Blind Wine Tasting…Hoax or Real

I enter the small conference room and make my way towards a table by the window. After all, they say natural light is the best light in which to see a wine’s true color. I take a seat and glance at the wine glasses lined up in front of me. From left to right there are three white wines with absolutely no color variation, followed by three red wines that also look exactly the same. My task for the next 24 minutes? Correctly identify the grape, region, country and vintage of each wine based solely on what I see, smell and taste. Can I really do that? There’s only one way to find out and you know what they say: “If you can’t run with the big dogs…”

“You may begin,”

the instructor calls out as I reach for the first wine glass and tilt it against the white linen backdrop. I flip over the tasting sheet and begin my analysis. This wine is clear, it is day-bright, the intensity of the wines color is low, the color of the wine is pale yellow and the rim variation is watery. I lift up the glass and swirl. The legs of this wine form and fall quickly down the glass, which means the viscosity level of this wine is low. Time elapsed: 19 seconds.

I swirl the wine and plunge my nose deep into the glass. This wine is clean, it is youthful and the intensity of the aroma is low. I inhale again. The aroma is fresh with scents of under-ripe lemons, limes and yellow grapefruits mingling with the fragrance of white flowers. My hand continues to swirl as I take one last sniff. There is a flinty minerality present but there are no signs of oak on this wine. 2 minutes, 15 seconds and counting.

I lift the glass to my lips and take in a large amount of wine. I swish the wine around my tongue, roll it between my cheeks, suck in some air and then pause. I spit. This wine has no sweetness, it is light in body, the acidity level is high and the alcohol level is low. The citrus flavors I detected on the nose are confirmed on the palate and there are no tannins present in this wine. I rate the complexity level of this wine as low and the length of the finish to be short. Time elapsed: 3 minutes and 49 seconds.

Based on this data I give my initial thoughts to the judges. “This wine is either a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Gris or a Riesling and is either from the Mosel region in Germany, the Loire Valley in France or Marlborough, New Zealand.”

At this point in the exam I’m required to defend my conclusions to the judges to let them know how I got to this point.

Sight: The color of this wine is very light and the viscosity level is low which tells me this wine comes from a cool part of the world. Places like Germany, Italy, France and New Zealand are going to be my focus, which means warmer countries like South Africa, Australia, and most of the Americas, are no longer in the game.

Smell: This wine has no signs of oak which tells me the wine is not meant for aging so it can only be between one and three years old. Since no oak was used to make this wine it is most likely made from a delicate grape, so robust and hearty grapes like Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc are also out of the mix. At this point I’ve narrowed down the field quite a bit, and I’m fairly confident in my selections, but I must give only one final answer. How am I going to formulate one? In order to determine what this grape is, I must first determine what it is not.

Taste: I knew this grape was not a Riesling because, even though it has flavors of white flowers, it lacks the telltale flavors of peach and apricot.

I also knew this grape was not a Pinot Gris because, even though it has citrus flavors, it lacks the telltale flavors of apple and pear.

This grape is definitely a Sauvignon Blanc but it can’t come from Italy or Germany because Sauvignon Blanc is not a major grape varietal grown there.

This wine is also not from Marlborough, New Zealand, because it’s missing the telltale flavor of gooseberry found in the wines that are grown there.

The flinty taste I revealed on the palate however is a signature characteristic found in the soils of Sancerre, which means it’s very unlikely this wine can come from any place else. That’s why I can confidently say: “This wine is a 2009, Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, in the Loire Valley of France.”

Total time: 5 minutes, 13 seconds.

Hello, big dogs. I’m the new (ahem) bitch on the block…sniff this.

Kalani Tom was born in Honolulu, Hawaii but lives and works in New York City. She is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and has a degree in psychology from Arizona State University. She is the author of two wine books, the creator of The Wine Code wine app, and her work has been published in online magazines such as The Huffington Post and Thought Catalog.

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