“Bottle Shock”: a fun tongue-teaser


Hi — it’s The Tenant again, here to give you another review of an exciting event at the Bistro. This time around it was the “Bottle Shock” Wine Tasting, a variation on the legendary 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition that inspired the movie Bottle Shock. The film tells the true story of how a British sommelier surprised a group of Parisian oenophiles by having them conduct a blind taste-test of a selection of wines. The tasting proved to their discriminating palates that California’s best wine could indeed stand up against France’s for quality. In the Bistro 185 version of Bottle Shock, tasters were presented with six different wines and asked to guess whether each was from France or California and to attempt to “name that varietal.” At the end, the names and vintages of each wine were revealed so we could tell how close our guesses had been.

As I’ve mentioned before, I really am not a connoisseur of wine, so I participated in this tasting more for the fun and the opportunity to expose myself to some new tastes than anything else. It was also interesting to try to see whether I’d become any good at distinguishing French wines from California wines merely from my experience at Bistro wine dinners!

The tasting began with a white wine that to me seemed fruity, but not especially or cloyingly sweet. I took a guess on its being a California wine, but which grape it was I could not tell. My companion Mary, who knows far more than I do, took a guess that it was a Chardonnay. The second wine, also a white, seemed less fruity, drier and crisper — very clean, almost without any strong flavor at all. I wasn’t sure about this one, but I put down France as the origin just for a guess. I never did guess a varietal at all.

The third wine was a red with a strong bouquet and a very spicy spectrum of flavors. I guessed this one for a California, possibly a red Zinfandel. (I was remembering a friend of mine from the Bay Area who ordered it once when we were together at a bar, laughing at the tendency of the rest of the country to drink white Zin, which she regarded as a joke — which, I suppose, to serious wine drinkers, it is.) Wine number four was also a red, with a very smooth kind of velvety texture; I guessed it for, possibly, a French Merlot. Number five, a red for which a fresh bottle was opened just before my pour and which emerged very foamy at first, seemed to have a lighter flavor than some of the other reds; I had no idea what the origin or grape might be, so I guessed at a French Syrah. The last wine, another red, was another wine that seemed to have a certain smoothness of flavor and a flowery, fruity bouquet. I put this one down as possibly another California, but couldn’t think of what grape it might be.

When we had each had a taste of every wine and marked down our judgments/guesses, the identity of each wine was revealed to us. Wine #1: 2009 Treasure Hunter Alexander Valley Chardonnay! Our flyers described it as having “a succulent nose of exotic crushed fruit and lemon custard. With an opulent mouthfeel, it still shows good acidity and green apple, honey, spice and heaps of tropical fruit.” Mary got that one right, and I correctly identified it as a California wine.

Number 2: 2008 Escale Chardonnay Vins de pays de Mediterranee, from France. “The nose is very aromatic with notes of peaches and hints of passion fruit. Rich and full on the palate with a long-lasting finish.” I had guessed it for French, at least, so when it came to telling the two wine regions apart, I was two for two!

Wine #3: 2008 Hoe Down Cabernet Sauvignon. Another correct guess of a California, even though I was off on the grape. “This Cabernet has flavors of fresh raspberries and silky blueberries that balance perfectly. It has velvety oak nuances and round tannins.”

On Wine #4, I was again off on the grape, but right on the country. It was 2007 Escale Cabernet Sauvignon vin de pays d’Oc. “A nose of red and dark fruits. On the palate there is a silky texture with flavors of cassis and blackberries with a very nice structure and complex finish.”

On Wine #5, I made my sole correct guess of varietal, even though I missed guessing the origin. It turned out to be 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard Syrah. “Driven by dark berry fruit flavors (blackberry and plum), complemented with hints of black pepper, dusty oak, and slightly floral notes. The fine-grained tannins make it rich and soft in the mouth, and it’s balanced with a tart acid backbone.”

Last of all, Wine #6 was a complete miss for me: 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages. “Old vines give this wine finesse and elegance. A deep ruby color, sweet aromas of black cherries, raspberries, and licorice. Full-bodied and fine, delivers a long and complex finish.”

At the end of the evening, though, considering how little I know about wine, I was pretty impressed with myself. I had managed to correctly guess four out of the six wine origins, even if I was only 1 for 5 on varietals. Maybe I am learning something! Oh, and congratulations to Ginger, who won the competition for most correct guesses. Thanks also to Greg of Purple Feet Distributing and Richard of Père Jacques Wine Imports for walking us through this test of our noses and palates.

One more thing to note: wine aside, this tasting was made even more enjoyable by the panoply of amazing hors d’ouevres that emerged unceasingly from the kitchen throughout. Chef Ruth outdid herself with mini-bruschettas featuring tapenades of artichoke, olive and roasted red pepper, spanakopitas, Hawaiian meatballs, antipasto skewers, smoked whitefish in phyllo cups, mini-crabcakes, Brie and raspberry preserves rolled in phyllo dough, smoked duck breast on mini-potato pancakes, and corn fritters with “Bistro sauce.” Sheer heaven! All of which means, the next time you see a wine tasting advertised at the Bistro, you’d better sign up quickly. Whether you can tell a French from a California or a Chardonnay from a Pinot Gris, a good time is guaranteed for all!

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