Ultimate Speed Tasting
I joined a small group of wine enthusiasts this weekend at an unusual tasting event at a Fleming’s Restaurant in Chandler, AZ. The restaurant had three attendants pouring 50 wines for a group of 20-25 customers. The original email invitation offered 120 minutes for the tasting: roughly 2.5 minutes per bottle. I came prepared to give this a shot with full tasting notes… but on arrival, I learned we would have only 90 minutes to complete the task, or less than 2 minutes per bottle. OK, I am game :-\
The tasting started with an introduction by the restaurant’s wine director and these instructions: “You have 90 minutes to taste 50 wines. Each will be a measured 1 oz. pour. 50 oz. of wine is near two full bottles. Be careful. There are spit buckets at the corner of each table. Go!” I thought this might descend into disaster, but amazingly everyone remained responsible and were evaluating the wines, rather than drinking them. Kudos to the Phoenix wine community… this was a serious consumer event.
Observations & Comments
This was a major journey into masochism. I have been to wine tastings with this number of wines before, but always with near twice the time per bottle and while seated at a table. This wine tasting was characterized by service upon request and no place to sit. I would find it difficult to suggest attending one of these Fleming’s 100 Tasting Events, unless you are either a wine journalist, or just ignore the challenge of sampling the entire list. I tasted a large number of wines in a very short time and if you have no experience with preventing palate fatigue, the sheer quantity can make everything taste the same half-way through. The wine list was quite diverse representing many different varietals, countries and styles. In my opinion, a large percentage on this list were not premium category wines, but six were worthy of taking note as either a step above, or a great value. Navigating lengthy restaurant wine lists can be daunting and this is only HALF of this Fleming’s offering. It is a shame, I found less than one in five that I would go out of my way to order. I hope my readers will find this lengthy article helpful, especially those who enjoy Fleming’s Restaurants as my wife and I do.
Event Wine List
(full wine descriptions shortened in the interest of brevity)
Sparkling – White/Rose/Red
- Mionetto Prosecco Extra Dry NV – Italy
- Jean-Charles Boisset JCB Brut #21 NV – France
- Distinguished Vineyards Sophora NV – New Zealand
- Banfi Rosa Regale Acqui NV – Italy
- 2014 Loosen Brothers Mosel Riesling – Germany
- 2014 Jean Baptiste Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett – Germany
From here, I realized I was already in trouble on time and stopped asking for the vintage information…
- Vinedos Santa Lucia Sauvignon Blanc – Chile
- Hess Family Bodega Colome Torrontes – Chile
- Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
- Maso Canali Pinot Grigio – Italy
- Coppola Virginia Dare Two Arrowhead Viognier-Roussanne – Paso Robles, CA
- Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay – Canada
- Taken Complicated Chardonnay – Sonoma County, CA
- Meiomi Chardonnay Santa Barbara-Monterrey Counties Blend – Sonoma Coast, CA
- Kendall Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Selection – CA
- De Loach Chardonnay La Reine – Sonoma Coast, CA
- Glen Carlou Chardonnay – South Africa
- Franciscan Estate Chardonnay – Napa Valley, CA
- Wine by Joe Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR
- Mark West Pinot Noir – CA
- Jean-Claude Boisset Bourgogne Rouge – Burgundy, France
- Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir – Sonoma Valley, CA
- Cambria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Clone 4 – Santa Barbara County, CA
- Calista Edna Valley Pinot Noir – San Luis Obispo County, CA
- Bertoldi Gran Passione Rosso – Italy
- Bodegas Bagordi Navardia Red Blend – Spain
- Pascual Toso Malbec – Argentina
- Ziobaffa Toscano Rosso Organic – Italy
- Michel Gassier Cercius Rhone Red Blend – France
If you have had it with this wine listing just skip to the bottom for my ABBREVIATED notes
- Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia Red Blend – Portugal
- Saldo Zinfandel – CA
- Red Diamond Merlot – Washngton State
- Chateau Haut-Colombier Bordeaux Style Blend – France
- Duckhorn Merlot – Napa Valley, CA
- Lidio Carraro Serra Caucha Agnus Red Blend – Brazil
- Greg Norman Cabernet -Merlot – Australia
- Trefethen Double T Bordeaux Style Blend – Napa Valley, CA
- Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvee Red Blend – Sonoma County, CA
- Paraduxx Propietary Red Blend – Napa Valley, CA
- Treana Red – Paso Robles, CA
- 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon – Washington State
- Liberated Cabernet Sauvignon – Sonoma County, CA
- Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon – Argentina
- Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon – Washington State
- Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
- Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
- Hall Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
- Justin Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles, CA
- Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley – Sonoma County, CA
- Yardstick Cabernet Sauvignon Ruth’s Reach – Napa Valley, CA
Highlights of the Tasting Notes
Top Three Whites
Jean Baptiste Gunderloch Riesling – Acceptable German Riesling. More red apple on the palate, than stone fruit (peach, apricot, etc.), but crisp and refreshing. At around $17/btl market price, decent value too. For the same price though, I would recommend the U.S. made Chateau St. Michelle Eroica Riesling first.
Maso Canali Pinot Grigio – Second best white of the evening. A crisp mouth-feel with high acidity. Lemon citrus palate with a lingering finish. Nice balanced profile. Would be great as a before dinner sipper, or with white cream sauces.
Coppola Virginia Dare Two Arrowhead Viognier-Roussanne – Best white wine of the night! Beautiful soft mouth-feel with high acidity. The wine was fruit forward, without being sweet, or overpowering. Citrus palate with a beautiful floral lingering finish. Missing the bitterness of some Roussanne wines. Great for food and on its own.
Top Three Reds
Justin Cabernet Sauvignon – This is my go-to restaurant wine, when there is a weak wine list. It is distributed almost everywhere and usually easy to find. Not like a traditional big Napa Cab, but fruit forward, balanced and with high acidity. Nice food wine that can accompany most fine dining dishes.
Hall Cabernet Sauvignon – Medium priced Napa Cab at around $45/btl. market price. Gives you most of what you are looking for from Napa, at an easier to manage price-point.
Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – I enjoy most Round Pond wines, but being exposed to only their ultra-premium wines, I had not seen a sub-$50/btl. of wine from this producer. This was the best Cab Sauv of the night and has a market price of only $30/btl.! Tremendous value! Round Pond’s focus on mouth-feel, is a primary method I use for differentiating top wines. This was a fruit-forward, balanced wine, with high acidity and great mouth-feel. Look for this wine. I will be running out and grabbing some myself.
The majority of the reds were easy drinking. With a few exceptions, these were average wines that could accompany a steak capably. Although, I will have to say, this growing movement toward red blends WITH residual sugar (i.e. Apothic style) is hard for me to handle.
There was a group of better than average red wines: Duckhorn Merlot, Susana Balbo Cab Sauv, Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cab Sauv. Here are two wines worth considering that may not be on your radar:
Michel Gassier Cercius – Nice Rhone red blend. Fruit forward with good acidity and a reasonable price. If you enjoy Southern Rhone style red wines, this represents the region capably.
Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia – Wow, I like Touriga Nacional based Portuguese wines! Unfortunately, this is the premier varietal in Portugal and can be pricey. This was a nice find. For under $20/btl market, you get much of what makes this varietal great at a reasonable price. If you haven’t tried wines from Portugal yet, this would be a quality entry level option.
Bottom of the Barrel
All of the sparkling was barely drinkable.
Mionetto Prosecco – Mionetto is a well respected Valdobbiadene producer and my wife and I had tried to visit the winery when we were in Italy a few years ago… but our schedule did not allow. If this wine is any indication, I did not miss anything. I read about the “Prosecco Revolution” everywhere on the wine scene these days, but have yet to try one that approaches quality Champagne, or even quality California sparkling. Another bust.
Banfi Rosa Regale Acqui – Thought a sparkling red might be interesting, like a decent Lambrusco. Wow, this was horrible. Sweet beyond belief, with cotton candy and strawberry hard candy flavors. Don’t be tempted, you will toss it in the planter next to your table.
Loosen Brothers Mosel Riesling – I have tried many Loosen Brothers Rieslings that have been excellent. This was a real disappointment. It was missing the crisp acidity that defines a quality Mosel Riesling. It wasn’t horrible, but I guess it made the list as a let-down from a quality producer.
The Sauvgnon Blancs and Torrontes were unpleasant. The Sauv Blancs were particularly grassy.
There was not a single Chardonnay that stood out on this list, in either the stainless steel, or oaked styles. The oaked Chardonnays were so woody, they could have been used as fuel for a fire.
The Pinot Noirs were not notable. The best of the bunch was the Rodney Strong: very drinkable, with some complexity at $18/btl market – a reasonable value. It is difficult to find good Pinot Noir anywhere in the world under $20USD/btl.
Several red wines were favorites of the group, but with enough residual sugar to make it to the bottom of my list: Gran Passione Rosso, Treana Red and Oberon Cab Sauv. Not my thing.