This is my first Monthly Wine Writing Challenge…
I don’t care how unbiased you can be, every wine drinkers, judges wine by its labels. Everyone wants to know what they are drinking. Comments and opinions, good and bad, will always be formed around the knowledge of the wine label, not for the wine itself. I appreciate the process of blind tasting. To have a glass of wine poured with its identity remains a mystery is rather exciting and intriguing. I look forward to every opportunity to taste wine blind and fortunately, I have a small group of wine friends who relish in this sort of wine appreciation. We blind our bottles every time (at least once a month) we meet for dinner.
So why do we make the pleasure of drinking wine so difficult? This added mystery forces one to take careful notes of the wine, prompts conversations, and most of all…fun. One will have to really observe the color of the wine to access age and vintage, take note of aromas to offer us clues on its nationality, and grape variety; and tune our palate for aromas confirmation and further clues such as vintage and terroir type. The best part about this mystery problem solving process is an insight into my friends’ taste and wine collection, helpful tool for future blind tasting sessions…SNEAKY!!
While taking notes of the wine, we are also talking out our assessment, bantering and teasing each other’s notes. Although it is a process of elimination through knowledge and experience, for most part, we are guessing and comparing our notes with each others during the conversation. The first question is usually to guess whether the wine is from the New or Old World, northern or southern hemisphere. But lately we stopped guessing the hemisphere because most of us seem to be sharing wines from the north, no offense to the south. Then, we guess the country or wine regions; follow by vintage and grape variety. All these while, we second guess each other and even ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I keep changing my answers. But over the years, I learnt that most of the time, my first impressions and assessments are usually the closest.
One of the best experiences I had of with blind tasting was with a bottle of very special Burgundy. We loved the colour because it was showing age at least 20 plus years in age from the hue intensity. But when we put our noses into our glasses, we cringed because it was CORKED. Damn! Despite of that we still wanted to figure it out. We guessed that it was a wine from the 80s, and definitely a Burgundy. But it was difficult to assess further and no amount of swirling was going to help. Because it was corked, we decided to reveal the bottle without further assessment, and some of us almost cried.
That’s the beauty in the process of blind tasting. We knew that if we knew what we were drinking, we will tried ways and means to redeem it despite the faults. For me, I could not take the third sip. My friend who brought the wine felt so bad about it. He was very sad about how this bottle turned out and got really worried about the remaining two bottles he has in his cellar. He called the next day to discuss the bottle and the best thing he said was if he has the ability to purchase it, he must have the ability to accept however way the bottle decided to present itself. This is part of the process of appreciating and collecting old wines.
All of us judge with our eyes; don’t even try to deny it. Several years ago, I was tasked to put together a mini Judgement of Paris dinner session for a wine society. It took several months to put together and I managed to find 5 pairings. Rose Champagne vs Sparkling Rose, White Burgundy vs Chardonnay, Red Burgundy vs Pinot Noir, Bordeaux Blend vs Bordeaux-inspired blend, and Sauterne vs a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc. All wines were served blinded. My perimeter for all 39 guests was not to write down which was French and Californian, but rather, which they preferred to drink. I thought the Californian wines were going to take a beating. But the comments I heard when the Rose Champagne and Sparkling Rose were served set the stage for the event. I heard comments such as “look at the bubbles, so fine and delicate, this is French” or “the rose hue on this glass so beautiful and elegant, this must be French” and so on. To cut the long story short, CALIFORNIA WINES WON BY LANDSLIDE. California took the Sparkling Rose, Chardonnay and Bordeaux-inspired blend. I remembered two of the wines, and they were Laurent Perrier NV Rose vs Schramsberg 2006 Brut Rose, and Chateau Troplong Mondot 1986 (mgn format) vs Stag’s Leap 1986 SLV. Most of the guests that attended the event collects and drinks (they still do) French. They were stunned that their palate actually prefer to drink Californian wine.
Could the fear of being betrayed by our palate prompt people to not like blind tasting, actually absolutely hate it. I have been drinking with another friend for several years and every time I suggest that we do a blind tasting, he will reject it passionately. He often quip that life is hard enough, why torture ourselves with wine. As I observe him over the years, I understand why he doesn’t like blind tasting. I learnt of a session where he was a guest and the host requested blind tasting. Instead of going through the process of guessing the bottles of wines, he went about commenting what he liked or didn’t like about them. Unfortunately, one of the bottles he commented negatively was the bottle he brought. Needless to say, he was unhappy. Till today, I still can’t convince him to give blind tasting another try.
Solving the mystery of the bottle at every whiff, sips and conversations can be exciting and pleasurable. For some people, particularly individuals who have extensive and expensive collection, it may be the fear commenting one’s own wine badly and knowing that you have another case in the cellar or may have paid a lot for them? I am not afraid that I will not recognize my wine, or get the identity of the bottle completely wrong, or worry that other people will think that I do not know what I am drinking or that my palate sucks. In fact blind tasting forces me to remember the wine better than simply drinking it. It pushes me to research and to learn more about the wines that I got wrong. That can’t be bad right?
I agree life is hard enough, that’s why I make the decision to have fun with wine.