What Am I Tasting?

This rich red has muscular tannins and notes of cherry, iron and tobacco ... Play the game!

December 18, 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: Rich and solidly structured, making way for pure cherry and strawberry flavors. Iron, tobacco and tar hints augment the fruit as this builds to a lingering aftertaste. Muscular tannins and bright acidity underline all the elements.

And the answer is...


This complex red shows muscular tannins with red fruit, iron and tobacco notes. Let’s figure out what it is.

We can immediately eliminate Gamay, which produces lighter-bodied wines with light tannins and bright fruit notes. Though these notes include cherry and strawberry flavors like our wine’s, tobacco and tar would be unusual accents for a Gamay.

Cinsault also displays red fruit notes with bright acidity, which can sometimes be accompanied by smoky accents. But Cinsault’s tannins are also on the light side, and our mystery wine’s herbal and mineral notes aren’t a match for Cinsault. Let’s move on!

Herbal, smoky accents are common for Mourvèdre, along with moderate acidity and high levels of tannins. This would make the grape a good option, except that Mourvèdres tend to show blue fruit flavors rather than our wine’s red fruits. And we are missing Mourvèdre’s hallmark meat and pepper flavors. Maybe another grape works better?

Cabernet Sauvignon makes rich, full-bodied wines with structured tannins and moderate acidity. Cabernets can also show mineral flavors and herbaceous notes like tobacco. This all makes sense for our wine. However, Cabernets tend to have dark fruit notes and our wine’s iron, tar and bright acidity are off the mark.

Sangiovese is known for its red fruit notes like cherry and strawberry, often joined by savory herbal and minerally accents supported by bright acidity and brawny tannins. This seems like a fit!

This wine is a Sangiovese.

Country or Region of Origin

It would be difficult to find Sangiovese vines in Spain, and it’s not popular in France, either. Winemakers in California and Australia have experimented with Sangiovese, but production is limited to just a handful of producers, and much of California and Australia’s Sangiovese is grown for blends rather than single-variety bottlings. Italy is Sangiovese’s home country, and the grape reigns in several key regions, producing some of Italy’s best-known wines.

This Sangiovese is from Italy.


We know that our Sangiovese is from Italy, so we can eliminate Australia’s Barossa Valley, California’s Napa Valley, France’s Burgundy and Spain’s Ribeiro. That leaves us with two Italian appellations: Brunello di Montalcino and Salice Salentino.

Located in Italy’s Puglia region, Salice Salentino has a hot, sunny growing season tempered by cool Adriatic breezes at night. It’s ideal for tannic red wines made from the Negroamaro grape.

Brunello di. Montalcino, in Tuscany, is one of Italy’s premier winegrowing regions, the source of ageworthy reds that are highly prized by wine lovers around the world. And these wines are made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape.

This Sangiovese is from Brunello di Montalcino.


Brunello’s ageability is thanks largely to Sangiovese’s high acidity and structured tannins, which smooth and integrate over time. Our Brunello’s tannins are still in a youthful muscular phase, and the fruit flavors are fresh, indicating our wine is likely not more than 10 years old.

Brunellos have a minimum age requirement of five years before release, including at least two years aging in oak, so let’s look at the most recently released vintages.

2015 was a warm but not overly hot vintage for Brunello, yielding ripe, rich wines dense with tannins and acidity to age. 2014 was cool and wet, and the lack of sun made full ripening difficult. 2013’s growing season started late, but produced many elegant and supple Brunellos with accents like pepper and chocolate. The 2015 vintage is the best fit for our rich and structured Brunello.

This Brunello di Montalcino is from the 2015 vintage, making it 5 years old.


This is the Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Montosoli 2015, which scored 96 points in the June 30, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $689/1.5L and 250 cases were made. For more on Brunello di Montalcino, read senior editor Bruce Sanderson’s tasting report, "Strapping Sangioveses," in the June 30, 2020, issue.

—Eszter Balogh, associate tasting coordinator