Our 40th Anniversary Sommeliers Tell Us the Secrets to Leading a Blind Tasting at Home
On our #WilsonDaniels40 Anniversary Tour, we had guests meet with our amazing winery partners, but we also had a special treat: blind tastings with our sommelier friends. But because we know not everyone could make it out on the tour, we did you one better. Here, we chatted with 3 of them—Adam Toon, Sommelier and Republic National Distributing Company Sales Representative, Fernando Beteta, Master Sommelier and Director of Education for Tenzing Wine and Spirits, and William Davis, Advanced Sommelier and Wilson Daniels Mountain States Regional Manager—to figure out the best way to do a blind tasting at home.
“The biggest opportunity with blind tasting at home is in the ability to determine what you actually like to drink. I always tell people to drink what makes them happy, but be willing to try new things,” says Toon.
“The fun thing about doing a blind tasting at home is that it is at your own pace and comfort,” adds Davis. “The pursuit of wine education alone can be daunting, so a relaxed setting as you delve into a regimen like this can help.”
The Number One Thing to Remember When Setting Up a Blind Tasting
“I would say to use classic examples,” says Beteta. “Don’t blind taste weird or obscure wines that will only give you incorrect conclusions.”
Toon agrees. “To have real success in developing the ability to deduce a classic wine you need to know the classics. I would suggest making friends with a sommelier or your local independent wine merchant and asking them to help pick some wines for you to get started. If you communicate what you want to do and a budget you’re well on your way to success.”
Davis says to keep in mind that it’s about progress, not perfection. “Look at it like playing Guitar Hero. As a novice, it takes time to have your left and right side of your brain adjust to the timing of your fingers strumming notes to the screen. Blind tasting is similar, because you are reconciling organoleptic identifiers—your sense of taste, touch by way of tactile, and smell—all while you are building a rolodex of styles of wine from around the world. The rolodex is your ‘theory’, or left side; your taste, your right.”
What You Should Have on Hand
You’ll need the wines, obviously. But after that, the formatting is a bit up to you. You’ll need something to hide the bottles—Davis recommends long tube socks which are “a heck of a lot cheaper than those premade bottle covers, and work just as well in hiding the label, capsule, and bottle shape.” No socks or paper bags? Aluminum foil works in a pinch, says Davis. You’ll need clean glasses, preferably with something to mark them like a tasting mat to place them on top of or some other sort of way to designate which wine is in what glass. Spit cups and purified water are also big ones. Lastly, Toon recommends to go with a well-lit room with “as little distractions as possible so you can focus your attention on the wines.”
Should You Stick to One Type of Wine or Region?
“When starting out, I like focusing on one grape variety, region, or production method,” recommends Davis. “This allows for a greater focus and understanding of, say, Chardonnay from around the world, or drilling down to a specific area like Chablis. Even professional tasters go back to this way of tasting, because you are able to notice nuance and context in quality between producers.”
Toon agrees. “It’s important to compare groups of wines against themselves. For example, Chardonnay from Around the World, Aromatic Whites, or Red Wines of Piedmonte would all be good options,” he says.
What’s One Thing Someone Might Forget?
“Taste the wines first!” emphasizes Beteta. “Sometimes people share a corked wine or flawed, non-classic style. It’s important to vet it.”
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Beteta recommends starting with a small group at first, since it’s easier to navigate. “Less is more,” he says. “A good group size is four to eight people. Too many people, you and you’ll have less time to talk, and need more glasses. Each person should have at least two glasses, but four is best to compare.”
“Blind tasting is exercise,” says Davis. “Much like working out, you can hit plateaus. You can, at times, feel that you are losing ground, and often compare your progress to friends and colleagues. However, not exercising is more detrimental to your health. So, have fun, keep an open mind, get wines that make sense for your blinds (the goal isn’t to trick people), take physical and mental notes of the wines you taste, and trust the journey.”
Toon echoes that sentiment, and reminds us that they key is having fun. “I think the biggest thing people could forget would be to relax and have fun. The purpose of the exercise is to learn and when you’re developing a new skill you’re going to be wrong…a lot,” says Toon.
And there you have it. Have fun, drink wine, and do it with others to gain more insight and add to your wine knowledge. Cheers!
June 7, 2018