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3rd November 2014

Château de Launay 2009 Les Vignes d’Elisa

Blind Tasting Test Fail!

Passing the MW exam involves quite a lot of blind tasting (where the wines are unknown). To get the exam you need to nail quite a few of the 36 eaxmples put in front of you (although, a little like a maths exam it is your workings that are as important as getting the right answer). Guessing a wine is a neat parlour game (to some people anyway) but assessing a wine's quality on the basis of its structure, balance, clarity of flavours and use of elements such as oak and time to improve it is far more important, and to do this well you do not actually need to know what the wine is. In some ways you will make a fairer, superior judgement if you do not (and you will likely pass the exam if you manage this consistently).

However, people hear that you have done this, and - especially if you blow your own trumpet a lot (which I hope I do not!) - there is a natural desire to put you to the test. It's fun, and I don't ever mind, but for obvious reasons people tend to offer you the weirdest wines they can find (whereas in the exam you get samples considered to be A1 excellent, almost stereotypical, examples of their kind, their kind being in themselves common and fairly well known wine styles).

And so it was last week. I was the wine expert on a cruise along the rivers Saône and Rhône, two of the great wine rivers of France, with Burgundy and the Côtes du Rhône along their banks. This was with Avalon, beautifully organised, and I am proud to have been part of it. One of the evenings was a French Dinner with a guest chef, Stéphane Bonnerot, who it turned out is actually just as much of a wine person as a chef.

He produced a bottle of wine for me to guess.

I didn't know what it was. All I could say for sure was that it was high quality, European, and from an origin neither desperately cool nor hot. These are qualities that can be replicated by other parts of the world, but you have to hope that the wine is typical of at least something.
Frankly, it tasted local to where we were - a white Rhône, from a grape like Roussanne or Marsanne. Rich and fruity, with some floral perfume, but dry and herby on the finish. It wasn't. I ventured further afield, although Stéphane pretty much confirmed that I was correct with France at least. Savoie?. "Non." Manseng from Jurançon? (I was beginning to clutch at straws here!). "Non." I was about to offer dry Muscat from Alsace, when the bottle was produced.

To my slight relief, it was a wine that I have never previously encountered (I suspect almost anyone could pass the MW tasting exam if they practiced enough) and did not actually know even existed.



Chateau de Launay 2009 Les Vignes d’Elisa Muscadelle

Muscadelle is, despite its name, not a type of Muscat, although in warm climates it can taste like it. In fact, its most famous synonym is Mélon de Bourgogne, the grape that is - confusingly - used to make Muscadet in the Loire. It is - or was - also known as Tokay in Australia, where it is widely planted. (Tokay is now a protected term for the wines of Tokaj in Hungary, so the Aussies have coined "Topaque". Ugh).
In Bordeaux, where this wine comes from, it is (I thought exclusively) used in tiny proportions to add a grapey, floral fragrance to the sweet wines of Sauternes, Cadillac and elsewhere. This is the first 100% Muscadelle dry wine from Bordeaux I have encountered. It's a Bordeaux Blanc Appellation, although the Château and vineyards are in the Entre-Deux-Mers region (being pure Muscadelle it would not be covered by the local Appellation).

It's a really good wine, and upon checking, priced to match (around €50). A perfect opportunity to trip up your wine-knowledgeable friends. Thanks Steph!

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