I've been doing blind tastings for 20 years and have only made a fool of myself a handful of times. That's a fine average for any wine lover. Tasting blind isn't for the faint of heart—it's wine tasting without a net—but it keeps you honest and, with any luck, a bit humble.
Did I mention that it's potentially a whole lot of fun too? Because there are really two kinds of blind tasting—professional and social.
Professional would be the sort of system we use at Wine Spectator. We follow a strict set of guidelines backed by studies that have shown that a taster's judgment is strongly influenced by label and price. We try to remove potential bias by using what the industry calls "single-blind" tastings. A taster knows a few details about the wines—the region, vintage and the main grape—but nothing else. We review and rate more than 15,000 wines a year this way.
You'll find those who will argue against blind tasting. The usual complaint is that it isn't fair to judge some wines without the proper context. How can you judge an old-style, tannic and earthy Barolo, they'll argue, without knowing the track record of the producer? There is a grain of truth in that argument, but there's also a lot of covering your ass. It's like saying you can't understand the complexities of a math problem without looking at the answer first.
I cut my blind-tasting teeth on California wine and still remember my first time in Bordeaux at the annual en primeur barrel tastings of the new vintage. It was 1999, a cool and rainy year for Bordeaux, very un-California, but somehow I made the adjustment. That's what experienced tasters do.
Social blind tastings are another thing altogether. If you're young or new to wine, there's really not a better or cheaper way to learn about wine.
It's simple. Invite a few friends over and set a theme: Cabernet Sauvignon perhaps, or Chardonnays under $25 or Côtes du Rhône. Have each person bring a bottle in a brown bag and there you have it. Maybe you simply taste them and unveil the wines and talk about them, or you could rank them on a scale and pick an overall favorite. It's up to you, but a little competition and drama can add to the evening.
The important thing is that you learn to taste wines with limited bias and you better understand the wines you like, and why. Enjoying wine is what it's all about.
What are your experiences with blind wine tastings? What have you learned about wine and yourself?
Stewart Lancaster — beaver,pa — September 21, 2011 11:30am ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — September 21, 2011 1:05pm ET
Brian Gritt — Charlotte, NC — September 21, 2011 1:57pm ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — September 21, 2011 3:12pm ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — September 21, 2011 5:23pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — September 21, 2011 6:00pm ET
Mike Officer — Santa Rosa, CA — September 21, 2011 6:51pm ET
Walt Rooney — Seattle, Washington — September 21, 2011 9:18pm ET
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — September 21, 2011 9:31pm ET
Daniel Sherer — Healdsburg, CA, USA — September 22, 2011 9:53am ET
Eric Swanson — Westlake — September 22, 2011 10:16am ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — September 22, 2011 11:06am ET
Mark — Colorado — September 22, 2011 6:48pm ET
Jonathan Lawrence — somewhere in the world — September 23, 2011 9:23am ET
David Williams — Carlsbad, CA — September 23, 2011 7:25pm ET
Ron Christner — New Orleans Louisiana, USA — September 27, 2011 4:30pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — September 27, 2011 5:42pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — September 28, 2011 12:25am ET
Ed Gilmore — Corona, CA — September 29, 2011 1:11am ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — September 29, 2011 9:59am ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — September 29, 2011 10:04am ET
Matt Anders — New jersey — October 14, 2011 12:46pm ET
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