What Am I Tasting?

This is a graceful red with dark fruit and lingering tea aromas ... Play the game!

February 07, 2020

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: Graceful, expressive and impeccably built, with precise dark berry, black olive and black tea flavors that broaden and expand on a lingering finish. Finishes with polished tannins.

And the answer is...


This week’s mystery wine is a graceful and structured red offering dark berry and savory flavors with polished tannins. Let's start narrowing down the competition!

The least tannic grape on our list is Barbera, an Italian variety that is typically medium-bodied and high in acidity. It’s made in a range of styles, from elegant and pure to plush and fruity, but it's not known for attaining this level of structure, and olive and tea notes would be quite uncommon in a Barbera.

Blaufrankisch is a late-ripening variety also known for high acidity. While Blaufrankisch can be quite structured, the grape typically produces vibrant and peppery wines with red and blue fruits; olive and tea notes would be out of character.

Malbec produces full-bodied, bold wines that are plush in texture, with black and blue fruit flavors and supple tannins. Our dark berry note and structure are on the mark, but Malbec's savory notes tend more toward meaty sanguine and iron notes than tea and olive. Let's keep looking.

Zinfandel can certainly be bold and expressive, and can also produce firmly tannic and structured wines. But our note is missing Zinfandel’s signature zesty, briary character and raspberry and white pepper flavors.

Cabernet Sauvignon produces wines of intensity and depth with classic flavors of cherry, currant, plum, blackberry, spice and herb. It can also take on accents of earth, mineral, olive, mint and anise. The best examples are full-bodied, balancing vibrant acidity with concentrated flavors and firm, polished tannins.

This wines is a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Country or Region of Origin

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown around the world. Climate and terroir are the grape’s main limiting factors: Cabernet is a late-ripening grape that needs enough heat to mature fully. In warmer climates it can yield supple and elegant wines, but may take on more herbal and savory notes in cooler areas.

Knowing that, we can quickly eliminate Austria due to its cool climate, where white grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Müller Thurgau thrive. Likewise we can eliminate Austria's neighboring Switzerland, where Pinot Noir and Chasselas are the two key grapes.

France is the birthplace of Cabernet Sauvignon, and some of the most highly regarded Cabernet-based wines in the world are made here. Cabernet-based wines from France (the most pedigreed of which come from Bordeaux) typically offer fruit flavors of blackberry, black currant, raspberry and plum, along with minerally or graphite elements and cedar or tobacco notes. It's certainly possible that our mystery wine comes from Bordeaux, but we're missing any note of minerality, cedar or tobacco. Perhaps there's an even stronger contender to consider?

We have two regions in the United States to consider: Washington and New York. New York's most acclaimed wines are the Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region, but there is some Cabernet Sauvignon spread across the state. Washington, however, is much more likely source for our mystery wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of Washington state’s signature grapes, and is by a large margin the most widely planted red variety in the state. The grape flourishes in eastern Washington where the mix of well-draining soils and long, warm summers tempered by cool evenings produces intense and expressive wines with pure fruit flavors and vibrant acidity. The Cabernet-based wines can range from supple and elegant to bold and burly, with the best finding a middle ground between the bold, fruit-centered flavors of a Napa Cabernet and the balance and structure of Bordeaux.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from Washington.


Now that we know our Cabernet is from Washington we can eliminate New York's Finger Lakes, Austria’s Burgenland, Switzerland's Valais and France’s Pomerol. That leaves two Washington appellations: Puget Sound and Columbia Valley.

The Puget Sound AVA covers the northwestern corner of the state and is the only appellation in Washington located west of the Cascade mountains. The area has been most successful with cool climate–tolerant varieties, focusing on grapes like Müller Thurgau, Madeleine Angevine and Madeleine Sylvaner.

The Columbia Valley is Washington’s largest AVA. Located in eastern Washington, the region spans more than 11 million acres in the rain shadow of the Cascade range and features well-draining soils that predominately consist of wind-blown loess and volcanic material. Columbia Valley’s warm summers are balanced by cool evenings, ideal for producing ripe but expressive and balanced Cabernet Sauvignons.

This Cabernet is from Washington's Columbia Valley.


Cabernet Sauvignon has a reputation for ageability due to its formidable structure and solid acidity. As Cabernet matures, its core of fruit flavors become more integrated, with the wines taking on more aromas and flavors of tobacco, tea, mineral, spice and even truffle. Eventually, sometimes after decades, the fruit flavors and tannins will recede even more, taking on dried notes, and yielding even more of the stage to sanguine, spice, herbal and tea notes.

Our wine offers expressive dark berry flavors, suggesting it has not yet reached the stage where its fruit flavors have started to recede. But it also has savory olive and black tea notes. Along with the polished tannins, it's clear that our wine has had some time to integrate and come together.

Washington vintners typically age their Cabernets for a few years before release. Looking at recent vintages, the state has been on an outstanding run since the classic-rated 2012 vintage, when ideal conditions yielded wines of power and elegance, but it's unlikely our wine is that old. The 2013 and 2014 vintages were both hot, resulting in ripe, generous wines that don't quite match up with our wine's profile. While 2015 was also a warm vintage, the full-bodied wines are also marked by strong structures, a hallmark of the more moderate 2016 vintage as well. In 2017, a cool, wet spring was followed by a hot summer, and we've yet to get a full picture of the vintage's character.

This Cabernet is from the 2015 vintage, making it five years old.


This is the Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2015, which earned 94 points in the July 31, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator. The release price was $200, and 6,125 cases were made. For more information on Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington, see senior editor Tim Fish’s tasting report, "Catching a Break," in our Aug. 31, 2019, issue.

—Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator