Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Schramsberg Comparitive Tasting 2010

Give credit where credit is due. If a winery wants to be included in the conversation of “world-class”, it needs to prove itself against the heaviest hitters. The folks at Schramsberg do that on a regular basis with a series of blind tastings, one of which I was invited to recently. It involved a small group – the winemaking team and enologist and winery president Hugh Davies – and a handful of friends in the trade. For this
particular session, it was me representing Bounty Hunter, a sommelier from New Zealand and two local winemakers. It was 9AM on a Monday morning, and fizz was on the breakfast menu.

The format was blind for the winery staff, meaning they knew the wines in the flight but not the order. For the rest of the guests, it was double-blind… we didn’t know anything about the wines being poured other than they were all tête-du-cuvée (the winery’s top-shelf offering) sparkling rosés from top producers. 11 glasses were lined up in front of each of us along with a sheet of paper listing the following criteria: color, aroma, palate and rank. We were to carefully evaluate each wine and turn in our sheets so that a group ranking
could be compiled. Following the tabulation, each wine would then be discussed beginning with the group’s least favorite and finishing with the overall winner. This was both a chance for the group to share their personal impressions of the wines along with allowing the winemaking team to clarify their internal vocabulary about certain flavorelements and characteristics. One taster’s baked cherries is another’s cranberry tart… that sort of thing.

There were some surprises as you can see below, but note how well the host’s wines fared. It’s pretty impressive when you consider the competition. I’ve listed my personal ranking along with the retail price the winery paid as a frame of reference. I’ve also listed the group’s combined rankings with the aggregate scores to gauge the separation between each finishing position. Keep in mind that this is like a golf score relative to total points… lower is better. Also note that there are only 10 wines listed as one bottle was corked. Tragically, that bottle was Krug Rosé.

1. 2000 Schramsberg “J. Schram” Rosé - $130 (Group Rank – 2nd, 37 points)
2. 2002 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Rosé - $500 (Group Rank – 1st, 26 points)
3. 2002 Perrier-Joüet “Fleur de Champagne” Rosé - $300 (Group Rank – 5th, 44 points)
4. 2000 Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Rosé - $200 (Group Rank – 8th, 63 points)
5. 1998 Schramsberg “J. Schram” Rosé - $130 (Group Rank – 3rd, 41 points)
6. 1999 Bollinger “Grand Année” Rosé - $200 (Group Rank – 6th, 46 points)
7. 2003 Roederer Estate “L’Ermitage” Rosé - $70 (Group Rank – 4th, 42 points)
8. 2000 Villemart “Grand Cellier Rubis” Rosé - $105 (Group Rank – 10th, 73 points)
9. 2000 Moët et Chandon “Dom Pérignon” Rosé - $375 (Group Rank – 7th, 62 points)
10. 1998 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” Rosé - $275 (Group Rank – 9th, 65 points)

So what’s to learn from this little tasting session? Well first, it’s clear that our hosts are making some phenomenal wine. The group put the two Schramsberg wines at positions 2 and 3. Lesson two is that the price tag doesn’t always translate into palate pleasure. While Cristal was the clear winner, it’s also $500/bottle. Frankly, it had better deliver the goods for that kind of scratch. Conversely, there were some very spendy, name brand wines that were pretty roundly panned by the tasting panel. Granted, it’s only one group’s opinion, but Hugh Davies commented how consistent the results have been with this lineup across different tastings around the country. And last, and maybe most important for the consumer to keep in mind, is that rosé isn’t always necessarily better. To that point, the Bounty Hunter staff tried a bottle of ’98 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” the previous week that was phenomenal. It was the star of the show among another lineup of high-end fizz. But as you can see above, it’s much pricier pink brother got beat up pretty badly by the tasting panel. Sometimes, you just have to pull the cork to be sure. It’s all in the name of research after all…

--Rhett Gadke, Wine Director

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