Going Blind: Blind Tasting Like a Pro
The term ‘Blind Tasting” has become more readily known thanks to growing public interest in the world of wine professionals. It evokes images of blindfolded tasters honing in on subtle, unique markers known only to experienced savants. In reality, a blind tasting uses your senses to identify a wine by varietal, region, vintage and structure by processing common characteristics of wine that are (and are not) present. Everyone can benefit from valuable sensory feedback without the bias of perceived preference. Sipping wine blind can be an eye-opening experience!
Setting up A Blind Tasting
A successful bind tasting allows participants to compare and contrast the elements of wine –
high vs. low price, old world vs. new world or simply to test your skill at identifying traditional varietals. Classic grape descriptors can easily be found online and used as a base guide for wines from around the world and at all price points. For example; how does a $10 bottle of American Cabernet Sauvignon found at gas station compare to a $40 bottle American Cabernet Sauvignon from a well-known California winery? What are some of the differences in taste and smell between Sauvignon Blanc from France and Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand? For best results, stick to single varietals (ie not blends).
Once you have decided on the conceit of your event, you can begin the logistics of physically preparing for a tasting. A blank, white placemat should be used at each setting so tasters can visually examine the wine without refractive “tint” from wood or a tablecloth. At a minimum, each taster should have a separate wine glass for whites and for reds. An optimum setting has one individual glass for each wine tasted. Provide pencils and stationary so your guests can make notes as they come to mind.
Open red wines approximately half an hour before you wish to begin. Whites should remain chilled until ready to pour. Inspect bottles for signs of heat damage or bottle shock. Pour a small sample of each wine to test for flaws or defects before pouring glasses for your tasters.
Use a decanter or cover the bottles being poured to conceal vital information on the wine label. Be sure to remove any printed foil or corks from the table. A score sheet is recommended and should include corresponding numbers for the wines as they are presented.
There is no set time limit for a blind tasting – it can be conducted in concert with a multi-course dinner or at separate stations in a large room. Or you could make a blind tasting the main event for your next gathering with everyone sipping while seated at the same time.
The Juice Exam
Participation alone ensures lively debate and more than a few surprises as your tasters explore their pallet. The goal of the blind process is not to yield an exact identification – even for professionals. Don’t be afraid to be vocal and trust your senses; we learn more by checking the pretension at the door.
During the blind tasting process remember the five S’s
- Swirl – This not only makes you look like a pro, but increases surface area exposure to oxygen allowing the wine to ‘wake up’ in the glass and display its characteristics.
- See – The color of a wine and how it acts in a glass can give valuable clues about its nature. If the color varies wildly from the center of the liquid to the rim (meniscus) this can be an indication of age. The way the wine sheets down the side of the glass after swirling (the ‘legs’) indicates alcohol content – thick, slow drips means high; light runny sheens means low. Some wines are known by their opacity – how many fingers can you see through the liquid? This could be an important clue for well known varitals!
- Sniff- Inhale deeply in think of what the smell reminds you of. Something organic and flowery? An earthy aroma like wood or soil? Does it nibble at a faint memory of something you know but can’t place? There are no wrong answers, so talk it out with other tasters and find out what you come up with!
- Sip- This is where the wine tells you its story. Pay particular attention to the structure of the wine – how does it taste initially? As you sip? Is there an aftertaste? What sensations does your mouth experience – a puckering dryness? A burst of heat? An inorganic coating? Stretch your vocabulary and memory for descriptors that make sense to your palate. There is no one language for wine.
- Spit- Be sure to spit or you WILL get drunk! One sip at a time adds up quickly, and dulls your senses! Cleanse your pallet between glasses with a sip of water and some neutral tasting crackers or pretzels.
Is This Your Final Conclusion?
Blind Tasting can illuminate what we love, or don’t love, about wine by stripping our own pre-conceived ideas and laying them ‘naked’ before us. We underestimate how much our palate reacts to the structure of wine as opposed to the ‘flavor’. There will continue to be a battle between your ‘gut’ and your ‘intellect’, but with practice it does become easier. Learn to trust your gut and don’t over intellectualize yourself out of what your senses say you like!
Texas vs The World Blind Varietals
1851 Vineyards: 2018 Viognier $26
1851 Vineyards: 2016 Barbera $28
1851 Vineyards: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon $36Wine Shop