Sommeliers like to boast they can nail a wine blind. They join study groups to prep for the Master Sommelier exam, when they’re tested on their blind-tasting skills. They battle in competitions and smack-downs, fighting to identify a wine by smell and taste alone.
The winners tend to be gifted with the olfactory equivalent of 20/20 vision. On the flip side, the wines themselves have to be identifiable: The sommeliers are being quizzed on the classics.
It’s relatively easy to come up with a list of classics from the Old World, where the terroir distinctions in regions like Burgundy and Piedmont have been parsed for centuries. Tougher, though, to name six classic Finger Lakes rieslings or Anderson Valley pinot noirs.
We challenged five top sommeliers from around the country to focus on wines they don’t normally spend a lot of time researching. They may know the greatest new grower Champagne from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, but what about the chardonnay grown in their own backyard?
Each sommelier picked two friends, and then the team chose a region and variety to explore. We sent them to the region, helped them organize a blind wine tasting and gave them access to whatever vineyards they requested to visit. Each team collaborated on vetting six wines they could present as contemporary classics of their region, then all the teams descended on San Francisco for a Taste-Off this past October.
That day, 35 of the leading retail buyers, sommeliers and wine journalists in the Bay Area came to taste the wines and listen to each of the teams before voting on the depth of the presentations, the quality of the wines and the breadth of the terroir expression they had assembled for each region.
This story appears in the print issue of jan 2019.
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