Why I hate blind tasting

Photo by Osarugue Igbinoba on Unsplash

In a nutshell: because sometimes it should be about more than just the wine.

As I get older and more conscious of where and how I spend my money, I've found a growing need to 'like' the producer. I've fully admitted, numerous times, that I am a magpie who mostly purchases wines based on their labels. With the amount of wine available to us, and the amount of very good wine available, it's now easier than ever to subdivide one's wine habit based on one's fundamental beliefs.

Let's start with the pros of blinding:

Shall we set the scene? White tablecloths upon which 2-6 polished glasses lie before you. If you're lucky, there are an array of colours in the glasses. But let's face it, there's a high likelihood that the colours are identical. Spittoon placed within reach of your dominant hand. Notebook and pen at the ready. An invisible internal clock that's set to exam conditions.

Blinding is essential practice when deducing wines is part of your lifestyle. Whether it's for:

• study purposes and nailing an impending tasting exam

• staying sharp for wine judging purposes

• remaining neutral for educated and informed wine writing

• even the casual wine drinker can benefit from eliminating bias to gauge the quality level, and thus value, of the wine

It's a very useful tool to have in your wine arsenal. And a pretty damned good party trick too...at both novice and professional levels!

But herewith the negatives of blinding:

Let's elaborate on the scene we've just set. A number of people in the room - because it's better to share the costs of a 6 bottle flight. Rustling and distraction...and the confident competitive taster who starts chatting before your internal clock dings 'time'. The pressure of performing in front of others. The pressure of performing. A possibly unfamiliar surrounding with less than ideal lighting and glasses that are not your own. A flight that doesn't show the typicity of the examinable wines that you're required to know.

For some, they thrive on this competitive environment (whether they're competing against others in the room, or just testing themselves). But for me:

• I miss the story behind the producer and the reason why they made the wine,

• the label that's often carefully designed to enhance the wine or help tell its story,

• the anticipation and pondering about whether the wine will live up to the story,

• and, in a typical blinding scenario where the pace can move quickly, the opportunity to immerse yourself in better understanding the grape, style and region...the opportunity to learn.

Blind tasting is tasting, but it is not experiencing the wine:

Perhaps it's because my day job is so closely related to marketing. But, think about it, how often do we remember wine tasting better at the wine farm/winery? It's because the wine farm gives you the full experience:

• the little bit of research that you did when choosing to visit that specific farm,

• the anticipation of seeing and tasting the wines while you're en route

• the delight/relief as one enters the winelands

• the delight of driving through the winery gates to South Africa's inevitably picturesque wine farms

• the (hopefully) warmth with which you're greeted by the host

• the tinkle as your glasses are filled

• and finally, the story being told that, along with the views and setting, immerses you in the wine tasting experience

To my non wine student friends:

Don't get hung up on the seemingly magician-like mentalist skills of blind tasters. It is incredible to watch, and these skilled tasters should be admired for the breadth of knowledge that they've acquired, as well as the practice they've put in, to be able to successfully deduce what is in their glasses. There is certainly a thrill in testing one's metal...and absolute boasting rights when one is correct. Please do give it a try - knowing full well that it requires theory knowledge and having tasted a wide range of wines. It's a great way to learn and to understand the quality/monetary value of a wine. But it's not why the wine was made. It's not what the winemaker intended for their wine. It is not experiencing the wine.

To my wine student friends:

Hah, you chose your bed! But seriously - you know that you need to do it. I can guarantee that you are a stronger taster than I will ever be. For what it's worth, I don't hate blind tasting...it's just a very small fraction of what I enjoy about wine. Taking photos on my dining room table gives me more joy. The chore of recycling is more enjoyable because I get to smash glass.

I have no secret tips other than to keep tasting mindfully - and to remember to also taste sighted...it's easier to learn when your eyes are wide open.

The truth is that I'm happy enough with the way I blind - especially after overcoming my tasting exam failures. The best tasting advice that I've ever received is to first read about what to expect from wine. Only then proceed to try and identify those elements in the glass. If you struggle to separate Pinot Noir from Grenache or Gamay...pour them in a flight together and focus on the differences (and similarities that could trip you up). If you can't tell Cabernet Franc from Carménère...welcome to the club! Hone in on your weaknesses. If Chard is your vibe...then don't waste your palate and money on re-tasting this. But also hear this:

• you probably already know what the grape variety is...don't second guess yourself if your educated intuition says Pinot Gris

• you've been studying hard to learn about the wine regions and their major grapes...take the time to consider the most likely candidates

• you do not need to get the grape/region/vintage correct...the majority of the points come from your assessment of the wine (colour, aromas, sweetness, acidity, body, alcohol, tannins, finish, most likely winemaking techniques).

Yo, if I can call a Pinot Nero correctly in a blind, so can you!

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