A quick-deduction leads to some interesting conclusions.
The ‘6-flight-blind’ tasting format is a powerful method, used for exercising deductive skill within a time constraint. Essentially a game-day style event, the method is useful in preparing for the Court of Master Sommeliers tasting examinations, specifically at the Advanced and Master level. By replicating the pressures of limited time and verbal description, ambitious students of wine meet up to practice the format, in hopes of refining their skills for an exam in the near of distant future.
The test-replicating character of the ‘6-flight blind’ is an inefficient tool for developing deductive skill. Rather, it is useful for displaying pre-existing notions of analysis within a time constraint, for the rehearsal benefit of a taster maintaining calm and well-paced under pressure.
The alternative ‘single-blind comparative’ style, which narrows the parameters of grape variety or region, offers contrast between similar wines for greater deductive honing. In such a tasting, a single common thread between wines is maintained, such as grape variety, structural element or winemaking style. ‘Pinot Noir from around the world’ or ‘high-aroma whites’ are two examples. By comparing overall similar wines in a comparative format, a taster can zoom into the nuances between each, thus calibrating sensitivity to differences in fruit type, structure, oak usage and non-fruit elements.
That sensitivity is then brought into the spotlight, when seated across from a study-friend who has stopwatch and evaluation grid at the ready. From touching the first glass, the time begins, and the pressure is on. Visual, aroma, flavor and structure elements must be assessed in depth, with little margin available for error. A thorough description is key, to justifying any future conclusion. Such is the nature of deduction, in assembling a well-crafted set of information that logically builds a picture of something greater.
In the early morning of June 9th, a crew of wine pros assembled at Canlis Restaurant, for a ‘6-flight blind’ tasting exercise. Six of us were present, grouped into two previously-established teams of three. Each team member was assigned a ‘classic’ red and white wine by a captain, and each team convened in private to assess and ‘proof’ the quality of each wine.
From there, each team poured their flight of six, and each taster paired off with a member from the opposite team, for the timed assessment. I was seated across from Tyler Alden, wine guru of Seattle wine-bar staple Purple, found downtown on 4th Avenue. Thankfully Tyler and I are buddies, or I would have been intimidated to taste with a pro of his stature. In all honesty, Tyler is a true man of hospitality, and can indeed put any guest or student of wine at ease.
Normally, we would be allotted 25-minutes each for assessing our flights. This day, limiting circumstances persuaded us to taste much faster, going through our flights in just ten minutes each. This lightning-fast tasting, while challenging, was a great exercise in efficiency, and in assessing the most important aspects of each wine.
Here is what we described in each of our flights, with our conclusions, and the actual wines:
- Pale yellow color, yellow apple, honey, ginger, nutty, slight residual sugar, high acid.
- Concluded Alsace Riesling. Actual wine: Huet Vouvray Sec 2011.
- Both styles can be high-acid and off dry. Chenin Blanc typically leads with that yellow apple note, as opposed to the stone-fruit dominant Riesling.
- Bold gold color, savory, nutty, dried ripe apple skin and lemon, dry, medium-plus acid.
- Concluded Alsace Pinot Gris. Actual wine: Carbonnieux Bordeaux Blanc 2000.
- Both wines can have deep color, but for different reasons. PG would be influenced more by botrytis, with BDX Blanc colored by oak. 16 years of age, indicated by dried fruit and intense color, could be a factor in either style. PG is often off-dry, with botrytis, and without new oak. BDX Blanc would see some new oak, and be bone dry in classic examples, without botrytis.
- Deep amber color, funky stink, dried fruit, intense nuttiness, dry, high acid.
- Concluded Bordeaux Blanc. Actual wine: R. Lopez de Heredia, Viura Rioja 2000.
- Rioja is a stinky beast, and presents with nutty oxidative character brought by oak and bottle age. A similar wheelhouse to Bordeaux, without the herbal core of Sauvignon Blanc or finesse of the French style.
- Light pigment, fruity, fresh and candied red fruits, low tannin, and elevated acid.
- Concluded Cru Beaujolais, Fleurie. Actual wine: Chemarin Regnie, Cru Beaujolais 2012.
- Low pigment with low tannin would offer Pinot Noir, Grenache and Gamay Noir as possible options. With acidity being elevated and alcohol just moderate, Grenache was out. Instinct sealed the deal, with an assist by the candied fruit and playful presentation common to Beaujolais.
- Moderate pigment, funky, earthy, structured and finessed.
- Concluded left-bank Bordeaux. Actual wine: Alliet Vielles Vignes Chinon 2009.
- A similar grape family, with Chinon the emphasis is on the single-grape, rather than a blend. A touch of oak suggests Bordeaux, while a light freshness maintains the Loire approach.
- Deep color, blue fruit, oak, elevated alcohol.
- Concluded Dry Creek Zin. Actual wine: Catena Zapata Mendoza Malbec, 2013.
- A thread of density and blue fruit connects both styles. Zinfandel would have a further diversity of fruit types, to include red underripe and overripe fruit, plus peach yoghurt to match. The gooeyness of Malbec was indeed present.
- Fresh, lively, bright, dry.
- Concluded wine: Dry Mosel Riesling. Actual wine: Dr. Loosen GG Mosel Riesling, 2013.
- Dry wine, lean fruit and floral presence brought this one home.
- Herbal, manufactured, suggested oak, bright acid.
- Concluded wine: Sancerre. Actual wine: Chateau Giuraud BDX Blanc, 2014.
- Herbal core, sharp acid and elegant persona brought it to France. A touch of funk and oak might take it to Bordeaux.
- Fat, glycerol, big wine, intense.
- Concluded wine: Condrieu Viognier. Actual wine: Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2014.
- A heavy wine in all accounts, the RRV supplants the floral aromas of a Condrieu with dense herbal tones, dusted with the toast of new oak.
- Light, fruity, bright, refreshing.
- Concluded wine: Cru Beaujolais. Actual wine: Jean Foillard “Cuvee Corcelette” Morgon Beaujolais 2014.
- Fruity, fresh and candied are the watchwords for this classic example.
- Plush, fruity, dense, new oak markers.
- Concluded wine: Right-bank Bordeaux. Actual wine: Elderton Shiraz 2011.
- Indeed a fruity and dense example, what might be seen as the depth and plushness in Merlot is indeed a hot-climate Aussie, indeed touched by oak.
- Funky, oxidative, intense.
- Concluded wine: Gran Reserva Rioja. Actual wine: Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella 2010.
- Dried fruit indicating oxidation, these two styles are commonly confused. Where Rioja brings spunk with oaky goodness, Amarone brings the party with 16%+ alcohol by volume.
From this experience, Tyler and I both found that the very-limited timeframe was helpful in bringing focus to the core personalities of the wine, albeit with a skimming of every note in detail. Some core takeaways:
- Alsace Riesling vs. Vouvray Chenin Blanc: an ongoing battle, won by fruit type.
- Amarone vs Rioja: two oxidative red wines with elevated alcohol. Assess texture and oak!
- Color in white wine may come from botrytis (canary yellow), barrel age (goldenrod) or bottle age (deep amber to brown).
- Beaujolais is candied-fruit city.
- Australia continues to be tricky. Further research (tasting) is key for mastery!
Of course, the beauty of advancement is in the process, rather than perfect conclusion. The small lessons add up over time! A taste of Amarone at 10am on a Thursday is indeed a memorable way to start the day. Until next time!
June 9th, 2016