Sandy Hook, Connecticut
On Saturday, March 7th, 2009, Christy and I headed back to McLaughlin Vineyards with a few friends for McLaughlin’s March event, Merlot Madness! Part wine event, part wine class, this was an evening dedicated to Merlots from all over the world. Hosted by Dee Dee Morlock, General Manager of McLaughlin Winery, the seminar was led by Len Gulino, the Wine Tutor.
Len began studying wine seriously in the 1980s and has studied at The Society of Wine Educators (of which he was a member) and the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. He regularly tours with Vin Martoli of The Tasters’ Guild and is the only person in Connecticut who has qualified as a member of The Century Club (people who have tasted wines from more than 100 different grapes). In 2002, Len turned his expertise into a full-time business and now offers a variety of wine seminars, including a Wine 101 class, in venues across Southwestern Connecticut.
Len structured the Merlot Madness seminar as a blind tasting. Nine wines were featured, all masked in paper bags so we were not influenced by country of origin or vineyard. The seminar kicked off with a brief introduction to the history of Merlot: the most widely planted grape of the Bordeaux region, it is also the “third most planted black variety in France.” Similar in flavor profile to the Cabernet Sauvignon, it tends to be lighter and slightly more herbaceous in both aroma and flavor, and is less acidic, giving it a softer, more lush “mouth-feel.” The source material also provided a list of some of the more commonly noted varietal and processing flavors and aromas in Merlots, including fruit, floral and herbaceous notes as well as flavors associated with degrees of oakiness. (Source: Jim LaMar, WinePros.org)
Len then moved on to the five steps of wine-tasting – Color, Swirl, Aroma, Taste, and Savour – and illustrated techniques for getting the most out of each step. The Tasting technique, described by Len as “Slurp and Chew,” was the most interesting and turned out to be one of the highlights of the night. This was my first formal wine tasting seminar, and therefore my first introduction to the “slurp” (aerating the wine in the mouth) and “chew” (ensuring you experience the wine across the entire palate). While I definitely found it easier to identify the flavors and aromas in the wine when I “slurped and chewed,” I actually enjoyed the wine less than when I sipped it and just let it linger in the mouth. It was an interesting exercise, and provided unintended entertainment as watching others attempt to master the “slurp and chew” had everyone laughing hysterically within minutes.
Finally after this introduction to both the grape and the formal steps of wine tasting, we moved on to the main event. The seminar began with an “entrance wine,” the Frontera 2007 from Central Valley, Chile. Already poured when we arrived, we were encouraged to drink it throughout the introduction. This provided us with an initial baseline for Merlot – to help us distinguish some of the grape’s characteristics. We were then given a list of the wines that would be poured that evening including eight Merlots:
- Lindemans 2005, South Africa
- Ravenswood 2006, California
- Yellow Tail Reserve 2006, Southeastern Australia
- McLaughlin Vineyards 2004, Connecticut
- Chateau de Castelneau 2005, Bordeaux, France
- Chateau Ste Michelle 2004, Columbia Valley, Washington
- Tilia 2006, Mendoza, Argentina
- Casa Lapostolle 2006, Rapel Valley, Chile
and one ringer, a non-Merlot red.
Our job for the evening was to taste each wine, determine its characteristics and flavors,and attempt to identify each wine as well as finding the ringer. Finally, we were asked to vote for our top three wines, and at the end of the evening Len would unveil the evening’s winning wine based on a tabulation of first, second and third place votes.
With that, Dee Dee began pouring the first wine, and the competition began…