BEST Tasting Formats and BEST Weird Reds

veteran PITs-man

Wine Tasting was once a popular past time that got overrun by muddled rum cocktails and fruity martinis…except for the S-E-R-I-O-U-S-ly disaffected LOVERS of wine. If lovers is too intense go with FANS. If fans is too trite give AFFICIANDOS a shot. If afficionados is too froo-froo go fuck yourself. Kidding. Back to Wine Tasting the activity. We describe three popular formats [ed. other forms are mostly about meeting life partners].

Trophy Tastings: Bring a 100 point bottle and drive up in a pricey car. Serve the wine long before it is ready. Eschew using an aerator. Many tasters are wearing cologne and perfume. The first question is ALWAYS how many points? The second is how much did it cost? Trophy tasting would be greatly improved with the liberal use of an aerator. Conversation will quickly fall to, and end with a review of the Wine Spectator’s top 20 picks for their Annual 100 Best List. Do they still do that?

Super Tastings: These are very serious affairs that commonly involve a vertical selection of Bordeaux or Burgundy. Every taster should attend at least one. Sometimes the theme diverts to Barolo. This is the Grand Mama of the Trophy format. Think 50 years of Lafite or 30 years of Heitz Marthas. Here is the problem. If you read the tasting notes [ed. having never been invited we read the notes] you find that maybe 5 of the vintages were truly impressive. It is puzzling and curious to our palate and sensibility that part of the gig is looking for stylistic “House consistency” across vintages. “The 1982 Lafite was more distinctively Lafite than the 1981 which was less classic than the 1983.” And the point is?

Casanova restaurant in Carmel has wine list suitable for super tasters

There is another problem of less risk to our readers but of interest nonetheless: the presence of fraudulent collectible trophy wines that appeal to Super Tasters. The current case of a “master” con man can be followed here by Mike Steinberger formerly of Slate, in this instance with Vanity Fair, and John Tilson who publishes the Underground Wineletter. Tilson points out that Steinberger has incorrectly attributed the criminal’s error to what we shall refer to as wine mythology; i.e., the “legendary complexity of Burgundy wines” when the crook was actually confused about two producers with similar names [ed. at least he did not use the M word – minerality]. Translation: the crook was a dope. Wine tasting can be so silly especially when five figure bottles are involved.

Pseudo intellectual tastings aka the PITs: The PITs are the preferred tBoW approach to tasting. The premium is on being able to express yourself without preference to dialect. Fresh metaphorisms are preferred. Better yet, bring an oddball wine, unfashionable in any way, BUT it has to be decent or if it is not then there must be a good reason other than the winemaker is a dolt. Malaprops are greatly respected. Wines from well known regions are welcome however they should represent VALUE. Unusually decent plonk is tolerated. Forget the overpriced easily recognized labels on pseudo-premium restaurant wine lists. Leave the Cakebread Chardonnay and your Screaming Eagle in the cellar [ed. like we would see that]. We would rather try a Paso Cab from the Tablas Creek winemaker’s private project Lone Madrone. This is the trickiest form of tasting but easily the most interesting and pleasurable once it gets rolling.

Here are the red wines we tasted recently from the PITs.

1989 Soucherie Chaumes $25: Not a RED! Left this out last post. Chalky Chenin Blanc from one of the most unfashionable and little known regions in France. It was served ater all the whites and reds and still showed plenty of stuffing and pedigree. Chalky, sweet coconut flavors. Love these wines. 11%

2009 Coppola “Votre Santé” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $12: Good candidate for California Value Pinot Noir. Nice pick by Dr D. We kind of handicapped the wine by chilling it. May not have been a bad idea after all. Showed nice simple fruit. Perfectly drink-able especially late in the tasting when crowd got demanding and a bit feo.

2007 Derby Estates Derby Vineyard Fifteen 10 $26: As a GSM blend this is a seminal wine of sorts. We have documented the Paso winemakers shift to Rhone styles. Derby has a female winemaker trained at the new local training program CSU SLO which insists winemaking remain part of the Food Science department. One can only imagine the internal academic battles being waged over that. This wine represents the new generic Paso GSM blend. Perfectly drinkable, well made and not distinctive. 59% Syrah, 29% Grenache, the rest Mourvedre. Middle weight, good nose, balanced flavors. But not distinctive. Have to give this another shot in less WEIRD company. She also makes a white blend. 15.3%

2005 Saxum James Berry Vineyard $130: One of the most collectible Paso Robles labels. Widely touted as spectacular, top of the top, Promethean. Here is what our WEIRD tasters said. Undrinkable. Too heavy. Overripe. Not even the aerator can put a dent in this monster. Perfect for the Trophy Tasters. Someday the Super Tasters will get around to a vertical. Best thing we can say is it beats the old Zinfandel tooth-breakers from the 80s. Everything we run from in California wine. 15.5%

2009 Rangeland Cabernet Sauvignon
$26: tBoW’s tasting ringer. While Cabernet Sauvignon is hardly WEIRD, the varietal has legacy among Paso wines. We are on a bit of a jag with Shannon Gustafson’s version of an entry level Paso Cab because it is anything but a throwback to the old days. She has made a breakthrough. Makes us think of first tasting Peter Franus Zinfandels. They were the opposite of tooth-staining sugar-shock-inducing Zins. So is this wine. The tasters were pleased with the middle weight, the balanced flavors and most of all the drinkability of the wine.

2006 Vinicola Tres Mujeres Terrazas y Grenache $20: Weird RED wine winner from the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California. The winemaker wrote the “label” on the bottle with a gold sharpie. The kind you use for autographs. The bottle was opened late in the tasting and showed very good character. Balanced. Light to middle weight. Very well made. Simple fruit flavors. It’s from Baja’s Ruto del Vino! She did not inscribe the alcohol. Guessing 12%.


  1. Wavatar
    Wild Willy says:

    Just enjoying the Chard from the coop winery around the corner in Bourdic, wish you were here…

    • Wavatar
      Bacchus says:

      Where are you? Please report.

      • Wavatar
        Bacchus says:

        Comment: Ms. Carleen’s latest review of No Vineyards’ NO 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was “icky flavored”. Keep in mind she’s just returned from a debaucherous tour of Provence and hence has a newly educated and re-refined palette concerning what can and should be expected of even less celebrated (or simply not exported) wines. In rural France it is customary to strap a carboy on the rear of your mighty Vespa and visit the local collective winery for a bulk fill-up of what comforts you and surely the local winemaker takes his craft as a serious civic responsibility. This is the gem of France – avoid at all cost the famous wineries with large parking lots, they are simply a means of liberating Euros from busloads of German tourists.

  2. Wavatar
    mouse says:

    Glad you finally popped the Chaume I gave you when Clinton was president.

    • Wavatar
      Bacchus says:

      Yes and thank you. Still have another bottle. While you were away I traded my remaining Sauternes including one of the 1983 d’Yquems for a bucket of Chaumes. Holding on until your next visit.

  3. Wavatar
    Tootsie says:

    Do these pants make my ass look fat?
    For some reason that’s all I can think of when I read your review of that so called wine from Tres Mujeres. All that bottle needed was Uno Madre and I could have used it to make a fine vinaigrette. What were those women wearing when you purchased that bottle? That must have confused your senses. I noted that the year couldn’t be readily determined on the hand written label, could have been 2003 or 2004. Allowing 2006 was generous. That “wine” was distantly related to a Beaujolais Nouveau. No tannin, meant to be drunk immediately. Sadly, at the tasting it had turned and even the fun and fruity nuances couldn’t be determined, that’s why the infusion of “mother” would have made it fit for the salade. As for perfume at tastings, while a no-no, is preferable to cigars which obviously ruined the palate of many of the participants (mostly the males – hmmm?).

Got something to add?