Blind tasting: the act of tasting, analyzing and attempting to identify a wine with no prior knowledge of where the wine was produced, who it was produced by, the quality level, the price or anything else that could help define it. This involves evaluating the color and intensity of the wine; is the slight garnet tinge due to the ageing process of red wine or is it due to the grape variety? The aromas of the wine; Is it complex or simple? Are the aromas primary, secondary, tertiary or a combination of several/all three? Does the profile of the aromas suggest a cool climate, a moderate climate or a warm climate? On the palate now; how is the level of acidity and is it suggestive of malic or lactic acid? How are the levels of alcohol, tannins, flavor intensity, finish and residual sugar? Is it well balanced or is something sticking out? Is that peppery finish coming from the grape variety or as a result of ageing in oak barrels? The options are many and varied, and this is why blind tasting is often described as ‘A game of clues’. Within your analysis, you gather as many clues as possible by breaking down every aspect of the wine. Using your results, you put it all back together and come to a reasonable conclusion as to what the wine is, where it came from, which grapes were used and even what year the grapes were harvested in.
Objectivity: I’ve discovered through my own education and experience that it is possible to be highly objective about wine, it just requires a lot of discipline and practice. The thing is, we all have unconscious bias in our lives, whether it be our political beliefs, our moral code or whether or not we once had a bad bottle of Californian Chardonnay. Blind tasting goes a long way to eliminating this, allowing us to focus on nothing but the liquid in front of us, free from distractions such as labels, bottle shapes, price points and, heaven forbid, scores from famous wine critics.
Focus: Once these distractions are removed, it becomes a practice of your senses; there is nothing to focus on other than the liquid in your glass. How does it look, smell and taste? By practicing these skills in blind conditions, we not only improve this skill but our ability to taste and evaluate wine in general. Analyzing a wine, gathering information and applying your judgement to come to a reasonable conclusion takes time and money to practice, but greatly enhances your appreciation not only of the wine in front of you, but of wine in general. It is nothing if not a humbling process!
Learning: Whether your conclusion is right or not, you will nearly always learn from the process. It’s usually quite easy to trace your process back and find out where you took a wrong turn, where you misidentified a characteristic or structural component that took you away from the truth. Without any distractions, it’s a fantastic way to learn what certain grapes, climates and wine-making practices can do to the final product:
It’s fun!: If you’re coming up to exams, practicing blind tasting may seem more stressful than fun. At every other time, though, it is a really lovely social activity that not only enhances your own understanding of wine but gives you an opportunity to do so in great company. The trick is to not give yourself overly high expectations; blind tasting is a very difficult practice and unless you have a Master Sommeliers exam around the corner, it’s worth your while to approach it with a sense of levity.