The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Blind Wine Tasting

A good skill – but not the only skill:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

For professional wine tasters, the art of tasting wine ‘blind’ is an invaluable skill. By tasting different wines without knowing what they are, the playing field is leveled, so that two wines, even if one of them is priced twice as much as the other, are judged without any preconceived biases. In the best wine publications and judging contests around the world, most wines are evaluated in this manner.

Just as significant, no skill among professional sommeliers is more admired than the ability to identify wine simply by examining the contents in the glass. It is a skill only the greatest professional wine tasters are able to master with any degree of repetitive success (a skill largely maintained by tasting wine this way on a regular basis), while the rest of us cannot help to look upon such an ability with acute approbation.

This said, the ability to taste wine blind is hardly the be-all and end-all of fine wine appreciation. Though many of my colleagues have been in the business many years longer than me, I am hopeful that the majority of them would agree with the notion that there is only a very minor correlation in the ability to taste any given wine blind compared to any increased enjoyment derived from the process of actually drinking it in like manner.

‘83 Château MargauxTo elaborate on this requires the invention of a new phrase: ‘blind drinking.’ Say I head down into my cellar to fetch a bottle of claret. I retrieve a bottle of the immaculate ‘83 Château Margaux and serve it to my guests. Over the course of the evening, the wine earns endless plaudits and only seems to get better as we wile away the hours in comradely and merriment.

Now let me ask this question: would not this experience have been at least somewhat diminished had we decided to ‘blind drink’ this wine? Would not the evening have been less of a special occasion had a third party retrieved a bottle from my cellar at random, decanted it and placed it on the table, so that none of us would know what the wine is?

The point I’m trying to make is that tasting, or serving, wine blind has its limits. Oftentimes, the most joyous attribute of fine wine appreciation isn’t derived from deciphering what a wine is, but knowing precisely what it is beforehand. Granted, my guests and I would have probably had great fun spending an evening trying to guess what fabulous wine we were drinking. But I submit it was of far greater joviality in knowing that we were sitting down to one of the finest clarets of the early-eighties at the start of the evening than learning about it at the end. Though some may claim otherwise, great wine consumed under the veil of uncertainly just isn’t the same as knowing what it is from the start. Even the anticipation, or planning stage, involved in serving a fine wine plays a potentially profound level of importance in its eventual enjoyment.

Such is the Achilles heel of tasting wine blind, in that there is no guarantee of any enhancement if consumed in like fashion. Of course, this is not meant to diminish the immense skillfulness of professional tasters and their unique ability to taste wine blind. Indeed, it is a great skill – it’s just not the only skill.

Julian Hitner

A few of Julian’s gems for collectors from recent VINTAGES Releases:

Château La Louvière Blanc 2009, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Bordeaux, France: Owned by André Lurton and widely recognized as one of the best non-Premier Cru estates in Pessac-Léognan, the wines of Château La Louvière have taken on greater seriousness and heft in recent years. Pale-light lime in colour with the slightest touch of straw, the ’09 Blanc reveals extremely delicate, elegant scents of citrus-infused green fruits, heather, minerals, mild chalky elements, and a hint of orange peel and spice. Complex, boasting exquisitely textured, immensely refined fruit, balanced acidity, and a superb hint of lemon, green fruits, and ‘mellow’ lanolin overtones on the finish. Outstanding finesse, style, and breed. The vineyard is planted to 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Sémillon. Now-2023.

Henri Bourgeois 2010 La Chapelle des Augustins, Sancerre AOC, Loire, France: In all likelihood the greatest Sancerre I have yet to taste from Henri Bourgeois, the 2010 La Chapelle des Augustins represents a sensational effort. Very pale lime in colour, the wine exhibits irresistibly intense scents of green fruits, lemon citrus, delicate tropical elements, minerals, and an almost Marlborough-styled hint of gooseberries and grapefruit. Complex, delivering impeccable bracing fruit, balanced acidity, and a pitch-perfect hint of intense green fruits, lemon, and minerals on the finish. Outstanding harmony, clarity, and textural disposition. Now-2018+.

Château Bouscaut Blanc 2009, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Bordeaux, France: Acquired by Lucien Lurton in 1979 and now run by his daughter Sophie, I have only recently become familiar with the charms of this slowly improving estate. Pale-light straw in colour with a touch of gold, the 2009 Bouscaut Blanc reveals exceptional scents of lemony apricots, starfruit, pears, delicate lanolin, and a hint of white chocolate, candlewax, and spice. Complex, with beautiful, elegant dry fruit, balanced acidity, and a refined, upright hint of lemony apricots, lanolin, and candlewax on the finish. Great focus, stylization, and balance. The vineyard is planted to 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Sémillon. Now-2018+.

L’Aventure 2010 Côte  Côte, Paso Robles, California: Unashamedly Parkerized, the 2010 Côte  Côte is actually one incredible wine—best enjoyed in fortified-like quantities. Extremely dense black-ruby in colour, this massive offering delivers supersaturated aromas of blackberry compote, plums (slightly floral), blueberries, licorice, smoked meats, pipe tobacco, leather, incense, vanilla, and spice. Complex, possessing incredibly sumptuous, decadent fruit, firm tannins, milder acidity, and a long-lasting, unbelievably powerful hint of blackberry compote and blue fruits on the finish. Supremely rich, fully flavoured, and surprisingly harmonious as a whole; this will appeal to very specific types of collectors. 42% Grenache, 34% Syrah, and 24% Mourvèdre. Now-2025+.

L’Aventure 2010 Estate Cuvée, Paso Robles, California: Even at 16.1% alcohol, the 2010 Estate Cuvée is surprisingly even-keeled—understandable when considered that virtually all of its other characteristics have been strengthened accordingly. Extremely dense black-ruby in colour with purple highlights, it exhibits hedonistic, ultra-powerful aromas of white- and dark chocolate-driven blackberry treacle, crème de cassis, freshly brewed coffee (the expensive kind), tobacco, forest floor, dessert nougat, licorice, vanilla, and spice. Very complex, with massively concentrated fruit, firm tannins, milder acidity, and an extremely lengthy, well-structured hint of chocolate and blackberry treacle on the finish. Unbelievably Parkerized, delicious, and alluring. 42% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 16% Petit Verdot. Now-2028.

Château Gloria 2009, St-Julien AOC, Bordeaux, France: Compared to the ’10 (tasted very recently), the 2009 Château Gloria is definitely the more boisterous of the two, and is unquestionably the greatest wine ever produced at this estate. Opaque black-ruby in colour, it presents stellar multilayered aromas of currants, espresso, licorice, forest floor, graphite, grilled meats, asphalt, subtle floral elements, vanilla, and spice. Very complex, boasting brilliantly textured fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a graceful, pitch-perfect hint of currants, graphite, and dried blueberry nuances on the finish. Exceptional depth, finesse, focus, and harmony. 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot. Now-2036+.

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