What Am I Tasting?

A plump, ripe white that flirts with an off-dry feel … Play the game!

November 15, 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: A plump, ripe style that flirts with an off-dry feel, as ginger, pear, McIntosh apple and quince flavors race through, carried by a note of piecrust. Juicy energy throughout gives this a flattering feel.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our wine is ripe and lightly sweet, with ginger and orchard fruit notes, as well as pastry elements and good acidity.

Pinot Grigio is made in droves in northeastern Italy, where it is picked very early, resulting in light-bodied, high-acid, easy-drinking wines with lots of lime and lemon flavors. You might find pear or apple flavors in a Pinot Grigio, but piecrust and ginger would be quite uncommon. These wines are also typically ultradry, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one that fit the description of "plump." Let's move on.

Sauvignon Blanc, native to France, is planted all around the world. It can show orchard fruit, but piecrust and ginger are not common, and these wines are also typically made in very dry styles (with the exception of the botrytized sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac in Bordeaux). Our note is also missing Sauvignon Blanc's signature citrus and herbal notes. We should keep looking.

Grüner Veltliner is Austria's signature grape, and is made in a few different styles. The first is hinted in the name: "Grüner" means "green" in German. These wines are light, and focus on citrusy, herbal and mineral character. The other style is rounder, richer and more complex, not unlike our wine. They still retain some of their green elements, however, as well as spice like white pepper, neither of which are found in our note. Additionally, Grüner is typically fermented dry.

Many Rieslings are made in off-dry styles. These wines could certainly show several of our note's aromas, such as orchard fruit and ginger, but piecrust is not one of them. Almost there, but there's a better match.

Chenin Blanc is often made in an off-dry style, even though it can make bone-dry as well as sweet dessert wines. The grape also hits all our other points: ripe but with vibrant acidity for balance, orchard fruit and ginger notes, and pastry-like details that can come from malolactic fermentation or extended lees contact. We have a winner.

This wine is a Chenin Blanc.

Country or Region of Origin

Austria, Germany and Italy are not known for their Chenin Blancs, so we can easily rule them out.

This leaves us with the two most famous Chenin-producing countries, France and South Africa. It's a close call, but we can look at clues in the types of fruit and the wine's structure. A Chenin Blanc from South Africa (where the grape is also known as Steen) might have riper and more tropical fruit flavors. Our wine is certainly ripe and plump, but its fresh pear, apple and quince flavors suggest a leaner style from a cooler climate like France's. Additionally, while the best South African Chenin Blancs retain good acidity, there's a certain drive to this wine's structure, demonstrated by the flavors that "race through" with "juicy energy." It seems more likely that this is a ripe style of French Chenin Blanc.

This Chenin Blanc is from France.

Appellation

We've determined that our wine is from France, so we can eliminate Austria's Kamptal, Germany's Pfalz, Italy's Delle Venezie and South Africa's Swartland. We are left with two French appellations: Bordeaux and Vouvray.

Bordeaux's dry white wines are blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle; Chenin Blanc is not planted here. But in Vouvray, in the Loire Valley, Chenin is the flagship grape variety. These wines are commonly made in an off-dry style, showing ripe and complex orchard fruit, spice and pastry flavors.

This Chenin Blanc is from Vouvray.

Age

Chenin's naturally high acidity allows the wines to develop for decades. Our note shows fresh fruit aromas and there's no indication that our wine has gone through significant aging. Most Chenins are ready to drink upon release. The 2018 vintage yielded wines with lower acidity than usual; 2017s were "pure and precise," perhaps not the best match for our "flattering in feel" wine; 2016 was not too hot, yielding wines with fresh fruit and acidity.

This wine is from the 2016 vintage, making it three years old.

Wine

This is the Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Clos 2016, which scored 92 points in the Nov. 15, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $40, 350 cases were made, and 200 cases were imported. For more information on the Loire Valley, read associate tasting coordinator Aleks Zecevic's latest tasting report, "Charm Offensive," in the Nov. 15, 2019, issue.

—Eszter Balogh, assistant tasting coordinator