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ZINFANDEL: Double Blind Tastings
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DOUBLE BLIND TASTING on 12/29/94 -- 4 zinfandels
1. Sutter Home California Zinfandel, 1992. Price: $5
2. Ridge California York Creek Zinfandel, 1991. Price: $16
- BW: This is a very light, refreshing zinfandel. Medium color, pleasant berry flavor, no complexity or oomph. Recommend as a breakfast wine. Would go well with eggs and toast. RANK: 4 (lowest). GUESS: Sutter Home.
- JG: A weakling wine. Sutter Home scent overpowered by kitchen scents -- a weenie-ish aroma. Should not be drunk with food (if you want to taste the wine). Inoffensive, inocuous, indistinct, and lots of other in-words. Nice color. RANK: 4 (lowest). GUESS: Sutter Home.
- SD: Light, slight mildewey smell. Taste -- light, berryish, a little cherry... not bad, nothing special. On the watery side. Generic red table wine; would go good with peanut butter. Pleasant but forgettable. RANK 4 (lowest). GUESS: Sutter Home.
- PB: I find it not "berry" aromatic. Hmm, maybe my taste buds aren't in gear yet, but I find this at first taste, well... underwhelming. There're berries, but they seem a bit unripe. I am immediately tempted to call this "Subtle Homes". Note -- after tasting all the others and then coming back, this has a definite "off" taste. RANK: 4 (lowest). GUESS: Sutter Home.
3. Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Zinfandel, 1991. Price: $13.
- BW: Vive la difference! Deep ruby hue and inviting nose entice me into tasting. Rich in blackberry flavors with a vanilla finish. Wonderful! The fragrance seems to fade quickly... RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Ridge.
- JG: Now we're talking... masculine, blood red, smooth but definite. Tastes like aged in fine mahogany (or some rich wood). Who needs smell with such taste? Hint of clove? No weenie this! Ok-peppery. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Ridge.
- SD: Much more serious - a deep ruby, the darkest of the four. A good zin bouquet -- you can taste the vineyards. Rich smooth zinfandel taste, without the sharp edge often found in zins. (Of course, I have only recently started drinking zins, so this is a bluff -- I don't know what is standard for zinfandel!) This zin has a lot more to say than #1: chocolate raspberries, a cool late harvest, a productive development while hibernating somewhere in a dark cellar. Spicy. Afterward -- after tasting all the others, this wine has the sharpest bite of the four... what was I thinking?! After-afterward -- I like it... so bite me! RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Topolos.
- PB: Yum! Big and sweet like an Italian sausage, a bit of pepper at the end. Intense fruit. This wine makes me want to start confessing my sins (zins?), converting and living a good life for all the right reasons. Rank: 1 (fave). GUESS: Ridge.
4. Topolos Sonoma County Zinfandel, 1992. Price: $13. Alcohol 13%.
- BW: Very little aroma; color a medium garnet. The taste has a musty (musky?) note. Also some generic berry flavors. Not very exciting. Save this one for your less-favored relatives. RANK: 3. GUESS: Montelena.
- JG: Tart, cheesy, immature. Lunchtime wine. Puckery but pleasant. Skinny. RANK: 3. GUESS: Topolos.
- SD: Slightly brownish red, more like 1 than 2. Not offensive, but surprisingly bland. More body than 1 -- holds up a little better, can at least taste the zin. Slight hints: apple, pear? RANK: 3. GUESS: Montelena.
- PB: The fruit is strong, but it is definitely a bit "green"; nothing "late" (i.e., harvest) about it. This is a picnic red zin - pasta salad and corn dogs. That's not a bum rap... I like it very much. It's just so "bright" and "cheerful" I need to shield my eyes and feel a bit grumpy by comparison. RANK: 3. GUESS: Topolos.
UPDATE ON THE TOPOLOS by SD, 12/5/95:
- BW: Indistinguishable in appearance from #3. It's spicy and subtle. This is a reclusive vintage: hard to know at first, but you feel there may be some real promise over time. RANK: 2. GUESS: Topolos.
- JG: Communion red. Berryoid taste. Slightly zingy, baudy. Coats the tongue. Velvety. RANK: 2. GUESS: Montelena.
- SD: Purple red - the nose is not strong, but it is enticing. A good full-bodied wine, no "sharp edge" (thereby disproving everything I claimed to know about zins) -- possibly mellowed by sirah? Slight hints of freshly mowed grass, smoke... oh wait, that's from the kitchen... RANK: 2. GUESS: Montelena.
- PB: If the zins we have tasted tonight were mountain ranges, this would be Andes to #2's Himalaya. A growing complexity bespeaks allocthonicity, and hence, oceanic subduction... ergo Andes. Well, my logic has become tectonically eroded by wines #1, 2, and 3 (and now 4). Of course, then pen has become willing where the brain has become weak. RANK: 2. GUESS: Montelena.
Overall Comments: All four judges had the same ranking: everyone liked the Ridge York Creek best, followed by Topolos, Chateau Montelena, and Sutter Home. Sutter Home was the only wine everyone correctly identified; BW was the only judge to correctly identify all four wines. PB also had these comments before the identities of the contestants were revealed:
- Got a bottle at End-O-Bin in Louisville for $8. My comments: Not much nose and weak finish, good middle. Rich ripe fruit. Tasty but a tad uncouth -- a pizza night zin. B
"Hypothesis: in order of increasing time in oak: 1, 3, 4, 2. Also, there are two styles: 1 and 3, 4 and 2. 3 is the winner of 3 vs 1 contest; 2 wins in 4 vs 2. I like the order 2>4>3>1. But I would buy #2 for $20 rather than #4 for $13, and #3 for $10 over #1 for $5."
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DOUBLE BLIND TASTING on 06/16/95 -- 5 zinfandels
1. Lytton Springs Sonoma County, 1991. Price: $20. Alcohol: 14.5%.
- BW: Nice dark cherry color. Mild aroma. Warm, soft, rich, smoky. Tastes of cherries. Yum! RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- AW: Alcohol on the nose. Tannic aftertaste -- grapefruit, acidic. Oak characteristic. Rich color and full-bodied. RANK: 4. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
- BM: Pleasant nose, but could have more full body, good balance. Appealing flavor, hint of oak. Well made. A very good wine. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- CF: A dark, foreboding brick red, almost opaque. A "De Gaulle" wine: with an earthy nose, tall but slightly dead. Quoth the drinker, "Ravenswood." RANK: 3. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- YH: [TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: YH's reviews were in French, and I could not read the handwriting. I don't even know any French. I did my best.] En arrin jour. Bitter, young. Un feu vert, agreable et liger. Fruite. RANK: 4. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- FT: Color: very good. Nose: weakly fragrant. Taste: good, but not complex. One dimensional, flat, good body. Finish: slightly bitter. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- JH: The ruby color promises much but fails to deliver: the slightly acrid taste lacks complexity and does not live up to the sophistication of the wine-tasting guests. RANK: 3. GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- SD: Dark, opaque. Smell: rich, berry, vanilla. Robust, rich, excellent. Chocolate raspberries. I could eat this wine for dessert. This is good. I like it. Therefore, it must be the most expensive. RANK: 1 (fave) GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- BW and I tried this wine again, over a year later. We both loved it, and stand by our former rave reviews. BW gave it an A; SD, a A-.
2. Ravenswood North Coast Vintners Blend, 1992. Price: $8. Alcohol: 13.8%.
3. Hop Kiln Russian River Valley, 1992. Price: $14. Alcohol: 14.4%.
- BW: Slightly lighter in color. Again, not much aroma. It's more sour, less full than #1. Nice, but somewhat lightweight. RANK: 3. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- AW: More fruit on the nose than #1, but more tannic aftertaste. Medium bodied. RANK: 3. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- BM: Light in body, little discernable nose except for the acidity. Little flavor -- undistinguished. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- CF: A "pinko" red -- far less conservative in color than #1, but a flavor easily forgotten. Nose free. RANK: 4. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- YH: In vejre, jes de carpl. Robuste. RANK: 2. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- FT: Color: very good. Nose: very slight. Taste: No highlights. No discernable taste, except generic red wine. Finish: a little bitter and flat. RANK: 4. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- JH: An inoffensive wine with a Cliff Frohlich flavor -- inexpensive, with little nose, but reliable. RANK: 2. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
- SD: A lighter garnet color. Smells kind of salty, like seaweed -- must be coastal vines. Thinner -- no danger of clotting. Weak and wimpy -- a nerdy wine. What can I say? It is wine. RANK: 4. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
4. Frogs Leap Napa Valley, 1992. Price: $14. Alcohol: 13.6%.
- BW: Appearance and aroma indistinguishable from #2. Definite flavor of black cherries. Very nice. RANK: 2. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
- AW: Alcohol on the nose. Light bodied, uncharacteristic, flat taste. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- BM: Nose not discernible, light in body. Decent flavor, but nonetheless, rather undistinguished. RANK: 4. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- CF: Intermediate auburn color. Excellent spicy flavor. A "Jackie Henkel" wine -- full bodied, saucy and reliable. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- YH: Trop cert. Cupre. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- FT: Color: cloudy. Nose: little, thin. Taste: complexity; great cherry. Finish: bitter and slightly flat. RANK: 2. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
- JH: Hard to smell or taste; perhaps this wine is too subtle for me. Somewhat watery and acidic, with the aftertaste of some curry and/or spice. RANK: 4. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- SD: Another lighter color -- brown, like it's been decanting in Cliff's coffee pot. Not much smell. Not much taste. I can drink this wine to cleanse my palate for #4. Isn't this #2 again? Slightly more flavor... maybe, perhaps. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
5. Vendage California Autumn Harvest (no year, bought 6/95). Price: $4. Alcohol: 13.0%.
- BW: Again, not much aroma. Appearance and flavor watery. Certainly drinkable, but unspecial. I'm indifferent to this one. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- AW: Very fruity, spicy nose. Smooth, not too tannic. Fruity aftertaste -- berries. Medium bodied; well aged. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- BM: Noticeable alcoholic nose. Medium body; somewhat fruity style and a little spicy. Good, but subtle flavor. A bit acidic in the balance. RANK: 3. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
- CF: Intermediate color and a hacksaw nose -- sharp and cutting, effective. Somewhat sweet in flavor, made for the reformed "Strawberry Hill Market". RANK: 2. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- YH: Tres grand carachere / riche en suggestion. Avec une excellente temic. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Lytton Springs.
- FT: Color: thin. Nose: ?. Taste: rich. Finish: Pleasant, not distinctive. RANK: 3. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- JH: I am tempted to say this is Cliff Frohlich wine revisited. On fourth taste... no wait, 6th taste... no, 8th taste... RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- SD: Dark and mysterious. A weak nose. Smooth and mellow; a little musty. This wine is asleep -- can I wake it up? It has flavor, but I can't quite place it: artichoke hearts and Milk Bone dog biscuits? This is a very confusing wine... or maybe it is confused. I recommend analysis. I volunteer -- Cliff, let's write a proposal! RANK: 2. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
Overall Comments: Lots of spread in the reviews, but some general patterns emerge. The most expensive wine, Lytton Springs, did the best overall, with four judges choosing it as their favorite and none as their least favorite. Our two regular reviewers, SD and BW, both found it outstanding -- an 'A' rating. Several judges found it a bit tannic and felt it could have used a few more years in the bottle.
- BW: Vinegar nose. Unremarkable appearance. Has an un-zinlike flowery character, though not unpleasant. Quite simple; could be a reasonable choice on a hot summer night. But [this wine] wouldn't stand up to a meaty entree. RANK: 4. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- AW: Very fruity on the nose and palate, not as spicy as #4. Very smooth, medium body, well-aged. Most fruit characteristics of the five. RANK: 2. GUESS: Ravenswood.
- BM: Excellent and rich nose, somewhat fruity. Spicy, moderately full flavored and well balanced. RANK: 2. GUESS: Frogs Leap.
- CF: Ripe gasoline flavor, a pond scum color, bleech, bleech. Rank 6. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- YH: Une belle nose. E ples fruite et le fler eiger. Pour son [unintelligible] beaujolais nouveau. RANK: 4. GUESS: Hop Kiln.
- FT: Color: good. Nose: fruity. Taste: very fruity. Not in the complex sense. More like a cheap red. Finish: good, not bitter. RANK: 5 (lowest). GUESS: Vendage.
- JH: This is less nuanced, with little aftertaste. RANK: 1 (fave). GUESS: Ravenswood.
- SD: Another brown wine -- must be the lighting. Another weak nose -- must be atmospheric conditions. Taste: phew! Sour... a berry-flavored vinegar, almost. At least it's interesting compared to #2 and #3. Berry and grapefruit. RANK: 3. GUESS: Ravenswood.
The other four wines were all over the board. All of these wines were the least favorite of at least one judge; all but one (Ravenswood) was the favorite of at least one judge. The Ravenswood was generally perceived as being rather ordinary, and two judges described Hop Kiln as having a nice cherry taste. Personally, I was not particularly impressed with any of the other four contestants. The cheapest wine, Vendage, scored quite well compared to Ravenswood, Hop Kiln and Frogs Leap, gathering every possible score from 1 to 5. The general consensus was that Vendage was a different style of wine, however: a light and fruitier "beaujolais nouveau" style rather than the rich hearty zin the other wines were striving to be.
Congratulations to our judge FT who, despite claims of allergies affecting his sense of smell, accurately divined the identity of every single contestant. None of the other judges correctly identified more than two.
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