One of the most thought-provoking challenges a wine critic can experience occurs during a blind tasting.  The ability to judge a wine by blindly guessing its varietal, vintage, and origin is a test normally reserved for the most praiseworthy of sommeliers.  Just when you think your palate is refined to detect a specific region, or even a favorite varietal, all senses can be easily tricked when an unexpected $15 bottle of wine holds up to a $80 award-winner.  It is for this reason that we felt it was necessary to put our palates to the test by creating a 10-bottle blind tasting challenge.  All wines in the challenge were purchased at our local Bristol Farms Market.  The goal was to select 10 bottles from several different countries and regions, highlighting both classic varietals, and obscure twisters.  Back at our headquarters, each bottle was concealed in a white paper bag, assigned an individual number and opened approximately 30 minutes prior to the challenge. Uncertain if we would even be able to properly identify any of the wines, we jumped into the challenge with confidence, and our first blind taste test was underway.

Tasting Notes:

Wine #1:  A bit cloudy and magenta in color. Earthy, ripe with high acidity, red berries and a dry, rustic finish.
Score: 88
Justin’s Guess: French Rhône, 2010
Actual Bottle: Famille Perrin Côtes Du Rhône Reserve 2010, France ($9) – A Robert Parker “wine not to miss”.

Wine #2: Inky purple in color. Dark fruit, pepper, notes of cherry and big tannins with a dry finish.
Score: 89
Justin’s Guess: Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
Actual Bottle: Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Mendoza, Argentina ($16)

Wine #3: Vibrant purple in color. Sweet vanilla, cherry, cola with slight spice. Mostly fruit with a juicy, clean finish.
Score: 90
Justin’s Guess: California Zinfandel, 2010
Acutal Bottle: Chateau Montelena Zinfandel Napa Valley 2010 ($39)

Wine #4: Deep purple garnet in color. High acidity, ripe fruit, red cherries with a good balance of acid and fruit.
Score: 89
Justin’s Guess: Spanish Tempranillo, 2010
Actual Bottle: Protocolo Tempranillo 2010, Spain ($8)

Wine#5: Ruby and clear in color. Earthy, rustic, licorice, red apple. Juicy and supple tartness that is balanced.
Score: 89
Justin’s Guess: California Pinot Noir, 2009
Actual Bottle:  Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2011 Williamette Valley, Oregon ($35)

Wine #6: Rich amber hues and beautiful ruby color. Fragrant bouquet of rich plum and dark fruits. Impressive fruit richness and balanced tannic structure.
Score: 92
Justin’s Guess: Châteauneuf du Pape, 2010
Actual Bottle: Yarden Merlot 2009 Golan Heights, Israel ($25) Kosher Wine
Wine #7: Bright amber and ruby in color. Fruit hides underneath its acidic structure with notes of licorice and spice.
Score: 88
Justin’s Guess: Italian Sangiovese, 2011
Actual Bottle: Castello Romitorio Rosso Di Montalcino Sangiovese 2010, Italy ($25)

Wine #8: Deep purple with a ruby rim. Rich bold fruit, pepper, sweet dark cherry. Gorgeous fruit with sweetness on the palate backed by anise, earth and pepper.
Score: 90
Justin’s Guess: Washngton Merlot, 2010
Actual Bottle:  Entre Suelos Tempranillo 2010, Spain ($12)

Wine #9: Clear and vibrant with a potent aroma of musty cheese. Nice fruits, a bit tart with a highly pungent nose.
Score: 88
Justin’s Guess: Northern Rhône, 2010
Actual Bottle: Cantine Colosi Nero D’Avola 2011, Sicily ($16)

Wine #10: A bit cloudy but vibrant ruby in color. Pretty fruit, bright red strawberries. Clean, fruity and supple with a sanguine finish.
Score: 91
Justin’s Guess: Southern Rhône, 2009
Actual Bottle: Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009, France (Half Bottle $19)

The most shocking experience of the entire blind tasting event was revealing the wines from their bags.  We were immediately impressed by the beauty, flavor and rich complexity of a few bottles in particular.  Wine #6, Yarden Merlot 2009 from Golan Heights, Israel, was our top selection of the tasting, described as “incredibly delicious”.  After revealing the identity of this wine, it truly took us the rest of the day to fully comprehend that a kosher wine had outshined major wine producing regions and wineries of the world.

Our runner up, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf du Pape 2009, is a highly acclaimed bottle from well-respected producer in the Southern Rhône.  This was one of our correct guesses because of it’s distinctive character.  It’s a wine with elegant fruit, and a lengthy finish.

In third place, the most inexpensive on our list, was a Spanish Tempranillo, much bolder in nature than what you would normally find from this varietal.  At $12, it’s our best bargain selection of the challenge as well, emitting sweet fruit, bold rich texture, and anise on the backbone.  A surprising quality at any price point, but especially under $20.

Even more impressive was our ability to properly identify 7 out of the 10 wines selected.  This project was not only a perfect vehicle to validate our keen palates, but also a wonderful way to broaden our wine knowledge.  We encourage you to seek out these wines at your local markets and give them a pop.