Calibration Tasting Time, Thanks to Mirassou Sunset Red

2013-06-19 20.07.19Truth be told, we’ve never been big fans of the whole pay for play phenomenon – where companies send bloggers their products in exchange for a nice blurb or review. Blame it on Anne’s journalistic background, where there was this virtual firewall between the content and the advertising sides of the business. Or there was supposed to be.

And then, one of Anne’s colleagues from Generation Fabulous. Chloe Jeffreys, hooked up with a publicist for Mirassou wines and Chloe asked Anne (and the other GenFab women) to help out. Well, gee. If there’s wine involved, we’re always ready to lend a hand.

So while we don’t normally accept wine samples for review, we thought what the heck, and since Mirassou is widely-available and retails for around $12, why not write it up as a calibration tasting?

What, you ask, is a calibration tasting? It’s a way to kick sand in the metaphorical face of wine snobs who think that there is only one way to taste wine. Reality check, no two tongues (or noses) experience flavor in exactly the same way. So if Mike is tasting cherries and you’re thinking, “I’m tasting raspberry. What’s wrong with me?” there is absolutely nothing wrong. Yours and Michael’s tongue just perceive the given wine in different ways. And let’s not even get into what Anne does or does not taste. So a calibration tasting is where we write up what Mike tasted and you compare it to what you tasted, so you know that when Michael tasted cherries, you’re most likely going to taste raspberries and then when we do tasting notes, they will make more sense to you because you can substitute what you taste for what we write.

Okay. So the wine re received for review was the Mirassou 2011 Sunset Red blend, and it is an interesting one, too. For one thing, it’s a blend of pinot noir, merlot and zinfandel. Now, you won’t see it on the label too often, but it’s not all that unusual for winemakers to add a bit of zin to punch up the fruit flavors in some wines. Keep in mind, wineries can call a wine by a single variety name, such as cabernet sauvignon, as long as at least 75 percent of the wine came from that grape. So there could be up to 25 percent zinfandel in that cab sauv, but the winery doesn’t have to say so.

That being said, nobody, but nobody blends pinot noir. For one thing, it’s too expensive. Or folks are just too persnickety about the variety. It doesn’t mean that pinot noir can’t be blended or shouldn’t be blended. It just very rarely is. Which is something that makes the Sunset Red stand out right there.

What we got was a very nice party wine, with a dark color. The nose also presented with some black or blue berry. In short, both color and nose were zin-like without the icky jamminess that Anne so violently despises. Flavor-wise, Michael picked up on cherry, vanilla and berry flavors and some nice acidity, although that eventually opened up after an hour or so and lost the acidity in favor of more fruit and creamy richness. All in all, it was a very nice party wine, in that it tastes really good by itself, but it can still (especially when first opened) stand up to a nice salad and grilled steak.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

 

 

 

BV Coastal Estates 2008 Chardonnay

We served the wine at a brisk 61 degrees with fish and chips.  The color was clear and golden like a chardonnay should be, and Michael got citrus and melon in the nose. The first taste had a nice medium weight and crispness that suggested the wine had been fermented in steel tanks. Nonetheless, there was the spice of applied oak, meaning oak used as an ingredient instead of to cover one or more faults. The finish was decent but not long.

Just like the cabernet we mentioned earlier, these are decent wines for midweek meals or occasions where wine may not receive the time and attention it deserves. When was the last time you really noticed the sea salt or extra-virgin olive oil in the meal you bolted down before the PTA or town hall meeting?  But these wines do fill that gap in your palate when you want a glass as part of a relaxing meal before dashing off to that next committee meeting or the kids’ latest recital.  Or both.

Fetzer Valley Oaks 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Calibration Tasting

Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Hopland area of Mendocino County. The grapes come from many different vineyards, so forget terroir.  Any trace of locality is impossible to detect.

For your calibration purposes, we drank the wine with a black bean soup.  The soup was good and hot, but the wine was 72 degrees.  Anne had opened the bottle several hours earlier to use as part of the soup.

The color was very deep ruby.  The nose had a cassis – black currant – tinge to it along with a warm mulling spice hint as well.  The mouthfeel – how weighty or thick the wine feels in the mouth – was thin without any viscosity.

There was sufficient acids in the wines to cut through simple tomato sauces or the beef stock in our bean soup.  Still, the acids were somewhat out of balance – meaning there was more acid than fruit behind it and the alcohol was drying at the back of the palate.  Tannins – the puckery astringency common to barrels and fruity wines in general – were less of an issue.  Lower tannins make it easier to drink a wine sooner, so this wine is not a candidate for storage.  And speaking of balance, the percentage of alcohol, at 13.5%, is technically rather moderate (and downright paltry compared to some high-alcohol fruit bombs popular today), but it was still slightly noticeable in the mouth.

The bottom line is the Fetzer is a decent Tuesday night spaghetti wine with no pretensions of greatness.  Let’s face it, there are plenty of nights, like when you’re pooped and grumpy and a great bottle of wine just wouldn’t be appreciated. These are the nights for the Fetzer Valley Oaks.

It’s Calibration Time!

This week we’re doing a new calibration tasting.  What’s that, you ask?  Well, since we firmly believe that wine is a subjective experience, tasting notes by themselves can only tell you so much.  After all, say we write that we caught some cherry in the nose, and some light tannins on the finish.  So then you try that exact same wine and smell raisin and get some acid, instead.  Does that mean we don’t know what we’re writing about?  Does it mean you don’t know how to taste wine?

It means neither of those things.  The reality of any tasting experience is that different people catch different things – which is perfectly okay.  But it does make it a little weird when we write cherry and you don’t taste or smell cherry.

So to make life easier, on a quarterly basis (starting now), we’re going to do calibration tastings.  We have bought two wines that should be readily available in most supermarkets.  We’ll post one on Wednesday and the other on Friday.  You can buy the same wines, taste them yourself and see how we compare.  So that way, when we write cherry, you’ll know that you’re likely to taste raisin.  Or whatever.

In fact, if you want to buy your wines before Wednesday, why don’t you do your tasting notes before we post?  Then, please, comment.  We’d love to hear what you came up with.  After all, that’s what makes wine so wonderful.

And the wines are the BV Coastal Estates Chardonnay, 2008, and the Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007.  If you have trouble finding these, please let us know.  It will help for the next calibration.

One final note, on the whole issue of of reviewing, please note that we buy our wines and pay for most of our tastings.  About the only time we’ll use our press credentials is to get into a major group event, such as Hospice du Rhone (assuming we get the credentials for that one).  And we’ll generally let you know when we did get into an event on a press pass.  Part of that is Anne’s professional journalist background, and part of that is simple fair play.  We do not accept advertising from individual wineries for that reason.  Just so you know.

Calibration Time, Blackstone Cabernet Sauvignon

s6300012The tasting calibration continues with the Blackstone Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. And again, this isn’t about us telling you what we think this wine should taste like. This is about you tasting this or a similar wine so that you know what we’re talking about when we mention, say, hints of cassis, one of the “standard” flavors for cabs.

So what the heck is cassis (pronounced cah-seess)? Well, turns out it’s a black currant plant, currants being the small, dark berries found on this particular shrub. The French make a liqueur from them called creme the nose, although it’s not too heavy. That’s the cassis. Michael also picked up some dark cherry in the smell, as well. The color is a really dark ruby.

Michael also caught some bing cherry on the back of his palate. At the same time, there was that light drying effect from tde cassis. Currants also taste a lot like raisins, in our humble opinion.

In fact, you can get some of that almost raisiny scent in he tannins in the wine, which is often described as “cleansing the palate.” The finish was decent, the flavor lingered for about 10 seconds. And overall, there’s a bit of oak in the wine, but not enough to get in the way of the fruit. That being said, the wine isn’t a fruit bomb, either, meaing all fruit and little else.

We figure this will do nicely as a food wine, maybe with a steak or a nice garlicky stew. But there is enough fruit that it does stand on its own – what we usually will call a cocktail wine. In fact, Anne argues that it’s closer to a cocktail wine.

So let us know what you come up with. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Anne Louise Bannon
Michael Holland

Syncing up with Fetzer Chard

Overall, the Fetzer Vineyards 2008 Valley Oaks Chardonnay is a pretty basic chard. It’s light – the sort of wine that’s good with salads, a simple roast chicken, perhaps, or a light sole or even some creamy pasta sauces. You just don’t want to pair it with anything terribly strong-flavored, like a dish heavy on the garlic.

Here’s what we found:

The color was a clear, straw-colored yellow. The nose (or aroma) turned up some hints of melon, a little bit of citrus and light oak. The mouthfeel was fairly lush – it’s not the sort of wine we’d call a gulper. But there wasn’t much of a finish, as in the flavors didn’t hang around in the mouth once the wine was swallowed.

The taste followed through on the hint of melon, with some tropical fruit flavors added to that. There was a bit of oak, some nice light acid and light tannins – that dry, almost rough feeling on the back of your palate.

Now, it’s your turn. Find the Fetzer chard, or if you can’t, try some other light chardonnay. Don’t spend a lot of money. Taste it, then post comments on what you found.

Anne Louise Bannon
Michael Holland

It’s Calibration Week! Start Your Bottles

The winery’s tasting notes called the smell in their wine “gaminess.”  Michael wrote down “barnyard.”  Anne just wrinkled her nose and said, “Ooo.  Ick.”  Someone could have said, “Wow, that’s great!”

All of us would be right.  Or correct.

Tasting wine is an inherently subjective process.  And Napa-centric snobs notwithstanding, any wine you like makes it a good wine.  True, there are certain characteristics that most people seem to agree make wine taste good.  And there are certain smells and tastes that distinguish different grapes (aka varietals).  But the way we might describe a basic cabernet sauvignon is not necessarily the way you would describe it.

So this week  we will be doing a calibration tasting.  We have purchased two wines that should be available around the U.S. (we got them at Target – although we recognize not every state in the Union allows wine to be sold there).  The first is a Fetzer Vineyards, Valley Oaks Chardonnay, 2008.  It should retail between $10 and $15,  unless you catch it on sale, like we did.  The second (coming in around the same price point) is a Blackstone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

You are invited to buy the same wines – or as close to them as you can get and taste along with us.  On Wednesday, we’ll post the chardonnay notes and you can compare what you tasted to what we tasted.  The idea is that if we say, “this chard has a nice pineapple tang,” and you tasted peach, then you’ll know that when we say pineapple about some other chardonnay, you’ll probably taste peach.  And if you like peach, then you’ll possibly like that wine.  And, of course, Friday, we’ll do the cab sauv.

Now, what if you taste the wine and you taste… wine.  It’s good, or possibly not.  But peach?  Pineapple?  Barnyard?  Bacon fat?  What in bloody tarnation are these wine geeks talking about?  It’s wine, for crying out loud.  Exactly, we say.  Seriously – the genius behind our tasting notes is Michael.  Anne can seldom taste all the more subtle flavors.  That doesn’t mean she can’t tell a good wine from a bad wine – or more importantly, that her impressions of a wine are any less valid.  It just means that she evaluates a wine in a different way.

So the first thing to remember is that tasting notes are supposed to be fun.  Unless you’re judging wines for a competition (something Michael has actually done many times), the only real reason for tasting notes is to communicate something – usually to yourself and/or life partner.

Maybe you just want to remember what it was about that syrah you tasted at your local wine bar that made you want to buy the bottle.  Maybe you want to pretend you’re Uber-critic Robert Parker.  And why not?  He is, in our not so humble opinion vastly over-rated.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you get to choose what words you use, your preferred short-hand, whatever.  Just write down your impressions.

Then we invite to post your comments so we can all share what we thought about the wine.  Just remember, no snarking on anybody else, because all of our impressions are valid.  And maybe we’ll come up with a new way to describe that soft, creamy feeling on the back of the palate as something besides buttery.

Slainte!

Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland