Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Going Blind is the Best

If you have never given yourself a blind tasting before I strongly urge you to do it. It is truly incredible to allow a wine to reveal itself to you this way. Tasting a wine blind frees you of all your biases. But what qualifies a true blind tasting, well a true in "every sense of the word blind tasting" would be one only provided in Sommelier exams like those done by the Court of Master Sommeliers of which I am a proud certified graduate. The tasting portion of the exam involves you sitting down to a glass of wine of which you have absolutely no clues or hints as to what it is.There are no bottles anywhere it could be any one of the millions of wines that are out there.

But this is surprisingly difficult to replicate. Let's say you have someone get a wine from your collection to blind taste you with, well already you have an advantage because you presumably know what wines are in your possession. Or let's say you are lucky enough to have a mentor blind taste you from the cellar of a 5 star restaurant like I was (sorry I just needed to put that in there to remind myself how lucky I have been), you still have a general idea of what wines are in that cellar again giving you a, albeit slight, advantage.

But for most of us the only option we have available to set up a blind tasting is to go out and buy a couple of bottles and then have someone else pour them for us, giving us a 50/50 shot. Now yes this "home" blind tasting provides greater advantage but don't discount the worth of doing it, or how difficult it is in comparison to just drinking the wine you know. What I mean by a tasting having worth is that when you taste without biases; like brand or vintage or varietal it allows you to taste what's really in a wine.

I think we are most affected by the brand of a wine being a bias on our opinion of the wine. Certain big brands like Gallo and Jackson Triggs seem to always bring about an upturned nose, a look of "you may as well be drinking box wine." But in fact the reserve labels from these big name wineries will surprise you. However, it is so easy to allow the opinions of others to taint what you are really tasting without even realizing it, hence why going blind truly is the best.

Varietal is another bias we unwittingly allow to delegate to our brain what we are tasting. We hear Chardonnay is lemony so it is always lemony. When we have a taste note already in place in our mind it can prevent us from tasting anything else. Please don't misunderstand me though,  I think learning basic tasting notes are monumental to being able to talk about wine, and found them so helpful in my education thus far. However, it is still a bias.

A Vintage bias really can only affect upper level wine gurus, of which I do not count myself among them.  These few know which vintages were classified as great and which were classified as poor and then choose their wine based upon that. Making the assumption that although the wine may be great due to it being a bad year in that area it most likely is not great. A blind taste certainly can eliminate that bias too.

Now there are an even rarer type of wine expert out there that can name a vintage, along with varietal, the brand, and the region all from nothing more than a taste, and that astounds me, and is due to a gift that we do not all possess. You can blind taste all you want but you will never manage that unless it was predestined as a part of you. What will happen from doing an occasional blind taste is that you just may surprise yourself with what you like, and it will give you a better understanding of what wine tastes like in your mouth.  But if you are really up to challenging yourself and throwing away all biases get a blindfold and put a selection of expensive and cheap, red and white together and try it out. You will find that going blind really is the best.