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.