My friend Rob Frisch and I are in it to win it when it comes to blind-tasting wine … but who will actually win it? “Name That Wine” is our new YouTube series where we get other people to buy wine for us and we dare each other to figure out what it is in a matter of minutes. We see, we sniff, we swirl, we sip and then the deduction process commences!
How to Blind Taste
I love blind tasting, because it tests my powers of deduction (and I’m a competitive person by nature!) I can’t tell you how many blind tasting competitions I participated in at work and not only is it hard, but it’s also hilarious. Because when you’re sure the wine you’re tasting is a Carricante from Sicily (a lovely, dry white wine that has a certain acidic edge) and someone else swears to God it is Chardonnay from Burgundy, you get into it, if you know what mean!
The first thing I do is look at the wine in the glass, preferably against a white tablecloth or even a piece of paper. Lighter red could indicate Pinot Noir, deep, dark ruby could mean Sangiovese or a red blend from the Canary Islands. A little ombre shading at the edges of the wine means there’s some age on it. Big, slow-dripping “legs” mean higher-alcohol – so maybe it’s a Zinfandel or an Australian Shiraz.
Then I stick my nose in the glass and go through my “mental tasting wheel:” fruits, herbs, spices, nuts, cocoa, vanilla – pretty much the contents of my kitchen cupboard — vegetables (green or red pepper) or other plants (grass or hay); then I go further – dried fruit? Fruit peel? Roasted fruit? Candied fruit? Roasted red pepper or fresh?
Then I taste and let the wine roll over my tongue and the sides of my mouth. I notice what I taste on the tip of my tongue versus the back of my tongue. First I try to determine if it is Old World – Europe – or New World – basically everywhere else (U.S., South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa). Old World wines tend to be leaner, less fruit-forward, maybe slightly less alcohol content than New World wines.
Like people, certain grapes and varietals also have personalities! I know that Pinot Noir is always going to have an earthy nose, like dried fall leaves on the ground. And there are going to be cherries on the nose, too. I know that Merlot also bring red fruit, like cherries or red plums.
If you study and taste enough, you start to eliminate certain varietals or regions, narrowing it down to a few possible varietals or regions and then you have to trust your gut, and give it your best shot!
Even the best sommeliers, even Masters of Wine find it difficult to blind-taste with any sort of consistant accuracy. But you should try it! Because even if your answer is wildly off – and chances are good it will be — you do still have a glass of wine in your hand!