Friday, 12 February 2016

On trying out blind wine tasting

Last weekend I was invited around to the house of a good friend of mine who's getting married this year, he wanted my help with an important piece of "wedmin" (for those not in the know, a rather 21st century portmanteau of "wedding" and "admin"). He and his lovely fiancĂ©e wanted to get some ideas about wines to serve at their wedding, so they set a challenge, everyone was to come armed with a bottle of wine or two with some strict conditions - they wanted a French white and an Italian red within a proscribed budget of £5 - £8 a bottle. We would then become the tasting panel to test these wines against. What an awesome idea.

Blind Wine Tasting

What I didn't know until we arrived was that the bridge and groom had devised a "blind tasting" system for the wines. For those that are not aware of what blind wine tasting means, this is where the label of a bottle of wine is hidden from you so that you are not aware of what wine you are drinking when you taste it. This is supposed to remove any prejudices that you may have that influences subconsciously (or consciously) your impressions of a wine. The infamous "Judgement of Paris" tasting in 1976 is the most famous example of a blind wine tasting, where French wine critics and producers were asked to judge their legendary Bordeaux and Burgundies against Californian wines and were left aghast as the accolades for the best wines were awarded to the Californian wines across the board. I had not done much blind wine tasting before, I have done the WSET Level 2 qualification in Wine and Spirits, but they don't start making you blind taste until Level 3. I will admit that I was equal parts nervous and excited about the prospect!

So, as the guests arrived at my friend's house, their wines were taken off them and covered in foil. We agreed that we should start with the whites and then move on to reds. As the whites reached an appropriate temperature we were called in to the kitchen to start the tasting process. We were given a tasting sheet to record our scores and our comments (there was a special award to be granted for the most pretentious comment of the evening, which resulted in some rather interesting remarks, see left...!)
The experience

The experience of blind tasting was absolutely fascinating. A couple of times I tasted a wine and straight away thought "I know exactly what this is, this is the crisp green apple of an un-oaked Chardonnay" and occasionally I was right. However, on other occasions I was totally and absolutely wrong! What I reflected on afterwards is that most time I taste wine I know what the grape is, what country and region it is from and what vintage it is; having spent some time around wine now I have found that you start to learn what the characteristic profiles are for what you're drinking, but how much does this influence what you taste on the wine itself as you drink it? If you drink a Merlot looking for juicy red fruit flavours is it any surprise when you find them? 

When you are tasting blind you have to rely entirely on your senses, what is that I smell on this mystery wine? Is it stone fruit or is it tropical fruit? Is that some buttery note that I'm getting? I have long concluded that I am not a naturally good wine taster and have always felt that my wife, who does not drink nearly as much wine as me, or get nearly as excited by it, is much better as a wine taster. I think the only thing that you can do if you're not naturally good at something is to practice as much as you can... *reaches for a bottle*


So, how did we get? We reached some interesting conclusions: firstly, we tended to favour the more expensive wines in each category (an affirmation that although price is no guarantee of quality, it is a pretty good indicator); secondly, we really felt that you did not get nearly as good quality wine for the budget on  reds than you did on whites; thirdly, given that we were tasting wine for a wedding we had to think carefully about how the wines would match the food and how they would go later on as they became "session wines". 

I was also pleased that one of my wines made it into the top three on the Italian reds side! I don't think my white fared very well at all (it may well have been the subject of the "gym kit" remark above...!)

This was a really interesting experience, it was also a lot of fun. A great idea by the bridegroom- and bride-to-be and certainly the most fun piece of "Wedmin" that I've been asked to do.

What are your experiences of blind wine tasting? Is it something that you enjoy/relish or do you think that to appreciate a wine properly you need to know its providence?

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