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james laube's wine flights

My Score From the Blind Tasting at Wine Spectator's Wine Experience

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Oct 29, 2007 12:35pm ET

Depending on how you keep score, I either went four for seven or three for six or one for seven on Saturday’s editors’ blind tasting at the New York Wine Experience.

I didn’t have any trouble picking out the wine I submitted to this triple-blind tasting. (Each of our seven editors who participated chose one wine and aside from that we knew nothing about the other six—not the grape type, country, appellation or vintage.)

My wine, the 2005 Schrader Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Old Sparky” bottling (not yet rated, $250 only in magnum, 100 cases) was easy for me to spot in this lineup and I had plenty of support. Lots of those in attendance warmed up to this stylish wine, with its smooth, rich and polished herb-tinted currant, loamy earth, jazzy oak and hint of anise.

I also correctly guessed the correct grape with three other wines, but was about a continent away from their origins. Wine No. 2 on my scorecard was the Bodegas Alto Moncayo Garnacha Campo do Borja 2004 (92, $44, 600 cases, submitted by Tom Matthews), which was dense and concentrated, broad and complex, with layered sweetish blackberry and wild berry fruit along with pretty oak shadings. I guessed Aussie Grenache.

I also correctly identified the grape in wine No. 4, the Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2004 (95, $38, 1,200 cases, submitted by Harvey Steiman), but missed its appellation too by a long way. It reminded me of tightly wound young Burgundy, with its fresh, snappy berry and cherry flavors and vibrant acidity.

With the first wine, I wrote in Shiraz, figuring it too might be of Australian in origin, maybe Barossa Valley. Wrong. It was James Molesworth's choice: de Trafford Shiraz Stellenbosch 2003 (94, $65, 212 cases made), a South African beauty that was intense and concentrated, with great depth, purity of flavor and persistence.

I didn’t have much of a clue about wine No. 2, Kim Marcus' entry. With its rich, grapey, rustic flavors and deep concentration I figured it for Old World, as in European, but was handcuffed by the grape, and no wonder. This terrific wine, the Quinta do Vale Meão Douro 2005 (not yet rated, $62, 2,000 cases), is from a mix of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barocca grapes.

With Bruce Sanderson’s choice, the Nicolas Rossignol Volnay-Santenots 2005 (not rated, $90, 420 cases), I should have picked it off as red Burgundy, since I love Volnays. While tight and firm, its rose petal, tar and cherry and berry flavors led me to think … Nebbiolo and Barbaresco.

And I missed James Suckling’s Château Pontet-Canet 2005 (95–100 out of barrel, $NA, NA cases made). It had the structure of classic Bordeaux, yet in this grouping, its austere tannins, Merlot-like aromas and cedar notes led me to think super Tuscan, as in a blend of Merlot and Sangiovese.


Bryan Hassin
Houston, TX —  October 29, 2007 2:17pm ET
So how did the other editors do?
Fili Perez
October 29, 2007 2:56pm ET
James, thanks you and Fred for sharing the Schrader Old Sparky. I got that one correct by name, bottle and vintage. I did not shout it (I was in the fifth row), because I knew that it was a surprise from you both, and also Marvin may have kill me. From the flavor I knew it had to be Schrader, but the magnum gave me the clue for being the Old Sparky. I also tasted the 04 at last year event in SF where he had some to taste. I also thought that the Altos de Moncayo was an Aussie but syrah. The Shea PN was easy to know but I though CA. The Quinta do Valle tasted for me as a rhonish grenache blend. I had no clue as for the Volnay, and less for the Pontet. I think that the Pontet was extremely close due to the travel to USA and that it was bottled two months or maybe two weeks before as per Suckling. It was very interesting, and should be repeated. This year (and for the first time) I did not like the four chefs. I think that it should be part of the real lunch, and I did not like the wines. Maybe Matthews should select them as he did last year.. Orlando
Daniel Hansen
Charlotte, NC —  October 29, 2007 3:33pm ET
Mr. Laube:I have to quiz you about rating the 2004 Fransican Napa Valley Cabernet a "75." I could leave a bottle of Welch's grape juice in the sun and turn out a beverage that rates 75.I have had this wine three times recently: at a wine tasting in a wine shop; at Sullivan's Steakhouse; and at home. All three times the wine was very good. I'd give it a score in the 88-91 range. But a 75? Have my tastebuds gone dead or was the 75 a misprint in the latest issue of WineSpectator?Dan Hansen
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 29, 2007 5:26pm ET
Bryan, I think everyone had fun...nothing like a surprise wine tasting. I'm sure the other guys will blog about it. I'll suggest they do.
Lee Hammack
Virginia —  October 30, 2007 5:36pm ET
For Dan Hansen et al:Do not worry. Your tastebuds are quite alive. The occasional unfathomable review is becoming Mr. Laube's hallmark.
Mark Lewis
Napa —  October 31, 2007 4:15pm ET
I am happy when there are less than favorable ratings on wine that I have tried and enjoyed. It can mean that the wine will be more available, and sometimes discounted considerably. James,I am amazed at the accuracy you and your colleages display in these blind tastings. To come close is incredible to me.
Elyse J Ward
Buffalo Grove, IL —  October 31, 2007 4:23pm ET
In the spirit of Dan's question - I'd also be interested comments surrounding the 79pt rating of the most recent Paul Hobbs Napa Cab bottling. I'm shocked! Especially given the 90+ rating on his higher-priced, vineyard designate oferings. This is a wine I'll normally by on trust alone.
Mike Verble
Lakeland, FL —  October 31, 2007 7:53pm ET
James, we thoroughly enjoyed this years event. I was really looking forward to testing my "skill" during the blind tasting. What a HUMBLING experience. I think I might have identified 2 of the grape varieties AND I think I was only on the same CONTINENT as the actual wine area once. OUCH!!!! I guess we taste to learn as well as enjoy don't we? I did think I picked up on one advantage no one else mentioned that I thought gave me a slight "hint". I was keeping track of the type of wine bottle that the wines were being poured from. Even though they were foil wrapped I could generally identify the bottle type (burgundy/bordeaux/etc.). Your's of course was a bordeaux/cab style and a Magnum in size. That of course led me to identifing it as a Cab based (hurray for me) Super Tuscan! Sassicaia or Tignianello probably from 1999 or 2001. Gutsy, huh? ;-} And it was only my second choice as favorite (what a dope). I chose wine "A" as favorite which I was sure was certainly YOUR very special California Cab choice. For those scoring at home; it was a South African Shiraz (and very good but no Calif Cab here). I guess I will keep my DAY job James. Anyway, we had a great deal of fun and look forward to doing it again. I hope to find out how many of the editors were able to correctly identify their OWN wine from the bunch, and not just the one they liked the most.

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