As a wine blogger, I’ve taken advantage of some winery sampling campaigns in the past, but didn’t exactly know what I had on my hands when I received the Chateau Julien Challenge box. First of all, I received two samples: a
non-vintage 2003 Chateau Julien Merlot and a Blackstone 2003 Merlot. This is pretty unusual right there, sending a competitors wine. There were also involved instructions about setting up eight glasses of the two wines in three flights, somewhat like the old “Pepsi Challenge” campaign of the ’80’s. After getting the glasses out and wines opened, I asked my son to pour the wines and setup the flights on the supplied paper mats. My job was simple; taste each flight and record my favorite. I also recorded tasting notes and scores which I will present at the end of this post.
Wine “A” had a very noticeable off aroma that made me think there was something wrong with the sample. It was an aroma I hadn’t encountered before, but it is something between vegetal and too much oak. In each flight, this aroma gave away this wine every time. Once tasted, however, I found the wine to be soft with plum flavors and a bit of fresh bell pepper which I didn’t mark the wine down for. Wine “B” didn’t have this off aroma and followed a typical Merlot profile of black cherry, currant and some cedar. In the mouth, this wine had noticeably more forward cherry and currant fruit and a bit longer finish than wine “A”. I preferred wine B with a score of 86 vs. 79 for wine A.
Wine “B” was the winner here again, which I thought was the same as in flight 1. The off aroma of wines “A” and “C” really gave this one away again.
Wines “A” and “C” were my favorites here and I surmised the same as wine B in the first two flights. Again “B” was marred by the off aroma noted before.
When I learned that the Chateau Julien Merlot was wine “B” in the first two flights and “A” and “C” in the third flight I wasn’t too surprised, since I wouldn’t send out a better wine than mine in such a challenge. What’s interesting is that they remained very distinct to me in both the aroma and flavor department. I don’t review wines on a single tasting, so I pulled the bottles out on day two and three for a second and third tasting. Interestingly, the Blackstone off aroma has almost totally receded and the wine is much less identifiable from the aroma after a day of air. The flavors are consistent from my notes from the first tasting, however.
So here are my full notes from three days of tasting:
Chateau Julien, Merlot, “Barrel Aged”, Monterey County
NV 2003 ($12/sample) – Dark purple in color with aromas of black cherry and cedar. Soft and supple in the mouth with forward black currant and cherry fruit along with some spice and moderate tannins. Enough structure for a couple more years in the bottle but I’d enjoy it now for the forward fruit. A very solid Merlot. ABV not stated on label 13.9% ABV
Blackstone Winery, Merlot, California 2003 ($10/sample) – Medium ruby in color with aromas of black cherry and bell pepper. When first tasted, there was a strong off aroma that was someplace between vegetal and oak char that gave this one away on the CJ Challenge tasting. Tasted again on day 2 and 3, this aroma dissipated and a nice clove element emerged. My final score is a composite of my three days of tasting. In the mouth there is plum, fresh bell pepper, mint and spice with fine tannins. A pretty standard Merlot at this price point.
So I’m not sure if this tasting format really proved anything other than Chateau Julien Merlot is better than Blackstone’s. It will be interesting to compare notes with other blogger participating in this challenge to see if I missed anything.
Robert Brower says
Please note the Merlot we sent you was a 2003 vintage! Thank you for taking the challenge!
Thanks for sending me the stats on the wine, Bob; I’ve updated my post. I’m also looking forward to reading other bloggers impressions of the CJ Challenge.