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Wines Stump Professional Tasters at “Smackdown”

A group of largely esoteric wines fooled two panels of wine industry professionals at Roanoke Vineyards’ “Summer Smackdown.”

Two teams of professional wine guzzlers were outdueled Saturday at Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead by members of the audience at the winery's “Summer Smackdown” blind wine tasting.

The tasting, which attracted almost 100 spectators who sampled the same seven wines as the professionals, not knowing which varietals, labels or vintages they were tasting, pitted the palates of a team of American-born East End wine pros against a team of East End Europeans.

The Americans, Christopher Tracy, winemaker and partner of Channing Daughters Winery, and writer and former vintner Louisa Hargrave and Michael Cinque, owner of Amagansett Wines & Spirits, trounced their European colleagues, which included Spaniard Miguel Martin, winemaker at Palmer Vineyards, German Roman Roth, winemaker for Wolffer Estate Vineyards, Roanoke Vineyards and Grapes of Roth, and Frenchman Pascal Zugmeyer, a certified sommelier.

But it was a group of audience partipants: wine blogger Michael Gorton Jr., Grand Cru Classes partner Jared Skolnick, and this writer, assisted by Macari Vineyards winemaker Kelly Urbanik, who nailed two wines' labels and vintages, outscoring the pros with 240 points.

“Blind tasting is a bit of a parlor trick,” Tracy Ellen Kamens, of Blind Cru Classes, the event's official scorer, said after the event.

Scott Sandell, Roanoke's creative director and organizer of the $75-a-ticket event, had promised tasters would sample esoteric wines and the panel were not disappointed.

The wines included 2009 Ravines Cellars Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes, 2008 Arietta, On the White Keyes, a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillion from Californa; 2008 Merliance Merlot from Long Island; 2008 Orin Swift Papillion Napa Valley Red, a Bordeaux-style blend; 2009 Orin Swift D66, a Vin de Pay des Cotes Catalanes in southern France; 2004 Scholium Project Babylon, a Petit Sirah; and 2008 Red Hook Winey Joe's Tears, a Bordeaux-style blend vinified in Brooklyn using grapes from Macari Vineyards in Mattituck.

The audience team – the only team to correctly indentify any wine – identified the Ravines' Riesling and the Red Hook offering. The Long Island team successfully identified the origins of some the wines they tasted, but the European team was fooled more than once by origins and varietals.

Interestingly, the Red Hook wine stumped both U.S. and European tasters. “We couldn't figure this wine out,” said Tracy, noting that it strongly resembled nail polish remover with its abundance of acetone. Martin, meanwhile, suggested that the overpowering volatile acidity, or vinegar taint of the wine, suggested it was of Mediterranean origin, while teammate Zugmeyer said it was a monastrell, or mourvedre, from Spain.

Similary, D66, a French wine produced by an American winemaker, Dave Phinney, was picked to be a chateauneuf du pape by the Americans. But Zugmeyer, who once worked in France's Rhone region, emphatically said no, suggesting instead it was a California zinfandel. Martin, meanwhile, thought it to be a priorat from Spain.

Merliance, an East End collaborative wine, was picked to be a Long Island wine by U.S. team, a pinot noir by the audience and a rioja by the Europeans.

The event included a book signing by author George Taber,(“Judgement at Paris”), who moderated the tasting, and a barbecue buffet prepared by chef Keith Luce of Luce+Hawkins.

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