03/21/12 – March Craziness week #1 (Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot)

By Jesse on March 19, 2012

For the fifth non-consecutive year, the Young Winos of LA are proud to host our almost-annual March blind tasting tournament.  Billed as “March Madness” in its 2007, 2009 and 2010 incarnations, the tournament at one point included six weeks of variety-by-variety blind tasting (Sauvignon Blanc one week, Syrah the next, etc.), followed by a two-week “championship” series of multi-variety blind white tasting followed by blind red tasting.  Last year, to allow for our increasingly busy schedules and the demands of our non-wine commitments, we downsized the tournament to three weeks, called it “March Delirium” (to differentiate it from full-blown “madness”), and awarded points to the Winos who could most accurately guess the price of brown-bagged bottles.

For this year’s event, we’re returning to something closer to our roots, though the proceedings won’t be as lengthy and regimented as years past.  In what we’re calling our first-ever “March Craziness” tournament, we’re basically just running a semi-random series of tastings that features pairings or groupings of similar and/or frequently-confused wines.  Tastings will include:

–Riesling vs. Gewurztraminer
–California reds: organic vs. non-organic
–fragrant whites: Albariño vs. Torrontés vs. Grüner Veltliner

…and perhaps one or two more.  Examples of each will be tasted, after which players will be awarded points by blind-guessing brown-bagged bottles.  And then, to close out the tournament, we’ll wrap things up old-school style with two classic tastings: blind whites (Sauvignon Blanc vs. Riesling vs. Chardonnay), and blind reds (Syrah vs. Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon).

This week, we’re kicking things off with a comparison that might sound easy, but can actually offer quite a challenge to even seasoned tasters: Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot.  Amateur and advanced oenophiles alike may profess a preference for one over the other (Merlot certainly remains in some tasters’ doghouses following its being maligned in Sideways), but the two varieties actually taste much more similar than some would like to admit.  Both hail from France’s Bordeaux region, and both are full-bodied, tannic reds that feature similar flavor profiles.  Is Merlot generally softer and more supple?  Yes.  But does that mean you can identify it as such without peeking at the label?  We shall see.

To participate in this week’s tasting: please bring a bottle of either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot from anywhere in the world.  (As always, feel free to bring a $10 no-bottle donation instead.)  In choosing your bottle, keep in mind that Cab and Merlot are frequent blending partners, and many wines that are labeled either “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Merlot” may contain some percentage of the other.  In most regions of California, a varietal wine may contain up to 25% of other varieties, and similar rules apply in the world’s other major wine-producing regions.  If possible, see if your bottle lists the variety breakdown on the back, or on the winery’s website — or, better yet, simply ask your friendly wine merchant to recommend a true single-variety wine for the tasting.  There are plenty of Cabs and Merlots from Bordeaux,  California, and elsewhere that contain either 100% of a single variety or as little as five or ten percent of other grapes.

Wednesday night’s meeting will be held at Jason’s place, which can only seat about ten comfortably, so spots will be assigned on a first-come-first-poured basis.  The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions), and I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with the address.  Once you’ve received your confirmation, go find an interesting bottle of Cab or Merlot (pure single-variety if possible!) — or, as always, simply bring ten dollars. See you on Wednesday at 9pm.