Corkbuzz– Chelsea Market, NYC
We have been waiting for an event like this! The chance to try different bottles and test our blind tasting skills. The mind persuades decision making so I really wanted to experience the reliance on the nose and palate to distinguish different grape varietals. To be quite clear- we are by no means well versed in wine- we enjoy drinking it and enjoy learning about it and, as you will read from our experience, are novice level. We attended to try something new and learn more about wine- it was the perfect (not snobby) environment for this.
Wine #1 paired with Pop Rocks candy
Answer: Sparkling Rose from France with granche
We called: Lambrusco
Reasons: We felt it had to be more complicated than just calling ‘sparking rose’! Yes it was sparkling, yes it was rose but to simply write ‘sparking rose’ as the answer felt armature for this event! Fitting Lambrusco to the wine felt like the more complex answer. Well we were clearly wrong since that was the right answer. As with some on the wines we called… I think our Italy trip and Italian wine exposure over complicated our tasting! The tasting note with the Pop Rocks was to take a small sip the wine #1, throw some Pop Rocks in your mouth, and then take a normal sip of the wine #1. I have not had Pop Rocks in YEARS so I truly forgot the explosion in your mouth, especially with the sparkling wine to expedite the pops. Such a fun combination- head exploding!
Wine #2 paired with Sour Patch Kids
We called: Moscato d’Asti
Reasons: Maybe recency effect but wine #2 tasted exactly like the Moscato d’Asti we had every night with dessert when we were in Asti. The wine was full and silky, not dry but tasted naturally sweet and fresh. The rieslings we have had, most recently in the finger lakes, were dry, even if it was sweet, and had more minerality characteristics and lacked the strong sweet taste. Alas, we chose wrong again. We did not try the pairing with the Sour Patch Kids for this wine.
Wine #3 paired with caramel apples
Answer: Chenin Blanc
We called: Gewurztraminer
Reasons: We knew we were wrong with the one. We actually had a guided tasting with this wine with the head somm at the Corkbuzz location in Charlotte. The wine was golden in color, very dry and light on the palate, and sweet on the nose. It didn’t feel like a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer nor a Chardonnay or Sauvignon blanc. Our tasting guide led to narrowing down to three wines: Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Chenin blanc (though I heard Sauvignon blanc). I verbally acknowledged my lean for Sauvignon blanc since it was not reminiscent of Riesling or Gewurztraminer but I was quickly corrected that a Sauvignon blanc would be different on the nose- more peppery and hit high in the nose. Had I listened more closely and heard Chenin blanc, we would have picked that but I was not aware that it was a classic white grape that was its own wine and not just a blended grape. It was a delightful white to drink though and glad to have tried a new grape! Paired well with the caramel apples- granny smith I presume- as the tartness of the apples was reflected of the wine.
Wine #4 paired with chocolate covered pretzels
Answer: Cabernet Franc
We called: Cabernet Franc
Reasons: By all means we didn’t get this one right either as we got some help! On the nose- it was terrible! We heard from other tasters around the room gym socks, rotten eggs, etc. The funk was way more funky than anything we have had in the past. Our first call was a Pinot noir due to the funk of the nose but visually was quite dark in color so it could not have been a Pinot noir as it is a light colored wine so we eliminated that from our list. Our next call was Syrah recalling that we had a Syrah in Napa recently that smelled terrible as well but we knew this was not a traditional characteristic of Syrah nor did the wine taste like a Syrah. Of note, there was not too much we grabbed from the taste of wine #4 that aided our search for the mystery wine. One of the Cork Buzz staff came to our table with us and two other couples as we struggled to name the grape responsible for wine #4. We broke down our previous grape varietals and the logic for excluding them. He responded we were “soooo close” and that this wine is very characteristic of the grape and several people had called it correct, and leaving us with it smells like “vegetation”. While that meant nothing to Kevin and I, it did resonate with one of the couples, who we learned passed the introductory level one sommelier test (though still classified themselves as enthusiasts! And also called Lambrusco). They exclaimed it had to be Cabernet Franc. Cabernet franc is classically peppery on the nose (like its relative Sauvignon blanc) and often described as “vegetation”. And so, we all wrote Cabernet franc- ta da! We have never had Cabernet franc by itself- typically we have had it in a blended red if at all, so we once again added a new grape to our repertoire. We now know what it smells like, and will avoid accordingly. Oh, and the pairing with the chocolate covered pretzels was a huge hit- without the wine!
Wine #5 paired with chocolate covered peanuts
Answer: Oloroso Sherry
We called: Oloroso Sherry
Reasons: We were fortunate to get a sherry lesson during this tasting so it helped us call the correct one. The staff introduced this wine as the curve ball from Spain and by moving the glass towards your nose you could tell why. It was high on alcohol and definitely fortified so that helps narrow us to the port, sherry, brandy area. The obvious call was port though when you looked at the wine it was brown and port typically retains the red/purple color so we were able to eliminate port. Take a note that the wine was from Spain, my call was sherry and we were met by the question of which one. Which one? We knew nothing about sherry! In retrospect, to allow for “sparkling rose” and “blended red” but then require the type of sherry seemed odd but perhaps that is due to me lack of sherry knowledge. We learned for the head somm that the different styles are allowed to oxidize (flor) more and that is what created the three varietals: fino, manzanilla, and oloroso, fino being the most oxidized (more flor) and therefore less alcohol and white in color, and oloroso being the least oxidized resulting in more alcohol and brown in color. This sherry was brown in color and quite nutty, hence the pairing of chocolate covered nuts, so we knew we had oloroso sherry as wine #5. We also learned that sherry does not label its bottles with a vintage year because the new and old sherry is constantly being mixed so the bottle can contain sherry that is hundred years old.
Wine #6 paired with butternut squash arancini
Answer: Cabernet/Merlot Blend
We called: Zinfandel
Reasons: Well, not too much logic here. Kevin took a sip and instantly doubled down on zinfandel so we went with it. This wine tasted like a typical red blend and we were asked to call one of the main two grapes of the five grapes used to make the wine. However, “a blend” was acceptable on one of the winner’s cards so I guess something generic as “blend” was within the limits! It was a delightful wine, probably our favorite of the night, since it was so familiar to our California wine indulgences. This wine was also paired with a yummy butternut squash arancini, signaling its need to be with something hardy and not a candy.
Wine #7 BONUS
Answer: Aged Zinfandel
We called: Barolo
Reasons: We can toss this up to another recency bias… haha. We had spoken to the head somm earlier in the evening about his trip to Italy and his wish to have spent longer in the Barolo region. When we got this wine it was brown in color so we knew it was aged. The older Barolos we had in Italy had similar color and normally tannic wine was more muted due to the aging process. This wine did not have any tannic hints so we figured it could have been an old Barolo- Kevin thought maybe 2004 (we even wrote the year!). We thought it was a good call and wish we got feedback on this to know if it even was close. Who knew a zinfandel could be aged that long and turns a brown color like that- wish we grabbed the year of the bottle to know how lengthy of an aging a zinfandel could have.
Wine #8 BONUS
Answer: 1994 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon
We called: Barbaresco
Reasons: Have you guessed why yet? To be honest this was a shot in the dark guess and no one at our small group could think of a better answer. It was a great wine- complex, moderate tannins, bold color and definitely full bodied. We knew whatever we were drinking was a treat (whatever it was). We missed a few things on this wine, not just the grape but the age for sure. This was a 1994 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon! First off, we have loved Heitz from our visit to Napa a year ago as they provided us with an excellent tasting experience, including a vertical tasting of some of the single vineyard wines. And then to learn that is was a 1994 bottle blew us away. I do not think we would have ever picked this as the wine we were drinking but had we known I know we all would have savored the glass a tad longer.
Ambiance: This was our first visit to the Corkbuzz at Chelsea Market and it was very well appointed inside. There was plenty of space to stand and several areas for seating so they made good use of the small space by having everyone walk to different sections of the room to try the wine and help spread the people out. May have been 30-40 people walking around and it was comfortable for the space as everyone rotated wince.
Food: The food was great snack sized portions as advertised. We got dinner beforehand and glad we did given the amount of wine we were given and small snacks that were not large enough to keep you full for dinner. This was not by any means a disappointed since it was clearly advertised as light snacks. The snacks they did provide were all tasty- it was Halloween after all. In addition to the pairings listed above, the event also featured several cheeses, including their homemade ricotta, and crostini.
Wine: We felt there was a fun selection of wines that we normally do not get on our own to experiment with, which felt already worth it for us. This also made tasting more challenging since we were being exposed to new grapes and the bonus wines were a great treat! The staff was also not shy about giving participants champagne on arrival and at the end of the night at the reveal.
Staff: Everyone at Corkbuzz was super friendly and approachable, while also very willing to share their knowledge and answer our ‘amateur’ questions and guiding us through the tasting. They kept the environment very welcoming and fun as well as appreciating people for coming, even if their wine knowledge was novice but deep interest in wine.
Value: For $45 a person, we found it to be a great value. For the amount of wine you had (the six wines advertised and the two bonus wines and champagne) and the snack food pairings for three hour entertaining evening of entertainment. It was well worth the price and we hope Corkbuzz continues to do more informal events like this. We have done the formal classes before with Corkbuzz at Union Square , which we love and have turned friends on to, but the cost of those events can add up. This was an affordable option to try new wine and learn something new.
Overall: Corkbuzz is well worth a visit and I hope they continue to have more informal events such as the Halloween Trick or Treat. Guess we need to travel to more wine regions so we don’t call so many Italian wines next time!