Guest post by Haley Turner, Freelance writer, pop culture maven and sunscreen worshipper. Follow her on Twitter @GrupGirl
I am no established wine expert – half the wines I keep at home are closer to the selections available at Trader Joe’s than Napa Valley. However, when one gets invited to taste a wine that has received a 100 point rating, you screw the plastic cap back on your Two-Buck Chuck, put on something clean, and show up with a glass in hand. For a wine to receive a 100 point rating it must have perfect structure, complexity, balance and “typicity” – the degree the wine reflects its varietal origins – no easy task.
I had the good fortune to get invited to an exclusive wine tasting event featuring Penfolds portfolio of wines, including their 2008 Grange (Bin 95), which has received a 100 point rating. Penfolds is one of Australia’s oldest wineries, and this event focused on two groupings of their reds: One table focused on their selection of lower tier “commercial” wines and another table contained a selection of their icon luxury wines, including the Grange.
When I arrived, I was introduced to the impeccably dressed DLynn Proctor, Penfolds official Winemaking Ambassador to the U.S.
DLynn is that guy you can listen to all night long as he talks about wine and the wine-making process. He knows his stuff. It also made me glaringly realize how little I knew about wine. I told him that the 2008 Grange was going to be my first 100 point wine.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s a dual 100 point wine, to be exact.”
“That means our Grange received a 100 pt. rating by two different wine publications – the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator.”
“It’s the 11th wine in the world to get a dual 100 point rating AND it’s the only wine that’s not a French wine to get a dual 100 point rating.”
So basically these Aussies kicked some French wine-making ass. Even better.
I just wanted to make a beeline for the Grange, but DLynn talked me into starting at the lower tier of wines and working my way up. I patiently indulged a taste of Koonunga Hill, Hyland, and a few select Bins, and then headed over to the luxury table.
There I met Steve Lienert, the Senior Red Winemaker. I asked him what made Australian wines stand out from other wines around the world and he said, “Consistency.”
He proceeded to escort me around the premium luxury wines on the table. I started with the Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon and continued to work my way up the chain. I learned the difference between French Oak and American Oak (French Oak is milder and more expensive, American Oak permeates the flavor more) and tasted the difference between grapes grown during a drought and grapes grown during a rainier season. (The latter tend to be sweeter.)
The RWT (which stands for “Red Wine Trial”) was a standout for me. Not just because of the flavor, but it smelled wonderful. I took a deep inhale and realized I could make a mint selling aromatic wine candles based on this fragrance. I pitched my multi-million candle idea to Steve, but he didn’t bite.
Finally, the moment arrived. It was the last bottle on the table. Steve poured me a taste.
“Will this ruin me for other wines?” I said half-jokingly, half-serious. I held the glass in my hands and took a few good inhales. Then I raised the glass to my lips.
My first impression? The wine was the same the moment it hit my mouth all the way through to the end. Steve asked me what I thought, and I paused and said, “Clean.” He smiled and nodded. I guess that was an appropriate response. But it really was a clean, smooth taste with no bite or aftertaste.
I told Steve that I noticed there wasn’t really one element of the wine that stood out. It wasn’t too sweet, too earthy, or too currant – it was all of those things but one didn’t dominate.
“I guess that’s what they mean by balance,” I said. He gave me another approving nod. Hey – I think I’m getting the hang of this whole wine-critiquing thing. I silently pondered a career in the wine-making industry… But honestly I think I’d make more money with that aromatic candle idea.