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Jefford on Monday: The European difference – Tannin

Take 108 tasters, both professional and amateur, then treat them to 15 Pinot Noirs, served blind, in three flights of five wines each. All we knew was that there was one DRC wine in each flight.

As it turned out (though we didn’t know this at the time) there was also one Australian Pinot in each flight (two Bass Phillip Premiums and a Reserve), as well as an Oregon wine in each flight (Domaine Serene Monogram), an Austrian wine (Markowitsch Reserve) and a New Zealander (Felton Road Block 3 from Central Otago).

The three flights were broadly grouped by vintage, though there wasn’t much in it: the oldest wines came from 2002.

The DRC wines we scrutinised were the 2007 La Tâche (dense and perfumed, though the acid balance suggested a tricky vintage), the 2006 Romanée-St Vivant (disarmingly aerial: flowers and soaring fruit) and the 2002 Échezeaux (a sweeter, warmer wine, though elegant and refined).

Everyone was invited to note and score the wines using the 100-point scale, though Curtis Marsh, the jovial organiser of this Singapore event, stressed that the aim was simply to have fun tracking down the ‘most preferred’ wines (and wine) of the evening, without any vulgar implication that the winner might be the greatest.

It was great fun: I saw few furrowed brows and felt none of the deathly seriousness and falsetto reverence which can attend such events.

On the popular vote, the 2003 Bass Phillip was the most preferred wine of the night and took the final flight, with 2007 Felton Road Block 3 2007 being most preferred in the first flight and 2006 Markowitsch Reserve in the second flight.

Aggregating my own scores (and they were all audited by a beaming accountant let loose for the afternoon from the shackles of Ernst & Young) put DRC in first place with 287 points ahead of Felton Road on 283, Markowitsch on 282, Bass Phillip on 266 and Domaine Serene on 263.

But then I like tannin: the most easily discernable difference between the Europeans and their competitors (I had, in fact, assumed that the highly impressive Markowitsch was a second Burgundian). If I’d been scoring for beguiling fruit, then Felton Road would have romped home.

I’d found the same ‘tannin difference’ at previous events of this sort (including the most recent Stonier International Pinot Noir tasting and Pinot Noir New Zealand 2010).

And what’s true for the sculpted contours of Pinot Noir is no less true for other varieties and blends, notably GSMs and Cab-Merlot reds: ambitious European wines tend to be coated with tannins in a way that their counterparts from the Southern Hemisphere or North America (with some Californian exceptions) simply aren’t.

Why is this? True, DRC generally retains stems for fermentation, but Pinots made according to Jayerist, destemming principles (like Markowitsch and most red burgundies) are often no less tannin-laden in Europe.

No ambitious producer anywhere ever hurries a maceration.

Is it something about European wine-growing environments (perhaps humidity) which delivers a bigger spectrum of more easily extractable tannins?

Is it the market, and in particular the sense that consumers outside Europe find too much palpable tannin off-putting? Or is it something else altogether?

Any suggestions welcome: I’m puzzled.

Written by Andrew Jefford

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