Yesterday, January 24th, jet lagged and feeling a bit under the weather, I attended the Wine Australia Festival in NY’s Wall St Cipriani.
I have admitted on several occasions to being an amateur taster (although I wonder what qualifies those who claim to be experts as experts) yet I have also stated often that I believe the most important aspect of wine appreciation is recognizing what wines YOU like and enjoying those, not listening to what the SO CALLED EXPERTS have told you to drink.
Back to the tasting, there were 39 official tables set up, each with at least one producer and about 3-6 different wines, ranging from Whites such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, and Sparkling wines made from Chard or Pinot Noir (or a combo of the two) to the famously fruit forward reds made from Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir & of course Shiraz (AKA Syrah)…just to name a few.
I attended the tasting with a good friend & fellow wine tasting group member – a fellow who happens to be selling wine at a prestigious Manhattan retailer while waiting for the publishers to duke it out over his book. Upon arriving at our first table I announced to said friend that my palate has been evolving and that I have been growing tired of the heavily extracted & rich reds, seeking more elegance, finesse & complexity in wines. While I know this seems quite snobby, and may have been, I am about to make a confession. I MAY have initially made such a proclamation believing that that is what one SHOULD do – progress past the “fruit bombs” and learn to appreciate the more “well made” wines. So what happened – I realized about 2/3 of the way through my tasting that I still do prefer the fruit forward styled wines to the more “elegant wines” (which just seemed to me to possess an absence of fruit). By the same token I did very much enjoy some wines that had obvious fruit but seemed to be in better balance given a lower alcohol level (less than 14%).
By my compatriots calculation we tried about 75 wines each – within 3 hours. This is a feat I believe is difficult enough for the so called experts, let alone little old me with my cold (oncoming flu?). For the first 10-20 wines I tried to diligently take notes. Didn’t work well. Especially when i began to feel the pressure of hitting as many as possible before we were ceremoniously told THE TASTING IS OVER. (The subtle tactic used was “the coat room will be closing in 10 minutes – get your coat now or it will forever become the possession of Cipriani). But I digress. After the first 10-20 wines complete with note taking I reverted to a simple characteristic word (ie. Oaky, fruit bomb, earthy) or adjective (ie. Wow, ehh, hmmm) and number ranging from 1-5 (although I found no 1’s and only one 5). I must note that the numbers are a personal thing – only to indicate to ME how I felt about the wine.
A quick count of wines tasted by going through the book and noting which wines had some writing alongside, indicating a wine I tasted revealed that I did in fact taste 68 different wines. 14 of the 68 were tasted upstairs in an area designated for VIP’s. How my partner in wine crime and I made it into the VIP area is still somewhat unbeknownst to us. We were tasting wines at the Grant Burge area when the winemaker encouraged us to go check out his “Meshach” Shiraz up in the VIP area. He told us who we should speak to about entrance to said VIP area. What fools we were. Fighting with the ordinary masses to taste sub-$20 wines when the VIP and its $30, $40, $50…even $100 wines were awaiting. Truth be told, after tasting 50+ wines before arriving at the VIP area I was spent by the time I got to the VIP wines.
OK, this has turned in to a very long post with little concrete revelation. So I want to end by recalling something I pointed out to two fellow tasters in the VIP area. I noted that some of the expensive wines I was suddenly privy to taste reminded me A LOT of the other wines I had tasted just minutes earlier that possessed much less inhibiting price tags. BUT…and there was one noticeable BUT. The more expensive (VIP) wines seemed to have a softer mouth feel. Same heavily extracted fruit, high levels of alcohol & noticeable gripping tannins. Yet either my palate was completely numb by that point or these wines I was now tasting were somehow a little more well rounded, a little more balanced & had softer, smoother& silkier mouth feels to them.
In summary, while I had a great time, drank (or I should say tasted) A LOT of wine, much of it quite enjoyable, I was not blown away. Many of these wines seemed to me to be quite indistinct from one another. Yes I learned that the hotter regions were where more of the richly extracted wines came from. And the cooler regions are where the more minerally/earthy wines came from. But overall, trying to taste through as many as 100-200 wines seems a lesson in futility. Of the 3-400 people of the trade in attendance I wonder how many can truly assess wines in such a setting. And if they could, were there really a handful of standouts???
Have a fabulous weekend fellow wine drinkers. Hope you have a nice special bottle put aside for the weekend. CHEERS!!!