The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Travails and Tribulations of a Professional Taster

Posted on | February 17, 2010 | Written by Christy Canterbury | No Comments

This morning, I tasted a Viognier from California that ignited my taste buds.  I was thrilled because it exceeded my expectations (and, admittedly, it also overcame my skepticism).  I like to taste blind so that I don’t develop expectations, but that’s not always possible, especially when faced with the prospects of trade tastings.  I’ve tasted a lot of wines in the last few weeks (as I do every week), and I’m disappointed to report my passion doesn’t ignite as often as I’d like.  Wines are cleaner and more often technically correct than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they are any more delicious; there’s still a lot of average juice out there.  The worst is when winery owners clearly put their hearts and souls into their production, use gorgeous corks and beautiful labels, ante up for the grand “sommelier” bottles, but the wine is simply unbalanced and plain not good.  My highly subjective pronouncement has nothing to do with style and everything to do with harmony and quality.

And yet I found some wines in the last few weeks that have really thrilled me.  Among the Italians I enjoyed were Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte 2007 (cassis, iron, tobacco leaf and no overt oak influence) and Roagna Barolo Chinato NV (bumper aromatics with a delicious, starting sweetness leading to a finishing dryness from the bittering herbs).  Wines I enjoyed from other parts of the world included Substance Chardonnay 2008 (a bit amylic on the nose with leesy-ness, elegance and great food pairing potential), Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Spätlese Scharzhofberger 2007 (zesty minerality, Saar-induced leanness, filigree mouth-feel), Domaine Humbert Frères Fixin 2008 (popping- ripe blueberries, damp earth and deliciousness I’ve never, ever encountered in a Fixin) and Jackson-Triggs Vidal Ice Wine 2007 (an ice wine-true nose of volatile acidity and dried apricots akin to Riesling with a viscous, mouth-coating palate).

And, keeping in line with my resolution to share more sparkling sensations with you, and I must extol the brilliance of the Roederer Estate NV, Anderson Valley’s and California’s finest sparkling wine, regardless of whether you choose the NV or the vintage L’Ermitage.  I frequently taste it blind for my studies, and it’s incredibly hard to distinguish from Champagne.  The only difference, if you can catch it, is that Champagne “completely perfumes the mouth” (thanks, Michael Schuster, for this pointer).

And then, there were the 2007 wines of DRC, but I’m going to hold off for now and share those tasting notes with you next week.

There may be many pot holes in the landscape of wine deliciousness, even though the industry has dramatically cleaned-up its act.  At IWM, Sergio (who is tasting around “The Boot” this week) and I work hard to seek out and offer nothing but the best.  It’s a job that’s tough on the palate—and the enamel—but someone has to do it.


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