So last night was the Wild Women of Wildwood Farm Wine-tasting Festival 2010. It was all very nicely set up by S&R, who procured seven wines (three white and four red) for us to try. Rae had all the bottles shrouded in plain brown wrappers, marked with a letter designation. Susan made up little wine notes for us, listing the reds and whites separately. There were spaces for us to rank our favorites, make our personal wine-tasting notes, and indicate which wine we thought corresponded to which letter, and another space to print in which grape it ACTUALLY was, so that we could score ourselves – because there was going to be a quiz, and there was a prize for the winner. Each varietal represented was listed – in random order – with a description if available. In addition to all this, there were various snacks and savories – not to assuage our gluttony, but to cleanse the palate between tasting, I assure you. (Hey! Was that a skeptical look I just saw?!)
About an hour after I arrived, the various guests were assembled: all women, all congenial, all in a festive mood. We collected a few tasting glasses each, dutifully marking them A, B and C. As is sensible, the whites were first. Now, I'm not typically a white wine drinker; as a rule, I prefer the dry reds. I love the dry complexity and strong oaks and smokier, more sensual tones they offer. But hey – I'm always game for a challenge, a little education of my palate, a chance to try something new. The alcohol content has NOTHING to do with it. I swear.
Accordingly, we all parked ourselves and took a little tot of each wine: a pinos gris, a cardonnay, and a viognier (of which I had never before heard – but hoped I might identify by a process of elimination).
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm really quite the amateur when it comes to serious wine tasting. I know the basic steps – you know, tilt the glass, inspect the color, sample the bouquet both before and after swirling, take a wee sip (ditto), chew, inhale, all the usual jazz. Personally, I am too frugal to spit the wine, however, so I will unfortunately always be a complete amateur and a hopelessly gauche provincial with no sophistication whatsoever. Personally, I believe in a little taste of smoked salmon in between tastes, or maybe a sip of water or a Greek olive or a sliver of red bell pepper, to cleanse the palate. (See? I'm telling you: a complete rube.) In between noshing, raucous conversation with my fellow tasters and lots of laughter, I made my rankings and my guesses as to which wine was which. Then – and I swear this is only because I'm frugal – I finished all the remaining wine in my glasses while I waited for the tasting to finish so I could find out how truly I suck at determining which wine is which.
Amazingly – the more so given that I rarely drink whites - I scored three out of three. Huh. That was weird.
Next came the reds. Here I was pretty sure I had my work cut out: I like red wine, but while I have some favorite varietals, I'm really not very sophisticated about it, and I was fairly sure I would embarrass myself by really screwing this one up. This would be less embarrassing if I didn't actually make my own wine, which you would think would educate me a little (although I was fairly sure it had not.) Also, I figured that since I DO prefer the reds, I would like them all and therefore be harder pressed to choose between them. This in fact turned out to be the case. I had one very clear favorite, which I felt sure was the pinot noir – well, okay, I wasn't sure. I hoped it was, as pinots are one of my favorite varietals, and I thought it would be way too embarrassing if I got that one wrong. There were, however, some varietals I rarely drink (shiraz and malbec), and one that was new to me (a carmenere). Oh, well. Time to punt.
So, I sipped and I chewed and I inhaled and I squinted at the color. I giggled at the antics of some of my compatriots, and admired the combat photography technique of the woman sitting next to me: At various intervals she would extend her (very nice) camera above her head, aim it at the center of the action, and take a shot. Because it was a digital camera, she could immediately inspect the results and regroup for a better shot if needed. I milled about the delicacies on offer (two kinds of salmon, one kind of salmon dip, tangy home-made goat cheese, home-made duck sausage, some kind of rumaki-like creation, chips and guacamole, spicy devilled eggs on French bread, various kinds of really delectable olives, sliced bell peppers with some kind of tasty white dip, two different kinds of brownies – I can't recall what else.) Susan – a teacher – came around and inspected our tasting notes. Those who were spending too much time tasting and not enough time on their notes received - in red pen – a notation that they need to stay on-task. Those who had been more diligent got commendations. (I got "Good describing words".) Oooh. Now I'm all proud and stuff.
Eventually it was time for scoring. Yup, I did just as bad as I expected: one out of four. I WAS right on the pinot noir – thankfully proving I'm not a complete philistine and that while largely wasted, my 6 years of wine-making experience were at least not a total loss – but everything else I screwed up: The malbec I thought was the carmenere, the shiraz I thought was the malbec, and the carmenere I thought was the shiraz. Oh, well. At least I had enough taste to enjoy drinking them.
Now it's time for the overall scoring. Rae made everyone who got one right out of the seven put up their hand.
"Okay, how many got two right?" she asked. A few hands went down. "Three right?" Down go a few more hands. "Four right?" Just two hands left now, mine and one other. "Five right?" Both of us put our hands down.
"Ooh, a tie-breaker!" Susan exclaimed. She polled us all to find out which wine was the favorite; turns out I was in good company, as the one I personally ranked first was the overall favorite. "Okay," she said. "As the tie-breaking question, what is the percentage of alcohol content in the pinot noir?"
"Twelve percent," said my 'opponent' after a moment's consideration.
"Fourteen," I said without hesitation. I don't know why; it just popped into my head.
"Thirteen and a half," Susan replied. "You're closer."
Well, what do you know. I never win these things. Quite a shocker.
We divided up the winning present (it WAS a tie, after all); my opponent got a wine caddy (a tote internally divided into separate compartments so that you can carry six bottles at once); I got the game Wine-opoly, a variant of Monopoly. This looks like a riot, and also somewhat educational: there are wine quizzes on some of what would be the "community chest" cards, and the "deed" cards have information about different wines. Of course, how educational it really is may depend on how many glasses of wine you drink while playing the game. I'll let you know, at any rate: I have a feeling I'll be breaking this game in at Wildwood.
Just a guess.