What has two thumbs and loves wine? This girl! On Friday, October 6, 2017 my friend Toni Brickhaus and I went to Wine A Bit (928 Orange Avenue) for a blind tasting. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to wine, but I was fortunate to have the experience of working in the tasting room of a Central Coast winery while my husband was stationed in Monterey from 2002-2004. Before I started working there, all I could tell you about wine was that I liked it a whole lot, but as I was formally trained, I began feeling more confident in identifying and, more importantly, understanding the subtle yet complicated differences between varietals. Prior to working there, if presented with two glasses of white wine, I wouldn’t trust my ability to say with certainty which was a Chardonnay and which was a Sauvignon Blanc.
Patti Nordengreen, who owns Wine A Bit along with her husband Dale, warmly greeted us as she explained, “The blind tasting is one of the most popular tastings that we do. We do it about once a month. There are seven wines, and it’s a lot of fun because we tell you all about the wines, but we let the customers guess the varietal. It’s multiple choice, which is a lot of fun, and it’s very competitive for some of our customers. It’s a great way to have fun, taste some wines, and test your skills at the same time.”
Blind tastings cost $15 per person. Patti handed a tasting sheet to each of us, and explained that with each of the seven wines we would be trying, we were to circle one of the three varietals listed below.
Along with our glasses, in which Patti poured our first sample, she also gave each of us a small plate with cheese and crackers to enhance our tasting experience. I particularly liked the Sage Derby, with the green swirls in it. That particular cheese was one I probably would have never gravitated toward if I was buying fine cheese myself, but I discovered that the semi-hard cheese had a delicious, mild flavor. The Smoked Gouda and Brie, both favorites of mine, were yummy as expected.
As Toni and I sampled each wine, it was interesting because we found ourselves really thinking long and hard about the flavors, finish, acidity, crispness, complexity, boldness, earthiness, oakiness, and bouquets of the various wines. We laughed as we appreciated how the blind tasting was giving us a chance to challenge our senses, noting how normally we would each simply order a glass of wine, clink our glasses together as we said cheers, and then talk about what’s going on in our lives as opposed to analyzing the fruity flavors of our respective glasses of vino.
Some of the wines we agreed were a specific varietal, whereas others we each circled a different answer. Oh, the pressure! Of the specific choices from which we had to select the correct wine, there was one choice in particular with which I was unfamiliar, Roussanne. For me, this lone wine stood out as the exact reason why a wine event like this is so interesting; I got to learn something new! While the third wine, which was from Ironstone Vineyards, turned out to be a Chardonnay, I made a mental note to Google Roussanne when I got home. (If, like me, that wine wasn’t on your radar, it’s a white wine grape with an aroma often reminiscent of a flowery herbal tea. You’re welcome.)
As we finished each wine, we made our way back up to the bar where Stephen Phillips generously poured our next samples from burlap bags that masked each wine’s true varietal identity. Truly passionate about wine and genuinely happy to be there conducting the blind tasting, Stephen shared, “Usually I’m here telling you about the wines, where they’re from, a little bit about their textures, and what they pair with nicely, but since we’re doing the blind tasting tonight, I can’t tell you any of that so I just get to pour. It’s interesting to me, but what I like most is everyone here is in a good mood. That makes it a lot of fun.”
As we made our way down the list, there were definitely some wines that we preferred over others. While I’m usually not inclined to waste wine (there are sober children in Africa), I wasn’t a huge fan of the fourth wine we tasted, Quinta Do Vallado. I guessed correctly that it was a blended red wine, but wasn’t especially impressed with its bouquet, which reminded me of stinky cheese. Toni noted, “It smells intense,” and felt its “metallic finish” would make it more suitable for pairing it with a meal as opposed to enjoying a glass of it on its own. I took advantage of the bucket on the bar, and inconspicuously emptied the remainder of my glass before moving on to #5.
The general atmosphere in the tasting room was spirited, and the live music that played near the entrance of Wine A Bit satisfied our sense of hearing as our senses of smell and taste were already being tantalized with the blind tasting. Toni and I found ourselves smiling and singing along as the one man performer sang laid-back renditions of timeless songs by artists including Marvin Gaye and Jack Johnson. With soft lighting, the tasting room itself felt intimate and inviting, but Toni noted that it was perhaps a touch too dark, commenting that she wished she had brought her glasses because she was having a bit of a hard time reading her tasting sheet.
Toni and I found ourselves making small talk with other blind tasting patrons, who were having an equally enjoyable experience. One couple, Chris and Brooke Manlisic, were attending their first blind tasting at Wine A Bit. Chris laughed as he said, “We’re having such a good time. We’re still only on #3, so we’ll see what we think when we get to #7.” When asked whether they were each coming up with their own answers or completing the blind tasting as a couple, Chris made Brooke chuckle saying, “She’s just copying my answers.” Brooke added, “We’re just doing this for fun. He thinks he’s a wine connoisseur.” He responded, “I’m a sommelier in the making.”
Sarah Windsor, who’s in the Navy and is stationed here in Coronado, was also attending her first blind taste testing, bringing her cousin Tiffany Bull with her. Sarah remarked, “This is great! It’s way different than drinking the cheap Moscato we are used to. The green cheese freaked me out at first, but it’s actually so good. We’re excited to try the Koyle (#6) because we’re curious about the hints of mint.” Tiffany, visiting from Delaware, shared, “It’s my first time in California, and I wanted to try something different. It’s really nice getting to try so many wines, and I feel like I’m getting an authentic California experience. It’s great!”
So how did we do overall? Toni and I scored 5 out of 7. Not too shabby! I wasn’t expecting to get all of them correct, and, if we’re being honest, if I had gotten a 100% it would have been because I had a few lucky guesses as opposed to having ultrasophisticated wine tasting skills. The overall experience was not only fun, it was educational, and it helped ease Toni and me out of our self-imposed wine ruts, where we continue to order what we’re familiar with because we know we like it. As we sampled the wines, Toni and I discussed that the blind tasting was good for us because it was “forcing us” to try new flavors rather than ordering our usual favorites.
When asked how she felt about her first blind tasting, Toni, a Wine A Bit Wine Club member, shared, “My overall opinion is that this was an extremely fun night, and I think we should get a whole group of us together to do it again sometime soon!” Girls’ night out? Count me in! In the meanwhile, I’ll be returning to Wine A Bit to pick up a bottle of Vina Robles Petite Sirah (#5), which was my personal favorite. Cheers!
Wine A Bit
- 928 Orange Avenue
- (619) 365-4953
- email: [email protected]
- website: click here
- For upcoming events at Wine A Bit, click here or visit Wine A Bit’s Facebook page.