The Drync.com Wine Blog
Blind Tasting Wine: Not Just for the Professionals
September 15, 2014
School is back in session – time to get your wine geek on! Blind-tasting wines might seem like more of an advanced class, but learning the steps can be super valuable to drinkers at every level of expertise. Go beyond knowing whether you like a particular variety or region. Blind tasting teaches drinkers how to describe the levels of tannin, acidity and aromatics that they enjoy in their vino. And although it might seem like a super-human feat at first, all it takes is a little practice, which requires you drinking wines with friends – not so bad, right?
To the uninitiated, blind tasting wine sounds like the worst wine snob nightmare: a snooty pretentious type is presented with a glass, half full with a mysterious wine. He eyes it carefully. Swirls it deliberately. Takes a few deep sniffs and slurps, and pronounces it to be the 1959 Chateau L’Ahdidah, grand cru, naturellment. The bottle is taken from out of a velvet bag and revealed to be that exact wine, of which there are only 17 remaining bottles in the world.
The crowd oohs and aahs. The wine snob bows in a gesture meant to convey humility, but you see the glint of arrogance and knowitallism in his eyes.
Everybody freaking hates that guy.
Blind tasting is more than just a parlor trick!
Back down on earth, many restaurant sommeliers and wine sellers practice blind tasting as part of their professional development to make them better at their jobs and more helpful to consumers.
Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth believes that blind tasting even for casual wine consumers has its uses. In an interview with Bohemian.com, he says that, “Blind tasting makes you really good at asking yourself questions about a wine and answering it without prejudice.”
In other words, blind tasting takes the “human nature” out of evaluating wines. People see a label or a price tag on a bottle, or know the number of points Big Critic X gave it, and they start to make value judgments about whether or not a wine is “good.” (Ever have a $50 bottle of wine and you weren’t sure you liked it? Maybe you even said you did? Yeah, you know the feeling: confusion and doubt and thinking “I’ll never understand wine.”)
“Blind tasting takes away any label perception. It helps you describe wines better in terms of what you like and what you don’t,” Kruth says, so you can speak with confidence when looking for recommendations in a wine store or restaurant.
You too can try this at home. Yes, you!
Kruth recommends that in the beginning, you “pick really distinctive grapes” such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in the red camp; and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer for whites.
And then you
- Have a friend put them in paper bags and pour you a glass of each, one at a time.
- Take notes on what the color looks like, what you smell, and what you taste. You might find a tasting wheel helpful to identify things. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the terms on it. Stick to what you know and recognize.
- Go slow. Take your time. Think about what you’re experiencing and how it evolves after a few minutes in the glass. There’s no rush.
- Limit yourself to one or two wines. When you’ve made your guesses, open the bags and see how you did.
At this point, you just want to train your palate to differentiate between varieties. There’s no need to get geeky with trying to guess where the wines are from or what year is on the label. Once you get good at identifying which grape is which, then you can take the training wheels off and get a little more advanced with that stuff, or even a different set of grapes, evaluating each wine one at a time.
The Big Secret to Blind Tasting
Even for professionals, blind tasting is an inexact science. Depending on the foods you ate growing up, how your allergies are behaving that day, what time you’re tasting, or even how much coffee you had this morning, your “hint of morello cherry cobbler” could be my “raspberry jello.”
And that’s totally okay. The goal is to get to know your palate well enough to recognize the cues certain grape varieties trigger for you. The only surefire way to get good is to practice, practice, practice. And keep it fun.
If you need a place to get started, Kruth says, he recommends the down-to-earth grape descriptions of famed British wine writer Jancis Robinson. Since she has written a ton of books, we suggest her “How to Taste” as the one to get.
Have you ever done a blind tasting for fun? How did you do?
Want to get started on your blind tasting education?Get $20 toward your first purchase with Drync.
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Melanie DeCarolis is a writer and wine tour guide. She justifies her wine-drinking problem to her mother by taking lots of industry certification exams—because that makes it professional development. She thinks you should drink more Riesling.
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