Blind Tasting — The fun way to study wine
Everyone has that day they look forward to during the week. For a lot of people it is the relief of Friday and the hopeful expectation of the weekend to come; the fact that this is usually a let-down and over very quickly is a lesson we never seem to learn. For others it is the Monday, when work begins and we can throw ourselves whole-heartedly into our craft. For me, I have come to look forward to Saturdays or, as they are more known to me now, Blind Tasting Saturdays. When I passed my level 3 exam with the WSET, part of the exam was a blind tasting of two wines, one red and one white. This was by far the most dreaded part of the exam but actually the part where I think most of my class actually did pretty well. A couple of months on, it seems very unusual that this would now be my hobby of choice but out of the pressure of exam conditions and with the promise of lunch to follow, I now approach Saturdays with a sort of child-like glee.
I suppose I should clarify what I mean by blind tasting: it is the act of drinking and analysing a wine without seeing the bottle and therefore the wines identity, no need for blind-folds as someone once suggested to me! The idea is to break down the wine structurally and formulate a guess as to which grape variety(s) are involved, where the wine comes from and a rough price range for the quality of the wine; considerably harder than it looks in truth but a lot of fun. In the industry of wine this is a skill well practiced by critics (supposedly), sommeliers and anyone looking to gain a high level of wine education; the idea being if you can describe a wine without knowing what it is, you are more likely to be able to describe a wine accurately to a customer or fellow professional. I originally started blind tasting at the weekends with the intention of improving my palate but in truth, the main attraction is definitely the fun element of it! It might sound like a stupidly obvious thing to say but tasting a wine blind adds a real element of mystery and romance. It also forces you to really think about what you’re drinking. Is the acidity high or low. Why is it high? Is that a result of climate or is a style of the region? Occasionally you might come across a wine you know and just get it immediately, but those occasions are few and far between.
Every Saturday I meet with a group of friends, usually 3–4 of us, in a neutral location (always conveniently near my house, many thanks, Bodega Maestrazgo!) to drink, analyse and have lunch afterwards. Each of us brings a bottle of any type of wine, from any major wine producing region (Sorry, China, you don’t count yet) and serves it to the others blind. The rest of us tasting blind have two options — question, or guess. Therefore, two of the team could ask a question such as ‘New or Old World’ and ‘North or South America’ and leave it to the third to take the only swing at the wines grape variety(s), country, region of production and price range. Normally, you would all analyse the wine seperately and take a guess but working as a team is far more interesting; you would be surprised how differently a single wine can be perceived by a group of people! Plus, the world of wine is so vast that a little handicap is very welcome. You can do as many variations on this as you like, New World vs Old World, Cabernet Sauvignon across Europe, whatever you want, really!
Needless to say, this is a hugely informative and far more engaging way to study and learn about wine than simply reading textbooks. It’s also a very fun way to spend a few hours and try a lot of different wines that perhaps you normally wouldn’t. I know it sounds a bit geeky but try it, I am sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised! The objective is less about being right as it is about understanding the wine — even Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine make embarassing mistakes when putting their cards on the table; in a world so vast and complex it is impossible not to. Then at the end of it all comes the ritual of sacrifice; the wines have done their duty and must be consumed immediately for the good of man-kind. If this is accompanied by a lovely picnic, well, I would say that’s fair play for all your hard work, wouldn’t you?
A good resource to organise a blind tasting if you are so inclined:
Materials Six to twelve different wines Standardized unmarked bottles or receptacles in which to decant the wines (or…www.oxfordwineacademy.com
Wine Cuentista: The literal translation is ‘Wine story-teller’. We run high quality wine tastings in central Barcelona, Borne area, with the intention of tasting and learning about high quality Spanish and Catalan wines in a relaxed atmosphere — perfect for a fun evening out in Barcelona! If you would like to get in touch or see our services, check out the website here: winecuentista.com Thanks!