Tasting wine blind can be equally frustrating and enlightening. Exploring its aromas and flavors without knowing what’s in your glass can drive you a little mad, whether or not it’s a stumper. But at the same time, relying only on your senses to explore, you’re likely to find facets of the wine you might have missed otherwise.
No matter how open-minded we like to think we are, everyone approaches wine with pre-conceived ideas. Concealing a line-up of bottles is a great way to throw prejudices out the window and focus on what matters most – aromas, flavors, mouthfeel and overall enjoyment.
Blind tasting is an awesome teaching tool, but also a great game for groups of wine lovers – it starts conversations and sparks fun competition. Set a theme, invite a few friends over and ask (or assign) each to bring an appropriate wine.
Then blind the wines, not yourselves, and no cheating. There are a couple ways you can do this. One of the most effective is to brown bag the bottles as they arrive, uncork them and have several people reassemble their order to make sure no one can remember which is which. Then number the bags. Set out as many glasses per person as wines you are pouring to most easily compare.
There are a myriad of themes to choose. Consider:
- Classic examples of different grape varieties: If you’re new to wine, this is a great way to start discerning the distinctions – say, what makes Cabernet Sauvignon different from Syrah – as well as your preferences between the varieties.
- One grape, different regions: Climate is one of the most influential factors on a wine’s style. Choose wines from different areas and take note of the contrasts and similarities. Which have more acidity, more alcohol, more fruit flavors, more mineral flavors? And which do you prefer?
- Price points: Skeptical of high-end wines? People often ask me, “Can you really taste the difference between a $10 and a $60 bottle?” I like to think I can. But try for yourself. With your friends chipping in, this gamble is less of risk. Pick one variety, one region and three to four different price points. Try the wines by themselves and then over the course of a meal. Do your preferences change?
As you taste, spit (get over the gross factor, already!) to keep your taste buds and brain cells sharp, and take notes on each wine’s characteristics. If you’re new to this, don’t worry about being elegant or perfect; you just want notes that will enable you to compare wines well. Does one have higher acidity than the next? Does one have soft tannins and another harsh tannins? Does one smell like red berry fruit and the next like dried leaves? Impose a period of quiet while tasting so you don’t influence each other’s impressions.
For more tips on tasting I’d suggest checking out Wine for Dummies. Here are a few basic tips to share with your friends:
Color: Whites darken with age, reds fade, and different varieties throw distinct shades and intensities. As you learn more about wine, you can use color as a clue while blind tasting, but clues can also be misleading. More than a few experts have been fooled into writing a red tasting note when dye was added to a white wine. If possible, taste in dark glasses like the R. Croft Double Blind Tasting Glasses Lot18 is offering today, and let your nose and taste buds do the heavy lifting.
Aromas & Flavors: Are they youthful or developing? Youthful wines will demonstrate fresh fruit, floral, herbaceous and mineral aromas. If a wine is developing, you’ll notice more dried fruit, dried herbs, vegetable, earthiness and even animal notes.
Taste: There are several elements to a wine’s taste profile. Acidity makes your mouth water, like lemon juice. Tannin dries your tongue and gums, like over-steeped black tea. Body is the wine’s weight – light, medium, full – in your mouth. Alcohol creates a slight burning sensation on the back of the palate. Sweetness is felt at the tip of the tongue. Length is how long the wine’s flavors remain after swallowing or spitting. If the elements are well integrated, the wine is “balanced.” If one element overtly dominates or distracts from the others, it’s out of balance.
Hopefully you’ll come away from blind tasting discovering something new, not only about wine but also about what you prefer. And in the process, maybe you’ll give a few old prejudices the boot, too.