What Am I Tasting?

This red displays cranberry, herb and chalky mineral aromas, with light tannins ... Play the game!

June 12, 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: Maturing, light tawny in color, distinct and highly aromatic, this features orange peel acidity and light tannins that drive the notes of dried cranberry, roasted herbs and licorice. Light-bodied and expressive, with a firm, chalky finish.

And the answer is...


Our mystery wine shows red berry, herbal and licorice aromas, with citrusy acidity and light tannins.

We can eliminate Syrah first. The grape’s skins are highly pigmented, producing tannic and deeply colored reds with aromas like dark berries, olive and pepper. This doesn’t sound right for our wine.

Malbec is made in a few styles, depending on the climate and winemaking techniques. In warmer regions, Malbecs may emphasize flavors like plum and chocolate, but there are Old World versions that show cranberry, herb and licorice notes, like our wine. However, Malbecs tend to be fuller-bodied with bold tannins, and it would be unusual for one to have a chalky finish or citrusy acidity.

But orange peel acidity is a hallmark of Tempranillo. This Spanish grape can produce wines with strong acidity and aromas like those of our wine. But again, our note’s light tannins and body aren’t a match. Tempranillos are usually medium- to full-bodied, with gripping tannins, commonly softened by aging in American oak barrels. Oak aging also gives Tempranillos aromas like vanilla, wood and cocoa, which our note is missing. Let’s move on!

Our wine’s lighter hue could point us toward Nebbiolo, a grape that produces lightly colored reds with bright acidity and notes like dried cranberry and licorice. However, while Nebbiolos are soft in color, they are also full-bodied and high in tannins, with some versions—like those from Barolo—requiring many years to soften. Maybe there’s a better fit?

Pinot Noir is grown around the world and the wines are made in several styles, from red-fruited and bright to dark and savory. Most Pinots have light to moderate tannins, often described as silky or elegant, and are lighter in color. Though aromas can vary, many versions have red berry and herbal flavors, with mineral accents. This sounds much closer to our note.

This wine is a Pinot Noir

Country or Region of Origin

Pinot Noir is one of the world’s most widely planted grapes, and generally grows best in cooler climates. But not all cool-climate regions are major Pinot growers. The grape has yet to achieve significance in Uruguay, where only a few producers experiment with it. Tannat and Malbec are still far more significant there. The same is the case for Spain. Spain’s Pinot Noir plantings form a small fraction of its vineyards, and its lighter red wines are more likely to be made from the Galician grape Mencía. Pinot Noir has an increasing presence in Washington, but grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are still king in the Evergreen State, and Pinot plantings aren’t nearly as sizable as in neighboring Oregon.

This leaves us with California and Germany. Pinot Noir has had great success in California, especially with the fruit-forward New World style. In Germany—where Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder—the cooler continental climate produces leaner Pinots with bright acidity, mineral notes and savory accents. This seems closer to our wine.

This Pinot Noir is from Germany


Knowing that our Pinot Noir is from Germany, we can eliminate Uruguay’s Canelones, Washington’s Columbia Valley, California’s Napa Valley and Spain’s Rioja.

This leaves us with the German appellations Mosel and Saale-Unstrut. Saale-Unstrut is a small, hilly region in northern Germany, where the Saale and Unstrut rivers meet. Most of the region’s output is white wines produced from grapes like Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir takes a backseat to other red grapes like Dornfelder and Blauer Portugieser. But Pinot Noir is the most widely grown red grape in the Mosel region. Although the Mosel is best-known for its Rieslings, its Pinot Noirs are increasingly noteworthy.

This Pinot Noir is from Germany’s Mosel region.


Our Pinot’s tawny color and dried fruit note indicate that our maturing wine has likely spent several years aging in bottle. To figure out its age, we should look a few years beyond Germany’s most recent vintages.

Weather conditions in 2016 were erratic throughout Germany, but producers were largely happy with the resulting crop. The year’s Pinots tend to be red-fruited with floral and tea notes, and can show moderate richness. 2015’s weather was ideal and unusually consistent throughout Germany, with dry conditions in early summer and necessary rains during September. This resulted in Pinots with red berry and spice aromas, accented by herbal and earthy mineral notes, as well as bright, citrusy acidity. Germany’s 2014 yields were on the higher side, benefiting from a wet and cool year. 2014’s Pinots are on the savory side, with top versions showing notes like smoke and leather, as well as earth and leaf notes. Especially given the acidity in 2015’s Pinots, it seems that our wine best matches that year’s crop.

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


This is the Günther Steinmetz Pinot Noir Mosel Kestener Herrenberg 2015, which scored 90 points. It retails for $57 and 80 cases were made. For more on German Pinot Noir, read associate tasting coordinator Aleks Zecevic's article, "Spätburgunder: Germany’s Answer to Burgundy."

—Eszter Balogh, assistant tasting coordinator