RVF "Tasting Championship"

“La Revue du Vin de France” (RVF), well-known French wine magazine, organizes every year a tasting competition with several rounds in different parts of France. At each round the 5 best teams are qualified for the final event, whose winner is crowned “French tasting champion”. The setting is always the same: blind tasting of 6 white and 6 red wines, with the following questions: main grape, blend or varietal, appellation, producer, cuvée and vintage. The last two three to be precise (of course) but only give a few points, whereas the first three get a team more points, with only fractions of the total points for imprecise answers. For example a team would get maximum points for answering e.g. “Chablis”, but at least a few if they answered “Burgundy”. Similarly in the case of a blend, e.g. 60% Merlot 40% CabSauv, a team would get max points for Merlot, and a fraction for CS. All wines presented are from France, if not the host will tell people in advance.

This kind of event is… well… just not my kind of thing, even though it can be funny every once in a while. I wasn’t planning to attend, but it just so happened that the “South of France” event was taking place only a few miles from where I live, and two great friends of mine were driving all the way from Nice to attend. So I thought: what the heck? At worst I’ll have wasted a Saturday morning and that’s it.

The entrance fee was 20 euros, and that included a free bottle of wine from the neighboring region (in this case Languedoc) and a nice vineyard map of the area. I have to say I was extremely impressed by the organization, it was by far the best organized event of this kind I’ve attended. Each team (2 persons) had a large round table, notepads, 3 nice glasses each (Master’s Glass - I couldn’t find a website), and a spittoon. The wines were poured in decanters out of our sight and then served directly at the table. I noticed that the temperature of the wines was simply perfect, throughout the event, which really impressed me since I barely ever manage to get one bottle’s temperature right at home [swearing.gif]

Ok let’s move on to my account of this event, first with a very candid report of my thoughts on each wine, my guess, the right answer and my afterthoughts. As you can expect from me the TNs are quite opinionated. It’s always possible to surprise but I tend to know what I like and what I don’t like. Just remember it’s all for fun and my opinions aren’t worth more than anybody else’s :slight_smile:

As you will see I had to do a lot of guessing. Sometimes I could feel what the region was, but was stuck on trying to remember the name of some grapes used in the area! Or I guessed the appellation but couldn’t think of a producer with this kind of profile, or wanted to offer the name of a producer but couldn’t remember any cuvées, etc. I will indicate if the wine was a Blend (B) or a Varietal (V) after the main grape.

White wine #1
(Sparkling wine) Precise, vertical nose, a hint of lemon, fine bubbles, chalky on the palate, finish ok, slightly green on the palate, delicate, nice acidity, slightly sweet, green apples.
Guess: Chardonnay (B) 2004 Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Brut.
Answer: Chardonnay (V) NV Champagne Bruno Paillard Grand cru Blanc de Blancs Réserve Privée
Afterthoughts: Chardonnay champagne, that much I had found. Didn’t seem rich enough to me for a BdB.

White wine #2
Nice minerality on the nose, quite oaky, very dry in the mouth, spicy notes, very chalky, young wine, acidity not too pronounced, artificial aftertaste due to oak, fresh - at this stage I was thinking Pouilly or Macon but came back to the wine: flintstone, impression of “champagne without bubbles” - ok, it must be a Chablis.
Guess: Chardonnay (V) 2007 Chablis Bernard Defaix
Answer: Chardonnay (V) 2005 Chablis 1er cru Montée de Tonnerre Domaine Droin
Afterthoughts: I hesitated to give a 1er cru rank (and name) for this wine, but at least it was Chablis!

White wine #3
Bandaid smell, disgusting on the palate - it must be a white wine from the south of France. Minerality, off-putting chemically sweetish taste on the finish, definitely a southern grape, young or even very young, spicy finish.
Guess: Grenache Blanc (B) 2008 Lirac Dom. de la Mordorée Dame Rousse
Answer: Rolle (Vermentino) (B) 2008 Côtes de Provence La Chapelle de Saint Roseline
Afterthoughts: First of all my apologies to the Delormes because I love their wines, but I was frantically looking for a southern AOC and settled on Lirac (for whatever reason), then had to go scrambling for a grape name (!) and finally a producer. I only got the vintage right (not even the general region) and therefore very few points even though my instincts were right. That’s a typical case of lack of training, i.e. doing a decent job analyzing the wine, but not doing a good job translating it into grape name and AOC. As you can guess from my TN I don’t drink these wines very often!

White wine #4
Weird nose, slightly oxidized, very powerful in the mouth with a lot of green apples, very oxidized in the mouth. Bleh! Like slightly sweet cider without bubbles (a.k.a English cider). Strong contrast between rather lowkey nose and very powerful mouth. Sweet finish, could it be an old Pinot Gris from Alsace? A faulty bottle? Very very oxidized. Weird weird weird.
Guess: Chenin Blanc (V) 1997 Quarts de Chaume Jo Pithon
Answer: Petit Manseng (B) 2007 Jurançon Clos Lapeyre Mantoulan
Afterthoughts: Ok this bottle (and my guess need a few explanations. First of all I absolutely HATE oxidized wine. I am extremely sensitive to it. You will never ever see me drink some dry sherry or jura wines or whatever. At best I’ve learned to tolerate it in Champagne but it dampens my enjoyment. This is a severe limitation here because I couldn’t feel anything except the oxidation, which of course doesn’t help. Second, the next wines I identified as coming from Alsace, and I thought we couldn’t possibly get three wines from Alsace in a row, so I decided to change my guess. In this case I went for a random guess, picking something I have strictly no experience with: the Loire valley. The only thing I know is that they use mostly Chenin Blanc. I had to rack my brains to find an appellation and a producer (again, my apologies). Obviously a complete fail on my part.

White wine #5
Powerful nose, oaky, very spicy (Asian spices), very fresh, very pure, floral. Delicious! Nice palate, very balanced, rose, jasmine. Superb length, slightly sweet on the finish. Young. I’d say it’s a riesling from Dönnhoff except I don’t thnk he’s relocated to France yet.
Guess: Riesling (V) 2007 Alsace Roland Schmitt Thalberg
Answer: Chenin Blanc (V) 2007 Montlouis Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Remus Plus
Afterthoughts: Wow that was a good wine. Now I’m eating crow for disparaging Loire wines above. That was spectacular. I must get some. Obviously another complete fail, except the vintage (which of course wasn’t pure luck on my part :slight_smile:

White wine #6
Obvious sweetness on the nose, rose, flowers, white fruits, coffee (?!?), nice acidity, lychee. That must be a Gewürtz. Very gourmand. Yummy.
Guess: Gewürtztraminer (V) 2005 Alsace Grand Cru Clos Saint Imer VT Ernest Burn
Answer: Gewürtztraminer (V) 2005 Alsace Grand Cru Osterberg Louis Sipp
Afterthoughts: Ok I think I’ve nailed that one, producer and cuvée are just way too random (at least at my level).

Red wine #1
Fruity but very mineral, disgusting in the mouth with a note of burnt tire that reminds me of blaufrankish (yuck!), drying in the mouth. Obviously cold climate, could be CabFranc from Loire (hopefully not !) or maybe Gamay.
Guess: Gamay (V) 2006 Morgon Brun
Answer: Négrette (B) 2008 Fronton Délit d’initiés Château Laurou
Afterthoughts: Let me clarify something: blaufrankish is at the bottom of the heap as far as I’m concerned. Anything has to be way better than wines made from this atrocity called blaufrankish. If it were me all the blaufrankish vines on this planet would have been pulled long (with the same wisdom as a former French King who banned Gamay from Burgundy, with the results we know). So that wine, sorry to say, couldn’t be too good. I don’t really care where it comes from, to be honest. YMMV.

Red wine #2
Nice fruity expression (Pinot Noir?), very delicate, finesse in the mouth, very clear, bright fruit. Excellent. Green notes and drying impression starting to appear in the mouth, earthy notes, tannins are more prominent on the finish. Definitely PN, definitely Cotes de Nuits, but an appellation I don’t really like, maybe Morey.
Guess: Pinot Noir (V) 2004 Morey St Denis Combe Aux Loups Domaine Geantet-Pansiot
Answer: Pinot Noir (V) 2007 Beaune Premier cru Teurons Domaine Albert Morot
Afterthoughts: Surprised to see it in CdB, I thought the flavor profile was more CdN. I had nailed it as a PN from an AOC I’m not a fan of. I again had to rack my brains to find a MSD producer (it couldn’t possibly be Roumier’s or one of the GCs), no idea whether they make a Combe Aux Loups or if it’s even a climate in MSD. I’m sticking to Chambolle > all.

Red wine #3
Very concentrated nose with a touch of vinegar (!!!), dusty, lactic in the mouth, green bellpepper (Cabernet?). Probably some disgusting basic Bordeaux crap. Very young. Thin, uninspiring. Astringent. Like an infusion of planks and bellpepper.
Guess: CabSauv (B) 2008 Bergerac
Answer: Merlot (B) 2005 Pomerol Château Montviel
Afterthoughts: I decided to take a bet on Bergerac, and missed. A bit sad I can’t recognize Merlot from CS, but when the wine sucks that much it’s hard for me to focus. If that’s representative of a 2005 Pomerol then I know why I’m not more interested in Bordeaux!

Red wine #4
Very spicy nose, chocolate and burnt notes on the palate, delicious. Cold climate Syrah. Could be a Swiss Syrah, except we haven’t invaded them yet. Definitely cold Syrah. I love it so I’d say Côte-Rotie.
Guess: Syrah (V) 2007 Saint Joseph Colombo
Answer: Syrah [B?] 2007 Côte-Rôtie Les Essartailles Les Vins de Vienne
Afterthoughts: Damn! I had guessed right, but went to a more pedestrian appellation because I thought a CR would be over the budget for this tasting. I almost had a home run on this one :frowning:

Red wine #5
Very strong cherry on the nose (Grenache?), really smells like a typical Grenache VV like the cheap ones from Spain. Maybe a 2006 CdRV? Pure Grenache?
Guess: Grenache (B) 2006 Côtes du Rhône Villages Terre d’Argile Janasse
Answer: Syrah (B) 2007 Coteaux du Languedoc Grand Devois, Devois des Agneaux d’Aumelas
Afterthoughts: So close, so far. There was some Grenache in it, though. Bah.

Red wine #6
Southern wine for sure. Weird because it doesn’t really stand out in any way. Maybe some Carignan based wine from Languedoc?
Guess: Carignan (B) 2006 Pic Saint Loup
Answer: Syrah (B) 2005 Côtes du Lubéron Gouverneur Saint-Auban Domaine de la Citadelle
Afterthoughts: At this point I was starting to get tired and just wanted to go for lunch. And since it was not a wine I was familiar with I knew there was no point fighting.

All in all it was a lot of fun (at least a lot more than I expected). The organization was impeccable (I can’t stress that enough) and the atmosphere quite relaxed. I’d say about 10 teams were competing really seriously, with a lot of training and eager to get their selection for the final event. For me it was more an opportunity to “get back to business” after almost 2 years of barely drinking any wine. I didn’t manage to find somebody to pair with so I was participating alone. Most people told me afterwards that it is easier to compete with somebody else, but I am not totally convinced. I nailed the wines I knew well (because I drink them reguarly) and was completely lost whenever I was outside of my comfort zone. I also tended to overthink the whole thing a bit too much, which lead me to miss some easy ones.

If I remember correctly each wine is worth 20 points, but since pretty much nobody ever gets the producer or cuvée (at least that’s what I expect), each wine is more realistically worth 15 points or so, for a maximum of 180 points on the events. The teams scored from the low 30s all the way to 107 for the winners. I got 66 points, and ranked 31st out of 50. All the teams ranked between 20 and 35 were pretty right in terms of points if I remember correctly. 90 points should be doable with some training and focus, after that it gets really, really tough. I tip my hat to the top teams, I know some of the guys and they are amazing tasters who dedicate a lot of their time to training and discovery.

Hello Guillaume,

I think you did pretty well with your guesses for those wines; good effort!

The set up of this tasting competition sounds very much like the Oxford/Cambridge blind tasting competition I took part in (and won) three times. We took it very seriously and would be practising hard for months before the event. It was well worth winning; the competition was sponsored by Pol Roger and they took the winning team on a four day jolly to Champagne. This rigorous training has really served me well when it comes to blind tasting even to this day; the mental discipline you need to identify wines just hasn’t faded away. And, of course, blind tasting is a lot of fun!


I kept the notes because I thought it would be fun to post about this, it’s obviously not mandatory. Each wine gets 15 minutes… which always seemed a bit tight for the whites, and more than enough for the reds (maybe because I was getting lazier).