Tastings show varied tastes – Nov 9, 2013

By Anthony GismondiA�

Fifteen of this country’s most experienced wine commentators and sommeliers gathered last week in Montreal to taste 30 of what arguably would be regarded as the best red Cabernet Sauvignon blends in the world. The organizer, Wolf Blass Wines, plans to hold two more identical Master Blend Classification tastings this fall, in London and Melbourne, Australia, before the outcome is known. It is unknown what the final results will reveal, but given the difference of opinion among Canadian reviewers it’s clear there is no single style or blend that can lay claim to the world’s best Cabernet blend. I suspect the scores will be even more varied as the results from London and Melbourne are added to the database.

It is likely the quality gap between the vast majority of labels we tasted is closing quickly, even if their prices would suggest otherwise. But that is the beauty of blind tastings.

For the record, the Wolf Blass organizers had a vested interest in the tasting. Among the 30 bottles of 2009 red blends selected to taste was the 2009 Wolf Blass Black Label ($100). It finished in the middle of the pack, although given its price tag and high level of shiraz fruit, the 47/47/6 cabernet sauvignon-shiraz malbec blend gave the rest a pretty good fight.

These tastings have a limited shelf life, but they can be interesting snapshots in time, and an even more interesting insight into what turns the crank of writers from different countries, or in this case, tasters who span some 5,000 km. We were particularly tough on the Australian entries, almost all of which were out-classed on the day, including: Cullen Diana Madeline ($100), Vasse Felix Heytesbury ($75), Wendouree Cabernet Malbec ($120), Mount Mary Quintet ($150), and Henschke Cyril Henschke ($175).

The stars, as you might expect, were the Bordeaux first growths – although I struggled to see the Grand Cru in some , given the massive amounts of smoke and heavily toasted oak currently masking much of the fruit. Chateau Margaux ($1,900) was a study of smoke and oak supported by an underlying complex mix of fruit other tasters regarded as close to perfection. I was more supportive of the Mouton Rothschild ($1,800) on the day the oak seemed less dominate. Prices are crazy.

Chris Hatcher, chief winemaker of Wolf Blass Wines, was both gracious and humble when it came to talking about his wine. Hatcher suggested to the assembled tasters the task wasn’t about looking for champions, but rather it was a study of styles, even better to debate the many styles. The discussion was spirited as we explored the value of pouring gobs of new French oak on some wines, while others preferred wines that related more to their terroir and climate. As I alluded to last week in this space, savoury, bright, red fruits are earning more respect at these tastings than the heavy makeup of smoke and oak dominating most Bordeaux first growths. Is Lafite Rothschild at $3,000 a great wine? Most judges agreed. But under a blanket of heavily toasted oak, I was happier to drink Chile’s Almaviva ($160), Italy’s Ornellaia ($190), or California’s Opus One ($400).

With New World wines tightening the acidity, picking earlier, shedding oak and heading down the cooler fruit road, and much of Europe turning out softer, richer, often more alcoholic versions, it is hard to know where it’s all heading.

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