Wine Rambler full committee meeting. Two Sauvignon Blancs nice and cool, ready for the first sip. The tasting would nominally be blind, but it should be a walk in the park to tell them apart. One from New Zealand, Astrolabe's 2008 "Discovery": more explosively, exotically fruity, surely. One from Germany, the 2008 Meersburger Sängerhalde Sauvignon Blanc from Aufricht, the Lake Constance's ambitious star horse: more subdued, but with more depth and minerality, maybe? We knew what we were doing, we had done it before. It would be a pleasant evening with a laid-back broadening of wine horizons.
Glasses rinsed, monkfish and shrimp already in the frying pan, wine ramblers contented and full of calm anticipation. What could possibly go wrong?
The evening took a decisive turn for the unexpected, however, with the first sniff taken of the contestant in yellow: Without much experience of the grape, a little wary because of its reputation for tartness and sometimes uncouth flavours, we were still in no way prepared for this abyss of bone-dry, penetrating cassis and broccoli. In the mouth as well, this was like very young, unoaked Cabernet. Just white. Green peppers, ground cassis leaves, green-blackish flavours. Torsten was unfavourably reminded of curly kale, a variety of cabbage inexplicably popular in northern Germany. I was thinking of a certain herb from my grandfathers garden that is distinctive, but should be used sparingly - lovage. But we were most taken aback by the lack of any citrussy, exotic or gooseberry flavours to balance out this punch of powerful dark fruit and vegetable juices. Whatever you thought of it, it was a sure sign of Germanic seriousness. Or was it?
The other wine was softer on the nose and palate, had cassis as well, but as one ingredient in a more balanced mix, with candied grapefruit and a type of candy known as "Gletschereis" in Germany, but probably not known elsewhere. Less explosive, more creamy and serious than we had expected, but this had to be the New Zealand version.
When the true identities were revealed, they wiped the confident smiles off two wine ramblers' faces faster than a greasy finger print off a Riedel glass: As you have no doubt guessed by now, what we thought of the German wine was in fact, erm, not, and what we thought of as... well, it's fair to say we had, both of us, got it wrong, had indeed been exceptionally clueless.
So what to make of this heavy-hitting New Zealand Sauvignon that defies clichés of new world fruitiness, has enormous character and attitude, but is so blunt in its way that it is fairly hard to like? We, at any rate, failed to even finish the bottle. We can't completely rule out that this particular bottle was not in ideal condition, although it does come with a screw cap.
Finally, the fairly convincing showing from Lake Constance should not be overlooked, although the focus was inevitably on a baffling aromatic direction of white wine we had not at all expected to be confronted with that night.