When tasting the wine, there is a lot of factors which will affect the perceived taste ( like/don’t like). Some of those factors are objective, like temperature (chill the wine, and some flaws will disappear), some of the factors are rather subjective, like your mood. I want to talk about another factor which is hard to categorize, but it can greatly affect what we think about the wine. It is one and the same factor which comes in many forms – label, producer, cost, rating, and wine critic in the end of the day. Of course there are exception to this rule, there are best of us who can simply disregard all the known facts, and simply taste the wine for what it is. However, majority of us (myself definitely included), will be influenced by what we know. Ah, Robert Parker rated this wine 93, it must be really great… This bottle of wine cost $100 – it must be great…
Well, there is a good way to eliminate this factor – it is called blind tasting. Considering this is summer, we decided to try a lighter red grape in the blind tasting format – so we chose Pinot Noir. Great thing about Pinot Noir is that it is grown in many different regions, and while the grape is the same, the wines from the different places will taste quite differently.
How do you run a blind wine tasting? Very easily. Each person brings a wine bottle in the paper bag and then opens it. All the bags are assigned random numbers. Then the wines get poured into the glasses which are standing on the mat with the numbers. Voila! Now all the wines can be tasted and independently assessed – no intimidation by any of the factors we mentioned above – in the glass they all look [almost] the same (oh, boy, I can be bitten up by professionals for such a lame claim, but oh well…).
We had 6 Pinot Noirs and went through them one by one, assessing color, smell and taste of each, exchanging thoughts ( like “I think this is California” or “I can’t smell anything”), but not enforcing opinions. Here are my short notes as we went along (you can actually see the picture of all 6 wines and then see how funny my notes are):
#2: New World, California, 2007/2008?(Actual Wine: Sea Smoke Southing 2007, Sta. Rita Hills, California)
#3: Not bad, needs time, Chile? (Actual wine: J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir 2007, Arroyo Seco, California)
#4: Bright acidity, fresh fruit, Oregon? (Actual wine: Terra Noble Pinot Noir Reserva, 2009, Casablanca Valley, Chile)
#5: Classic – perfect smoky nose (Actual wine: Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2008, South Africa)
#6: Young and reminding of Monastrell. Very nice (Actual wine: Wine by Joe Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon)
Once we tried all 6 wines, it was the time to tally it up and proclaim the winner, after which all the wines were revealed out of their bags. I would think that considering the title of the post, you already guessed that something unusual is coming. True, though for me it was way too unusual. So the two winning wines were tied up – #3 and #5, both got the same number of votes. I can understand the wine #3, J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir from Monterey county, California. California is known as the place for Pinot Noirs, especially with the help of movie Sideways. But the wine #5, which I thought had all the traits of the classic Burgundy – please tell me honestly, how many of you heard of ( never mind trying) Pinot Noir from South Africa?! Of course there are great wines from South Africa – Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, but Pinot Noir? And nevertheless, wine #5 was Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa.
So here you have it – blind wine tasting, which removes all the intimidation and decision influencers, and leaves you one on one with the wine in the pure and honest fashion. No hints “oh, that should be good because…”, no pretension. Of course there can be flaps. Wine #1 was spoiled (probably oxidation), so it should really be excused from the judgment. At the same time, wine #2, Sea Smoke Southing, would probably be decided a winner, simply because it is a cult Pinot, and it cost $80+ – if you can find it. And yet in the blind setting, it didn’t generate much response. Of course there is always a happy chance that none of us has sophisticated palate – but in the end of the day, the definition of the “best wine” is simple – it is the one which YOU consider the best, so I think we shouldn’t worry about it.
To conclude – get your friends together and try blind tasting one day – you might be surprised, but you will not be disappointed! Drink the wine, and have fun doing that .
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