Blind Tasting Wine

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Blind Tasting Wine

In its simplest terms, blinded wine tasting is wine tasting undertaken in circumstances in which the tasters are kept unaware of the wines’ identities. 

For the Court of Master Sommeliers a tasting technique called ‘deductive tasting’ is utilized. With this advanced method you learn to identify grape varietals, country, region, appellation, and vintage of the tasted wine.

Deductive tasting can be broken down into four different criteria: sight, nose, palate, and conclusion.

This will be a three part blog written with great assistance from the Court of Master Sommeliers handbook and Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser. Today we focus on the introduction and the first criteria of sight.

When participating in a blind tasting you begin by having the proper setting with natural or incandescent light, not fluorescent, and a white sheet of paper to view the wines against. A clear egg-shaped glass with tapered bowl is necessary. Avoid wearing colognes/perfumes or being in a place with strong aromas as these will affect your sense of smell. Be prepared to spit so as not to get drunk, but also to properly analyze a wine. You learn a lot about a wine and how it changes and finishes after spitting it out. 
A quick inspection of a glass of wine can reveal a good deal of information concerning a wine’s age, cellaring conditions, methods of vinification, and even a strong hint as to its identity. If the wine is clear odds are it’s been filtered. The purpose for filtering wine is two-fold: it renders the wine clear and bright; and it also removes unwanted microbes and residual yeasts which could cause the wine to re-ferment in the bottle or spoil.

Brightness is the potential of a wine to reflect light. The brightness scale is as follows: 
            Cloudy – Hazy – Dull – Bright – Day Bright – Star Bright – Brilliant
A cloudy or hazy wine usually means one of two things: the wine is either unfiltered or flawed. The difference between bright, day bright and star bright lies in just how much light is reflected in the wine.  A brilliant wine is unmistakable.  Usually a wine that earns the brilliant designation is a very pale, almost watery colored, white wine that’s been in the bottle for less than a year such as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Red wines are rarely, if ever, brilliant because the intensity and pigmentation of color precludes the reflection of much. 

Color, more than anything, speaks to the age and condition of a wine.  The general rule of color and wine is that a white wine deepens in color as it ages while a red wine loses color, gets lighter, as it ages.  Here are the color scales for wines: 

White wines:  Straw – Yellow – Gold – Brown
Pink Wines:  Pink – Salmon – Brown
Red Wines:  Purple – Ruby (red) – Garnet (brown or yellow)  – Brown

Rim variation is a function of the color of an older wine. With older red wines you might have noticed the gradations of color in the glass. The wine at the center of the glass is much deeper in color than the wine at the rim, or meniscus, of the glass with any number of different gradations of color in between. While rim variation can be easily found in red wines of any age white wines only display it after considerable age. With red wines, the older the wine, the more variation in color. 

Lastly, when you swirl the glass and hold it up to observe you can learn two things, the level of alcohol and the presence of residual sugar in the wine. You will see the tears or legs. Thinner and quicker moving tears indicate a light to medium body wine with lower alcohol or lacking residual sugar. Thicker tears that move slowly and leave a color stain indicate a full bodied wine with higher alcohol or residual sugar, or both.


Bryant Roth

Wine Buyer