It's taken me a while to write up my notes on a fabulous dinner I had a few weeks ago in Dallas. This fantastic meal was organized at one of that city's best restaurants, Lola, led by local wine collector and nice guy Howard Marc Spector. The food was delicious, service good, and if you are looking for a great wine list at gentle prices, this is the place. I would go back in a heartbeat.
True, I've been busy travelling around (I'll write up my travel notes soon enough), but I hesitated to write about this for a simple reason: this dinner was a "blind tasting" meal, wherein all the participants brought the wines wrapped in various coverings to hide their identities. All we knew going in was that they were all supposed to be "old", and by "old" it was understood that they would be from before 1990. Many humbling moments were to ensue...
A blind tasting is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to learn about wine. It is also one of the most humbling moments any wine lover can have. To shout with absolute certainty that what you have in your glass is a great Bordeaux when it's actually a Beaujolais Nouveau, well, "red-faced" doesn't begin to describe what you might feel. Still, without the influence of a label, the mind is free to examine the wine from all aspects, looking for markers that remind one of what it has tasted previously. But it ain't easy. Fun, yes, easy, no.
That said, with experience (ie lots and lots of tasting) comes wisdom. Or so you'd think.
On this night, palates and guesses were all over the place. We started with a bottle I bought in Dallas, a 1988 Pommery Cuvee Louise Champagne, beautifully crisp and young with just the beginnings of that lovely caramelization that older bubblies get. Most folks knew right away it was Champagne, but after that most of the guesses were shots in the dark. Next up was an older Riesling, smelling strongly of petrol (typical of older Rieslings), with some nutty accents backed up by surviving fruity notes. I guessed old Riesling, but as for the year or source, I was stumped. Granted, my knowledge of Riesling is sorely lacking, but all I could venture was a mid-1970s German. OK, half-right. It was the 1964 Kunstler Spatslese. Interesting, good but on the way down.
Now we moved on to the reds. The wine before me was beefy and cedary, making me think Bordeaux, but with some stony smells that made me think perhaps California. No, this was the 1964 Gruaud Larose. The next bottle was mine, an old Italian that was redolent of dark, muddy earth churned up with red berries. Most diners had no idea what this was, though a few came very close. I proudly removed the cover to reveal the 1985 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. After this came a wine that was thick with dark, syrupy fruits, a heavy mouthfeel, and some wooden notes. We all guessed Bordeaux, and whoops, this was the 1984 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, a CA wine! It exhibited none or almost none of the dusty smells I usually get from older CA, but left me red-faced nonetheless. Another cedary wine was poured with just enough fruit to make us think CA, yet this time it was the 1989 Mouton Rothschild! The last wine was full of cedar and dark fruits, and we all voted that it was Bordeaux: indeed, this was the 1982 Chateau Montrose.
With the end of dinner, we looked forward to some blind dessert wine but were stumped when the bottle, a 1983 Cockburn, ended up being corked and undrinkable. D'oh!
Howard showed his generosity by grabbing the list and ordering a 1985 Fonseca. This wine was full-bodied and full of red and black fruits, chocolate and wood, a lovely and velvety Port that slid far too easily down the throat.
Once dinner was done, we surveyed the wreckage. None of us had really guessed anything right, and a few of us walked away red-faced from horrible guesses (myself included). But, whether we knew it or not, our minds had subconsciously recorded markers in each wine and assigned them to that specific bottle, making us better tasters. Of course, the subject of blind tasting is a controversial one among wine tasters, as most folks don't like to be humiliated or humbled. But to me this is a wonderful way to learn about wine and appreciate it even more.
And, more importantly, it's a great way to have a wonderful time.
For more thoughts on blind tasting, Eric Asimov's article on his blog, The Pour, is a great read.