By Gary Twining
I love to watch movies in which the actors blind taste wine. They are handed a glass to evaluate and with a quick sip state, “Oh, a lovely Lecheneaut Nuits-St.-George “Les Prulier” 1971, showing maturity but stunningly complex.” I wish the process were that simple.
Blind tasting is identification of the provenance, varietal, production and quality specifics of a wine without being told anything about it – the process that separates the wine masters from the merely knowledgeable.
Blind identification is a very difficult process, as not all wines are textbook examples. Hugh Johnson, one of the world’s foremost wine experts, was asked when he had last misidentified a wine in a blind tasting. “Lunch” was his humble response. Identifying a single wine is also much more difficult than having a number of wines to compare against each other.
I like to begin blind tastings by listing grape varietals, so as not to forget one that might be in the glass. The evaluation of wine components and their levels is the next step. First determine what the wine couldn’t be, then what it could be, and, finally, what it must be.
Color indicates many things: age and condition of the wine, the warmth of the vineyard region or vintage, production techniques and maturation. If a red wine is light in color but not showing the browning/bricking of age, this would suggest it’s not made from intensely colored grapes like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot or Shiraz/Syrah.
Aroma can denote age; fresh and fruity aromas imply youth, while spices and evolved scents indicate a more mature wine. Alcohol can be detected by warmth in the nose, suggesting the wine is not from a cool climate or cool vintage. Production techniques, including wood aging, can also be evaluated by aroma.
The remaining components of tannin, residual sugar, acidity and finish need to be evaluated and weighed to funnel down to the wine’s identity.
Blind tasting is a self-effacing experience, but it is also quite a revelation to see the level of ability that your palate and knowledge can reach. In the end, it is the way to truly reach the peak of wine expertise.
Blind Tasting Tips
Build a taste memory.
Taste and read widely. Experience in tasting different wine styles and reading about their flavor profiles and component levels will increase your chances of correct identification.
Taste good examples.
Prime examples of wine types and origins will give the best scent and flavor profiles to add to your taste memory. It is a waste of time and money to taste inexpensive wines that lack characteristics of their grape or region.
Taste often and practice blind.
If you want to learn to blind taste, you have to practice on a regular basis. You should taste “label up” when you are comparing wines side by side to see their differences, but the secret to becoming an accomplished blind taster is to taste blind regularly.
Write detailed tasting notes for various wine styles.
Compose the perfect description of a Sancerre, for example, discussing appearance, aroma and the levels of components that make that wine different from other varietals and other wines made from Sauvignon Blanc. This will help reinforce the flavor profile in your taste memory.
Don’t give up.
Even experts regularly misidentify characteristics of wines. Persist. The more experience you have, the better you will become.