What Am I Tasting?

This showy red has blackberry, graphite and licorice notes. Can you solve the mystery?

January 11, 2019

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Showy, with layers of warmed fig, roasted mesquite, black tea, incense and Turkish coffee notes, followed by waves of lush cassis, blackberry and raspberry confiture flavors. This has a graphite grounding rod, a tarry spine and riveting licorice snap details to keep it driving along. A head-turner for sure.

And the answer is...


There's a lot going on in this wine, with its ripe and bold fruit, savory notes and structure. Let's narrow down our possibilities.

Pinot Noir, the signature red grape of France's Burgundy region, is grown all over the world, although it thrives in cool climates and cooler pockets in some warm New World regions. These wines are light- to medium-bodied, with notes of red and sometimes dark berries. Old World styles of Pinot show earthy and herbal elements, while New World versions tend to accent the fruit. Our wine's tar, coffee, mesquite, incense and licorice notes are all off the mark for Pinot Noir.

Blaufränkisch is the premier red grape of Austria, a country known best for its white wines but with a warm southeast region called Burgenland where reds do well. These medium-bodied wines show a mix of red and black fruit, like our wine, but don't typically express minerality that rises to the level of our wine's graphite note; licorice, mesquite and tar are also out of character. More important, Blaufränkisch has a signature black pepper flavor and aroma that is missing in our mystery wine.

Grenache, or Garnacha in Spain, is a late-ripening grape that thrives in warm climates. More often than not, it's found in blends, such as those of the Southern Rhône in France, but has also found its way to New World regions like Australia and California. Grenache can make a range of wines, from relatively light-bodied to full-bodied. It typically shows a mix of ripe red fruit. Raspberry is on point, but fig and blackberry might be pushing it. Mineral elements like graphite are present in some terroirs, but coffee, mesquite, tar and incense are also off. Let's keep looking.

Tempranillo is found all over Spain and Portugal, where it is known by several names. Our wine's fruit is pretty similar to that of Tempranillo, so let's look a little deeper. Tempranillo has plenty of leather and tobacco, which is missing here. Coffee, graphite, black tea and incense aren't quite right for the Spanish grape, either.

Native to France's Bordeaux region, Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most widely planted winegrape, notable everywhere from California and Washington to Australia and Chile. There are variations in style depending on where the grapes are grown, but generally speaking, Cabernets are big and bold, with a lot of structure and intense flavors. Mostly black fruit is found, with some ripe red and blue fruit too, as well as accent notes of mineral, smoke, coffee, licorice and tar—basically all the descriptors in our wine.

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Country or Region of Origin

As we said before, Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in almost every winemaking region in the world. But looking at our list of possible countries, Germany and New Zealand stick out. Their climates are much better-suited to white wines, like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, respectively, as well as red wines like Pinot Noir.

There is some Cabernet grown in Spain, but it's typically blended in small percentages to bolster a traditional Tempranillo- or Grenache-based wine.

France and Chile are both known for Cabernet; it's now Chile's main red grape. Chilean Cabernet has some flavors in common with our tasting note, like blackberry and raspberry, but mesquite, licorice and black tea not so much. Additionally, Cabs from this part of the world have distinct herbal and "green" notes, such as dried herbs, green bell pepper and green olive, which are not found in our wine.

Cabernet from France can be incredibly complex and structured, with plush fruit like blackberry, raspberry, plum and fig, complemented by intense mineral and smoke accents. Some styles are very showy and rich, like our wine, with its coffee, incense, licorice and tar notes. This sounds like a French Cabernet.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from France.


Now that we know our wine is from France, we can eliminate Austria's Burgenland, Chile's Maule Valley, New Zealand's Central Otago and Spain's Ribera del Duero. That leaves us with two French appellations: St.-Emilion and St.-Julien, both in Bordeaux.

St.-Emilion is on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. This is Merlot country: A large majority of producers here base their blends on Merlot, with Cabernet Franc supporting and, sometimes, Cabernet Sauvignon in smaller percentages. Here, you're going to find more of a focus on polished, lush fruit and, in some areas of St.-Emilion, great minerality from the limestone, but the mesquite, coffee, tar and licorice flavors are more typical of the Left Bank.

St.-Julien is on the Left Bank, a subregion of Bordeaux that relies mostly on Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc supporting—the reverse of the Right Bank. The wines have plush fruit flavors, great structure, and intense supporting notes like mineral, smoke, licorice and coffee.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from St.-Julien.


Generally speaking, Cabernet Sauvignon wines that come from France see some oak aging before being released. The 2016s have just been bottled, but haven't quite filtered into the U.S. market yet, as they're a little young. Let's take a look at other recent vintages, since our wine shows no signs of significant age.

The 2014 vintage was excellent, but a humid summer led to uneven ripening, and hampered some of the expressiveness in the resulting red wines. The next year, 2015, was a standout vintage; vintners experienced a dry growing season, which gave them ripe and lush reds with great structure, just like our wine.

This wine is from the 2015 vintage, making it four years old.


This is the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St.-Julien 2015, a blend of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent Merlot. It received 97 points in Wine Spectator's March 31, 2018, issue and retails for $177, and also got a spot in our Top 100 Wines of 2018. For more about the 2015 vintage in Bordeaux, read senior editor James Molesworth's tasting report, "Drum Roll, Please," in the same issue.

—Cassia Schifter, associate tasting coordinator