These were two great classic wines – perfect for a blind tasting. Try to guess what they are based on John’s analysis, or watch my setup video in the wine cellar (on the right above) to see what they are, and the tasting clues to look for.
Why even bother to blind taste? The greatest value to the exercise is to assess a wine’s quality without having your impressions–positive or negative–influenced by the label. So I often blind taste multiple wines of a category, say New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or French NV Champagne, so that only what emerges from the glass (not reputation, a critic’s high score, or price point) drives my conclusion. It’s always fun, often surprising, and occasionally, when upstart or value wines make the top of the heap, a really great day. Some people may think Master Sommeliers only have eyes for the bespoke wines, but the truth is, most of us love the unsung heroes and discoveries. Take my Master Sommelier (and Somm movie star) friend Ian Cauble. He left a job with Krug Champagne to start a website, sommselect.com, offering up mostly gems you’d not likely try, or even hear about, on your own.
My husband John is blind tasting because he has always loved it, is very good at it (not my influence, his natural talent pre-dates our union), and now is putting some structure to a wine knowledge base built as his collection of bottles grew. He is loving it, and I am having a blast, too–dusting off the blind tasting skill set and knowledge base that only gets a workout when Master Sommelier candidates come to our place in Napa to practice taste. And that practice is key. Tuning in to the aspects of a wine that define it, to the point where one can accurately identify it, means assessing down to a very fine level of detail, these key factors:
Appearance or Sight – The clarity (based on the presence–or not–of suspended particles), brightness or light-reflecting quality, hue and intensity of color, and textural viscosity (as evidenced by how the wine clings to, then flows, down the inside of the glass), each warrant paragraphs or even pages in terms of what they can reveal about the wine.
Scent or “Nose” – Other pros might debate it, but I think this is the most important element to both identifying and enjoying a wine. The nose reveals major clues to all four “V’s” that make up a wine’s identity: Varietal (the grape/s), Vineyard region (the place), Vintner (the maker, and their approach to fermentation and aging), and even Vintage (which dictates the growing condition).
Palate – This is where it all comes together. Texture, flavor, which is a composite of both scent and taste, and the “finish” in which those elements reverberate on your palate after you’ve swallowed or spat the wine, have to get methodically deconstructed and then re-assimilated–into a final conclusion about the wine’s identity and quality. At least, that’s how most successful blind tasters do it.
All of that gets banged up against a memory-bank of wine attributes amassed from tasting hundreds, even thousands, of bottles. It’s not rocket-science but, to us geeks, it is every bit as fascinating. And the homework’s a blast.