I am not a numbers guy by any means (despite my 500 countdown), but recently I have tasted a lot of wine in pairs, not to pit the wines against each other but, instead, to understand the subtleties that exist between varietals, or to emphasize the impact that terroir can have on wine. Sometimes the wines were not even related but it was still telling to taste overt differences in each glass. It has been an interesting luxury, one that is not lost on me, to conduct these tasting experiments and even more illuminating on the palate to discover how differently each wine evolves and just what makes each one tick.

The first twin set of wines was a couple of bottles that shared a French tradition but nothing more. Tasting between two vastly different regions in France, I poured a 2009 Marc Brédif Vouvray (#171) and its line-dancing partner, a tall drink of water, the 2008 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace “Les Princes Abbés(#170). The Vouvray hailed from the Northwest, tucked in the Loire Valley while the Pinot Blanc was practically in another country (kind of Germanic), longitudinally parked in the Northeast of France. I had relatively little experience with Pinot Blanc from Alsace, having tasted perhaps ten in my life, so I was relishing the opportunity to explore further. And while it is no secret that I adore Loire Valley’s white wines, I am always eager to taste one more. Starting with the Pinot Blanc in its customary flute, transferring the golden vin into my glassware. The coloring was medium deep and the nose spoke of clove and freshly rubbed eraser. The Pinot Blanc was dry with refreshing acidity (moderate) but a little less interesting on the palate than the olfactory. It was solid and balanced and would have been a good friend to food had I eaten something Asian with it. Not the circumstances here. The Vouvray was a different story; a delicate straw coloring in the glass that had a lovely bouquet of green peas, lifted aromas of vanilla and some toasted notes deeper in the stemware. On the palate the wine was dry with a pinch of residual sugar. The medium bodied Chenin Blanc expressed a powerful flavor profile chock full of green apple and toasted almond—it was enjoyable drinking. Both wines were far different yet that made the experience that much better, tasting them side-by-side.

The following tasting, happening a week later, homed in on Zinfandel. The catalyst was opening a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel from Lodi (#169) with my roommate and his girlfriend, knowing two things before going in: The juice would be balanced and it would be an excellent candidate for making a case for the effects of terroir, as I would be comparing it to a 2009 Mauritson Zinfandel from Rockpile “Westphall Ridge(#168),” which was admittedly more expensive and hopefully worthy of it. The flavors of the Ravenswood Zinfandel were direct, a no bull**** kind of wine that spoke refreshingly of its place. Good fruit, abundant blueberry, seasoned carefully with cupboard spices. The palate was beefy, a fleshy wine that had a nice finish and was everything I expected. The Mauritson, second in the tasting order, was notably more nuanced on the whiff and the palate. It just went deeper in both regards. A noticeable amount of earth was integrated in the heavy raspberry and other red fruits. It had more weight and concentration, earning its expensive stripes. Both wines told a tale and were enjoyed immensely by all tasters present during the event.

I have a newfound perspective on tasting at home: While it is a stretch to pop two bottles every night (and even justifying it most nights is a non-starter without company), it does have the ability to be an eye-opening experience and a quicker way to season one’s palate. On the negative side, it can result in a lot of dishes. I am not sure if I am going to continue the trend regularly but I can only hope to be so lucky because it is evident that a lot can be gathered by tasting in pairs.