Looking to add a dash of entertainment to your next dinner party? Or maybe just explore the world of wine a little more? Consider blind tasting wine. It is great way to learn while having a lot of fun.
But how best to blind taste wine? The set up requires a little work, but it is well worth it! Begin by defining why you’re blind tasting. Is it to discover what wine you really like to drink , like which rose will be my “go-to” this summer? Is it to learn more about how vastly different wine can be (Pinot v. Cabernet v. Malbec)? Or do you want to be able to identify a region where the wine is grown such as New World v. Old World?
Then you need to do a bit of homework to select which wines to include in your blind tasting, which is easy if you have a trusted wine shop that can help you. Why? Because to make a tasting successful, you need to have some grip on the typical flavor profiles and the structural makeup of the wines (ie – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc). This basic knowledge enables you to select appropriate wines through which to explore your tasting topic. It also provides a benchmark to compare the wines in your tasting against what is typical for the varietal, region or producer. If getting guidance from a shop, take a few notes (or ask them to jot it down for you).
Professional blind tastings follow a general structure: 1) see the wine, 2) swirl it, 3) sniff it, 4) sip it and finally 5) spit it, 6) conclude (aka guess) what wine you just tasted. It helps to have a white tablecloth or background for Step 1. We have elaborated on each of these steps below. Know there are tasting grids that can help walk you through the steps as well.
So…without further ado, let’s get tasting!
Lift your glass and check the clarity of the wine. Wines can be somewhat opaque, slightly effervescence, or crystal clear. In regards to color, there is a spectrum for both red and white wines. To blind taste well, you should have a vocabulary relating to colors. For example, it is helpful to be able to notice and articulate when a wine is ruby red versus a garnet color. These colors can be clues to the varietal used to make the wine. As a rule of thumb, a more full bodied wine will have a darker color than a lighter bodied wine. Color can also offer clues about the age of a wine. Red wine loses color as it ages, while white wine picks up color.
Swirling the wine in your glass will release the esters and enhance the flavors you’ll be able to smell. This happens because swirling allows the wine to interact with the oxygen surrounding it. The aromas that are released will help you in with the next step…
Smell and taste are intrinsically linked. Because of this relationship, the aromas a wine emits can be just as important as the flavors you taste. Pay close attention to what fruit you smell. Is it red, blue, black, tropical, or melon-like? Do you smell anything that is not fruity-something herbal, vegetal or mineral? How about oak? Here’s where some basic knowledge of wine, or your notes, come into play…smelling tart apples and oak, for example, can give you a big clue as to what wine is in the glass. Scent can also help detect if a wine is spoiled. If you’re smelling damp cardboard or gym socks, there may be cork taint, which can render a wine undrinkable.
When you take a sip of the wine, you’re going to want swish it around your mouth to make sure it coats your entire palate. Sipping first helps you evaluate if the flavors on the palate match the nose of the wine. Do you taste the same fruit you smelled? Does the fruit taste ripe, dried, or stewed? The character of the fruit can give you hints about the growing climate. Stewed or baked fruit is often the result a hotter growing climate. The taste of the wine on your palate also provides the structural elements of a wine. See if you can taste sweetness, tannin, acid or alcohol. Does the wine feel light or heavy on your tongue? This is a clue to wine’s body. These structural elements will be huge clues to what varietal is in your glass. Articulating what you are tasting can be challenging, so we have provided the chart below to help find the right words.
What, spit the wine? While this is obviously a personal choice, in the wine industry it is very important to spit the wine. Getting a buzz is fun at home, but it can get in the way of deductive wine tasting, especially if you are tasting multiple wines.
The final step is to try to conclude what wine you just tasted. Combine your knowledge of what you saw, the flavors you have smelled and tasted, as well as the structural elements. Now, make your best guess as to what wine is in your glass!
Did you guess correctly? Don’t be dissuaded if you haven’t. Blind tasting is not easy. The best thing you can do is practice. Every time you have a sip of wine, make a mental note of what you see, smell and taste. This will build your skills and, most of all, enable you to enjoy your wine even more.
Interested in hosting your own blind tasting? We’d be happy to set it up for you. You can comment right back here on our blog, on Facebook, or let us know in store. We are excited to hear from you. We also deliver locally, to East Hampton, Amagansett, Sagaponack, Wainscott, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Montauk, Watermill, and Southampton.
—Pauline Fink, Staff