For a recent bridal shower, I was determined to find just the right recipe for an appropriate cocktail to serve. The wedding flowers will be a blush color–a very pale pink–so I thought a “Blushing Bride” cocktail would be perfect. I Googled a variety of “Blushing Bride” cocktails. All of them used sparkling wines as the major component of the drink. Some recipes called for peach Schnapps–I ruled these out because I thought the hard alcohol would be too heavy for a springtime shower. Also, I wanted the guests to be able to have refills, without fearing that they would either get too tipsy or curl up somewhere to take a nap.
Another recipe called for grapefruit juice as a component. I had a hard time wrapping my head around that one–it just didn’t sound appetizing. Yet another recipe called for passion fruit nectar. This one sounded good, but after an extensive search at my local grocery store–well, I gave up. A helpful store employee noticed my befuddled look and asked if I needed help. I said I was looking for passion fruit nectar. She just shook her head.
That is when I knew I needed to fall back on one of my favorite combinations–sparkling wine with sorbet! I bought bottles of Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato “Champagne” (complete with a gold star label from the LA International Wine and Spirits Competition) and a pint of mango sorbet. As guests began to arrive, I placed a spoonful of sorbet in Champagne flutes and filled the glasses with the moscato, taking care not to let the bubbles overflow the glasses. The color and the taste were exactly what I was striving for, and the rave reviews were as free-flowing as the drinks, themselves!
The only thing I could read on the front and back labels was 2009. I could see that the wine was red, so the only information I had was the vintage year and the color.
My son-in-law had brought this bottle from Sofia a couple months ago because “it tasted quite good over there.” He did not know the grape variety or even where in Bulgaria it had been produced. Because he had bought it over there it had no import info on either label, hence no English or other western European text. All the print material was done in Cyrillic letters. I confess to knowing nothing of St. Cyril’s alphabet.
We decided to be optimistic and believe that the wine had been grown along the Danube or in ancient Thrace because I remembered many years ago seeing vineyards in that part of Bulgaria; but because my escort cared little for wine all he could say was that it’s the best wine in the country. My son-in-law also had no idea about the provenance of the bottle before it arrived in the shop where he found it. I had kept it upright in a cool, shaded corner for about a month. At dinner, next to the Bulgarian bottle, I had a Beaujolais at the ready … just in case.
The cork was snug. Of the words printed on it, one was “winery.” The name preceding it was printed in the ancient alphabet. There was a faint but not unpleasant musky aroma released with the cork. My tiny sample surprised me with a touch of silk and a pleasing tannic finish not unlike that of a young Bordeaux. Sample tastes went to our wives who approached them somewhat gingerly but then sighed with relief. They liked it.
We all assumed it was a Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps cut with a percentage of Merlot. If the label explained that, we could not read it, but I recalled that though early Bulgarians had launched a wine trade with indigenous grapes some three millenia ago, they had in modern times turned to those two varietals. Based on this single sample, we can only say that in spite of religious and political interruptions — from Islamic prohibitions to Soviet caps and restrictions — Bulgarians have done rather well with their wines. Thirty years ago, even under Soviet oversight, I had been pleased with the white and red wines provided me in rural Bulgaria and was grateful for a little update.
In general, I have given up blind tastings, but this one was special. However, it would not have been blind if my education had included a bit of Bulgarian language. But my palate made up for it; it really appreciated the experience.
Anyone who has ever tried to grade a student’s essay knows the difficulty of ascribing numbers to a grade. It’s said that the A or the F grades are fairly easy, but all those between are gut-wrenching and highly subjective. I have never been enamored of numerical scoring systems for wine. I cannot distinguish between a wine of 89 points from one of 85 points, or between wines rated with 15 or 19 points. Yet I must admit there are not enough adjectives or concrete nouns to reflect the appeal of a wine accurately enough to separate it from other wines.
Therefore it is with a sense of hypocrisy that I undertake the supervision of ten well qualified judges evaluating Indiana wines later this month in Story. None of the judges are wine professionals but all are familiar with the rating systems of Robert Parker, The WINE SPECTATOR, and other well known wine reviewers. The most impressive talent they have are experienced palates that tell them what consumers would think of a particular wine. They do not speculate on its future maturation or its layers of complexity or lack thereof. They may be influenced by suggestions of strawberry, tobacco, or lilacs, and other fruit or floral characteristics but their real concern is how does the wine taste now.
They use points. Yes, points. Points for four different criteria. They examine the color, the aroma, the impact on the palate, and the finish. Color and aroma are undoubtedly the most troublesome. Most wines in a given variety will have pretty much the same color, so they look for hues — for brilliance, for sheen, for, well, an appealing look. A perfect color is worth 10 points; most fall into a mid-range of 5 – 8 points.
Aroma can also be troublesome. Or if you prefer, bouquet. A wine with an off-putting aroma may be rare but it happens. Just as rare are those wines whose aroma leaps out of the glass as if overjoyed to be free of the bottle. Again, a perfect score is 10 points, and, again, most wines are in mid-range.
Probably the most telling criterion is the immediate impact on the palate. A professional might say that the aroma is the best single source of judging a wine’s quality, but for the average consumer, how it tastes is what counts most. For taste, judges tend to mark a score upon contact. They almost always review, re-taste, or come back a bit later, but that first sip is highly significant. 40 points is tops.
Finish — or length — is measurable. Our judges don’t use stop watches, but they make note of whether the wine lingers in the mouth and throat for a very long time, a long time, briefly, or whether it just fades without notice. As with the professionals, they know that length has meaning, and they score it accordingly. Top score: 40 points.
A perfect wine, then, and there have been a few in the twelve years of the Indiana Wine Fair, is 100. Wines in the 80 – 90 range are numerous and becoming more numerous every year, as our 71 Hoosier wineries evolve and mature themselves. And, by the way, each wine is covered by a brown paper sack bearing a number, so the judges have no knowledge of the wine’s source or provenance. They award points by the numbers.
After the judges have assembled the top scores in each category, they all sample each of the best for a final assessment to determine the gold, silver, and bronze medal winners.. Once done with that, they love to enter Story’s famous dining room for a well-earned dinner — and a chance to enjoy a glass or two of a fine wine of their own choosing.OLDER POSTS »