I was invited to a very interesting tasting last week, hosted by Fermentations! at Globe Bistro. The company lets consumers brew and make their own beers and wine. Great. But here's what sets them apart - they buy whole grapes. Yes, unlike other wine kits, customers are able to make wine from freshly harvested grapes (from Niagara, California, and even Italy) without skipping that step and just starting with juice.
Charles Fajgenbaum, the owner, hosted this tasting. A total of 30 wines, in 6 flights of 5 wines each. Out of each flight, one wine was a Fermentations wine . . . the other four were commercial wines he picked up from the Queens Quay LCBO location. The question was . . . could the judges (presumably, the professional tasters) pick out which was which? It turns out we can. I can't say I was surprised, but the tasting did reveal a few similarities between non-commercial and low-end commercial wines.
The flights were single blind, meaning we were told what the varietal, region, and vintage was. After tasting, we were instructed to score each out of 20, and identify which one was Fermentations. The exercise proved one thing right away . . . Charles was certainly confident in the quality of his wines. He bought some pretty decent wines to taste alongside; an average price of $18, with 4 Niagara flights, as well as an Italian, and a Californian flight. Top wines included 2008 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay ($30), and 2008 Inniskillin Two Vineyards Cabernet Franc ($22.95). My favourite wines of the tasting.
So, what did we learn? The results showed that of the three Niagara white wine flights (riesling, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay), the judges were easily able to identify the non-commercial wine. With the red wines (Niagara cabernet franc, Italian merlot, Californian merlot), it was a bit tougher. No matter. I still guessed 2 out of 3 red wines correct. In the last two merlot flights, it was a matter of best of the worst. None of the wines were good - let's be honest here. No character, no typicity, just cheap tasting wines. The cabernet franc, especially the Inniskillin, showed much better. In general, the difference between the top and bottom wines was quite obvious. What was more interesting was the fact that the judges confused the cheapest commercial wines with Fermentation wines.
The tasting proved that the wine drinkers who like red wines under $10 (the sort of industrialized goop I bitch and moan about here) will probably be just as happy with the $7 or so it costs for a bottle of Fermentations. It's just red wine right - there's no difference if you get a cabernet franc or merlot or whatever the hell varietal they choose to label the wines with. There's so little character in these mass-produced wines that it just doesn't matter. Just does not matter. The moral of it all? It's an interesting experiment, but to say that these self-made wines can compete with anything more than your typical industrialized bottle is a bit of a stretch. But hey, it's already better than all the other kits out there, them buying in whole grapes and all. Try it out if you just must have your name on a wine label - might make a charming Christmas gift. Oh right, I did pretty well in the tasting. Guessed 3 out of 6 wines right, and scored the other three Fermentations wines the lowest.
Many thanks to Charles and the organizers for putting this tasting together. Certainly an illuminating look at all the alternatives for wine drinkers out there.