The blind tasting is always an interesting animal, and often somehow more honest, since you truly go in there without any preconceptions. The Winos’ only prior knowledge in tonight’s blind tasting was that the bottles in question were all reds from Spain, and that they all cost less than $20. Other than that, though, we had to count on our keen senses of perception to carry the day and discover the winners… and discover the winners we did! Here’s the lineup from our latest brown-bag event.
Wine #1 was ruby red in the glass. Andrew said it smelled like a Zin: fruit-forward and Jammy. Newbie Jonathan thought it smelled more like a Syrah, and Randy picked up some plum notes. Noah said it was earthy, and pegged it early as a Tempranillo. Some heat on the nose (as well as some fruit: Jordan got orange zest, and Jonathan got apple) beckoned us into the pal.
Dylan immediately remarked that it was sour and acidic, like grapefruit juice. Newbie David agreed: high acid, low tannins. Jordan was blown away by the alcohol, and Andrew consented, but added that “other than the heat, I kinda like it.” Amy picked up black pepper, and Noah got some molasses on the light-to-medium body. David remarked that it needed food, and would pair it with roast chicken or pork, “something oozing fat.”
This bottle turned out to be a new vintage of an old stalwart, the 2006 Protocolo Tinto (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla), made of 100% Tempranillo — props to Noah for the guess. Many of us have adored the 2005 as the value wine to end all value wines, but this one seemed a little manic; Jordan thought it might need another year or so in the bottle to chillax. However, the $6 sticker price (Wine House, $8 elsewhere) was palatable to all present.
Wine #2 poured out a little lighter than the first. A lot of crisp red fruit on this nose; David called it “fuller and rounder” than the previous. Jessica picked up dried red cherry, and Randy got cranberry. Andrew thought it smelled Syrah-esque, while Jonathan got apple cider notes.
The palate featured a light body, a good amount of acidity, and some heat — the latter, however, breezed off pretty quickly. Jordan picked up some interesting floral notes on the pal, and Jessica extolled the “Grenache and red fruit notes.” Noah mentioned that aside from a short finish, it was quite good, and Andrew thought it was great.
We de-bagged the bottle, and it turned out to be one of my sleeper favorites from Trader Joe’s, the 2004 Estola Reserva (La Mancha), clocking in at $6. Andrew immediately exclaimed, “see? This proves that the Estola is better than the Protocolo!” In previous vintages of both, I might not agree, but this bottle had definitely won the latest battle of the cheapies.
With the exception of Dylan, who found it too sour, everyone else was excited to seek out this $6 winner. We weren’t sure what varietals were at play here; this website claims it’s Tempranillo and Cebernet, but we didn’t get much in the way of Cab influences by any means. (Interesting, also, that the ’04 is the current vintage. And TJ’s seems to have an unlimited supply of the stuff, too… it’s always on the shelves.)
Wine #3 was much darker in the glass: inky, and almost opaque. The nose provoked Andrew to liken it to a “musty old book.” Randy picked up a hint of floral sweetness, and Jonathan said it was “like an east coast field.” The fruit notes were muted, but Amy picked up blackberry, Jordan got currant, and I picked up some faint (yet dense) dried fruit.
The palate was a departure from the previous two in its full-bodiedness; Nick complimented its soft mouthfeel. “That’s old vine,” David speculated. Andrew got molasses and brown sugar, while Randy observed a lot of smoke. The fruit was definitely dark, and skewed towards dried plums. Noah called the tannins “powdery” and “playful,” and thought it might benefit from some decanting, but Andrew opined that it was fine right now. I also enjoyed some oak, and towards the end of the glass, it was really reminding me of a nice aged rum.
This wine was revealed to be the 2006 Altos De La Hoya Monastrell (Jumilla), currently on sale for $10 at the Wine House. The price was unbeatable for a wine of this fortitude, and those who had enjoyed it — about half — said they’d definitely seek it out again. (The 2006 vintage received a 91 rating in Stephen Tanzer’s publication, in which Josh Reynolds called it “one of the wine world’s most amazing values.”)
Wine #4 offered up a nose of raspberry, cranberry, and brown sugar. Some interesting cherry notes were at play as well — I, for one, got a strange scent of black cherry Blow Pops. Andrew observed that the nose seemed to “sour” a bit in the glass, leaving him with some crabapple aromas.
The crabapple character made a re-appearance on the palate, which proved very tart. Randy cites cherry, I got cigar smoke, and Noah got coffee. “Tart, unripe plum” was kicked around, and Jonathan made reference to some light yet chalky tannins. The finish was also quite tart, leaving the mouth feeling a bit pursed. What fruit there was felt masked by the tightness of the wine… although maybe it just needed an hour to breathe.
We de-bagged the bottle to reveal that that it was the 2006 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria (Campo de Borja), a “staff favorite” at the Wine House, where it’s priced at $13. However, after the other bargains we’d encountered, no one felt compelled to re-visit this bottle. I feel like I’ve enjoyed it in the past, though, so I think I’ll give it another try and see if an hour in a carafe doesn’t coax it into awesomeness.
Wine #5 was a smelly little number. A little perfumy hint blew off quickly and left us with some serious barnyard action. Maybe “stable” would actually be more accurate. Amy called it peaty; Jordan was less forgiving and called it “bathroom in a stadium.” Eventually this musk began to blow off, and some blackberry and charcoal notes made themselves apparent. David got Black Forest cake (while Amy got Black Forest ham).
The palate, unfortunately, was not too well-received. Jessica thought it tasted like Jaegermeister, while Emily was quick to denounce it was “mushy rotten berries.” Dylan thought it was too hot, and the only real advocate of the wine was David, who thought it had excellent structure, good spice, and aging potential.
The bottle proved to be the 2006 Cortijo III Tinto (Rioja), labeled in bright orange and selling for a modest $9. At such a reasonable price, David and I both felt inclined to grab another bottle and see if a year (or some decanting) improves it. The others, though, said they’d steer clear.
Wine #6 featured a big, attention-grabbing bouquet, offering notes as disparate as Nick’s raspberry and Dylan’s “stinky cheese.” Andrew summarized it as “a ton of different foods mashed together.” I chased off some initial funk to reveal generous blueberry and chocolate, while Jonathan got damp earth and Emily got putting-out-the-campfire smoke.
Andrew found the palate to be as full and busy as the nose had been. Lots of big dark berry action going on… Emily also got cranberry, and Jonathan got rhubarb. I enjoyed the big, well-integrated tannins, David called it “chewy,” and Randy lauded the long finish. Kristen even picked up some interesting Balsamic notes, which Jonathan thought was a good call. Dylan pegged it as “bold and tannic,” and Amy ventured that she’d age it for a year or more to let these tannins settle out.
The bottle was the 2006 Pago de los Capellanes “Joven” (Ribera del Duero), our sole Ribera of the night, and a real winner. The $15 price tag (Wine House) was more than acceptable to the majority of assembled Winos for a bottle of this depth and concentration. (According to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, which rated this wine a 90 earlier this year, the blend is 80% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet, and 10% Merlot.)
Wine #7 opened up with a nose that Randy called “barnyard,” but that others skewed more towards plum and tobacco. I got some good fruit, but with a pronounced musty character to it, and I speculated that this must be what “sugarplums” smell like (from The Night Before Christmas? …anyone?). Dylan and Kristen picked out a distinct Band-Aid character, which we all thought was a great observation. Randy got French apple cider (?), and I thought it smelled very “old world,” like a library — prompting Andrew to call it a “Charles Dickens” wine.
A shot of acidity opened up the medium-bodied palate, followed by some nice earth tones, spices, and cider. Amy thought it was well-rounded with good tannins and a nice finish. David thought the mid-palate was great, and very surprising “for a wine under $20.” Dylan and Randy called it their favorite of the night (Randy said he’d marry it), and I continued to bask in the distinctly old world fruit.
This was the 2003 Marques de Riscal “Reserva” (Rioja), a recognizable bottle in its gold wire mesh. One of my favorite Trader Joe’s standbys, the Marques sells there for $14 when in stock. People reacted positively, with about ten of the fourteen Winos present stating that they’d definitely seek out this austere, oaky winner in the future. Randy photographed the bottle and swore not to rest until he’d acquired some more for himself.
Wine #8 was our last blind bottle, and we got off to a good start with a tobacco nose with what Andrew called a “good” funk. David thought that what fruit existed was “stewed fruit,” and that it was furthermore secondary to the spice aromas. He also got pencil shavings, and I picked up charcoal. Dylan continued the tobacco theme by citing “chewing tobacco,” and Jonathan detected a “cigarette butt” character.
The palate treated me to some spiced, dried plums, and I even picked up some jerky or cured meat notes. Jonathan got candied dates, and Nick got what he thought was a nice coffee-esque bitterness (without any coffee flavors). Jessica found it a little “sweet and syrupy” for her liking, and Emily thought it ran a bit hot.
The bottle turned out to be the 2006 Vinos Sin-Ley “M3” Monastrell (Yecla), with a bright green label to match its Ecto-cooler synthetic cork. Selling for $14 at the Wine House, this bottle garnered only a few positive responses; the consensus seemed to be that the Alto de la Hoya had been a similar (or better) expression of the grape at a lower price.
As people started to leave, we wound down the evening with an old Spanish favorite, the 2006 Torres “Sangre de Toro” (Catalunya), available for $8 at the Wine House. The nose boasted vanilla and toast; David got Amaretto, Andrew got RC Cola, and Noah got Sambuca. The smooth palate was a crowd-pleaser, offering round fruit and leather character. “It’s a pizza wine,” offered Randy. “You can have it with whatever.” At $8, people were pretty down. By this point, to be fair, they were also pretty drunk.
Our big winners:
The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005