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Art of Blind Tasting


Y'all know nothing brings me more joy than subverting expectations.


When I managed restaurants, I used to blind pour tastes of crisp, refreshing Chablis (a region in France known for its Chardonnay production) to guests who claimed they hated Chardonnay. They associated the resident golden child with one region, California, where most interpretations can veer towards buttery & creamy on the palate. I'd watch them nod their head in approval with the Chablis in their glass, waxing poetic about how delicious it was. That look of enjoyment would shift into a look of genuine shock when I'd reveal that the wine was Chardonnay.

GOTCHA!


See, when you are blind tasting, you open yourself to the possibilities that you don't know everything about EVERY grape or region, and that's the beauty of it. Our bias can stop us from experiencing the most delicious things in life, and in this case, wine of all kinds. Every wine is worth a try at least once in my book. Or maybe that's just my excuse to treat wine bottles like Pokémon cards! Blind tasting at its core, is meant to be our way to work around that bias and observe wine without the background noise.


When tasting, and not just when flying blind, is a full sensory experience. Sight, smell, taste-----all working in tandem to send vital information to the brain about the fermented grape juice in your glass. There are a few specific items that we analyze when tasting for quality. I'll delve into the specifics of these in a future post but here they are for reference:

  • Color (sight)

  • Aromatics (nose)

  • Body (palate)

  • Tannins (palate)

  • Acidity (palate)

In the professional space, we use blind tasting to determine quality levels in winemaking without any preconceived bias towards a specific producer, winemaker, wine region or grape varietal. Sure, one could easily assess quality even if you already know what the grape is or where it was produced. But what if it's from a producer you don't generally enjoy? What if you knew the wine was expensive? Are going to immediately make claims that this wine is fantastic or meh? Blind tasting is a skill that one has to hone over time and is really only developed one way: LOTS of drinking. This helps us create a rolodex of sorts in our minds that we can recall when tasting. You can't blind taste a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France and expect to get it right (in most cases) without ever having tasted a proper example from the region. Nor can you examine if it's a quality example from the region either.


Fun Fact: Many moons ago....just kidding it was just 1976! An infamous event known as the Judgement of Paris (which has no relation to the Trojan war for all my Greek Mythology buffs), many wines from all over the world were tasted & judged blindly. Judges were shocked that the wines they favored the most were not from France as everyone anticipated, rather, they were from California. Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay took home 1st place in its category.

My friend, Chef Taylor Kastl of Tayste Catering & The Teal Turnip, filmed a blind tasting segment with me a couple years back where I put a grape, she normally doesn't enjoy in front of her: Malbec. Now Taylor is a seasoned professional so I didn't believe I would stump her. After sipping & swirling, she did indeed come to the answer that the wine was Malbec from Argentina. She even nailed the specific region-----show off! The true revelation was that she actually enjoyed the drinking experience of this Malbec she would have normally passed on. When we systematically deduce where a wine is from, what it is, the journey it has taken and imagine where it's going; it all adds to the magic. At the end of the day, the combined sorcery of nature & human touch is really all we want when experiencing this beverage.




Next time you're out shopping for your favorite wines to enjoy, snag two extra bottles: a similar wine from a producer you don't like & a similar wine from a region that you are unfamiliar with. Wrap the bottles in aluminum foil or have someone else pour for you, and blind taste all three wines side by side to see if your favorite is really your favorite. Great way to expand the palate & make it more open to receive the gift that is wine! While it isn't really meant to be a party trick, its damn sure a lot of fun at dinner parties.


Cheers // thecertifiedwino

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