What Am I Tasting?

This sleek red displays red currant, blue plum, tea and chalky mineral aromas ... Play the game!

July 10, 2020

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Sleek and open in feel, featuring racy red currant and damson plum coulis flavors, inlaid with sandalwood and rooibos tea hints, with chalky minerality. Not big, but balanced and focused.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our sleek mystery wine displays racy red and blue fruit, with wood, tea and mineral flavors. Let’s dig in and narrow down our options.

Our wine’s currant flavor points us toward Cabernet, but that grape most often yields full-bodied reds with ample tannins and dark fruit. Likewise, Tannat oozes dark fruit and sweet spice aromas like licorice, with lots of body and solid tannins. We can scratch those two grapes off the list.

Zinfandels can show mild tannins and body, with concentrated red berry and plum flavors, as well as herbal accents. This could be a good match four our wine, except that we are missing Zinfandel’s pronounced acidity and signature jammy ripeness and briary pepper note. Let’s move on!

Our note’s fruit, tea, wood and mineral aromas would make sense for a Nebbiolo. However, while Nebbiolos can be medium-bodied like our wine, they are also highly tannic, especially in their youth. This doesn’t sound right, either. Maybe there’s a better fit?

Grenache often shows rich notes of red berry, cherry and plum fruit, with accents of spices, herbs and minerals. These aromas tend to come with moderate tannins and acidity, as well as elegant body often softened by barrel aging, which can impart wood accents.

This wine is a Grenache.

Country or Region of Origin

Grenache does best in warm climates where it can achieve full ripeness. However, the grape does not have a strong presence in Argentina, where Malbec is king, though a few Grenache plantings are popping up there. Unlike neighboring Australia, New Zealand does not have a strong Grenache presence; Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah are the dominant red grapes in New Zealand. While mainland Italy isn’t a major country for Grenache, the grape is grown widely on the Italian island of Sardinia, where it’s known as Cannonau. However, Sardinian Cannonaus tend to be richer and bolder than our wine, with earthy aromas and citrus accents.

Grenache is widely grown in California, one of the grape’s main New World regions. But Golden State Grenache is often used as a blending grape, with Syrah and Mourvèdre, for California’s highly regarded Rhône-style red blends. On its own, California Grenache is denser than Old World versions, with berry flavors and floral, spice or citrus rind aromas. But France is one of the world’s leading producers of Grenache. Grenache-based reds from France can be sleek, balancing red fruit notes with acidity, minerality and herbal accents, just like our mystery wine.

This Grenache is from France.

Appellation

Knowing that we’re in France, we can eliminate New Zealand’s Marlborough, California’s Napa Valley, Argentina’s Uco Valley and Italy’s Valtellina.

This leaves us with Gigondas and Tavel, both in France’s Southern Rhône Valley. Both are neighbors of the prestigious Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, which lies between the two and is the home of some of the world’s most coveted Grenache-based reds. Grenache is the primary grape in Tavel, however, all Tavel wines are rosé. The Gigondas appellation produces Grenache-based red wines in the style of our mystery wine.

This Grenache is from Gigondas.

Age

Our wine is racy, with fresh fruit flavors, indicating youth, but it also has some secondary characteristics suggesting age, such as tea and mineral notes. It’s also helpful to note that Gigondas reds tend to be aged between six and 12 months in barrel, with additional months of aging in bottle.

Let’s take a look at recent vintages in the Southern Rhône. A difficult flowering season in 2017 resulted in reduced yields for Grenache, and wines with dark berry fruit and tobacco and floral aromas. 2016 was a near-perfect vintage; the best wines are racy yet laden with fresh fruit. 2015 was also ideal, and Grenache excelled, delivering ripe, rich, fruit-forward wines with excellent definition. 2014, on the other hand, was a difficult, wet vintage yielding wines with tobacco and floral accents. It’s a toss-up between the 4-year-old 2016 vintage and the 5-year-old 2015 vintage, but either way we’re looking at the 3- to 5-year-old category.

This Grenache is from the 2015 vintage, making it five years old.

Wine

This is the E. Guigal Gigondas 2015, which scored 90 points in the Sept. 30, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $35, and 3,000 cases were imported. For more on Gigonadas, check out senior editor James Molesworth’s tasting report on the Rhône Valley, "Forging Ahead," in the Feb. 29, 2020, issue.

—Aaron Romano, associate tasting coordinator