I brought in 8 wines from all over the world, and provided the group with a tasting grid that included sample descriptors to help them find the appropriate words for what they were smelling and tasting.
I gave them a few hints to start:
All the wines were visibly red.
All the wines were between 2 and 5 years old.
And the most important clue of all: There were multiple instances of the same grape varietal.
Everyone dove into their glasses, which had been pre-poured for well over an hour, giving the wines time to open up. While they were tasting and writing their notes, I talked them through trusting their senses, not being afraid to share aromas or tastes that they thought might be 'wrong'. I told them stories of how I had learned to taste; how sometimes I was so right on that I amazed myself, and also how sometimes I was so off that all I could come up with was the color of the wine.
Then, I tasted the wines in front of them, giving them my impressions. While I knew what we had poured, I had not tasted the wines before the class, so my experience would, in that way, mirror theirs. Then we revealed the wines, one by one.
Oh, yeah, and I had played a joke on the class. All the wines were Merlot. They were from 7 different countries, but they were all that noble, and much-maligned grape, Merlot.
That's when the 'aha' moments happened. No one there could believe how different all these wines were from each other. They had thought one wine was Petite Sirah, another Grenache, another something else. They were amazed, and luckily for me, gratified and excited to discover that a grape they had dismissed, due to the 'Sideways' effect, was interesting, complicated, and quite diverse in its development.
Here's what we tasted:
2013 Castiglion del Bosco Dainero, IGT, Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy - A silky and very fine red with currant, berry, and sandalwood character. Medium body, fine tannins. Subtle, fruity finish.
2015 Columbia Crest H3 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington - 82% Merlot/12% Syrah/4% Malbec/2% Other Varietals. Oak plays a reasonable role in adding spicy sweetness to this approachable, plum-fruited merlot. Soft easy tannins.
2015 Tilia Merlot, Mendoza, Argentina -Aromas of juicy black cherries and black plums with hints of sweet spice and vanilla. On the palate the wine was soft with black cherry and plum flavors and fine, supple tannins.
2015 Chateau de L’Esperance, Bordeaux, France – 85% Merlot/15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicate red berry fruit. Seemed slightly oxidized.
2016 Galil Mountain Merlot, Upper Galilee, Israel - A bouquet of raspberry, strawberry and Mediterranean herbs preps the palate for flavors of blackberry, cassis, vanilla, lavender and black pepper. Well integrated, with velvety tannins and spicy finish. One of the night’s favorites. Oh, and kosher, too.
2016 Michel-Schlumberger Merlot, Healdsburg, Sonoma, California – Aromas of cherry, plum and chocolate. Not as interesting as one would have hoped.
2016 Indaba Merlot, Western Cape, South Africa - 98% Merlot/2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh and clean, offering enticing aromas and bright, juicy flavors of cherry, dark berry and plum backed by subtle mocha and herbal nuances and a delicate minerality.
2016 La Playa Estate Merlot, Colchagua Valley, Chile - Garnet color. On the nose, plums, almonds with hints of ginger. The palate has pronounced cherry with good acidity and soft finish.
So much fun, and so many discoveries!
Next month we prepare for the holidays with a delicious foray into wines that pair with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Xmas feasts! Join us on November 14th at the Morro Bay Wine Seller!