A Beginner's Guide to Blind Tasting
Blind Tasting is a skill that can be taught. From the outside, this might look like a very intimidating process for a beginner. However, having a sensitive palette is only one part of the craft.
Despite its name, there are actually three elements that are factored into blind tasting that will aid you in your final conclusion; sight, smell, and taste. While, of course, you are going to want to familiarize yourself with various smells and tastes, what’s more important to know is which smells are associated with which wines. Are you picking up on something vegetal in your acidic white wine? It’s probably a Sauvignon Blanc. Or maybe you smell bell pepper in a full-bodied red. You’re most likely drinking a Cab.
Here’s how you’ll want to navigate your way through your blind tasting, from initial sight to final conclusion:
With your mystery wine in front of you, the first step is evaluating it by sight. What about it sticks out to you? Is it light in color? Dark? Is it clear or hazy? If it’s a white wine, is the color yellow, translucent, or somewhere in between?
Tip your glass at a 45-degree angle, and slowly move the glass counterclockwise. If it’s a red wine, is the color staining the glass, or disappearing immediately? All of these observations will guide you in determining what the varietal is (and more importantly, help you eliminate what it isn’t). For a complete chart on what to look for in this first step, check out the court of master sommelier’s deductive tasting format.
The next, and perhaps my favorite, step in the blind tasting process is the smell portion. First and foremost, you’ll want to determine if it smells clean (a common “faulty” smell can be vinegar), how intense the smell is (can you smell it from a mile away, or do you really need to stick your nose in the glass), which fruits you’re picking up on, and what condition they are in (fresh pineapple, over-ripe apple, and jammy black cherry are all examples of scents you could pick up on in various wines).
Of course, none of these fruits can actually be found in a traditional wine, but are a result of different stages of the winemaking process. Try to pick out two to three different fruits and their condition when evaluating the smell of the wine.
After you determine the fruit, the possibilities are endless. Spend some time on this part and really try to isolate different scents. The options run the gamut when it comes to “non-fruits” and you could potentially pick up on anything from flowers, to petrol, to mushrooms, to even cat pee (which, surprisingly, might not be a bad thing).
All of the smells that you pick up on in this single wine will help you make your final decision. Plus, it’s fun. The more you practice smelling wine, the more exciting it becomes. There’s nothing like pouring yourself a nice glass of Pinot Noir and picking up on unique scents like crushed black pepper and dried leaves.
Now comes the fun part. Give it a taste! You might have seen some fancy winemakers or sommeliers gurgle and spit out the wine, but that’s not really necessary. However, you might want to give it a little swirl in your mouth to get a feel for it. All of your taste buds play a critical role in determining the kind of wine you’re having.
Sweetness is the first thing that your tongue can sense, so if your wine is sweet (meaning it has residual sugar in it), you’ll taste that on the tip of your tongue. If the wine is acidic, you’ll be able to sense that on the side of your mouth (are you puckering your mouth as if you’ve just sipped lemon juice? That wine will be high in acid). If your wine is bitter (think of how black tea or coffee tastes), you’ll taste that in the middle of your tongue. Tannins, often only found in red wine, is similar to bitterness but is more of a sensation that is felt rather than tasted (I know, this confuses me too).
Finally, if your wine is high in alcohol, you’ll feel that in the back of your throat. Think about the heat you feel when you take a shot of whiskey or tequila. A wine with a higher alcohol content will have more heat when you swallow.
Keep At It
The only way to get better at blind tasting is to practice. It might be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun (and a great way to impress your friends).
Have questions on the blind tasting process? Shoot me a message and we’ll chat!