On Friday night, I got the opportunity to do something I’m super passionate about- teach a blind wine tasting seminar! When I was a student at the University of Edinburgh, I was part of their Wine Society, which had a competitive blind wine tasting team. I know what you’re thinking “Har, har, we had a wine tasting team as well, it was called ALL OF COLLEGE.” And that’s fair. However, since the drinking age is 18 in the United Kingdom, universities have organized societies around alcohol where they focus on the appreciation of wine and other beverages.
Uncorked and On Tap is an annual event at the Rochester Museum and Science Center to help raise money for the museum by bringing together local food, wine and craft beer vendors. Guests get to sample a diverse range of local eats and drinks, and also get to learn a little! It is a science museum after all. I was very excited to come on board for this event to lead a blind wine tasting seminar for VIPs.
We started our seminar with an introduction to blind wine tasting, reasons behind why it is a fun skill to learn, and then how to go about the process of identifying a wine when you don’t know anything about it!
What is Blind Wine Tasting?
Blind wine tasting is when you try a wine without prior knowledge about the grapes, wineries, price, or other factors. There are many reasons one would taste a wine in this fashion, but the most common are:
- Judges who are assessing wine solely based on its qualities of sight, smell and taste, rather than price, prestige, etc.
- Sommeliers who are working on their tasting abilities, or honing their skills
- Competitive teams that blind wine taste against one another to see which can correctly guess more attributes of the wine
Why Learn to Blind Wine Taste?
Given that the primary uses of this technique are more professional, why would one want to learn how to do this when you’re not going to be involved with wine professionally? Well, there are loads of good reasons!
Blind wine tasting helps you get beyond your preconceptions of wine and opens you up to new experiences. Maybe you think Riesling is too sweet? Maybe you dislike jammy Pinot Noirs? By blind tasting, you get to see the wide range of ways that a single grape can be made into different styles of wine, like bone dry Rieslings and refined Pinot Noirs.
Also, it’s fun to test out your skills identifying wine! Maybe you drink Chardonnay every time you go out to eat- could you tell the difference between a Chardonnay and an oak fermented Sauvignon Blanc? It is a great way to hone your own skills and unravel a delicious puzzle (did I also mention that its been shown that trying to pick apart the flavors of red wine can be beneficial to your brain activity!!)
After the participants learned a little about what blind tasting is and why it can be helpful to learn how to taste wine, they got the opportunity to test their own skills. Each guest was given two wine glasses filled with white wine, a pencil, and a handy blind tasting sheet.
In a real blind wine tasting, you write up your own tasting note without any prompts, writing down color, aroma, mouthfeel, flavor, and other characteristics. For this tasting, I gave participants a selection of options that they could pick from, circling whether they thought the wine was more yellow-green or gold-yellow in color, whether acidity, alcohol, and mouthfeel were low, medium or high, and a selection of aromas they may get like pear, apple, citrus, melon, pineapple, peach and more.
At the bottom of the sheet were the general descriptions for four white wines: Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. Based on their selections for the two wines, they picked which of these four they thought it was.
Results and Discussion
The wine I used for the tasting was Hermann J. Weimer’s 2014 Chardonnay (#1) and 2014 Dry Riesling (#2).
It was fascinating to see how participants guessed. While about half were able to identify the Chardonnay, most likely because its the only one with oak and it is one of the more recognizable wines, very few guessed the Dry Riesling. When chatting with guests about this, the Sauvignon Blanc was the option that most picked for #2, and the reason they did, was because they thought that Riesling couldn’t be dry. So when they didn’t get sweetness from the wine, they ruled out Riesling, despite the tasting sheets making it clear that the Riesling in question was a dry one. It was an interesting moment demonstrating how blind wine tasting can change your preconceptions about wine and open your eyes.
Interested in Hosting a Blind Wine Tasting?
If you want to host a blind wine tasting at home, it’s simple! Just pick out a few wines, print out some tasting sheets for friends to use, cover the wines so no one cheats, and have fun.
Want to host one at an event? I’m available for parties! Seriously. I would be happy to host your blind wine tasting, and share the science and method behind learning this skill in a fun and interactive way.