Why do we taste blind? Because, otherwise, we would cheat. Not just you, not just me and not only some of us. It’s just human nature to cheat, when it comes to blind tasting.
The great wine educator Kevin Zraly used to explain his methodology in blind tasting as this: either he would sneak into the kitchen to find the empty bottle from which the blind wine was poured or, if he couldn’t do that, he would decline participating, saying, “Oh, I already went into the kitchen and found the empty bottle.” Kevin’s stories are always funny, because they do more than ring of truth.
Why do we taste wine blind? Because it’s hard to taste wine blind and to be honest in doing so. Only by tasting blind can we be certain that we are honestly describing what’s in the glass. Otherwise, we’re describing what we THINK should be in the glass.
I can think of one really good example in my own recent past. I was tasting about thirty-five wines from the heralded 1987 vintage of California Cabernet with some friends. One friend knew that I had written something not too far removed from the following: “Clearly, I mean, clearly, anyone with a palate knows that Montelena produced the best Cabernet in 1987, I mean, that’s obvious!” Or some such blather.
In this tasting, I think it was wine number seventeen, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was saying rather unkind things about this particular wine, so my friend who had actually bagged and numbered the wines decided to offer me a length of rope. “Frost,” he said, “tell us what you think of wine seventeen.”
“Well, it’s typical of a tendency with California Cabernet, you know, green tannins, harsh, hard, the kind of wine that’s over-praised early in its life and doesn’t age well,” and as my friend began to pull Montelena out of the bag, I’m doing the moonwalk backwards. “BUT,” I attempt to interject, “clearly, the tannins are just covering great fruit. I mean, the fruit is overwhelmed NOW, but with a few more years, this wine will show its true greatness.” Blah blah blah.
We taste wine blind, because that’s the ONLY way to taste wine honestly. Even the so-called experts (I’m not sure you’ll buy into my inclusion in that group now), are simply hoping to be right more often that they’re wrong.
The process of blind tasting isn’t all risk and no reward. In fact, if you’re looking for bargains, blind tasting is the only way to go. Instead of expecting the most expensive wines to taste the best, a blind tasting will often reveal pleasant surprises.
Taste everything and pay attention to the wines you fall in love with; at least one or two of them is going to be a surprise. It doesn’t matter if the critics don’t agree. Who cares? They don’t have your palate, and they usually don’t have your budget either. Finding bargains is far more interesting for the rest of us than for those critics who receive more free samples in a month than their entire city block could consume in a year.
The rules are simple; if you like it, and you like the price, it’s a discovery.