Blind Tasting Challenge

I guess he was sick of hearing me talk about wine so my father thought he would set me a challenge for Easter Sunday. The challenge was to identify the bottle of wine he had opened and decanted and find out if I had a clue what I was talking about. As it happened my mother had been using a second bottle of wine to cook with which found its way into a second decanter to double the stakes.

Taking two glasses I sat down to contemplate the challenge and deliberate over the identity of said wines. I did not know the cost, where the wines were from or anything  else about them. I was also somewhat cautious he may be trying to catch me out.

From the offset there was a clear difference on the nose between wines A + B.  I opted to taste the leaner wine A first, keeping the richer, more intense wine B to taste after.


Wine A: Hardy’s Classic Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, South Eastern Austrailia, 2015. Wine B: Cepa Lebrel, Rioja Reserva (Tempranillo), Spain, 2011.

Wine A Notes: This wine was ruby/garnet but with a lower than average intensity of colour. It presented with a lean nose with minimal fruit – if I had to guess there was a faint hint of blackcurrant. This led me to think this was the wine destined for cooking rather than something more exciting. On the palate the contrast was notable with a refeshing fruit forward palate in an early drinking style.  The wine for fresh and simple with light body and moderate(-) tannin.  There was good acidity and reasonable balance.  Given the amount of fruit in this wine I felt this was from a warm climate region. I immediately lent towards Merlot as the most likely grape but there was slightly more structure than I would expect with this grape alone.

Conclusion for wine A: Warm climate (likely new world) Merlot Cabernet blend costing £4-5 per bottle (spot on).


Wine B looking far more majestic in the decanter than the bottle

Wine B Notes: I felt I was certain was the more expensive of the two wines given the much greater intensity and depth of the nose.

The colour of this wine was far more intense and was garnet with a slight browning suggesting 5+ years of age. I felt the rich nose on this wine was reminiscent of Bordeaux (perhaps where I went wrong) with dark fruit (blackcurrant) and signs of development with secondary notes from oak ageing and what I felt was a faint aroma of cigar box. On the palate the wine had silky drying tannins that were beginning to resolve again fitting with several years ageing. This wine tasted very well balanced, with good acidity and potential to age, although it seemed it was somewhat closer to the end of its life than the beginning.

Wine B Conclusions: Now to bring this together I think I led myself down the garden path somewhat (or perhaps I just forgot the most obvious alternative).  Firstly I was certain this was an old world wine given the style of the wine. Secondly I was certain that this wine had 5-10 years of age on it, which narrows down what could easily be obtained in a local supermarket or wine shop.  Thirdly it had a definite strong oak character although remaining balanced suggesting 1-2 years in oak barrel. The notes of blackcurrant pushed me towards Cabernet Sauvignon  leaving the most obvious option left bank Bordeaux.

It was certainly not a Grand Cru Classe, but could be either a village level wine or lesser appellation in an off vintage.  Thinking about Bordeaux vintages this was not the style of wine I would expect from 2010 or 2009 leaving it somewhere in the range of 2008-2006.

If put on the spot I would score this wine around 88-90 points, and if from Bordeaux I would expect it to cost £15-20.

Wine B Reveal: As it happens I was mistaken (although the gist was partly correct with regards old world, 5 years of age and oak).  The wine was a 2011 Rioja Reserva, purchased for £5.29. Maybe coming back from South Africa has left me pining for classic old world wine. This is ostensibly a low end reserva but shows the value in traditional style Rioja.  This had aged slightly prematurely for a 2011, but was in the right spot for drinking now.  Does being served in a decanter make a difference?  Probably to our preconceptions if nothing else.

Now this highlights several learning points:

  1. Blind tasting is pretty difficult (although I am pleased with 1 out of 2).
  2. Rioja represents a great value option (I will be posting tasting notes from a trip to the region in the coming months).
  3. Frustratingly after the reveal this tasted a lot more like Rioja than before – look out for our upcoming wine perception section.

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