Blind tastings to ‘see’ the truth
Last Saturday night with some friends we had a blind wine tasting, hoping that it would be the first of many. A group of seven people: only two from the wine industry, the rest being just wine aficionados.
There are two sorts of blind tastings:
- a single-blind where you may know just a piece of information such as the grape-variety or the country of origin.
- or a double-blind which means that the tasters know absolutely nothing about the wines.
For the first we opted for a single-blind tasting: the clues were New Zealand wines and under $30 retail. All colours and styles were accepted: red, white, sweet, rose, bubbles… and everybody had to bring one bottle.
Blind tastings are not only great fun but they are also the only way to judge a wine objectively. It’s the only way to express a genuine opinion about the wine as any knowledge that you have about a wine can influence your assessment. Just imagine that you are not a big fan of Pinot Noir - any Pinot Noir that you taste will already get negative points before you even get to sample it.
Blind tasting implies that you hide the bottle / label using brown paper bags, special blind tasting bags, or even socks could do, although most of the time with socks you can guess the shape of the bottle too easily. After all, Rieslings are rarely bottled in short fat bottles. The best way is to just be given the glass of wine without getting a glimpse at the bottle and bag altogether.
It’s also very important not to know the price of the wine as it clearly changes your perception. For instance, French researcher Frédéric Brochet "submitted a mid-range Bordeaux in two different bottles, one labeled as a cheap table wine, the other bearing a grand cru etiquette" and obtained predictable results. Tasters described the supposed grand cru as "woody, complex, and round" and the supposed cheap wine as "short, light, and faulty."
On top of having fun, I think the whole point of doing a blind tasting with friends is to try to learn a bit more about wine. I therefore recommend that every participant prepare three or four questions, each of which can be about the grape-variety used, the region, the winery, the vintage, whatever…
To finish with, blind tastings are a great opportunity to discover and try wines that you would not normally drink or buy. I was very surprised to see that nobody actually brought any of two of the best sellers in NZ at the moment: Central Otago Pinot Noir and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. There was not even one Chardonnay, the world’s most planted grape! Was it because they thought it would have been too easy and they wanted to trick everyone? Possibly. Anyhow, it was great to be able to sample some old Marlborough Riesling, some Hawke’s Bay Viognier, two very impressive dry Pinot Gris, some Gamay Noir etc… in a nutshell, wines that we go to naturally.
And last – but certainly not least - at the end of a blind tasting, there’s not any winner or loser, there’s just a nice bunch of blind drunk people!
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