Have you ever been in awe of blind tastings? Like in Somm or Uncorked, I am always blown away by the candidates when they do their deductive tastings. I am constantly thinking, "How do they know that?!" Grape, vintage, region?! It all seems so overwhelming.
When I came across a Blind Tasting 101 class at Corkbuzz, one of my favorite places to learn about wine, I was incredibly excited! I don't know if that makes me a huge nerd, or not, but regardless... I was happy to see they were offering a class that would hopefully demystify the deductive tasting process. You can imagine how disappointed I was to learn it would be over 4th of July weekend, so I would miss it. The positive note to this story? Corkbuzz offered to put together a private class for us, as long as we could get six or more people together. We immediately brainstormed who enjoyed wine like we did, and they luckily were in.
How was the class structured?
We each got three whites and three reds, all classic examples of their grape varieties. This meant there were no blends or "funky" representations of a grape. They were one grape type from a region that is known for grown this grape type. Our instructor, Austin, had just passed his Certified Sommelier examination and was VERY patient with us. He walked us through the grid and then we went through each wine as a group filling out the grid.
What is the grid?
The grid is how candidates go through and complete their deductive tasting. It contains information on sight, nose, palate, and finally a candidates initial and final conclusion. You can find examples of a grid for red wine here and white wine here thanks to the Court of Master Sommeliers. Here's another interesting post about the grid by Wine Folly.
What did we learn?
Deductive tasting is difficult! But it's also a learned process. You have to start making associations and consistently study them to become a master of deductive tasting. For example, with Chardonnay, the New World uses the most NEW oak. What happens when you use new oak on Chardonnay? It imparts that vanilla, buttery, oak flavor on the wine more so than when you use old oak. So if you get a white wine that has those aromas and flavors, you automatically lean toward New World regions (i.e. California, Australia, etc.)
Other fun facts:
- Due to the malic and citric acids found in white grapes, all white wines will have apple flavors and citrus flavors. It just depends which is more prominent and what kind of apple or citrus flavors. Is it taste like a red, green, or yellow apple? Is it an under ripe apple or a rotting apple? Does it smell of lemon juice, lemon zest, or lemon rind?
- Warmer climates typically cause a wine to be fuller bodied and less acidic than grapes grown in cooler climates.
- The Tempranillo grape in Spain and Sangiovese grape in Italy are very similar. One way to tell the difference between when doing a tasting is that Spain uses oak while Italy does not.
- Austin described Merlot as "Christmas", so think baking spice, vanilla, and mocha. I loved this description... mainly because I love Christmas.
- Green pepper is a common flavor in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
- A candidate can get the final conclusion incorrect and still pass the tasting portion. As long as you describe the wine 60% or 75% correctly depending on the level of exam, you can pass!
Overall, it was a great class. I felt like I learned a lot, and now all I have to do is practice! If blind tastings sound interesting to you, stay tuned for tips on how to host your own blind tasting party next month!