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...