Wine & spirits: Blind tasting
it among a group of strangers? Let's find out.
How to set up a blind tasting
Setting up a wine tasting is as easy as organizing a party. All you need are some sealed bottles and a group of friends with open minds.
Keep it simple. Limit the number of tasters to a comfortable six or eight and the number of wines to, say, four to six reds, each from a different country. For example, you could include a Merlot from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, France and Italy. Remove all plastic or metal capsules and wrap each bottle in a brown paper bag to hide any clue as to its identity. Ask a guest to shuffle the bagged bottles and another guest to number each one. The wines are now ready for tasting, as no one knows which is which. Cover the table with white paper or a white tablecloth to make it easier to assess each wine's colour nuances. Arrange identical stemmed wineglasses at each place setting and number the bases with a grease pencil.
Provide each guest with a glass of water, a piece of paper and a pencil. Then pour a few ounces of each wine into its correspondingly numbered glass. Invite your guests to take a few minutes to inspect, smell and taste each wine, then to write down their first impressions. Does each wine look the same? Is one darker than the rest? Smell the wine. Is the wine's bouquet fruity, floral, vegetative, woody, nutty, earthy, spicy or chemical? If fruity, is it more like strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, cranberry, blackberry or black currant? Is the texture thick and mouth coating or squeaky clean and refreshing? Most important, do you like it? Finally, ask your guests to rank each wine from best to worst, and to take a guess at its origin. Once everyone is finished, the chatter begins!
BLIND TASTING is the practice of hiding a wine’s name, producer and price but providing some critical information, like grape variety, region of origin, vintage or all three. That allows tasters to judge typicity as well as quality.
A DOUBLE-BLIND TASTING is one in which absolutely nothing is revealed to the tasters. In extreme cases, even the glasses are black so the taster can’t tell if the wine poured is red, rosé or white. This is occasionally used in wine competitions and international judgings. With no information revealed, it’s the best way to judge wine quality and to find value for the price.
HORIZONTAL TASTING has nothing to do with the position of the tasters after they’ve finished drinking! Its focus is to assess wines produced in the same year or vintage. One might taste a group of white burgundies from 2002.
A VERTICAL TASTING is one in which all the wines are from the same producer but each wine is of a different vintage. An example might be wines from Château Latour from a dozen different years.
A COMPARATIVE TASTING provides a general theme, such as oaked versus unoaked Chardonnays, French Syrah compared with Australian shiraz, or Bordeaux 2001 versus Bordeaux 2003.
A PORTFOLIO TASTING, also called a trade tasting, is one in which all the wines are from a single producer. It’s commonly conducted by a winemaker showing off his or her latest releases to the media for review and to restaurant industry buyers to enable sales.
One other type of tasting is always fun, if not completely humbling. Everyone knows what the wines are but not the order in which they’re poured. The tasting is followed by a guessing game to determine who is the BEST TASTER in the group.