What Am I Tasting?

This rich, full-bodied red has baked cherry, truffle and dried mint notes ... Play the game!

September 18, 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: A beautifully aromatic red, with hints of truffle, loamy earth and dried mint playing on the nose and accenting the baked cherry and raspberry fruit, fig cake and coffee liqueur flavors on the palate. Full-bodied and rich, yet finely knit and elegant overall, with mouthwatering acidity married to the range of flavor. The silky tannins create a pleasing viscosity on the lingering finish.

And the answer is...


Variety

This red has a lot to offer: it’s elegant, viscous and full-bodied, with mouthwatering acidity and silky tannins alongside baked fruit, coffee and earth flavors. Our wine’s truffle and dried mint notes could be especially helpful for identifying it. Let’s get to the bottom of this bottle.

Our red’s acidity, rich fruit and coffee flavor could point to a Tannat. But Tannats are also known for their aggressive—not silky or elegant—tannins. We’re also missing Tannat’s licorice and spice notes.

The silky texture and elegance are in line with Pinot Noir, as are the cherry flavor and loamy earth accent. However, it would be unusual for a Pinot to show our wine’s fig cake or coffee notes, and we are looking for more body than a Pinot Noir would likely offer. Let’s move on!

Although Touriga Nacional can make wines with high acidity, rich tannins and hints of mint, Touriga’s blue fruits and plum notes aren’t a match for our wine’s cherry and fig flavors, and we are missing the grape’s hallmark floral and mineral accents.

Pinotage can produce rich, full-bodied reds with cherry, fig and mint flavors, along with structured tannins and earthy accents. This all sounds right for our wine. But we are missing some of Pinotage’s telltale accents, like tar, tobacco and roasted meat aromas. And unlike our red, Pinotage tends to have lower acidity. Maybe another grape works better?

Corvinas generally show bright acidity with rich cherry flavors. They can be made in lighter, easy-drinking styles. But the grape’s naturally firm tannins can shine in bolder, full-bodied versions, with emphasis on elegant textures and earthy, herbal accents.

This wine is a Corvina.

Country or Region of Origin

Corvina is one of northern Italy’s signature red grapes, but it hasn’t really caught on anywhere else. It would be hard to find Corvina vines in France, Portugal, South Africa or Uruguay. Argentina has a smattering of Corvina plantings, but Italy is the far more likely source of our wine.

This Corvina is from Italy.

Appellation

We know that our wine is Italian, so we can eliminate France’s Burgundy, Uruguay’s Canelones, Portugal’s Dão and South Africa’s Robertson. This leaves us with the Italian appellations of Puglia and Amarone della Valpolicella Classico.

Puglia lies in southern Italy, at the heel of the country’s “boot.” Its climate is extremely warm and sunny, though it does receive cool breezes from the Mediterranean. While the region is known for producing rich, tannic wines like ours, Puglia makes most of its reds from the grapes Primitivo and Negroamaro, not Corvina. But Corvina is the primary grape for the rich reds produced in the Veneto’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico appellation, where it is blended with the grapes Molinara, Rondinella and Corvinone.

This wine is from Amarone della Valpolicella Classico.

Age

Amarones have high levels of tannins, acidity and alcohol, which helps them benefit from extensive bottle aging. This bold character results from the specific process by which Amarones are produced: after grapes are picked, they are dried for several weeks to concentrate their flavors and sugar levels. This is known as the appassimento process. The juice from these dried grapes is then fermented, resulting in dark, rich wines that appellation regulations dictate be cellared for at least two years. But producers often age them much longer. With age, Amarones’ tannins will soften as the wines develop more baked fruit flavors, dried herb accents and earthy notes like truffle. Based on our wine’s tasting note, we can safely guess that our wine is more than five years old.

Northeastern Italy experienced atypical weather in 2011, and the Veneto’s weather was unusually dry, producing Amarones with smoke, tea and citrus peel accents. 2010 brought lots of rain and cool weather to the Veneto, resulting in a long, late growing season, yielding powerful Amarones with spice, herb, mineral and zest flavors. But conditions were ideal in 2009, producing mouthwatering, velvety Amarones with fig, dried herb, coffee and cocoa flavors.

This Amarone is from the 2009 vintage, making it 11 years old.

Wine

This is the Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico De Buris Riserva 2009, which scored 94 points in the Feb. 29, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $300, and 600 cases were made. For more on the Veneto region, check out "Venice & the Veneto" in the April 30, 2020, issue.

—Eszter Balogh, assistant tasting coordinator