines, with loads of ripe fruit)
  2. The Valpolicella Superiore 2014 of Roccolo Grassi, also relatively ripe, but very nicely balanced.
  3. The Barolo Ascheri 2015 of Reverdito, a very typical Barolo with ripe red fruit, and strong tannins.
  4. The Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2012 of Charlopin, the most elegant in the line-up with nice strawberries, relatively ripe though for a Burgundy.

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I gave the wines in this order. And as I had hoped for, the Italian wines were appreciated at their true value and were even lauded for their freshness. My two companions being absolute Burgundy lovers, I knew it was not obvious that they would like the Italian wines, especially the Valpolicella, which was the same wine that I found sweet after a Loire Cabernet Franc. So the experiment was successful! Almost…

If I could re-do the tasting, I would probably change one thing. I would put the Barolo last instead of the Gevrey-Chambertin. You can probably guess why : the tannins. The Gevrey was ready to drink and did not have very strong tannins. The Barolo, however, had tightened up a couple of hours after opening. The wine was actually very balanced and accessible just after opening the bottle. A few hours later the tannins had become quite prominent, very much typical Barolo tannins. And that made the transition to the Gevrey less smooth than I had wished.

That goes to show that reversing the order will not always work. I would not start with a very structured Australian Shiraz to finish with a fragile Burgundy. But you can play with the order of a couple of red wines in your line-up. If both wines have a tannin level that is more or less equivalent, and one has riper fruit than the other, then try putting the riper one first. And let me now if that worked!

 

 

 

 

New Etna Rosso finds

It’s about two years ago now (time flies!) that I took a closer look at Etna Rosso and recommended a few wines I liked. As I like to explore new things, I haven’t had Etna Rosso for a while, but recently I felt like going back to these intriguing wines. What I already mentioned in my previous post about Etna Rosso is confirmed in the wines I had this time as well : there is not one profile for Etna Rosso. Terroir and vintage are usually elements that are given to explain the differences, but my impression is that the style of the winery is just as important.

Here are three Etna Rossos I can wholeheartedly recommend :

ER 2014, Etna Rosso, Theresa Eccher

2014 is considered a difficult year for Italy, but things turned out relatively well for Sicily. Decanter’s Michael Garner describes the Etna Rossos of this vintage as balanced and perfumed, delicious to drink young. Theresa Eccher’s ER is very light in color. There is already some evolution here, the red fruit no longer being the freshly cut fruit that was probably there a couple of years ago. A hint of coffee, cedar, and a fresh, leafy herbaceousness give this wine an elegant and fresh profile. This is a very light type of Etna Rosso, for sure not one that is built to last. If the comparison with Burgundy is one that you often hear for Etna Rosso, then it is certainly applicable for this one. If you have this vintage, drink up, it’s in a nice spot now, and will not get better.

Nero Nibali 2015, Etna Rosso, Vino Nibali

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Very aromatic, the ripe red fruit comes floating out of the glass. There is a spiciness that reminds me of curry powder, and a hint of barnyard that adds to the complexity of the wine. A touch of noble cedar wood makes it complete. At this stage the wine is still very much fruit driven, but there is a structure behind it all that the ER of Theresa Eccher did not have. The tannins are ripe and give a bit of bite, which I like. Despite that, the global feeling I have here is one of satin softness. The savoury spiciness sets this wine very much apart from Theresa Eccher’s Etna Rosso. Beautiful!

Archineri 2012, Etna Rosso, Pietradolce

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Very ripe nose, with dried fruit, plum, spices, cigar. Very luscious wine, with also a hint of black chocolate in the background, kept sufficiently fresh by a good acidic backbone. The ripe/fresh contrast is quite big, but it works out well, the two keeping each other nicely in balance. If I didn’t know what this was, I might have guessed this was a Brunello… 2012 was a very hot vintage, so this could explain the very ripe fruit here. I am curious to try other vintages of this wine. Being able to deliver a wine in balance in such a hot vintage clearly proves craftmanship!

Conclusion :

Three different styles but three lovely wines. It was nice to reconnect with these volcanic wines and to see that the quality of these randomly bought bottles was very good . The focus on Etna wines these days does not only reflect a hype, but also the fact that this is simply a region that produces great wines.

Blaufränkisch : the Austrian parade horse

 

If zweigelt is regarded as the « easier » red Austrian wine, then blaufränkisch is seen as the grape with most potential. The parade horse, as the Austrian magazine Falstaff calls it. In general it produces wines that are medium to full-bodied, quite aromatic, spicy, and have a good acidic backbone. It’s mainly produced in Burgenland, which is in the east of Austria, most quality wines coming from those parts of the country. There are three different appellations or DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus – who invented this name?!) in Burgenland where blaufränkisch is either the only or the dominant grape for red wines.

Leithaberg is the most northern one, followed by Mittelburgenland, and then Eisenberg in the south. Burgenland lies at the west side of the Pannonian plain, a big basin in Central Europe, which means that the climate is decidedly continental, so hot summers and cold winters.

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The red area is Burgenland (map from http://www.austrianwine.com)

Leithaberg is the most northern DAC of the three DACs in Burgenland where blaufränkisch dominates and has a soil that’s rich in slate (= schiefer) and limestone. This is supposed to produce elegant and mineral wines with a good acidic structure. The two wines below are from that region but don’t actually carry the DAC classification. Not sure why though.

Blaufränkisch Fölligberg 2014, Weingut Leberl

The first aroma I have is rather lactic, like forest fruit yogurt. Then some peppernut, tobacco, a bit of smoke, and black cherries. The wine is fresh and quite structured with bold but ripe tannins. Ends with a chocolate bitter. A noble wine, but it deserves further cellaring. Contrary to what you’d expect from Leithaberg, no minerality here though. The vineyard is situated on a hill called Fölligberg, where there is a lot of clay. Maybe this explains the more powerful character of this wine.

Blaufränkisch vom Kalk 2015, Weingut Altenburger

Very refined and noble aromas coming from the glass. Blond tobacco, fresh cherries, and yes, a bit of minerality! These aromas remind me somewhat of a good Beaujolais, or even Burgundy. The wine starts fresh and ends fresh, and is nicely structured by the fine tannins. Very elegant, very fresh. This wine reflects the reputation of Leithaberg. Markus Altenburger is specialized in blaufränkisch and has a hands-off approach, not using selected yeasts for example. I would definitely like to try more from this winery!

Mittelburgenland is, quite logically as the name suggests, in the middle of Burgenland… It has a heavier, loamy soal. Add to that a minimum of 300 days of sunshine and only 600mm rainfall per year and you have a recipe for richer, more concentrated wines. 

Blaufränkisch von Lehm 2016, Gesellmann

Ripe forest fruit, cedar wood, a minty touch. The wine is very smooth, not overly powerful, rather medium-bodied with good acidity. Goes down very easily, pleasant to drink.

Blaufrankisch 7301, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer 2015.

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Probably meant as a quaffer, but I enjoyed this very much!

The nose seduces with its black fruit, underwood, and a touch of tobacco. This wine is very light on its feet, joyful an yet nicely structured. The finish is carried by the refreshing acidity. This is lovely! While this is an entry level wine, it is better than average and makes you pour another glass as soon as the first is finished. Great drinking pleasure. One of my personal favorites.

Blaufränkisch 2015 Mittelburgenland DAC Gold Reserve, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer

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This is the premium blaufränkisch of the same winery as the 7301. It has a very luxurious and luscious nose with ripe red fruit, cedar wood, it really jumps out of the glass. The wine is ripe, has a lot of fruit, kept in balance by the refreshing acidity. Black chocolate in the background gives it more depth. This is very approachable as it is now, no need to put this wine away. I cannot help thinking, though, that this wine is a bit “made” and perhaps a tad too easy for its price (+/-25€). Still, I can drink this anytime…

Eisenberg is the furthest down south of the Burgenland DACs. The landscape here is more hilly and slate dominates the soil on the hills. At the foot of the hills there is more ferrous loam, giving more powerful wines while the wines of the hills should be more elegant and mineral.

Blaufränkisch Ried Weinberg 2015, Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Kopfensteiner

This wine does not come from one of the hills but a plateau with heavy loam soil. Cherry liquor, cedar wood, a bit of caramel. The mouth feel is warm and the tannins are rather harsh. The high acidity gives freshness, but this is not my favorite blaufränkisch to be honest.

Food pairing

With all these wines of blaufränkisch I was curious what would match well with them. Duck was a pairing I found on several websites, so off I went to buy duck fillet, or magret de canard.

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Perfectly cooked duck, even if I say so myself!

I made the duck with a mash of celeriac and sautéed greens. The duck had a very powerful, earthy taste. We had the blaufränkisch of Gesellmann and Kopfensteiner with it :

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Even though the wines went relatively well with the duck, I somehow felt that a heavier wine would have been better. I rarely drink Cahors (= malbec) but here I could perfectly picture a good glass of black wine with my duck. The combination with the Kopfensteiner was a perfect illustration, however, of how red meat can completely absorb the tannins of a wine. This blaufränkisch had quite harsh tannins that made the wine not so pleasant without food. With the duck, though, all tannins were gone…

So, conclusion? I thoroughly enjoyed these wines of blaufränkisch. They are hardly ever heavy. Even if they are concentrated and structured, most of them have beautiful fruit and great mouthwatering acidity that make these wines approachable and digestible. In fact, with the trend away from very concentrated oak-driven wines, I am convinced there is a market for blaufränkisch. Another argument for blaufränkisch is that the qualit of the entry-level wines is already quite good, so if you spend 10-15€ on a blaufränkisch, chances are high that you will have a wine that is very pleasant and offers a good price quality ratio. Chances of finding that in Burgundy, for example, very low… Speaking of which, I am not going to pretend that blaufränkisch is an alternative for Burgundy pinot noir, but there were a few that made me think of a fruit-forward pinot noir, like the ones they make in New-Zealand for example. You might find it a bit hard to find these wines though. Even though there are quite a few shops where you will find a grüner veltliner or a zweigelt, if you want to buy a selection of blaufränkisch, you will have to revert to webshops. Or be lucky that you have a specialized shop in your neighborhood. But if you find a bottle, give it a try, and as always, let me know what you think!

Enjoy!