Most people avoid blind tasting like the plague, and trust me when I say that I understand completely. The fear of failing in front of your peers and of possible ridicule can keep even the most knowledgeable wine drinker away from a blind tasting.
However, the fact is that blind tasting is a skill like any other, and one that needs to be fine-tuned in order to excel at. You can be the most knowledgeable wine lover anyone knows and still call blind wines wrong over and over again. It’s only with practice of drinking wine blind that you begin to really understand it. And what’s more, if the group you’re blind tasting with reacts with anything other than playful humor and coaching each other for future success—then you are simply with the wrong group of people. You don’t need people like that.
In the end, blind tasting is something that should be fun, and there’s nothing like getting a group of friends together to spend an evening tasting great wine. For me, it’s the unveiling that provides the biggest kick, especially when the group is split over what will be pulled from the bag. Each failure is nothing more than a learning experience, and each success feels like a great accomplishment.
Looking back at your notes when the wines are unveiled provides amazing insights into your own preferences, preconceptions, and palate. What’s more, how the expression of a grape can change so much from being planted in California versus France, aged in oak or not, and even down to the details of diversity of soils.
Start small, pick a grape, and have everyone bring their favorite bottle or pick a region. In the end, you’ll be calling wines correctly before you know it. It really does come quick. However, don’t be surprised when you get something wrong, even years into blind tasting. Sometimes, the universe just doesn’t behave the way we expect it to.
Below is the recounting of a recent blind tasting that I enjoyed with a group of friends. And even though these were some pretty serious wines, the evening never felt like anything more than a bunch of wine lovers having a really great time. What’s even more interesting was how some of these wines confused the entire group.
On to the notes:
Bravo to blind tasting, and a group that not only called this an Amarone-style wine about 15-20 years on it, but also called it Quintarelli. Unveilings like this are what make blind tasting so much fun.
1996 Giuseppe Quintarelli Rosso del Bepi Veneto IGT – Served blind, and what a result, as half of our table guessed it was Quintarelli (but not quite Amarone). The nose was gorgeous and luxurious yet with that finesse and sweet floral spice that only Quintarelli seems to be able to achieve. Spiced cherry, undergrowth, crushed flowers; exotic spice, raw beef and sweet herbs all came together to form a bouquet that was truly seductive. On the palate, it was fleshy–BIG–yet perfectly balanced, displaying ripe cherry, confectionary spice, inner floral and earth tones. It finished on a mix of dried fruits and spice, lacking only on an expected note of dark chocolate. It was long and satisfying in every way. (94 points)
We knew is was Bordeaux, but what we didn’t realize was that it was over 30 years old. What an amazing expression of perfect maturity. If memory serves, the bottle was purchased upon release and stayed in one cellar its entire life.
1982 Château L’Evangile – The ’82 L’Evangile was in beautiful form and perfectly mature. The nose showed an inviting mix of dried cherry, plum, blueberry, dried flowers, dusty minerals and graphite. It was feminine, seeming to hover on the palate, displaying completely resolved tannin with dried red fruits, hints of spice, earth and pepper. The finish displayed a mix of dried fruits, smoke and savory spice. This is in a perfect place today, and I can’t see it getting any better. (95 points)
For most tasters, the L’Evangile was the wine of the night; but for me, this was it. I did go back and forth between Bordeaux and a high-end California Bordeaux blend from the eighties (from a time when California was trying to compete with Bordeaux, and not vice-versa).
1985 Château Haut-Brion – Descriptors are almost meaningless on the ’85 Haut Brion, as the wine was nearly perfect. The nose was dark and rich, showing red and blackberry fruits, smoke, animal musk, minerals and a distinct note of menthol. On the palate, it was like silk drawn across your senses, and it was perfectly balanced with rich dark fruit, inner floral tones, and pronounced saline-minerality. The finish was long with dried cherry, minerals, smoke and hints of spice. This is a drop-dead gorgeous, mature Haut Brion that was hard to put down—and it’s in a perfect place today. (98 points)
Red Burgundy with about 15+ years on it was the consensus. Not being a Burgundy-centric group, this was really all we could expect. Calling out the producer or vineyard is probably a little beyond our means, but all that mattered is that it was an absolutely amazing bottle of wine.
1996 Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche – This is one of those wines that could sway anyone’s heart to the allure of Red Burgundy. The nose was feminine and refined, showing deep layers of rich, dark red fruit, blueberries, earth, minerals, brown spices, and sweet floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures matched by vibrant acidity and crunchy minerality with notes of raspberry, earth, game and crushed stone. It seemed to coat the senses with dark fruits and fine tannin, finishing on dried cherries and earth with sweet inner floral tones and hints of smoke lingering long. (95 points) Find it at Morrell
Here’s where blind tasting can really throw you for a loop, as nearly the entire group thought this was a California Cabernet. The big question is, was the 1998 Le Pergole Torte varietally correct, or was it the entire group? We did well with the age, calling mid-nineties, but Cabernet??? It was only after the unveiling that I found any of that textbook leather and acidity that might have tipped me off to this being Sangiovese.
1998 Azienda Agricola Montevertine Le Pergole Torte Toscana IGT – This was tasted blind, and what an odd surprise, as a table of Italian wine lovers believed this to be from California. Imagine the response when we found Le Pergole Torte instead. The nose showed a mix of rich fruits, raspberry and black cherry, along with hauntingly dark floral tones, mint, and notes of tobacco. On the palate, I found silky textures with intense, dark red fruit, and chewy tannin. It finished dry and grippy with hints of tart berry. (92 points)
Bordeaux Blanc was the consensus here, but without the ability to place it beyond that. Everyone was very happy when they saw the Ygrec emerge from the bag. What a gorgeous wine.
2013 Château d’Yquem “Y” – The nose was rich yet wonderfully perfumed with notes of ripe pear, mango, spiced apple, tart citrus, exotic floral tones, and hints of cut grass. On the palate, I found an intense display of ripe stone fruits, ginger and sweet herbs with a soft and luxurious mouthfeel and underpinning of brisk acidity. The finish lasted remarkably long with notes of lemon curd and tropical fruits. This is a stunning Bordeaux Blanc. (95 points) Find it at Morrell
The fact that this was Riesling was unmistakeable among the group, as well as that it was most likely Spatlese. However, I don’t recall anyone calling out the producer, age or region. I for one don’t count myself as knowing enough about mature Riesling, of course there are many people who would argue that this is not yet mature. No matter, because the wine was simply stunning.
2002 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese – The color was white-gold. The nose was incredibly rich and layered yet fresh, with notes of ripe pear, apple, mango, ginger, mint leaf, fresh cream and crushed stone minerality. Weighty textures like heavy silk caressed the senses, as notes of spiced apple, mango, sweet herbs, and hints of orange saturated the palate. Its sweetness was perceptible, yet there was a brisk acidity keeping the experience fresh and lively. It finished floral and refreshing with ripe stone fruits, citrus rind and hints of ginger lingering long. (93 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido