What Am I Tasting?

This red has fresh acidity, assertive tannins and floral, cherry and mint notes ... Play the game!

May 13, 2022

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: Floral, cherry, plum, tar and menthol are the flavor themes in this version, backed by fresh acidity and energetic tannins. There is harmony here, along with a fresh feel, while the assertive tannins leave a tactile impression.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our harmonious mystery wine displays fresh acidity, assertive tannins and stone fruit, floral, tar and mint notes. Let’s figure out what it is!

We can begin by eliminating Cinsault, which makes lighter-bodied reds with low levels of tannins.

Pinot Noirs can show our wine’s fresh acidity and fruit notes; but it would be unusual for a Pinot Noir to have assertive tannins.

Malbec can make full-bodied reds with plenty of tannins. But these tannins tend to be on the rounder and plusher side, unlike our wine’s. Plus, we are missing some of Malbec’s hallmark secondary notes, like chocolate, licorice and spice. Let’s move on.

Assertive tannins and plum notes would be typical for Syrah, aka Shiraz. However, Syrah’s characteristic pepper, olive, meat and rosemary notes aren’t a match here.

Nebbiolos generally have high levels of acidity and powerful tannins, as well as cherry, floral, tar and mint notes. We have a match!

This wine is a Nebbiolo.

Country or Region of Origin

Nebbiolo isn’t grown in many regions outside of the grape’s native Italy. For instance, it would be difficult to find Nebbiolo vines in France. Australia and Argentina both grow some Nebbiolo, but this represents a small fraction of those countries’ plantings. A few producers have been successful with Nebbiolo in California, especially in regions with warm days and cool nights; these versions are often ripe with dark and jammy fruit flavors, spice details and chewy tannins. This contrasts with styles from Italy, which tend to emphasize red fruit flavors, floral details, bright acidity and lively, assertive structure. Italian Nebbiolo sounds closest to the mark.

This Nebbiolo is from Italy.

Appellation

We know that our Nebbiolo is from Italy, so we can eliminate France’s Bourgogne, Australia’s McLaren Vale, Argentina’s Mendoza and California’s Napa Valley. This leaves us with the Italian appellations Barbaresco and Toscana. Toscana, Tuscany’s regional IGT, has the sunlight Nebbiolo loves. But Tuscany is best-known for the indigenous Sangiovese grape, key to Brunello and Chianti; French grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also huge successes here, popular in the local super Tuscan blends. Farther north, Nebbiolo is the only grape allowed in Piedmont’s Barbaresco appellation, where it is used to make complex wines with bold tannins and lively acidity. We have a clear pick.

This Nebbiolo is from Barbaresco.

Age

Nebbiolos such as Barbaresco and Barolo are highly ageable thanks to their high acidity and structure, and typically are aged for several years before they’re even released. Our Barbaresco’s tannins are still assertive, and its acidity still fresh, so it’s likely not more than 10 years old. Let’s consider some recent vintages in Piedmont.

Piedmont had an ideal harvest in 2017, producing fresh and balanced Barbarescos with earthy and minerally elements. 2016 was a cooler year with a long growing season yielding harmonious Barbarescos with fresh red fruit, floral and tar notes. Winter snow and spring rain provided plenty of water for Piedmont’s vineyards in 2015, resulting in rich Barbarescos with red fruit, spice and mineral notes. 2014 was a challenging year, but the weather improved at harvesttime, resulting in juicy Barbarescos with ripe fruit and tobacco notes. Our Barbaresco sounds most like the 2016 vintage.

This Barbaresco is from 2016, making it six years old.

Wine

This is the Roagna Barbaresco Faset 2016, which scored 92 points in the April 30, 2022, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $150, and 250 cases were made. For more on Piedmont’s reds, read senior editor Bruce Sanderson’s tasting report, "Fortune Favors Barolo," in the April 30, 2022, issue.

—Taylor McBride