TheWineRambler "A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for" - Kingsley Amis



Sparkling Sensation: Sussex vs Loire in the Wine Rambler Blind Tasting Madness part 9

Posted by Julian 12 Apr 2012

Tasting wines blind can be cruel. I wonder if Rober Parker Jr. or Jancis Robinson have been there before - that red-faced moment when you realise that what you thought was, say, the 1990 Médoc was in fact the 2001 Lemberger from Württemberg, that where you thought you were on the safe side, you've been as wrong about the identity of two wines as you can possibly be. That sinking feeling. That barely disguised glee in the eyes of the other participants, who knew all along. If so, cheer up, Robert and Jancis, we've been there as well. If you have followed our blind tasting adventures so far, you may get the impression that we have an uncanny tendency to end up there as soon as the paper bags come off, but if so, we do all this in the spirit of selfless sacrifice and journalistic objectivity.

But let's take a step back from the brink of embarassment, and meet the two colour-coded contestants henceforth to be known as Green and Blue. Here is what we knew: One was a classic, somewhat pricey bottle of the very finest English sparkling, provided by London Wine Rambler Torsten, who may be the German-speaking world's most tireless advocate for English Sparklers. The other was a bottle of Vouvray Brut for a mere third of that price, and with absolutely nothing to lose. Not much hope for the underdog, was there?

Blue had the paler colour of the two. It was bubbling in a rather subdued manner - "gone in 60 seconds" would be the movie reference to use here. A nose of apple, or rather apple sauce with a good dose of cinnamon, a hint of ginger as well as some lemon juice. Lemony acidity and sweet apple notes also ruled the palate, leaving you somewhat torn between the two. A surprisingly fresh, interesting and drinkable sparkler that leaned enjoyably toward a white wine style, rather than bringing the power, yeastiness and doughy complexity associated with serious Champagne.

Green was on the pale side as well when it comes to colour, but was bubbling away enthusiastically in comparison. The smell: A reverie of pastry and jam to get lost in. Quite wonderful. It followed this up on the palate, with less upfront fruit, but instead with more elegance and complexity, a more integrated mouthfeel, an accomplished hint of orange peel and an finish of slightly burned pastry. Classic, and clearly the better of the two.

So can you blame us for thinking we had a good safe case? Here's how we argued it after a short deliberation: With Blue, the apple and ginger aromatics were quite typical for Chenin Blanc, as was the tension between fruity sweetness and acidity. The mousseux was a little weaker and less elegant. All of this pointed to the Loire. Green, on the other hand, showed so much more yeasty substance, maturity and complexity, in short was so much more of a sparkler, that it just had to be the slightly older Englishman, as it were. Well, didn't we have that neatly sorted out?

In the blue corner, then: The 2006 Nytimber Classic Cuvée Brut. In Green, ladies and gentlemen: Please give it up for Bernard Fouquet's stunningly good Vouvray brut. Here's two things we learned from that evening: Firstly, better take that confident smile off your face when tasting blind, before it gets wiped off, and secondly, if you can get your hands on that Vouvray in any way...

preconceptions and Chenin Blanc rocks!

Of all the blind tastings we did, or I was involved in, this was clearly the revelation for me. As Julian said, how it could it have been any clearer? How could the complex, dough, yeasty tasting wine with the fabulous bubbles not be the internationally renowned Nyetimber? I was really, really surprised. In this tasting France was the underdog, and I expected England to dominate it. And yet, it did not. If you leave all the preconceptions aside there is no question that the Nyetimber is a good sparkler. However, at a third of the price the Vouvray was so sensationally good, I am still amazed. I loved Chenin Blanc before we did this tasting, but now I am even more in awe what a skilled winemaker can do with this grape.


There is no embarassment in

There is no embarassment in getting something completely wrong in a blind tasting. The only shame is for people who are arrogantly confident in their blind tasting skills. Every major critic has got things way wrong in blind tastings.


No embarassment

Thanks, Red (would that be Andrew?)! We're over the burning shame by now (we were only half serious about that part, anyway, a bit like you and 2011 Bordeaux...). But I couldn't agree more with you. We don't actually aspire to being critics when reviewing, we rather try to tell stories about how wines taste to us and why we like the ones that we like, if that makes any sense.


Were you definitely tasting

Were you definitely tasting against one of Nyetimber's award winners? 2006 was a really hot year for English wine, proven by the fact there were late harvest wines produced (go to The Wine Pantry at Borough, and try the Coddington Bacchus). That's not the sort of thing that helps with sparkling wines.

Not to take anything away from the Vouvray, which sounds fantastic, I'd really like to try it. But a minor downside of the wave of pro-English fizz is that people forget the wines are almost all vintage rather than NV, and so there can be pretty major variation.


To be honest, I haven't

To be honest, I haven't checked if this particular wine won any respectable awards - but tasting a vintage sparkler from one of England's most renowned producers and selling for around £30 (I got mine reduced, so it was more like £25) I would expect that it defeats a NV Loire Chenin Blanc for less than a third of the price. However, I came the other way round. Does that make the Nyetimber a bad wine? Not at all, we all enjoyed it. It was still a surprise to us, but even more surprising was that we were both 100% sure about identifying the wines correctly and we failed. So for me that was the key lesson and surprise here. I had hoped for a little more from Nyetimber at this price point, especially compared to other sparkling wines, also from Nyetimber, I had tried before.

Anyway, this is what Nyetimber say about the vintage:

June, when flowering occurs, brought lovely dry days with moderate temperatures resulting in a good crop. The summer was one of the warmest on record and autumn, the crucial time for ripening grapes, was above average and the grapes were pressed with excellent maturity during October.

I am not sure I have tried the Codrington late harvest, but next time I visit Julia down in Borough I will ask her for a sample. Thank you for the comment and suggestion!