This morning, the Cabardes did one of its regular organoleptic test flights. That’s a pretty fancy way to say we get together and taste newly bottled Cabardes wine.
The primary purpose of these tastings is quality control. We want to make sure that everybody is putting their best foot forward with their Cabardes wines. But it’s a pretty intimidating prospect.
You get there in the morning and you have a little desk set up with paper, pen, spit bucket, etc. It feels a lot like I’m back in school except for the two wine glasses and plate of bread.
There are five of us on the tasting panel. We have a flight of 12 wines. The tasting is partial single-blind. That means that we, the tasters, don’t know what cuvées we’re tasting. Although they do tell us the vintage since that is pretty important to determining whether or not it’s up to snuff. There is a third party organisme d’inspection that is hired to make sure all of the tasting is legit. They also do our field and winery inspections throughout the year. They report the results to our ODG Cabardes and they also forward it on to the INAO, the national body that governs AOCs.
If we find one of the wines to be flawed or not Cabardes-y enough, we could declare it NON CONFORME and the winemaker would be admonished. If the wine is already on the market and it’s a first offense, the winemaker would be followed very closely on his next vintage. And if its a second offense, we can even call for the wine to be removed from the market. That’s a lot of power. And everybody has to fight so hard to get wines on the market, it seems absurd that we might have to take one off the market. But such are the rules!
Anyway, today’s tasting went very well. The quality was good to very good for the three rosés and nine reds we tasted. I noted one weak objection on the last wine in the tasting that had a bit of reductive rubber/tar quality to it. The rest of the panel approved of the wine, and I’m honestly happy because it was a good wine and I think the free market will naturally select the best wines in the Cabardes. This tasting is more of a formality to prevent gross misconduct.
Perhaps the best part of these tastings is that you get to see what the other producers are up to. Although they never reveal what you tasted. Cabardes is small enough that I can just ask around and the people who had to give samples to the inspection organization will know who they are. And it’s fun to see what the AOC is up to as a whole. And it’s a timely lesson as I put the finishing touches on my Cabardes book and map of the wineries in the appellation.
The tasting is supposed to be more focused on defects than traditional wine criticism, but I took some notes anyway. The keywords that kept coming up were dark fruit, plum, and garrigue. There were also two or three mentions of eucalyptus, spice, and pepper in my notes. One of the wines came off with an absurd amount of ripe raspberry or red fruit and really reminded me of certain coastal wines (which can happen in the eastern Cabardes). And there were a couple that felt a bit rustic and a couple that felt a bit light (if I were in a bad mood, I’d say weedy), but this is a style and it has a place in the appellation. At least it’s not me who will put an end to that trend.
Anyway, on the whole, I feel like the wines presented were well-balanced between Atlantic and Mediterranean traits. They were bold and flavorful but they were also rather refreshing with a brightness that is somewhat unique to the Cabardes. Amen!