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MERLOT: Double Blind Tastings

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DOUBLE BLIND TASTING on 8/27/94 -- 5 merlots

The Contestants:

1. Cypress California Merlot, 1992. Price: $10

2. Covey Run Yakima Valley Merlot, 1990. Price: $10 3. Silver Lake Columbia Valley Merlot, 1990. Price: $13 4. Fleur du Cap Coastal Region Merlot, 1991 (S. Africa). Price: $9 5. Brutocao Estate Bottled Merlot (Mendocino Unfiltered, Unfined), 1992. Price: $14 Overall Comments: No clear consensus in this group, except everyone thought at least some of the wines were quite good (I personally noted that my three favorites -- Cypress, Silver Lake and Brutocao -- were "Great!"). Silver Lake was the top favorite of four of the judges, but also received the lowest ranking by ES. ES computed the "Schweig Value Rank" (lower values imply a better bargain for the bucks) and PB noted how much he would pay for each wine:

WINE Schweig Value Rank - Breathing Handicapped What Would Paul Pay?
Cypress 130 $8
Covey Run 260 $5
Silver Lake 143 $10
Fleur du Cap 216 $6
Brutocao 238 $10

(If your browser doesn't support HTML Table Tags, the above may look like gibberish. A few glasses of wine will help you decipher it.) We also note that the judges did very poorly in guessing which wine was which. No one correctly identified more than two wines from the group. Two of the contestants (Cypress and Covey Run) went completely unidentified, and in only one case (Brutocao) could even half the judges guess the wine correctly.

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DOUBLE BLIND TASTING on 2/29/96 -- 4 merlots

The Contestants:

1. Pride (Napa Valley) Merlot, 1991 [25% cabernet sauvignon]. Price: $19. Alcohol: 13.0%

2. Blackstone Grand Reserve (Napa County) Merlot, 1994. Price: $13. Alcohol: 12.5% 3. Frog's Leap (Napa Valley) Merlot, 1993. Price: $18-19. Alcohol: 13.5% 4. Santa Rita (Maule Valley, Chile) Merlot, 1994. Price: $5-6. Alcohol: 12.5% Overall Comments: The clear winner here was the Pride Merlot, which was everybody's favorite. Some of the judges noted the presence of cabernet sauvignon (25%) and were able to correctly identify the wine on this basis. The surprising loser was the Blackstone, the least favorite of four fifths of the judges, who generally found it thin and watery. The Frog's Leap and the Santa Rita were about evenly matched in the middle of the ratings, a surprisingly competitive ranking for the inexpensive Chilean wine.

Everyone thought their favorite wine was one of the most expensive (which it was), and all but one thought their least favorite wine was the cheap Santa Rita merlot (which it wasn't). Indeed, only CF had any faith in the Santa Rita; nevertheless, he was the only judge to rank it as his least favorite.

My own personal comments reflect those of the overall rankings: one wine (the Pride) stood out well above the others; two (Frog's Leap and Santa Rita) were average wines that were roughly equal in quality; and there was one wine that was too weak to compete with the others at all (the Blackstone). CF also found one clear winner (the Pride) but found it hard to distinguish between the remaining three. Sadly, CF also ranked the wines lower and lower as the evening progressed.

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DOUBLE BLIND TASTING on 12/23/96 -- 5 merlots

The Contestants:

1. Menada (Bulgaria) Stara Zagora Merlot, 1994. Alcohol: 12%. Price: $5.50. Contestant provided courtesy of Bulgarian Master Vintners. New!

2. Sutter Home (California) Merlot, 1995. Alcohol: 13%. Price: $6.50. New! 3. Chantefleur (French Red Table Wine) Merlot, 1993. Alcohol: 12%. Price: $10.50. New! 4. Emerald Bay (California) Proprietor's Reserve Merlot, 1992. Alcohol: 12.5%. Price: $10-15? (California Wine Club Selection) New! 5. Forest Glen (Sonoma County, California) Barrel Select Merlot, 1995. Alcohol: 12.5%. Price: $12. New! Overall Comments: The surprising winner here is the supermarket merlot -- the Sutter Home -- which was evenly divided among the judges as either their favorite or second favorite. (Those who liked it best all thought it was the Chantefleur; the rest guessed it was the Emerald Bay). At $6.50 it appears to be an excellent buy, beating out the more expensive wines. The Forest Glen scored second place, as it was also chosen the favorite of half the judges (though there was less consensus among the remaining three judges). Some found the Forest Glen a bit harsh, perhaps young and tannic and in need of aging. Interestingly, all but two of the judges guessed it to be the Menada (those two had tasted other Menada wines, and correctly identified the Forest Glen for what it was).

The loser of this batch was the Emerald Bay, which with one exception was ranked by all as one of the two least favorite wines. (Which was good news for judge MK, who chose it as her second favorite and thus went home with a bottle of wine no one else wanted). Some of the judges found the Emerald Bay had a hearty beginning which quickly disappeared; others found it weak and watery from the outset.

While most of the judges liked the Bulgarian Menada at first, some of them thought the taste of the wine deteriorated quickly as it breathed. Some of the judges also noted a strong fruit or cherry note in the Chantefleur. Judge SD correctly identified three of the five wines (finally, my night of glory!), confusing only the Emerald Bay and Sutter Home.

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