The Prothero Challenge

3rd September 2004

The Challenge was laid down on the UK forum, by Keith Prothero, a firm advocate of Cape wines:
Ok guys pissed off as I am by all you smart tasting note experts I wish to offer a challenge.
I propose to buy 6 white wines and 16 reds (each to have a minimum of 40% cab) and to organise a blind tasting at LeT . The wines will cost no more than £25 and no less than £20 and be available through Wine searcher in the UK now.

The challenge for you is to identify the country of origin,the varietals in the wine and the producer.

Well, we can't let that sort of challenge go un-met! But above all, it sounded a really fun evening.

At the improbably early time of 18:30 on Friday 3rd September 2004, a dozen of us assembled at the back of Brasserie Trouvaille in Upper St, N1 which also provided some good food and noticeably good, unobtrusive service. Keith was a great host, keeping us all in check and on time with good humour, while at the same time filling in his complex score sheet: we were marking the wines; Keith was marking us. [Eek!]

All wines were, of course, served blind, and apart from the reds all containing Cabernet Sauvignon (ringers excepted), we didn't have a clue what we were in for. Wines were unveiled once the sheets had been passed to Keith. I don't have full details of all the wines, as I forgot to keep grabbing the bottles once they were revealed. I also don't have my notes for Wine Number 1, so that's from memory.

1998 Brauneberger Juffer (don't think it was Sonnenuhr) Riesling (can't remember if it turned out to be Auslese or Spätlese), Fritz Haag, Mosel, Germany
This was immediately obvious as a Mosel Riesling, with smokey apples and petrol on the nose. On the palate it revealed itself as an Auslese. I thought with quite a bit of age, and I actually put it (I think) in the mid 1980s. I was very surprised to find it was 1998 from Fritz Haag, whose wines I find need longer than other producers before they are at the best.
I think I gave this 7/10

2002, Gravitas Chardonnay, St Arnaud, Marlborough, New Zealand
A mid gold. A musky rich sweet nose with a bit of scent. Very full and ripe. Very full-on and 'in-yer-face'. Lacks finesse for me. Lot of oak.
(I guessed at it being a Semillon Chardonnay, from the New World, and when pushed, the musky scents and less familiar style made me wonder about South Africa.)

1998, Gewurztraminer Cuvée Des Seigneurs De Ribeaupierre, Trimbach, Alsace 13%?
Sweet grapey nose - must be muscat. Powerful, with the weight of gewurztraminer, almost heading towards vendages tardives levels. On the palate, it becomes clear that it's gewurz - and a very big one. Lots of ripeness and power. Very big and very long. Yet very hard on the finish. Needs a bit of time yet to knit together better.
(I guessed at an Alsace gewurztraminer from 2002 and wondered about Rolly Gassman, but now realise that would have to be wrong, mainly because I don't think he'd have released this wine already. Clearly wasn't Zind Humbrecht - I don't know why I didn't think of Trimbach - so obvious when you know!)

1999 Prieure de St Jean de Bebian, Coteaux du Languedoc (I think that's what this was ...)
A deep brassy gold. Very dry oxidised nose, slightly raisined fruit. On the palate too, it's in a very oxidised style with lots of ripe fruit, yet very very dry. This is almost identical to a 1994 Welschriesling Spätlese Trocken Eselsbiss from Willi Opitz that I included in a couple of tastings I ran over the summer, so I have to say it's that, although the bottle shape is different.
6+ (+?) - it's growing on me.
(Well I was wrong, which makes me think that this might have been a bad bottle and it wasn't meant to be in this oxidised style. Nowhere near on the grapes either: it's really Grenache Blanc, Clairette and that well-kown grape Bourboulenc.

2002 Palladius, Eben Sadie, South Africa (Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc)
Buttery oak. A very pleasing attack. Full and round with quite a lot of weight. Acidic streak on finish. Heavy oak.
(My guesses range between South America and South Africa, but it really doesn't seem to be a very South African style. I guessed at it being largely Chardonnay from 2000, which was wrong on another two counts ...)

1999 Niepoort, Redoma branco
A restrained, elegant nose - lightly oaked buttery fruit with a more scented, citrussy, herby notes. Not opening up much, even with a bit of time. On the palate, soft and quite full, with a bit of power, yet still the impression is that it's not quite giving all it might. Nice use of oak.
(My guesses took me to Spain, and I wondered about Burgundy, Bordeaux, Languedoc, but in the end gave in. I guesses at a French 1997 chardonnay dominated wine. Wrong!!)

2000 Cabernet/Merlot, Catena, Argentina
Ripe fruit, quite a sweet nose. Very attractive nose. Soft, ripe fruit on the palate with a lot of tannin and some heat and spice. Tannic finish.
(I guessed at a 2003 Cab with some cab franc in it, from Chile. Hundreds, rather than thousands of miles out. Still seems a very young 2000'er, and clearly needs lots more time yet.)

1996, Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon, Grant Burge 13.5% (a blend of grapes from the Barossa and Coonawarra)
Looks like quink. Bloody hell, what a nose - fantastic. Very sweet cherry and blackcurrant, but also some Benylin. Good mouthfeel. But then as it stays on the palate, it starts to let itself down a bit. There's something really unusual and a bit weird about this. Lots of tannins on the finish.
(I guessed at it being a 1999 Australian, definitely not Margaret River, with something odd mixed into a predominantly Cab Sauv wine.)

1994 Jean Leon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Penedes, Spain 13.5%
Slightly unpleasant nose reminiscent of the full range of smells of a gents toilet (I won't elaborate). A sour harsh palate. Savage tannins, especially on the finish. Verging on DNPIM (=do not put in mouth)
(Guessed at something foul from South Africa in 2002).

2000 Las Casas del Toqui Cabernet Sauvignon
Soft elegant nose. Exceedingly ripe. Very mouth coating, high alcohol. Sweetish. A bit mouth-twanging. From somewhere hot, probably USA, but not California. For me, uni-dimensional and unsatisfying. Parker quite likely will like it, but I'm not sure I do.
(Guessing it comes from hot climate, probably USA, but no California. 2000 vintage?)

1994 Ch. Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac
Initially an odd nose, but the oddness quickly blows off. Interesting touch of scent and coffee. Quite light on the palate, with a pleasing fresh acidity that counters some good ripish fruit. Nice depth and lots of character. Rather elegant. I find this really very interesting.
(I guessed at 1994, possibly 1995 Bordeaux, but haven't had Mouton before, so couldn't get closer. That's my excuse anyway.)

2000 Boisset/Pisano, Uruguay Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Merlot.
Fresh, forward, concentrated fruit. (Having trouble reading my writing here ...) Forward, ??, pushy attack which immediately fills to a very very spicy oak. Very raw and aggressive. Very clumsy. Reminds me of a lesser Madiran.
(I took a stab in the dark and guessed at a Basque wine from 2002!)

2001 De Toren Fusion V, South Africa
Strong cabernet sauvignon nose, but a bit reticent. Some leather comes forward. Ripe, soft and full. Good structure. Slightly bitter after (this had better not have pinotage in it ...)
(I guessed at a 2000 straight cabernet from someone like Planeta in Sicily, although the bottle shape was entirely wrong0

NV, Caballo Loco Number Six, Valdivieso, Chile
Dense almost impenetrable black fruit on the nose. Deep, black inky attack. Powerful stuff. Big tingle on the tongue after from some acid, but I don't notice it elsewhere in the wine. Seems a touch overblown.
(I guessed at a 2002 Californian cab.)

1989 Ch Musar, Lebanon
Earthy, slightly bretty with lots of volatile acidity. Overwhelmingly volatile. But on the palate, it's light and remarkably fresh tasting. Interesting and old. And a little Rhoney.
(Goodness knows how I failed to identify this - that's a pretty classic Musar note! I was looking at Southern Rhone around about 1984/85)

2001 Caro, Domaine Baron de Rothschild (Lafite) and Nicolas Catena, Mendoza, Argentina 13.5%
Wines were starting to come a bit quicker now, and this one puzzled me. A rather herby nose. Very luscious mouthfeel. But a bit simple.
(guessing at Tuscany, 98/99)

2000 Rust En Vrede, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Very closed nose. Very sweet, velvety attack. Rich and very concentrated. Overdone. Made to be impressive, but I find it distinctly unimpressive. Can't say I like this much. Interestingly chocolately aftertaste. Unstructured tannins after.
(I guessed at a 1999 CabSauv/Shiraz blend from South Africa. The actual blend is 58% CabSauv; 33% Shiraz; 9% Merlot)

1997 Ch. Calon Ségur

1999 Yarra Yerring Dry Red Wine No. 1, Cabernet Sauvignon 12.5%
Immediately attractive, forward nose. Very sweet nose. Very attractive. Sweet. Really forward and attractive. Just a bit too much (something I can't read, but a very short word!) and a bit unsatisfying
(I initially thought of a Tuscan Cab Sauv, but changed my mind to Moss Wood 1996.)

2001 Mas de Daumas Gassac, VdP de l'Herault 13%
Very dark. Bizarre, unpleasant nose. Faulty.

1997 Ch Pichon Longueville
Mercaptans and deep black fruit on the nose with a certain greenness. Light, fresh, attractive. Far too young. Quite interesting. Soft tannins. A certain rubberiness on the palate.
(I guessed at a lesser chateau from Bordeaux in 1997, with some cab franc in the mix)

1997 Mezzopane, San Polo, IGT Toscana, Italy 13.5% (a blend of Sangiovese and CabSauv)
Fascinating nose, lots of brett and black plums. Also a green hedgerow raw streak to the nose. Very odd palate. Very green. Heavy tannins.
(I was too slow forming a guess at this one, as the bottle had been revealed while I was still wondering at the wine's oddness!)

1999 Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon, Hollick, Coonawarra
Bretty mercaptans onthe nose. Very sweet, rich attack. But then it stays pretty much on one level. Nice enough fruit. Good enough structure. Absolutely fine. Very well made. But very dull.
(I guessed at a Barossa Cab/Shiraz from 1999)

2001 Veltevrede Cape Muscat 15.5%
A nice little sticky to finish.
Pot pourri nose with lots of rose petal. Sweet, fresh attack. Hugely scented, exceedingly pleasant, quite muscatty. Really unusual flavours. Quite a savage acidic bite towards the finish, but given the sweetness, it's actually quite a pleasant bite.

And then to save Keith from having to take a full bottle home, we attacked his reserve wine (still blind).

2001 Steytler Kaapzicht Estate Vision, Stellenbosch 14.5% (50% CabSauv; 40% Pinotage; 10% Merlot)
A ripe cabernet sauvignon nose. Eugh on the palate. Very odd. Rather unpleasant. Really astringent - this must have some pinotage in it, surely?

Phew. Great night.
Many thanks to Keith for the idea and the organisation and to everyone for their splendid company.