Grape expectations

By Jo Burzynska

It was a blind tasting set up by Gordon Ramsay on The F Word which provoked religious rocker-come-vigneron Cliff Richard to utter the F word himself when it was revealed that a wine he'd rubbished as "harsh" and something he wouldn't buy himself was actually his own.

Poor old Sir Cliff. Ramsay's test wasn't entirely fair in putting a novice wine-taster on the spot and placing his perfectly adequate mid-price Portuguese red Vida Nova after the significantly more substantial and $200 more expensive bottle from fellow crooner, Bob Dylan. Cliff admittedly didn't like either, but judged his own to be the worst.

It certainly gives a new spin to Bob's line in All Along the Watchtower that: "Businessmen, they drink my wine, ploughmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth"!

Blind tasting may have its pitfalls, as Cliff so cruelly discovered, but in removing the packaging, and the perceptions that come with this, it's arguably one of the best ways to impartially judge wine. Even wine professionals will bring certain expectations to a bottle. This is why most wine competitions and magazine tastings are conducted blind and why I put most of the wines that arrive at my door into blind line-ups.

Kingsley Wood of Takapuna's First Glass agrees. For a quarter of a decade he's organised the Wine Options blind competition and runs most of the shop's wine tastings blind for this reason.

Illustrating how bias can bear on wine judgment, he cites the recent example of a New Zealand pinot noir served anonymously at one of his tastings.

"Without exception, the entire room was critical of the wine," he recalls. "As soon as the wine was unmasked to reveal a very well known Bannockburn winery name, we immediately had several people finding all manner of redeeming features the most notable being the excuse that it is clearly too young and will just need time."

The results of a recent study conducted in California showed the more wine costs, the more people enjoy it, regardless of how it tastes. This is due to expectations that a higher-priced wine will be inherently higher quality, which apparently triggers pleasure receptors in the brain despite the fact that the part of brain that interprets taste is not affected.

Blind tastings can prove quite controversial, none more so than the so-called Judgment of Paris. In this tasting organised back in 1976 by Paris-based English wine merchant, Stephen Spurrier, some then-unknown labels from California trounced some of France's most celebrated wines.

Such an unexpected victory for upstart New World wines created enough drama to inspire two films about the debacle - the first of which, Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, premiered at the Sundance Film festival earlier this year.

Blind tasting has its limitations. It's hard even for a seasoned taster to ascertain how well a wine will age without knowing something about how past vintages from that producer have performed. And while blind tasting may be the best way for impartial assessment, it can be argued that a full appreciation can only really be reached through knowing a wine's vintage, region, history and people that produced it, something that can be added after that initial unidentified tasting.

While I'm not suggesting everyone taste all the wines they consume blind, a bit of blind tasting can be fun as well as fascinating and make us leave those preconceptions we all have at the door!

WINE OPTIONS

CREAMY CHARDY
Askerne Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 $19.95

A creamy and toasty chardonnay with ripe but elegant fleshy stonefruit and juicy citrus acidity that offers great value for money.
From Liquorland Mt Eden, Herne Bay Cellars, Cellar Select Kohi Corner, Primo Vino Hamilton.

FULL BODIED BEAUT
Finca Sobreno Toro Spain 2006 $20

Spain's Toro region is known for its strapping reds, and this is no exception with its smooth but structured palate of ripe dark fruits, fruitcake spice, liquorice and earthy notes.
From Wine Direct.

SOPHISTICATED SAUVIGNON
Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 $23

It's texture rather than upfront fruit that's the focus of this refined and intense sauvignon blanc. Its bright greengage, peach and melon fruit is just one of the many layers on this silkily crisp specimen with its flint, mineral, spice, great depth and drinkability.
From Wine Direct.

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