This past week, I once again served as a judge for one of the largest wine competitions in the country, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s International Wine Competition. This was my fifth year judging for the Rodeo and once again, I tasted about 200 wines in two days, knowing only the general category and price range (e.g., “New World Pinot Noir, $18-22”).
On Friday and Saturday, I left the house before 7:00 a.m., began tasting wine before 9:00, and essentially didn’t stop until about 4:00 in the afternoon. While I certainly would not classify the experience as “fun” I do it every year to hone my tasting abilities as it takes more than a bit of concentration to evaluate a wine in a minute or two without knowing what the wine is.
Thus, I am a big fan of tasting wines blind (i.e., without knowing what the wine is), but, at least for me, the big competition is not the “best” way to learn about wine, as you do not learn the identities of the wines until some point later (if at all). Until recently, I felt that the best way to learn about wines was to buy a lot of them from a wide variety of regions, and evaluate them one by one. But, and I am certainly speaking from experience, that can be costly both to a wallet and a waistline.
Now, there is another way that essentially combines the best of both approaches, Master the World™.
The concept is really brilliant, in my opinion, as the fine folks at Master the World™ take wines from around the world and, after verifying that the wines are not flawed in any way, transfer the wines into smaller, 187ml bottles which they then group six bottles together under a common theme. It might be a region, a variety, a producer, you name it, Evan Goldstein (Master Sommelier) and Limeng Stroh (Co-founder and CEO) have found myriad ways to link wines to make very compelling tasting kits.
On top of all of that, the wines arrive blind–their identities are hidden so you can taste the wines without any preconceived notions or bias. “But wait, there’s more.” Master the World™ also provides both a video where industry leaders, including several Master Sommeliers, discuss the wines and an online evaluation tool that walks you through the entire process.
It really is rather remarkable, incredibly educational, and a ton of fun (as long as you don’t mind being humbled). Individual kits cost $90 and include shipping, and the cost goes down if you agree to buy multiple kits.
A couple of weeks ago, I popped open kit 240C, which was billed as “Unexpected Gems from Around the World” which were culled together by Master Sommelier and world’s best “dad joke” teller, Evan Goldstein. With no other information, I sat down and tried to figure out what was in each 187ml bottle. I did my best, but boy, I was not anywhere close to being right.
2017 Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley, South Australia: Retail $20? Part of a blind tasting with Master the World (Kit 240C Wine 1). These wines were presented completely blind and then we were asked to identify the wines. Yeah. Good luck. A host of citrus fruit emanating from this clear, bright, slightly yellow (with green highlights) wine. I get some fresh Key lime, lemon, and perhaps tangerine along with all kinds of pear and even some apricot and peach. Throw in some floral notes and some white mushroom and saffron and we just about have it. The palate is quite tart, but with some roundness, and a lengthy finish. I guessed a Portuguese Alvariñho. Yeah. No. Excellent. 90 Points.
2020 Biohof Pratsch Rosé, Niederösterreich, Austria: Retail $15? 100% Zweigelt. Part of a blind tasting with Master the World (Kit 240C Wine 2). These wines were presented completely blind and then we were asked to identify the wines. Yeah. Good luck. Next up was this delicious rosé with sour red cherry and strawberry for days on the nose. Add in some rhubarb, peach, verbena, and orange blossom and you are at least in the neighborhood. The palate is tart and precise with just a hint of effervescence (which at first I found odd but then embraced). This is a lovely Cinsault from southwest France. Wait. Nope. Wrong again. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2019 Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley VQA, British Columbia, Canada: Retail $25? Part of a blind tasting with Master the World (Kit 240C Wine 3). These wines were presented completely blind and then we were asked to identify the wines. Yeah. Good luck. So I took a flyer and guessed that this was either Cinsault or a Pinot. I am taking that as a win. But oh how different a Pinot it is (I guessed it was from Chile). A bright ruby in the glass with tons of cherry, raspberry, and fuchsia, this is a really fun wine even before the first sip. Good acidity, relatively low alcohol (13%) and plenty of verve, this is a reason to reassess my stance toward Canada. Excellent. 92 Points.
2020 Garage Wine Co. País 215 BC Ferment, Maule Valley, Chile: Retail $28? 100% País. Master the World (Kit 240C Wine #4). This is called “215 BC” because, as I understand it, País was being made in the region since 1548, a good 215 years Before Cabernet (hence 215 BC) was planted in the region. The other part of the name that requires explanation: winemaker Pilar Miranda and her husband Derek Mossman started making wine in the Maule Valley in the early 2000s literally in their garage. While they have moved out of the carport, they still focus on authentic wines with fruit from small growers, using many indigenous varieties. That is the case with this País, a variety usually limited to consumption locally, usually by the workers in the vineyards. This daylight bright ruby red wine, with cherry (red and black), currant (red), and licorice (red) on the nose, really explodes on the palate with plenty of fruit, tartness, and verve. This is my first País and it will be a very difficult act to follow. What did I guess? Old World (Portugal). Um, nope. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2018 Anko Garnacha Tigerstone Estancia los Cardones, Salta, Argentina: Retail $30. 100% Grenache. Master the World (Kit 240C Wine #5). A day bright light garnet, with ripe red fruit: cherry, raspberry, and plum on the nose. Toss in some rose petal, rhubarb, and licorice and we are ready to taste. The palate is round and smooth with above average acidity and tannic structure, and a slightly above average finish and dashes of complexity. Very nice. I guessed a New World Grenache and, well, I finally got one right! Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 Paşaeli 6N Karasakız – Merlot Kaz Dağları, Ege Bölgesi, Turkey: Retail $18. Karasakiz with some Merlot. Master the World (Kit 240C, Wine 6). Yeah. Talk about a curve ball. I have had maybe a handful of Turkish wines over the years, but I had absolutely no clue what I was tasting here. This wine was light in the glass, practically a rosé, with oodles of red berry fruit (cherry, raspberry, strawberry), rose, forrest floor, and even red licorice. Yeah, a ton going on. The palate was more round than tart, with a few layers of depth, and a decent finish. Look, the reason to drink this wine is not to serve as a catalyst for you to finish the great American novel, but rather an interesting red to drink slightly chilled by the pool and to collect a boatload of cash as people try to guess what it is. Excellent. Excellent. 92 Points.