It certainly is an intriguing thought – a wine tasting worth a thousand points, made up of 10 wines that a least one major wine publication or guru has rated 100 points each. Ten perfect wines at one sitting.
The question is: Would it turn out to be The Perfect Tasting?
We got our answer, sort of, Saturday evening during the first annual MidAtlantic Food + Wine Feast, a group of stellar events over a four-day period in Wilmington, DE. Yes, Wilmington. Event chairman Ajit George added a couple of interesting twists to the appreciation of perfection: The wines were tasted single-blinded – we knew the names of all 10 in advance – and the tasting would be led by three wine experts: Christie’s auction house’s top wine guru based in Hong Kong, Charles Curtis, British wine writer Robert Joseph and Hotel du Pont’s house sommelier, Richard Slutter, the only panelist who knew the lineup, as he had spent the morning trying to coax the wines to maximum tasting conditions. (I had previously tasted about half the wines elsewhere and also surreptitiously knew the order.)
As one of the 10 wines was Champagne, one a white Rhone and two were sweets, that meant the panel guests had to sort through only six red wines to ID. It proved not an easy task. Why blind? Good question, and one that I had. In practice, it was beneficial in two ways. First, it made everyone concentrate on each wine’s characteristics; second, it let the audience full of Watsons know how trained tasters play Sherlock Holmes.
The wines were:
2003 Roderer Cristal Brut
2000 Chapoutier ”de L’Orée” Ermitage Blanc
2004 Biondi Santi Brunello Riserva
2002 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Château Pavie
2007 Verité Sonoma “La Muse”
2001 Greenock Creek Barossa “Creek Block” Shiraz
2007 Pierre Usseglio “Cuvee de Mon Aieul” Chateauneuf du Papa
1994 Fonseca Port
1993 Château Pajzos Tokaji Essencia
Curtis gave recognition to the marketing value of the 100-point system while expressing a caveat many of us have – it tries to treat art as a science. Joseph had his caveats as well, but delighted in the fact that “it’s completely democratic.” Any winemaker can dream at having a shot at being rated 100 no matter where she or he makes wine. Not quite true, but true enough.
I don’t give wines numerical ratings, but I thought that the argument could be made for 8 of the 10 that they were about as perfect as you can get. Two weren’t showing quite as well at present. The Greenock Creek was tasting dried-out already and seemed to have a higher residual sugar than is normal with dry table wines. And, as Joseph pointed out, it was a controversial choice from the beginning.
The other controversial wine at the time of judging – the Pavie – was tasting beautifully – powerful, yet complex and elegant. “It was a polarizing wine at the time,” Joseph remembers, and admitted that Robert Parker was correct is his primeurs evaluation while Joseph himself, along with many others, couldn’t see it. The judges also showed their – and everyone’s – vulnerability with a couple of wrong guesses.
The Chapoutier shows how well white Rhones can age, not in keeping their original taste profile but in developing different profiles – all lovely – as the best age for decades. The two sweet wines were superb, and the two West Coast wines – the Verité and the Quilceda Creek – were just phenomenal.
The pours were generous, and there were no spit buckets. As far as I could see at mine or the other tables, none were needed. To plug a tasting column I write for another publication, this was the kind of serious evaluation where there is “No Spitting Allowed.”
A perfect tasting? Certainly as close as we need to come.