The events I attended this month illustrated different approaches to wine tasting.
The wines for our Chinese wine tasting were a selection from a lot bought at auction. They are not exported to the UK, so we did not know what they would cost, and could not assess their value that way. The labels in Chinese provided no helpful information for us! The year, alcohol by volume percentage and grape varieties were mostly identified, but not for all of the eleven wines we were trying. We were therefore genuinely focusing on taste itself.
We learned a little about the wineries, and a few of them have been winning awards at international wine competitions. But there is little information available about Chinese wines on Google.
We compared Chardonnay wines from the same region in North West China. Of the three, one was very acceptable, light-bodied with a good level of acidity; one evoked varying opinions but seemed to me to have aged prematurely; and one had sufficient acidity and flavours of ripe tropical fruits, dry but to my taste, unwelcome overtones of sweetness. The pretty pink rosé wine we tasted was extraordinarily sweet. The Late Harvest Sweet Wine (from Changyu Pioneer Wines), made by traditional methods from the Vidal grape, tasted luscious. Vidal is a hybrid grape variety produced from Ugni blanc and another hybrid variety, Rayon d’Or. It is also used for ice wines in Canada.
We tasted one wine based on Syrah and another on Merlot. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines were delicious. But not knowing what they would cost meant that we didn’t know whether they would represent good value for us, or could benchmark against other wines.
Not unexpectedly, I did find a few of the wines to be interesting rather than entirely enjoyable. However, I am delighted to have had the chance of this enlightening introduction to Chinese wines!
The next edifying tasting was “France v South Africa” where we compared the appeal of French versus South African wines, served blind (left glass, right glass) in five pairs consecutively, each pair consisting of one French wine and one South African one. We could see if we could tell which was which, and decide which of the two we preferred. After making our decision each time, the wines were identified, with their prices and characteristics.
Examples of the pairings are:
Dry white: 2015 Chablis 1er Cru. Côte de Lechet vs 2017 Tokara Reserve Collection Stellenbosch Chardonnay;
Dry red: 2014 La Réserve de Léoville Barton vs 2015 Tokara Reserve Collection Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon.
We have these comparative tastings from time to time, with excellent wines from France and another country, and they are always good fun. Our responses are never predictable nor 100% accurate; the votes for the particular country and preference are always more or less shared between the wines in the pair, so no one has to be worried about being “right”! On this occasion the majority – not everyone – generally favoured the French, although acknowledging the considerable merits of the South African wines. In other comparative blind tastings French wines have not necessarily come out top.
The third tasting was more traditional. It was exceptional, of Fine Red Burgundy wines from leading Burgundy producers, giving an opportunity to compare the vintages; two wines from each year, from 2006 through to 2010. This was a marvellous opportunity to taste some wonderful wines at their peak.
Different kinds of tastings: styles, objectives, wine varieties, prices. All were interesting, instructive, and above all, enjoyable.