If there’s anything that will teach a wine drinker and keep a person’s palate honest, it’s a blind tasting. So many people have opinions based on something they’ve never actually experienced. While that can be irritating to their listeners, they’re actually doing themselves the greatest disservice. Opinions that are backed by nothing tend to lead to close-mindedness, limiting a person’s ability to learn, as well as enjoy, new experiences.
Last year, just after starting this blog, I wrote a post to make a case for Merlot. After Sideways, Merlot saw a decline in sales, all because it became trendy to knock Merlot in favor of other grape types, particularly Pinot Noir. Yes, I’ve grown to love many Pinots from all around the world. But I’ve been willing to stand by my very strong and favorable opinion of Merlot. And even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was getting an opportunity to prove it - Merlot-based wines can be extraordinary.
No, that’s not why I challenged myself to the Bordeaux tasting at Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique in Stony Brook - I did the blind tasting of Bordeaux to see just how well I did at taking tasting notes, and I did it to enjoy some spectacular wines. I also did it to better my knowledge and give my opinions some more credibility. But in the process, I learned that my palate is still honest - to me and subsequently to my readers. And if I thought I enjoyed Merlot before the tasting, well, apparently I LOVE a good Merlot!
So the tasting began, and I didn’t know which wines were being poured. All I knew was that six of the seven were from one year, and one was from a different year, and of course I knew they were all from Bordeaux. I will not tell you the order of the wines, but I will tell you that three of them were Petrus, Cheval Blanc, and Mouton Rothschild, all from the 2004 vintage. The other four were wines by Mitjavile - the Tertre Roteboeuf, Roc de Cambes, and Domaine de Cambes all from 2004, and the Domaine de L’Aurage from 2009.
My notes on the wines were written as I tasted, so at the time I wrote them, I didn’t know which wines they were. My notes reflect what colors, aromas, flavors, and textures I perceived, and also how I connected with each wine, and why.
Color - darkish color with not a large rim, the rim leans brickish. Medium viscosity.
Aromas - rich, slightly stewed/macerated red and dark fruit/berry, mostly dark fruit, violet, smooth spice, a bit of ash, smells more “purple” than the others, some smoke, wood and dark fruit are more apparent than earthiness.
Flavors - raspberry, red fruit but more dark fruit, confirming the aromas, smooth spices, vanilla/oak, but mostly the big dark fruit characteristics.
Structure - well balanced with plenty of acidity but big, smooth tannins, making it have a luxurious texture.
Finish - very long, reflecting dark fruit and smoke.
Connection - I love this wine. It feels so smooth and rich and appealing, and very elegant. I’d like to pair it with bigger dishes or sip it on its own.
Cheval Blanc (Saint-Emilion)
Color - deep red, darker core, rim leans a bit toward brick in a relatively clear rim. Medium viscosity.
Aromas - red fruit, raspberry and cherry, a bit of plum flesh, herb, violet, a hint of smooth spice and cinnamon, smooth chocolate, and a slightly wild characteristic with a bit of that good kind of “funk.”
Flavors - cool red fruit, some raspberry but leaning toward cherry, lots of herb, wood, cinnamon again.
Structure - lovely balance, plenty of nice acidity, very present tannins leave the palate feeling very dry.
Finish - very long, clean finish.
Connection - tasted “cooler” than I had expected after digesting the aromas, based upon flavors and texture I think it would be very food friendly, with most meats and perhaps even with some poultry. My first reaction, which I promptly wrote down, was “wow.”
Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac)
Color - a bit dark red, dark core, rim is becoming brickish. Medium to possibly medium plus viscosity.
Aromas - (at this point, I wasn’t feeling much of a connection to the wine) raspberry, cassis, a bit of plum, wild fruit, plenty of pepper, spice, more earth than oak.
Flavor - (I preferred the flavor over the aroma and began to connect better with the wine at this point) a lot more fruit on the palate than on the nose, herb, plenty of spice, some wood. Seems to start off cool and end with a warmer feeling.
Structure - food friendly acidity, very dry follow-up from tannins, feels a bit warm heading toward finish.
Finish - very long and spicy.
Connection - I was not connecting well with this wine based on aromas, but appreciated it a lot more after tasting. I felt it was a good “food wine.”
Mitjavile Tertre Roteboeuf (Saint-Emilion)
Color - dark, deep red, thin rim, transitioning to brickish. Medium to perhaps medium plus viscosity.
Aromas - cherry, raspberry, perhaps some cassis, a hint of wild fruit and some underlying brightness in the fruit characteristics, spice, a hint of smoke, dried flowers, a bit of roasted meat, and a deep wood fragrance, with a hint of forest.
Flavors - confirmed the nose except a bit more dark fruit than red, smoke, smooth herb (but not any “green” characteristic), some very “purple” characteristics, a bit of violet, smooth spices, some chocolate, more oak than earth but a nice combination of flavors.
Structure - well balanced, smooth, clean, acidity comes through and tannins quickly follow.
Finish - very long and luscious, flavors seem to really continue.
Connection - full and satisfying wine that I liked a lot, very appealing.
Mitjavile Roc de Cambes (Cotes de Bourg)
Color - red with a big core, a big rim making a transition to brickish. Medium viscosity.
Aromas - (at this point, I wrote “wow” and “wonderful” as soon as I took a breath from the glass) lots of red fruit but some dark as well, leaning toward fresh red fruit, cinnamon spice, light fresh herbs, smoke, tobacco, slight bit of chocolate, wood, and a hint of leather.
Flavors- (again I wrote how much I enjoyed this wine at the first sip) red fruit with a bit of dark fruit, confirming the nose, smooth baking spices, smoke, slight indication of roasted meat, and some “pencil” characteristics (I really did write “pencil,” presumably the combination of the particular wood and mineral characteristics gave that impression).
Structure - love the balance, clean from nice acidity, but dries perfectly with very present tannins.
Finish - long finish with floral, fruit, and spice characteristics, a bit of smokiness, and a very clean finish.
Connection - clearly I was connecting really well with this wine, finding lots of bold as well as subtle characteristics, I’d love it with food, particularly meat dishes, as well as for sipping on its own. Really enjoyable.
Mitjavile Domaine de Cambes (Saint-Emilion)
Color - red, rim leaning brickish a bit. Medium viscosity, perhaps slightly higher.
Aromas - red fruit, some cherry, lots of herb, and a hint of “green” characteristic, a bit of wild fruit, spice, chocolate, and oak, with just a hint of tar.
Flavors - (I didn’t immediately connect with this wine; it took me about three sips to like it, at which time it seemed a lot more favorable) big on the palate, tastes confirmed nose, red fruit with lots of herb, some smoke and spices.
Structure - acidic but tannins make it dry very quickly, and becomes very dry.
Finish - very long finish with lots of spiciness, and ends very cleanly.
Connection - took a while to connect with this wine, but once I found that connection, I began to like it quite a lot. Seems quite food friendly.
Mitjavile Domaine de L’Aurage (Cotes de Castillon)
Color - deep and a bit on the purple side, with a youthful pink rim. Medium viscosity with some staining in the glass.
Aromas - lots of raspberry, mostly ripe berry with a bit of cassis and dark berry, some forest characteristics, some wild fruit, chocolate, smooth baking spices, some herb, plenty of smoke, oak, and cool stone/mineral, not at all warm on the nose.
Flavors - confirm nose, lots of raspberry, herb, chocolate, baking spice, and stony characteristic, perhaps some graphite.
Structure - food friendly acidity, plenty of youthful tannin, modest alcohol.
Finish - very long finish, reflecting berry and earth/stone, very clean after finish.
Connection - I liked the wine but it didn’t leave a tremendous impression, the flavors were big and I thought the texture would be fuller after tasting it, but the texture wasn’t particularly full. I think it would be food friendly.
You’re probably wondering at this point, what was the outcome? Well, the wines with large percentages of Merlot took the top spots, according to my palate. Roc de Cambes was the wine I best connected with, which is mostly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec blended in. The other wine to finish near the top? Petrus - which as we know, is nearly all Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc. The others I very much enjoyed were the Cheval Blanc, Tertre Roteboeuf, and Domaine de Cambes.
What was it I liked so much about Roc de Cambes? I love the purity, the balance, and what felt like a perfect blend of fruit, earth, and wood, and its overall expressiveness. And what did I like so much about Petrus? It’s definitely one of the most solid wines I’ve tasted, beautiful and elegant and complex with a very clear identity of its own, and a commanding presence.
Ultimately, I learned a great deal from the roughly two hours I spent with the seven wines - a wine doesn’t have to be thousands of dollars to be wonderful, as in the case of Roc de Cambes. But that doesn’t mean that a thousand dollars or so for a bottle of Petrus isn’t worth it - because Petrus is unlike anything I’ve tasted before - and both Petrus and Roc de Cambes absolutely blew me away. I also learned that what matters a great deal is that each wine drinker take the time to find what’s right for his/her palate. And while Merlot may be a bit out of style thanks to Sideways, a wine drinker has nothing to be ashamed of by having an affinity for good Merlot - in fact, the wine drinker should be proud - Roc de Cambes and Petrus are excellent examples of what a great Merlot should be. Yes, there are some sub-par Merlots, but there are sub-par representatives from every grape type. It’s important to be open-minded and willing to make the effort to find your match among grape types and wine producing regions and styles. The wine drinker needs to be able to connect with the wine and be affected by it. Wine appreciation is more than tasting notes; it’s also about the sensation and connection with the wine and the overall experience. And for me, the best connections were with Roc de Cambes and Petrus. I was hoping that Petrus would be everything I’ve read, and in fact it was everything I read and so much more, and I’m so happy I had the opportunity to try it. And Roc de Cambes - well let’s just say I’m very lucky that I feel such a strong connection to it. For my last birthday, Christophe at Lake Side Emotions picked that very bottle and sold it to my Dad as a birthday gift for me. So I have a bottle waiting for me in my wine rack. How lucky am I? I’d say I’m very lucky.