Wine Talk

Snooth User: lingprof

blind tastings at home

Posted by lingprof, Jan 26, 2011.

This came up in another thread and I thought it would be an interesting new topic.

  • Have you ever done a blind tasting for friends? 
  • Which wines did you choose?  Was there a theme?  Did you have food?
  • What were the results?  Did anything surprising happen?

I've done this several times and had fun with it, and would love to hear other people's experiences (HINT: FOXALL)...

p.s. Sorry if this sounds like a midterm exam.... occupational hazard.  ;-)


Reply by JonDerry, Jan 26, 2011.

Have done this before and it's always surprising.  I usually like to do a theme - say from a certain region, but serve different sub-regions with different prices.  Food is a must IMO.  Grapes, cheese, crackers, nuts usually works for me. Serving somewhere between 1/2 to 1 bottle per person is usually what I go for.

Reply by dmcker, Jan 26, 2011.

Definitely all sorts of surprises. Most recent one (in December), a couple of people who should've known better thought a Pommard (a very large pinot noir, for Burgundy, anyway) was a Right Bank Bordeaux. Had to slide quickly past the person who thought it was a Zinfandel.

It's interesting to see how preconceptions about wine can be trashed. Even how someone with very little wine experience can evidence supertaster skills.

Big differences, too, between letting people know the wines in the set before they're bagged, or instead hiding every possible piece of info about the wines from the tasters and let them swim after dumping them, in effect, in the middle of the ocean. Curiously one famous TV epicure managed to perfectly get all the batches opposite when we did multiple chards from Burgundy and from California a few years back. All he knew was that there were some bottles from France, and some from California. He managed to call every single French wine Californian, and vice versa. This was a group of supposed pros in a private context, and there were two who got at least 90% correct, too, down to the actual labels on the French side (though not the Californian wineries, since this was in Japan).

Particularly fun with family members, when, with noone spitting, the alcohol somehow fueled impromptu impressions of famous wine snobs and their tasting techniques.

All sorts of fun to be had. I say go for it, LingProf, if you're considering doing some blind tastings and are using this thread to model some of the issues....


Reply by dmcker, Jan 26, 2011.

What I meant by that last paragraph is that I guessed you were thinking of tweaking your approach to what you've already started doing. Don't hesitate, but barge right ahead, was my intended advice. 

How have you structured them, and what interesting experiences have you had so far, to turn the question back around towards you?

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jan 27, 2011.

Blind tasting is a great leveller

The interesting thing for me is that sometimes I am in the mood to concentrate and focus on the wine and get great enjoyment from the learning.

But sometimes I just want/need a glass of wine.

The other thing I have experienced is "bad palate days"

These are days where I just can't get my mouth/tongue/nose to connect with my brain.  I had that a couple of weeks ago where everything I tried tasted like crap.  Interestingly I was not suffering from cold/flu or hangover, I just could not get my head around tasting.

Fortunately this is a rare and random event, but it does happen.

In form I can get variety, often region, and if I know the wine I can get the label and sometimes year.

Sadly I have not had enough breadth of many wines.  I could not pick a good Vouvray - why only ever had one taste 5 years ago

Thats why I like new experiences to be not blind.  When I travel next to the Ca region, I would prefer to try Napa and Sonoma in disclosed tastings with people who know the wine so I can learn, rather than stress and not learn by tasting blind.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 27, 2011.

Once apon a time, when i was much younger and smarter, a bought wine, mixed cases at a time. I would get home, take all the bottles, remove the capsules and roll each in a sheet of newspapar then pile them up in my little wine rack.

Every night I would come home, grab a bottle and drink it. Usually waiting until i was halfway through before unveiling the wine, to myself. It was great fun, and the best learning experience I could have ever had. Surprises? there were many.

Nowdays I do indulge in a blind tasting once or twice a month. It's always fun and informative.

I usually do it within a theme, so single blind. Which for this excerize I'll define as meaning wines whose main attribute are generally known, region and vintage.

Once in a while we'll have a real double blind affair. bottles of indeterminate origin, and that is huge fun trying to figure out. Only problem is that each participant has a profile, I frequently bring Italian wines, so while everybody tries to take into avvount who might have brought which bottles, at the same time we bring bottles that are trying to be deceptive!


Reply by lingprof, Jan 27, 2011.

It's fun to read about people's experiences.  I have the dubious honor of being the person "who knows a lot about wine" among my friends, which is too bad in that I don't know all that much!

My favorite kind of blind tasting is keeping the varietals the same or similar, but varying the price wildly.  The first one I had, a $5 bottle from Trader Joe's scored in everyone's top 1 or 2. 

In a more recent one, I had Cabs or Cab blends, at price points of 6, 15, 18, 26 and 50.  We talked about them in between.  There was one that we unanimously agreed was the $6 one: thin and yucky.  It turned out to be the $18 (Montes Alpha Cab from Chile).  The actual 6 did pretty well on ratings (RH Phillips Night Harvest Cab).  Both from 2007.  I love when that happens.

My friends and I are not sophisticated enough to do that guessing thing like in Bottle Shock, lol.  I'd love to watch GDP do it sometime, but I don't think it would work here.  However, we did a non-blind one with key varietals from around the world (Aus Shiraz, It Brunello, Cali Cab, Arg. Malbec and Fr Bordeaux).  I bet we could probably pick those out if we tried again.  Let's just say that if we can't, I'm certainly not coming back here to let y'all make fun of me for the next decade.

Any other suggestions?

Reply by napagirl68, Jan 28, 2011.

Yes I have done this!  It is one of my fav get togethers!  

My first was a wine-based tasting of california chards from different regions.  I researched proper cheese/appetizer pairings for each.  I bought those paper name tag thingies you put on the stem, and labeled 1, 2, 3 .  Each person had three glasses, and the bottles were covered.  I knew the wines, and all three were very different.  We had a great time, and learned about our personal tastes.  Not many surprises tho with this one... my friends tended to stick within their comfort zones.

My next venture was a dinner party.  it was a smaller event- two other couples.  I had planned the menu, and normally would pick one wine for the main course, but decided to offer a blind tasting of potentially appropriate wines.  I got lots of help here on snooth with the 3 selections.  I did do a single wine for the pre dinner/cheese time.  But for the main course, I paired three different white varietals that should have paired at least somewhat well with the dish.  I have to say that everyone had the best time.  Now all my friends want to do their dinner parties this way.

My best advice is to LIMIT the number of wines tasted to no more than four (I prefer three).  Make sure to research food or cheese pairings ahead of time.  I find it easier to control the menu since I know the wines.  Make sure that your party has not had much wine beforehand.  When I do a dinner party, I offer a glass of a dry white with the cheese/appies before the tasting.  Drinking to much or too many different wines before numbs the palate. 

As far as wine choice.... if doing a dinner party with blind tasting, I will pick 3 wines that are favored to pair well with the dish.  They may be different varietals and from different regions.  I would prolly hesitate to mix white/red, since it is difficult to taste back and forth. 

For a tasting party geared to wine, I usually pick 4 wines of the same varietal.  I will vary either the region, or the countries, or (within a same winery/vineyard, the year (known as a vertical tasting))- but not all at once.  So I guess those would be my themes... ex.  California Pinot noir- a Santa barbera 2006-8, a Sonoma Coast 2006-8, a Central coast 2006-8, and a Napa 2006-8.  or southern rhones:  Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes de Rhone, Gigondas, Vacqueyras.  you can vary countries:  a napa cab, a bordeaux, a sonoma cab, and perhaps a chilean cab or aussie cab.  Vertical example would be different vintages of the same vineyards and winery:  ex: Heitz Martha's Vineyard 1999 cab, Heitz Martha's Vineyard 2001 cab, and Heitz Martha's Vineyard 2005 cab.

Have fun, and have appropriate pairings!

Reply by GregT, Jan 28, 2011.

lingprof - sure, been doing it for many years probably once or twice a month.  Have one person get the bottles and bag them and another person put a letter on the bottles.

I also have a case of empty identical bottles around because some bottles are so distinctive that you can ID the wine through the bag.  Also remove the capsules entirely.  Again, if the capsule was wax, just put the wine into a different bottle because the wax remnants will be a give away. 

We usually have between 10 and 20 bottles.  And have the wines be something you can learn from.  One of the tastings I put together last year was 2004 Chardonnay - Wente clone vs Dijon clone, all from Sonoma/RRV except for ringers, I threw in a Chablis.  Putting together a Blaufrankisch tasting for the near future - will probably get 2007, just because that's what I have most of.   Some examples from Austria/Hungary and a couple of mysteries, just to see the terroir differences.

I kind of like to do comparison tastings - one vintage vs another close one, same wines from each, or one area vs another, etc.  So for a German Spatlese Riesling tasting, I'd pick a northern vs a southern region, or for Beaujolais you can pick one cru vs another, just to focus your attention and see if there's anything really different.

Set out 10 or 20 glasses for each person, pour the glasses all at once, and evaluate the wines.  I want a separate glass for each wine and I don't want to do the tasting in flights of only several wines at a time. Let each taster figure out how he or she will structure his or her tasting, but they have to evaluate every wine.  The average person should be able to figure out how to get through 10 - 12 wines, and if they can't, they usually don't come back again, which is OK too.

And for a more academic tasting of the sort described, I dont' have food.  Some crackers or snacks is all.  No place to put all the glasses AND plates and food, and that's not the point of the tasting anyhow.  Dinner can be afterwards. Those are the kind of tastings where I'll actually write tasting notes for myself.

If you're having dinner as the main point of the get-together, it's a different story.  It's fun sometimes to bag a wine and see if anyone can figure out what it is, but that's about as far as I'd go.  Plus I hate trying to write notes at dinner!

Some people like to have an event where everyone brings something that you bag, sometimes based around some theme.  That's OK but rarely useful from a pedagogical perspective.  I even participate in those, but not with the idea of learning anything so much as hanging out with friends.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 28, 2011.

Okay, I will keep my post short.  We do the occasional blind tasting on its own--roses from different places, Cabs under $10 (talk about a crap shoot), but we don't do a lot of high end stuff that way because it means either asking everyone to bring something, which makes keeping the validity of the tasting is tough, or one person has to provide a lot of wine.

More commonly, what we do is have another couple over--there are about 5 or so couples we do this with.  We have dinner, usually the friends have kids around the ages of ours, so it's a big family thing.  I set a menu based on the wine I want to taste, then I pick two wines, put them in identical carafes with a post-it on the bottom of each.  The carafes go into the dining room ahead of the guests arriving.  When the guests arrive, one of them takes another two labels, marked A and B and goes out to the dining room, puts those labels on the carafes.  The guest brings the wine back to the kitchen as we finish preparing the meal, and we start talking and comparing unless we are onto the 8 million other topics these families share, like politics, the Internet (we have communications and creative people who have Internet properties), schools, jazz... but the topic of wine comes up intermittently, and we compare notes.

How do I pick the wines?  Themes have been Cali CotesduRhone-styles v. Rhones, CdP v. Cali knockoff, big difference in price in two Zins, different mountain Cabs from Cali (Veeder v. Howell v. Stags Leap), different sub-AVAs. Most of the time it's "new world"  (California) v. old (France or Italy).  We can usually tell which is which, but not always.  I don't see a lot of point in comparing wines that are intended to be noticeably different, like opposite ends of Beaujolais or something.  It's also sometimes necessary to make compromises, so that when you compare a St. Emilion or Pomerol bordeaux to a California blend that's similar, you don't get hung up on exact proportions.  (With CdP, I at least try to get it closer, because the wines can contain just about any of the 13 varietals, and it's hard to really compare a mourvedre based wine to a syrah based wine or a grenache-dominated wine.  (Some are all Grenache and still go by CdP, so there you go. Makes me wonder what I like about CdP except the name, or what anyone else does, for that matter.)

My next two events:  Vertical of BlackSmith Cellars Grenache/Syrah--had the '06 before and it was a stunner and we're going to pit it against the '07.  Then, a major drink down of my Napa Cabs, probably all one year.  That will require more than one other couple.

Guess that wasn't so short.

Reply by Lucha Vino, Jan 29, 2011.

I just did one last night.  It was a "final procurement" meeting for my son's elementary school auction, so it was very casual. 

The hook for me was "come see the custom 5,000 bottle wine cellar."  That blew my mind! 

The host had bagged a numbered three reds and one white.  I had two of the reds and was way off on both my guesses.

First wine I guessed was a Grenache based wine from either France or Spain.  It turned out to be a Quilceda Creek red blend from WA.

I guessed the second wine was a Chianti since it had a very dry finish and strong cherry character on the palate.  That one turned out to be a Cabernet Sauvignon.  I can't remember the winery. 

A fun and educational experience for sure.

Reply by GregT, Jan 29, 2011.

Fox - have everyone kick in $500 for a series of tastings.  Then you don't worry about high end, low end, or any end.  If people own the wines, fine, if not, you can buy them.  And always include different price points.  The idea of everyone bringing a $100 CA Cab for example, is usually something organized by people who don't know all that much but who want to show off what they have or to talk about what they drank.  No reason at all to do those blind. 

What shuts those people up is when they love a $23 wine more than the $130 wines.  So I think you should always include different price points when doing a blind tasting. 

Reply by lingprof, Jan 29, 2011.

thanks for all the ideas! 

I had one new idea:  I think "US Red Blends" would be a fun theme, since there are so many of them with different proportions of different or the same grapes, at different price points. 

@vellovino:  you were doing a tasting for your son's elementary school??  wow, the whole PTA thing has sure changed since I was a kid.  ;-)

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 29, 2011.

GregT--some variant of that has been suggested.  I think I'd probably join a club or something more structured to accomplish that.  What I enjoy about ours is that it's just a dinner, which we can handle with the kids.  We learn something interesting while keeping it manageable.  There are many ways to "taste" wine (as opposed to just drinking it and enjoying it, without any educational overtones) and this one works for us, for now.  It's become a standard part of the dinner invite at Casa Foxall that friends look forward to, and not really something that people feel intimidated by.  More a "let's see what he's got this time."  It also emphasizes to me that wine is part of a meal, and not always an elaborate one.  And, of course, we would probably do things really differently if we had older kids, and more free time. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 29, 2011.

Two maybe final comments:  All these ideas are good ones. (Didn't mean to snark about the Beaujolais, and I think that can be a good way to decide if there really is a diff between Rully and Morgon if you want to do that.) True that you can't write tasting notes easily as you mop up gravy, but it's really just to get my friends sharing in my wine interest.  We're not professionals. Also, if you wondered just how well GdP can do compared to you when it comes to picking varietals, vintages, regions, check this thread: Decide for yourself how easy that is.

Reply by Lucha Vino, Jan 30, 2011.

lingprof - Indeed!  There is all kinds of "creativity" around raising private money to fund public schools. :-)

Reply by galleyho, Jan 30, 2011.

For me and my level of experimentation,  I like to taste and see the difference when I run the wine through an aerator. For some I notice a real difference others it doesn't seem to matter.  When I'm out I usually ask how long a bottle has been opened. So I think that all things considered, if one is to conduct a tasting on reds, for instance,  either the bottles need to be opened to breath for a good length of time or everything be aerated out of the bottle.


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