Battle of the Rivaners: blind tasting madness

Battle of the Rivaners: blind tasting madness

Remember the recent Wine Guide controversy and the related question of whether wine should always be tasted blind? The Wine Rambler is now setting an example with our first blind tasting: can a mass-produced supermarket wine stand against an entry level wine of the German wine elite?

Two combatants enter the arena. In the left hand corner, with an alcohol level of 12% and at a price of 6.50 €, a Rivaner by Emrich-Schööööönleber. In the right hand corner, with an alcohol level of 9.5% and at a price of £3.88, the infamous Blaaaack Tower. Ladies and Gentlemen, ready your glasses while we imagine the contestants getting in shape for this battle, a battle that calls for some serious music to get us in the right mood:

Ding Ding. Two glasses are in front of me and the content looks pretty much identical: two wines with very very pale colour. Not much to see here, really. Round one: a draw. Wine 1 has a very closed nose, some mineral with a hint of flowery notes. Not much going on here, almost boring. The second wine is much more open, fruity with flowery notes and some liquorice. Round two goes to wine 2. Now the palate. Wine 1 is dry with vegetable notes and crisp acid and, most importantly, it is bitter. Wine 2, however, is very easy to drink, fresh, fruity with a nice bit of liquorice in the finish. None of the wines does very much for me, which in itself could be seen as a surprise, seeing how good Emrich-Schönleber's reputation is, but wine 2 makes me want to have a second glass as it goes down very nicely. Round two goes to wine 2: 2:0 - we have a winner. And, surprise, it is the Black Tower.

Now this outcome may be a surprise - it certainly was for me. Thinking about it, I have maybe fooled myself a little, and for two reasons. First of all I had totally forgotten that the Emrich-Schönleber is dry. It was sold to me as a pleasant wine for everyday drinking, so I assumed it would be a little more fruity - a description that fits the Black Tower. Secondly, I had forgotten a lesson repeatedly learned over the last few years: a wine that is commercially successful in the cheaper supermarket mass-range would have to be easy to drink and it would probably not show with serious attitude as that would scare away everyone but the wine snob. And the Emrich-Schönleber is one for serious lovers of dry wines with acid and a strong kick and that may not fit the British cheap-range taste. So it was a very interesting experience. Had I been so friendly towards the Black Tower had I seen the bottle in front of my while trying it? We will never know.

What I can confirm, now over 12 hours after opening the bottle, is that the Black Tower got duller and duller (not offensive in any way and still drinkable, but certainly less attractive, a process that started early yesterday) while the Emrich-Schönleber is almost untouched, just that little bit more open (liquorice too) and smoother. That in itself is a good sign of where the better quality wine making is. The Emrich-Schönleber just needed a little more time to open up, something the initial tasting did not reflect too well. However, the bitterness is still putting me off a little, even with food. So in the end neither of the wines was really made for me.

Submitted by Julian Sunday, 26/07/2009

I can't believe how hard the wines worked out for this tasting. Just out of curiosity: how did you technically manage the "blind" part? Swap the glasses around thimble-rigging style until you couldn't tell anymore? Or was a lovely assistant part of the trick?

Submitted by torsten Monday, 27/07/2009

In reply to by Julian

I did indeed have a lovely assistant to support me in this one (although the idea of spinning myself and the wine glasses around came to mind). I also learned that if I was ever to do this again I would like to taste the wine twice: the first time straight out of the bottle and the second tasting maybe an hour or so after uncorking the wine.

Submitted by torsten Wednesday, 29/07/2009

Tasting both wines again four days later the quality difference became even stronger. While the Emrich-Schönleber is still very drinkable (with the issues I mentioned) the Black Tower has suffered a lot: it tastes ok for the first second, then turns to boring for a couple more seconds and after that it just tastes cheap, a little bitter and totally spent. However, the observation that after four days there is still enough of both wines left to taste them again is probably the most telling aspect of this.