Wine tastings are all about TASTING and EXPERIENCING the wine. During a tasting, you do your best to turn off the outside world and focus on what’s in your glass – the look, the smell, the taste and the feel. But when preconceived notions intervene, you might narrow your focus and look only for the characteristics you like or dislike in a particular type of wine. During blind wine tastings, your preconceived notions can’t play a role, so you get to truly EXPERIENCE everything that’s going on in your glass.
In a normal tasting, when a Zinfandel is being tasted, participants who don’t like Zinfandel will look for the characteristics in the wine that validate their dislike of Zinfandel.
In a blind tasting, you get to explore each wine in a much less prejudicial way. You start by looking at the color. You note that the wine you are trying has a beautiful ruby color. You smell the wine and find aromas of blackberry, raspberry and spice. You taste the wine and observe tastes that line up with the aromas. You also taste black licorice and a hint of pepper. You then observe the wine’s finish, along with other characteristics such as tannin, acidity, alcohol level and sweetness. You take a very Zen-like approach, making objective observations about everything you experience without adding a lot of judgment.
When I lead wine tastings, I notice that it takes much longer for people to judge the wine during blind tastings than during normal tastings. People open mindedly take in as much of the wine experience as they can before judging it. The feedback about the experience is always very positive. And when people are surprised to find they like a wine that they don’t normally like, they see how important it is to set aside their preconceived notions when tasting wine.
For a blind tasting, put each wine into a brown bag and put a letter on each bag – A, B, C, etc. If you put numbers on the bags, people are likely to get confused if they use a numbering system to rank or rate the wines they try.
Approaches to blind wine tastings
I’ve participated in a number of blind wine tastings over the years and wanted to share the different approaches that I thought were really fun and effective:
Taste five or six different varieties (e.g., Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). As you taste each one, explore the look, the smell, the taste, the feel, the acidity, the tannin, the sweetness, the dryness, the finish, etc. At the end of each tasting, have people guess what they’re tasting and then unveil the bottle.
Different price points
Compare Cabernet Sauvignons (or another type of wine) with different price points – $5, $10, $20, $40 and $60. Have people talk about the look, smell, taste, feel ,etc., and then have people rank them from favorite to least favorite. See if people’s tastes align with price points.
Compare Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, France and the United States and Syrahs from France, Australia and the United States. Let people know the country choices and have them try to identify which wine corresponds to which country. To make it easier, provide typical characteristics of each regional wine.
Taste six different red wines (A-F) and have descriptions of each (1-6). Have people match each wine to each description, and give a prize for the person who gets the most right.
One of these things is not like the other
Taste three Merlots and one Syrah and have people guess which wine doesn’t belong and why. Taste three Sauvignon Blancs and one Chardonnay and do the same.
Remember that all of these ideas for blind wine tastings are meant to produce fun learning experiences. They’re not meant to be serious tests. So get ready to have some fun!
I would love to hear what experiences you’ve had with blind tastings. Please share them with us here. Thanks!