• Greetings and salutations. I am very proud to be posting Chloe’s third wine bloggy (she loves shortening words and adding a ‘y’ at the end. For example, if she is in a playful mood instead of Chablis she will say Shabby Shabs).

    For those of you just joining us on this wine journey, Chloe Dickson is a wine aficionado and learned journalist. I’ve enjoyed her zingy style, and asked her to be a regular here on the site.

    So without further ado…


    For this week’s piece, I thought it would fun and amusing to recant the tale of my most recent “stump the Somm” experience. I define “Stump the Somm” as: a situation or scenario where an individual makes a deliberate attempt to confuse and bewilder a Sommelier by way of blind tasting and/or esoteric questioning.  As Somms we accept these friendly stumping sessions as part of the job, but that doesn’t mean that they get any more enjoyable…especially when conducted by friends.

    Cue to a recent Friday evening: I am on my way to a friend’s house for a BBQ. I’ve hung up my Sommelier hat for the evening and am looking forward to a much deserved night off. There will be great food, good banter (American translation: poking fun in a light-hearted way), and many a drink. I arrive at the party and it’s already in full swing.  A group of hungry men are gathered around the BBQ prodding at pieces of half cooked chicken and asserting their dominance over one another. The gals, as usual, have set up camp next to the drinks table where a collection of interesting beverages have been laid out. It’s the usual smattering of craft beers , cider and a whimsical punch which is  pinkish in color with tufts of mint and cucumber floating mercilessly – my guess, some sort of kitchen sink gin concoction. My offering tonight is a gorgeous bottle of 2010 Eberle Vineyards Zinfandel from Paso Robles. It’s a perfect BBQ wine as it’s well-made, moderately priced and has enough stuffing to stand up to the smokey meats and sticky sauces that I am about to devour. I’ve been waiting all day to crack it open.

    I near the drinks table looking for an appropriate place to position my offering and I immediately freeze in my tracks. A wave of trepidation falls over me as I stare at the six brown paper bags sitting on the table in front of me. I know that this can only mean one thing. Just then, the host skips over to me with a gargantuan smile on her face. “So, I thought that it would be fun to show everyone your awesome blind tasting skills,” she says innocently, not knowing how deep that statement has just cut me. My heart immediately sinks. Yep, this is happening, the Somm’s nightmare: an amateur blind tasting. I grit my teeth and smile as I try to think of any way that I can back out of this horrendous game, but she is already discussing my skills and merits to the small gathering that has formed around us. “I am not a performing monkey!” I think as I use my best acting chops to let out a modest laugh and humor the group.

    At this stage in the story, I guess I should elaborate on the issue at hand here. The problem isn’t the blind tasting. I actually love blind tastings. When put together properly, doing a blind is like being a detective. Deductive reasoning, skill and memory are your tools and the wine is your mystery. You break it apart, piece it back together, analyze and asses and analyze and asses again in the hope of figuring out its story. It’s fun and thrilling and even if you get it wrong, the consolation prize is that you get to drink really good wine. That’s the key, really…good…wine. This experience, however, is not so fun because I know my friends, and bless them, I know the quality of wine that they drink.  Under the inconspicuous brown paper bags there will be a slew of mediocrity. A collection of sub-par swill plucked from obscurity off of a warm CVS shelf or a neighborhood liquor store. The bottles will be showered in dust and adorned with a $7.99 price tag.

    A good blind tasting doesn’t require expensive wine by any means, but it does require wines that express varietal typicity, or in other words, distinction. If all the wines taste of homemade jam or watered down lemon juice, how can I begin to decipher them?  I love my friends, just not right now. I look at the 6 samples that have been poured for me: a light salmon pink rose, followed by five viscous reds, all staining the sides of their glasses like caked blood. I can already taste the imperfections. The hot, heavy alcohol, the cooked fruit and the lingering taste of oak chips. There is only one thing that will redeem this experience for me, the fact that I can drink my Eberle after it’s all over. So like a good natured wine lover, I swirl, I sniff, I slurp, I use descriptors and make all of the appropriate sound effects and commentary that one would at an official tasting. Yep, I gave that plonky line up everything I could muster, much to the delight and amusement of my fellow BBQ goers. I am, as it turns out, a performing monkey.

    So what was the verdict? Out of the six, I enjoyed two: the Rose – it was quite obviously that $6 Trader Joes Provence Rose…cheap, cheerful, quaffable on a hot day (I’ve swilled it far too many times to not identify it), and a light, easy going Merlot – identifiable by its plumb notes, supple body and general inoffensiveness. The rest were thick, sweet, jammy nightmares, which quite honestly, all bore resemblance to a jar of Bonne Maman. But, I gave it a go and I nailed one more from the pack, taking my correct guesses to three out of six. Not a bad result for swill! A couple of people came up to me after, chuffed that their selections stumped the Somm. “I didn’t try to catch you out,” one said proudly, “but that wine must be pretty different I guess.” I smiled and nodded politely, not mentioning how offended my palate was by the wine in question. Eventually, I made my way over to the drinks table and a wave of relief fell over me. People were going mad for the blind tasting wines – pouring, swirling and discussing the merits of each. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, my lovely Eberle Zinfandel was sitting perfectly intact. I cracked the biggest smile of the evening as I poured myself a whopping glass, carefully concealing the remains of the bottle behind the mystery punchbowl. No one would miss it. No one would know. And I would most certainly win. Bottoms up!