The 30 Second Wine Advisor

Vol. 1, No. 15, April 26, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Compare and contrast
Remember back in college days, when the English Lit prof demanded an essay in which you'd sweat out several hundred words to "compare and contrast" two disparate items, presumably illuminating both by analyzing the similarities and difference between each?

I really hated those assignments.

But maturity brings mellowness, and after many years I've developed a certain affection for the compare-and-contrast technique ... when the topic is wine.

Seriously, I've found almost no better way to sharpen your palate quickly than to put two glasses of wine on the same table for a side-by-side tasting. I find that the process of comparing and contrasting -- consciously taking written notes of the ways in which the wines are alike and in which they're different -- fixes their aromas and flavors and overall style in my memory better than any other technique.

If you're concerned about the extravagance of opening two bottles at a time, consider having friends over to share in the fun; use what's left as cooking wine; or hang on to the leftovers and use them for dinner on the following day. Or as a compromise, have the wines on separate nights -- as I did with the two Barberas below -- but take detailed notes and do your best to hold the first wine in your mind until you get around to the second.

Have you tried this? Write me at and let me know if you've got any comparative-tasting tips or tricks. And, as always, please don't hesitate to drop us a line if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.

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30 Second Tasting Notes
Comparative tastings
I'm devoting a little extra space to tasting notes this week to give you two examples of recent comparative tastings, the first matching two Chenin Blancs from opposite sides of the world in a side-by-side "shootout," the second matching an Old World and New World Barbera tasted on separate occasions.

Two Chenin Blancs
Blue White Blue White 1997 Old Vines Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chenin Blanc ($9.99)
The dark-blue glass bottle seemed a little ominous, but the contents were a revelation, showing why South Africa has a considerable reputation for producing dry Chenin Blanc (a grape that the locals sometimes call "Steen"). Pale greenish-gold in color, it boasts an appetizing fresh melon scent; crisp, tart and just barely off-dry flavors follow the nose and dry out completely in a long, fresh-fruit finish. U.S. importer: Whyte Wine Corp., Indianapolis. (April 15, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: Cantonese shrimp with lobster sauce made a surprisingly good match.

Hogue Cellars 1997 Columbia Valley (Washington) Chenin Blanc ($7.49)
Pale straw color, this disappointing wine shows only the faintest scent of undifferentiated citrus fruit; soft and slight on the palate, it resembles slightly fruity sugar water. I had expected more from Hogue, usually a reliable producer of inexpensive wines of good value. But putting this one up against the South African wine in a compare-and-contrast setting left the winner in no doubt. (April 15, 1999)

A pair of Barberas
Bera 1997 Barbera d'Alba ($12.99)
Very dark reddish-purple. Plum and spice aromas, almost like a plum pudding. Full, juicy fruit, forward and jamlike, over a sturdy acidic framework. Dark fruit and spice and astringent but palatable tannins linger in a long finish. Balance and structure make it the better of the two Barberas. U.S. importer: Pellegrini Brothers Wines Inc., South San Francisco, Calif. (April 23, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: A delight with a simple, aromatic Madagascar-style chicken dish, breasts and thighs sauteed with quantities of ginger and garlic.

Boeger 1994 El Dorado (California) Vineyard Select Barbera ($14.99)
Inky dark garnet color. Plummy, almost pruney aromas surround attractive black fruit and spicy oak. Full, juicy fruit flavor, soft on the acid side, but fruit and oak and the warmth of unusually high (14.5%) alcohol hold it together. A rustic wine, the California offspring of Italian immigrant ancestors. (April 3, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: Fine with oven-fried chicken.

30 Second Wine Link
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