What Am I Tasting?

This buttery white displays apple and pear pastry flavors with toasty accents ... Play the game!

March 19, 2021

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: Buttery, yet balanced by a lithe freshness and filled with apple pastry, pear tart and quince paste flavors, loaded with spicy richness. The finish turns unctuous and creamy, showing powerful toasty accents.

And the answer is...


Our fresh, buttery white has rich and spicy apple and pear pastry flavors and toasty accents on the creamy finish. Let’s figure out what it is!

We can start by eliminating Albariño, which is typically light-bodied with citrus, peach and mineral notes.

Gewürztraminers can be complex and full-bodied with rich texture and spice. But we are missing that grape’s distinctive rose, lychee and stone fruit flavors, and most Gewürztraminers lack our wine’s lithe freshness. Let’s cross it off our list.

Sauvignon Blancs can display fresh orchard fruit and spice flavors. But it would be unusual for one to be buttery or toasty, and our mystery wine lacks Sauvignon Blanc’s hallmark citrus and herbal notes.

Pinot Blanc can make both light- and full-bodied wines with orchard fruit and citrus flavors. Richer versions might also be creamy, which sounds like our wine. However, we’re missing Pinot Blanc’s characteristic floral, nut, ginger and mineral notes.

Chardonnay can be made in a range of styles, from the crisp and minerally to the bold and rich. Fuller-bodied versions can offer notes like apple, pear and pastry. Plus, oak aging and malolactic conversion can impart creamy textures with spice, butter and toast accents. We’ve found a winner!

This wine is a Chardonnay.

Country or Region of Origin

Chardonnay is relatively easy to grow, making it an attractive variety in many regions. But it’s responsible for only a small fraction of Spain’s white wine output, compared to other grapes like Verdejo and Macabeo, and much of Spain’s Chardonnay is used for blends and sparkling wines. Chardonnay is grown in Germany, but it’s not nearly as significant as grapes like Riesling, and German Chardonnay is often minerally. New Zealand is best-known for its Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, but there’s plenty of New Zealand Chardonnay as well. Unlike our wine, they tend to emphasize Chardonnay’s floral, nut and tropical fruit flavors.

France is Chardonnay’s home country, and well-regarded for its rich, medium- to full-bodied Chardonnays with racy acidity. Many of these whites highlight delicate fruit flavors and complex minerality. California Chardonnays, generally from warmer regions than those of France, are generally full-bodied with rich fruit and spice notes underscored by creamy, buttery and toasty accents.

This Chardonnay is from California.


We know that our Chardonnay is from California, so we can eliminate Germany’s Ahr, France’s Alsace, New Zealand’s Marlborough and Spain’s Rías Baixas. This leaves us with two California appellations: San Pasqual Valley and Sonoma. San Pasqual Valley is a Southern California region that harvests grapes like Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Grenache, but does not grow much Chardonnay. Located in Northern California near the Pacific Ocean, Sonoma Coast is known for its rich Chardonnays.

This Chardonnay is from Sonoma Coast.


Based on its toast, spice and creamy notes, we know that our Chardonnay has spent time in oak. But our wine’s fruit flavors are still fresh, so it’s probably on the younger side. Let’s look at recent Sonoma Chardonnay vintages to see if we can pinpoint this wine’s age. Conditions were practically ideal for the classic 2018 vintage, which yielded whites with concentrated fruit flavors and crunchy acidity. Ample winter rain preceded the warm 2017 growing season, resulting in powerful and complex Chardonnays with orchard fruit, spice and butter notes. 2016 was a more variable year, with citrusy and smoky versions. The 2017 vintage sounds like the best match.

This Chardonnay is from 2017, making it four years old.


This is the Ferren Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2017, which scored 93 points in the Aug. 31, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $60, and 100 cases were made. For more on California Chardonnay, read senior editor Kim Marcus’ tasting report, "California Cool," in the same issue.

Eszter Balogh, associate tasting coordinator