There are far worse things that blind tasting on the porch at Shinn Estate Vineyards

By Lenn Thompson

It's great when a plan finally comes together.

David Page, co-owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards (that's him with the pony tail on the left in the picture above) and I had talked about blind tasting some of his wines against comparably scored wines from the rest of the world for months and months. A couple weeks ago, it finally happened.

David and his wife Barbara Shinn invited Nena and me out to the winery/inn/their home for dinner with some of their friends to taste five Shinn wines and five wines from around the world. The wines all received scores of 89 points or higher from Wine Advocate (though not always the same critic) and ranged in price from $29 to $170. Each flight included one Shinn wine and one not.

And while this wasn't blind tasting in the strictest sense — we knew one wine was from Shinn — it is always fun, enlightening and humbling to taste wines this way. Everyone should taste blind more. It's fun and the results can be fascinating. Having a chef the caliber of David cook for you doesn't hurt either.

Here are wines tasted:

  • Shinn Estate Vineyards 2007 Wild Boar Doe ($29 | 90 points)
  • Shinn Estate Vineyards 2007
    Clarity (Unreleased | $160 | 89)
  • Shinn Estate Vineyards 2007 Grace (Unreleased | $125 | 90)
  • Shinn Estate Vineyards 2007 Nine Barrel Merlot ($42 | 92)
  • Shinn Estate Vineayrds 2007 Malbec ($36 | 89)
  • Chateaux Lascombes 2005 Margaux ($170 | 95 points)
  • La Brancaia il Blu
    2005 Toscana ($60 | 92)
  • Duhart-Milon-Rothschid 2005 Pauillac ($42 | 94)
  • Achaval Ferrer 2006
    Malbec Finca Mirador ($113 | 94)
  • Cade Winery 2006 Napa Cuvee
    Cabernet ($68 | 90)

David and Barbara have a great group of friends and David cooked a delicious, largely locally sourced meal. We had a great time and it was particularly fun to discuss (and in some ways, defend) Tom Mansell's "The Science of Biodynamics" series with the group, but more on that another time.

In thinking and talking about the evening with friends since then, a few things keep coming to mind.

Blind tasting is hard — and I'm not great at it. I don't think very many people are good at it, but it's always a humbling experience for me (and I think for most at the table). I was able to pick out the Shinn wine in each flight though, which leads me into…

I need to beware of regional palate. That I was able to pick out (and several times identify specifically) the Shinn wine isn't surprising, but it was a strong reminder that I need to make sure I continue to drink non-local wines too.

I can like Napa cabernet. The Cade was a restrained-but-still-hefty example. I even liked it, but it was one of the easier wines for me to pick out. I knew it was Napa cab from a mile away, even if others tried to convince us that it was Left Bank Bordeaux.

New York can make high-alcohol wines too. Only one wine finished with noticeable heat — Clarity from Shinn. It's two-thirds cabernet sauvignon and one-third merlot and the extreme ripeness of that vintage resulted in 15+% ABV, a bit too much for my cool climate-preferring (maybe wimpy) palate.

Tastes are incredibly variable and personal. My notes on the Shinn malbec, which we tasted along side the hulking Argentine malbec, used words like "balanced" and "seamless" while another taster found it "a little watery."

Price does not equal value. Sure, the $170 Margaux is a baby, but it was everyone's least-favorite wine of the evening. Today, I'd much rather drink the $29 Wild Boar Doe. For 10-15 years from now, who knows?

When it comes to Wine Advocate, know your critic. My palate is more similar to David Schildknecht's than Robert Parker's. So if I were a point chaser (I'm not) a 90 from David would likely mean much more to me than a 90 from Parker. I think a lot of non-wine geeks think Parker scores every wine for WA.

Any time that I hear about anyone doing a dinner or tasting like this, I invariably ask them what their "wine of the night" was. For me, it was a tie: the Shinn Malbec or their Nine Barrels Merlot that we'll be tasting tomorrow night as a part of TasteNY. There wasn't a single clunker in the group though. The night was filled with great wine from start to finish.

Anthony Nappa, winemaker at Shinn Estate, asked me if I thought that I'd be able to identify the producer if presented (blind) a set of local merlots. A brief discussion of vintages and long-standing winemakers vs. changing ones ensued but in the end, I think I'd do okay — meaning better than 50/50 — in that scenario.

Maybe that will be the next blind tasting endeavor.