Chef José Andrés introduced me to a challenging wine game called 3-2-1 when I visited him for my cover profile of him for the June 30 issue of Wine Spectator. He often plays the game with wine-savvy guests, which can include such illustrious wine folk as Mariano Garcia, currently winemaker of Bodegas Mauro in Ribera del Duero, Spain, and formerly winemaker of Vega Sicilia. He was in attendance the evening I visited.
It's a blind-tasting guessing game wherein only the one who supplied the wine knows what it is. Each contestant can earn points by correctly identifying the wine's sources (by geography, varietals and production) and vintage. What makes it interesting is that you get three whacks at it, scoring the most points if you get it sooner.
Here's how it works. Prepare a score sheet for each contestant, with four vertical columns and six horizontal lines. In the first column, label the lines "New World/Old World," "Country," "Region," "Grape variety," "Vintage" and "Producer." Label the other three columns "3," "2" and "1."
After tasting the wine, write your answers in the first column. You get 3 points for each correct answer. In the second round, knowing which ones were right or wrong, you can take a better shot, but you only get 2 points for each correct answer. Round three gets you 1 point per correct answer. Repeat the process with more wines if desired.
The game is similar to a popular pastime among wine folks in Australia, popularized by the late, great Len Evans. They simply called it the Wine Game. In their version, whoever is presenting the wine asks for the same sort of information, but always with an either-or answer, as in "France or Italy?" or "Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah?" Anyone who gets the answer wrong is out for the round. The questions continue until only one is left.
I like the 3-2-1 version for its second and third chances. Of course, you could extend the Wine Game with a "three strikes" approach, in which it takes three wrong answers to be out. Either way, it's a fun way to sharpen your wine-tasting skills. Humbling, too. I can't tell you how often I was absolutely certain a wine had to be a super Tuscan only to learn it was a Dry Creek Zinfandel, or some such.
In this case Andrés asked his restaurants' beverage director, who was not involved with the game, to pick the wine. That got the whole group guessing, including the chef. Unfortunately, he was not happy with the results. The wine, a so-so red from Ribera del Duero, stumped the visiting Spaniards, who didn't even think the wine was Spanish. I think he was also ticked off that I outguessed them, getting the geography and variety right not because I could really identify the wine, but because I figured the tendency would have been to pick a wine from Ribera. It had some of the same characteristics as a range of the Mauro wines I had tasted earlier that day, or at least I imagined it did.
Andrés saved the day, however. As I report in my profile of him, after a brief sulk he rummaged around in his cellar and came out with a 1985 Pomerol for all to enjoy. No guessing necessary.
Omaka Springs Estates — Marlborough District, New Zealand — June 1, 2011 11:29pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 2, 2011 12:51am ET
Steve Trachsel — Poway, Ca. — June 4, 2011 12:40pm ET
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