Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blind Ambition

For someone who enjoys wine and who is not a professional taster, there is no more humbling experience than tasting wines blind and having to identify them. Unless you have that invaluable trait, an ability to laugh at yourself, it can be downright humiliating.

I have done blind tastings before, though usually with some context. For example, I once did a pinot noir tasting of wines from different countries and did OK, sort of. And, I did a tasting of cabernets vs. Bordeaux reds and was able to correctly identify two wines, including a Mouton Rothschild.

But, as I said, there was some context -- I knew we were tasting cab-based wines or pinot noirs from around the world. Kathy and I went to a charity winetasting on Saturday night, and every table of wines included a "mystery" bottle. Tasters were not necessarily expected to shout out identifications, but I took this as a personal challenge -- and failed miserably.

At one table, I tasted a very prune-like, raisiny full-bodied wine so I guessed I was tasting an Amarone -- it was a 2004 Bargeton Chateauneuf-du-pape. I didn't get any of the spicy earthiness I've noted in other Chateauneufs, but no sense grumbling about it.

At the next table, I struck out again, mistaking a delightfully fruity cab for a zinfandel. I just didn't notice the structure, cassis and cedar I expect from many cabs. But what kept me from having a good time at this table was the horrified expressions and groans of the pourer, who greeted my comments with thinly veiled incredulity. The 2002 Bennett Cabernet Reserve was nice, just not typically cab-like, Scheisskopf!

At the next table, we tasted several Chilean and Argentinian wines, and the mystery wine was also a Chilean -- I did not feel bad about not getting this one. To identify a wine you have to have tried it or something like it more than once. This mystery wine, a 2005 Inaki Reserve, a blended wine that leans heavily on malbec, was absolutely sensational, by the way. A terrific buy at $19.

I came closest to getting the next one right -- I actually thought I was tasting a zinfandel but changed my mind at the last minute when I thought I picked up a bit of black pepper. California syrah was my guess, but it was a Rosenblum zinfandel.

We finished up at a table featuring all Italian wines, so here, at last, was some context. I figured the mystery wine had to be a premium Italian, judging by the body and the earthiness. So I thought Barolo or Barbaresco. Wrong. It was an atypical Barbera, a Poggio Masarej Barbera. Now this was really tricky because the first wine on the table was a typically light, acidic Barbera. But this one was big -- I've blogged before about some of the muscular Barberas that are being made today. Terrific wines, but not what you would expect from Barbera unless you taste a lot of them. So, tasting a wine like this blind obviously is meant to be a fun eyeopener because it goes against type and can easily lead one astray.

So, after failing so miserably, does that mean I'd recommend avoiding blind tastings? Absolutely not. They can be fun and are almost always educational. But tasting blind with absolutely no context or guidance is the least meaningful kind of blind tasting. Heavy emphasis on the guesswork. But comparing wines blind of the same varietal or country of origin can teach you a lot. Just don't be cowed by an obnoxious pourer. Like Alex Trebek, they have all the answers and are irrelevent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there cousin ... I'm very impressed with your blogger. Good job ... and quite informative, too. One can never know too much about good wines.


6:20 PM  
Blogger JD said...

You got that right. Hope you're able to find some good things up there to help with those cold, snowy nights.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Blind tasting is humbling, but fun. And the more you do the better you get at it. We do most of our tastings blinded to remove the inevitable bias we all bring to various grapes, winemakers and regions. Cheers!

11:37 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Joe, good for you. I agree blind tastings are a great way to learn, and fun when everyone's in the same boat. But I learned some time ago from our little tasting group that most of them prefer not to go blind. I think many people feel intimidated and on edge, rather than relaxing and having fun. So our group seldom does blind tastings. I may have to convene a "special" group sometime of more adventurous tasters.

8:05 PM  

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