Stumped by a local wine. My head hung low and I walked away with my tail between my legs.
Last weekend at Roanoke Vineyards, they held their “March Madness Smackdown Tournament” This was the third Smackdown I had attended, this time I was an active player at the event.
For those of you not familiar with the Roanoke Vineyards Smackdowns – the creative minds of Scott Sandell and Adam Ehmer – contestants and winemakers taste wine blind and try to decipher the varietal, the region and the vintage. No small task I must say. Trust me.
If you have never tasted wine blind before, you should. It is the best way, in my opinion, to build you palate, sharpen you skills and it makes you realize, no matter how much you think you know, you really have a lot more to learn.
This event had 16 participants who each tasted wine blind. Some were members of the Roanoke Wine Club, some worked in the industry, some were writers and some were enthusiasts. The winner of the tournament would sit on the panel with some of Long Islands best winemakers and regional pioneers. The winner from this event would achieve instant stardom and notoriety and be come a cult hero with a following of screaming fans. Some of it is not true, but it sounds about right. I would not be that person.
On this night I was lucky #92. I gave myself a 29 points on my blind tasting ability by nights end.
We tasted 12 wines in total with 2 bonus round wines to break a tie. My object going in was to play it cool, not think too much and go with my gut. I stuck to not one of my goals.
The first round consisted of 3 whites, we each had an allotted time to guess the varietal, region and vintage. They gave us a “cheat sheet” which listed multiple options for all the categories.
The first wine up, was no doubt a Chardonnay. I tried to decipher the region and first thought California and then switched my choice to South America. Mistake — it was Cali all the way.
The Next wine was no doubt a Riesling, I tried to be cute and said it was a Finger Lakes Riesling, a little older from 2007-2005. Wrong again…it was a Washington State.
The last one, was the easiest, Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, 2011-2008. Bingo all correct. Musky and gooseberry with bright acidity. If only I had said Marlborough.
Kevin, my opponent tied! We needed another wine to taste blind, the winner take all and move on. The looser went and sat in the Peanut Gallery.
Scott poured us the wine. It stumped me. It was restrained, classic Chardonnay notes, but there was a hint of oak. Just the slightest amount on the palate too. I was picking it up. Bright acidity with a minerality that I thought was flint. This was a white burgundy! A beautiful wine with personality and deliciousness. Kevin and I needed a second pour – just to be sure. We both got Chardonnay correct! Kevin said California, I said Burgundy. Kevin said 2011-2008. I said 2007 – 2005.
The winner was Kevin, based on the vintage. The wine – Roanoke Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay. That 15% that was barrel fermented threw me for a loop. I got stumped by my home town. I could not recognize my own Terrior. Embarrassed and thinking of shutting down this blog because I know nothing about this region I love so much…I walked off to the Peanut Gallery to enjoy the rest of the evening, or at least try to.
While sitting in the Peanut Gallery talking with some of my Facebook friends – most who I met for the first time that night – a few things came to light.
- Oregon makes a mean Pinto Noir. I wanted to get that out of the way.
- Long Island wine stand out among all wines we tasted that night. They were brighter, richer, and delicate, with incredible balance and sophistication.
- I have a lot more to learn and a lot more wine to taste.
- 2009 Beaujolais are killer, in my opinion.
- I like musky or cat pee aromas in Sauvignon blanc.
- Tasting wine with people who like wine is a lot of fun
- Roanoke Vineyards 2007 Merlot, when released will be a killer and noteworthy wine
But as I was driving home, thinking about the wine that kicked me out, I thought it was a Burundian wine. A Long Island Chardonnay tasted like a white Burgundy, the pinnacle of Chardonnay, in my opinion. Roman Roth is a serious winemaker, he makes the wines at Roanoke Vineyards as well as Wolffer Estate Vineyards. I love his Perle Chardonnay, and I love this 2009 Chardonnay from Roanoke Vineyards. Balance, deliciousness and distinctive — it fooled this fool.
This Saturday at a SOLD OUT! Luce & Hawkins in Jamesport, the winner of the March Madness Smackdown Tournament takes his seat next to some of Long Island’s notable winemakers. Andrew may be an unknown to some but he has an impeccable palate. Andrew is the production wine maker at Premium Wine Group in Mattituck, a custom crush winemaking facility. He also happens to be part of a tasting group I am in.
When I found out he was part of the tournament, my money was on him – if I put down any money that is.
So, Melissa and I will be one of 100+ people will be tasting wine blind along with the panel of judges will all be wondering “Can you tell… what the ROCKWELL… is tasting!”
- Roanoke Vineyards Hosts Their Own “March Madness” (lenndevours.com)
- Smackdown Tourney Puts Palates to the Test (northfork.patch.com)
Photo Credits:First Picture Henry Powderly from northfork.patch.com. Video and last photo from Roanoke Vineyards.