Eye-openers at blind-tasting

Blind tastings are humbling events - at least for me. Long ago, I sadly came to the conclusion that I am (inherently) a bad blind-taster - my wife beats me every time!

I have just returned from a wine festival in Taipei where one of the wine events was a blind-tasting - of GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre) wines. In short, wines of similar cepage to Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP). A very imaginative theme, a refreshing change from the usual Cabernet Sauvignon-based or Pinot Noir-based wines.

In all my past experiences of blind tastings none of them had been centred on Grenache nor Syrah.

The six wines: Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) 2009, Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe; Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Les Choregies" Les Papes 2012, Domaine Ogier;  Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2008, Chateau de Beaucastel; Amon Ra Barossa Valley Shiraz 2006, Glaetzer; Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2007, Henschke;  "Dark Blossom" Syrah 2011, Sine Qua Non Three French, two Australian, one Californian. Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2009, Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe 65 per cent Grenache, 15 per cent Syrah, 15 per cent Mouvedre, and 5per cent Others.

For its age, already showing brownish tints, making it look deep tawny red.

Very sweet bouquet of very ripe fruit. An intense palate of very ripe berry fruit, rich black coffee, citrusy tints. Good freshness and great length. Very youthful despite the brown tints of age. A very good "mouth-feel", with good complexity and weight.

The kind of wine when you take in a mouthful, you can feel the weight and taste good fruit.

It is interesting and intriguing, and you want to take in another mouthful after swallowing it. Very clearly French, Southern Rhone.

Amon Ra Barossa Valley Shiraz 2006, Glaetzer, Barossa Valley 100 per cent Shiraz from 80 - 120-year-old vines. Alcohol 14.5 per cent.

Black-red, impenetrable.

Very sweet ripe fruit on the nose, very complex scents - black fruit, oranges, coffee.

In the mouth, good freshness and black flavours make the first impact, black coffee, liquorice and citrus. Very, very long clean finish.

The softness, fullness and rich palate were to me very Australian Barossa characteristics. Almost unctuous. The kind of wine that is very easy to drink, seductive, almost sensuous.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Les Choregies"2012, Clos de l'Oratoire 70 per cent Grenache, 15 per cent Syrah, 15 per cent Mouvedre; Alcohol 15 per cent. Very dark red, with brown tints at the edge. Nose of very sweet ripe black berry fruit, replicated on the palate. A curious wine, despite the taste of very ripe fruit, it had a very firm, almost hard palate. A rather strange firmness for a CDP.

Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley, 2007, Henschke 100 per cent Shiraz, pre-phylloxera vines grown on the Hill of Grace vineyard, Eden Valley. Alcohol: 14 per cent . Very dark red with quite marked brownish tints. Nose of very sweet ripe berries, marked by distinct mintiness. On the palate, very complex flavours, ripe berry fruit, minty, touch of saltiness, mixed with a hint of soya-sauce. Extremely complex.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2008, Chateau de Beaucastel.

All 13 varietals.

This was very good.

Very dark ruby-red with brown tints. Nose of very ripe black berry fruit, cherries and figs. A big intense wine, very complex, very ripe berry fruit, coffee, well balanced, long finish. A great wine.

'Dark Blossom' Syrah 2011, Sine Qua Non 84 per cent Syrah, 8 per cent Grenache, 4 per cent Petite Syrah, 4 per cent Roussane; Alcohol 15.5 per cent. Very dense opaque dark red, aromas of very ripe berries; very sweet ripe fruit on palate, with a touch of saltiness, giving it a sweet-salty palate, very intriguing. Good length.

Summing up: Overall a very interesting tasting, with each of the six wines being a good representative of its own style and character, as well as of its genre and terroir. The Glaetzer, for instance, was very characteristic, big, and black and filled with very ripe black tarry fruit. I had expected the Sine Qua Non to surpass the Glaetzer in heft but it was not the blockbuster I expected.

Indeed it was a pleasant surprise to find it quite intriguing because of the prominent saltiness. This actually added to its attraction and helped in a small way to balance the dense sweetness.

One of the characteristics of CDP-type wines is the high alcohol content. Thewarmer climates in which the wines are grown, such as in Southern Rhone, make for very ripe fruit and hence high alcohol content. Apart from the ease with which one is inebriated when drinking CDP, the high alcohol content actually makes the wine less attractive.

Alcohol tastes sweet. Hence high alcoholic wines tend to be unbalanced taste-wise, due to the combined sweetness of fruit sugar and alcohol. And the high alcohol gets you too quickly "high".

Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other Southern Rhone wines are not as widely or as often seen in Singapore as they deserve to be - at least, I have seldom encountered them at dinners or tastings I have attended.

Perhaps the most popular and most commonly seen is Chateau Beaucastel.

This is always very reliable and very good value.

The soft rich fruitiness of CDP wines make them very good companions with Asian cuisines, coping well with the spiciness and fieriness of the chillies. Great with curries! Conclusion: A timely theme, imaginative and intriguing.

Bottom line: Except for the Hill of Grace and Sine Qua Non, the other four wines are very well-priced, around S$200 per bottle. P S - Despite being given the names of the six Syrah wines I got only two of the eight right!

This article was first published on November 21, 2014. Get The Business Times for more stories.