Not this time. The ringer in our next double-blind, brown-bag tasting was a high-end Napa Valley chardonnay that costs $36 a bottle at Total Wine, but averaged just 2.4 stars from the tasters on our five-star scale (see below). A $12 California chardonnay—recommended to us by Jim Cutts at Arrowine in Arlington (and now in DC)—earned an average of nearly 3.2 stars and was the crowd favorite among the two whites tasted. Calling All Angels 2011 Chardonnay, from Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co., scored more than half a star more than a wine that costs three times as much (and if it’s $36 at Total Wine, imagine what it costs elsewhere!).
“Abundant fruit,” is how another of our baker’s dozen tasters described Wine #1. “Peach, passion [fruit] bouquet. Soft on palate – a little flat, but does have a lingering finish.”
Because we taste these wines double blind—meaning the tasters not only don't know the producer or price (single blind), but also don't know the type of grapes used or place of origin—the celebrity of Calling All Angels couldn't influence our tasters. Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. is owned by the rock band Train, and is making wine in concert with ACME Wine Movers, a newly formed division of mega-conglomerate The Wine Group. Tasters also couldn't have their heart strings tugged on, not knowing that proceeds from Save Me, San Francisco wines go to a non-profit that provides housing to families of seriously ill children.
And its $36 price tag didn't influence tasters of the more expensive white, which earned a “Yuk” from one (who’s an unabashed red wine drinker), and was described as “Rough – Seems somewhat harsh,” by another, who also didn’t like the wine’s finish.
Yet another taster, who awarded three stars to the expensive white, Wine #2, called it “puckery,” with “nice fruit and finish.” Though she cautioned that it was “maybe too bitter at the end.”
The contrast between the chardonnays was the most noteworthy finding of our panel of casual wine drinkers. But the most practical insight for area wine shoppers comes from the overall favorite of the tasting—a $10 to $12 California cabernet sauvignon that’s widely available throughout the Washington area, including at Total Wine stores, Rodman’s DC and Montgomery County Liquor stores).
Noble Vines 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, (supplied as a sample) from Lodi in California’s Central Valley, averaged more than 3.3 stars from the Tasting Panel; a clear consensus favorite. Half of the panelists who tasted it awarded it at least four stars.
As noted last week, the Wine for the Rest of Us five-star rating scale is as follows:
* Yuk, where’s the spit bucket?
** Drinkable, but I don’t need another taste, thanks. …
*** I like this, please fill my glass.
**** I love it; I’d buy a bottle if it’s less than $20.
***** This one’s a ringer; what’s this $35 bottle doing at this two-bit tasting?
The Beverage Tasting Institute awarded 337 Cabernet a Gold Medal in its most recent World Wine Championships and rated the wine a Best Buy at $14.99. Yet it costs just $9.99 at Total Wine, $12.39 at Montgomery County Liquor stores and $12.99 at Rodman’s in DC.
“Aromas of chocolate covered espresso bean and dried currant with a supple, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a tangy, sour cherry and honey roasted nut and a chewy tannin finish,” read the notes from the Institute's September tasting. “Nice smoothness and balance; will be very flexible at the table.”
None of our tasters detected chocolate-covered espresso bean or dried currant. But one described a “Robust aroma that begs for it to be accompanying meat” and “Luscious flavors of fruit and spice without being dry.”
“Yummy. Dry,” noted another taster, who scored the 337 Cabernet 4.5 stars. “I’m sitting at a bistro in Paris right now reading Albert Camus, realizing that life is nice.”
Life is especially nice—in DC as well as Paris—if you can get a wine this delicious for as little as $10 a bottle.
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