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The Power of First Impressions

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell’s book on the ‘power of thinking without thinking’, he discusses the notion of thin slicing or the ability to make an effective judgment on a situation, person or experience within minutes or even seconds. In other words first impressions are often correct.

This is a concept with which I wholeheartedly agree, but of course, being human, our first impressions are sometimes wrong. At the most recent meeting of Sniff’s tasting group we were tasting four wines semi-blind. We knew that there were two Grenache based wines, a Zinfandel from California and a Primitivo from Puglia but did not know the order in which they were poured, the respective price points, or the specific region of production. Any self-respecting oenophile will tell you that they would not confuse Zinfandel with Chateauneuf du Pape (CNdP) but that is exactly what I did. I arrived at this snap decision based on the smell alone, the predominant aroma was that of bruised apples and tobacco. So why leap to Zinfandel? Well because a ‘classic’ descriptor for Zinfandel (or at least, one that I had in my head), was exactly that, apple and tobacco…At this point my unfortunately simple, lizard like brain refused to consider any other information accrued after actually tasting the wine. In some respects there are legitimate similarities or ‘confusables’ between Zinfandel and Grenache (the dominant variety in CNdP). They are often high in alcohol, moderate in acidity, have red as well as black fruit characteristics yet the tannic structure is very different. Zinfandel has the pithiness of cranberries whereas Grenache has the chalkiness of well…chalk.

What I was actually smelling (the apple thing) was a bit of oxidation and Grenache is a well known for its susceptibility to this aroma altering process. Is this an excuse? I wish it was, the other members of our group who are not on the MW programme treat me as their first among equals, I am not meant to make these kinds of mistakes and of course they didn’t. What it does demonstrate is the power that a small piece of information can wield and that allowing a period of deliberation based on all the facts – two minutes should suffice – before drawing a more rational, evidence based conclusion should see future Grenache based gaffes, minimised.

Below are two of the wines tasted that provide a delicious but inexpensive comparison between the variety Tribidrag (aka Zinfandel and Primitivo).

Papale, Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia, Italy, 2010, 14%
Grape: Primitivo
Wine-making: 8 months in French oak
Note: Ripe and smoky with good depth and concentration for the price. Not hugely complex but this is an enjoyable and well-balanced wine that is as happy on its own as it is with a plate of Orecchiette.
Price: 1,200NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: 

Ravenswood, Old Vine Vintners Blend Zinfandel, California, 2012, 13.5%
Grape: 75% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 6% Syrah
Wine-making: 10 months in French oak, a third of which is new.
Note: Very pretty red fruit style with a little bit of that apple and tobacco thing mentioned above. Soft and eminently drinkable without the raging alcohol sometimes experienced. A pleasing introduction to what is possible with Zinfandel.
Price: 930NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from:

Sniff NL Bottle Block