What if I told you that even you could become a blind taster?
Blind (also referred to as “deductive”) tasting looks like a magic trick to most people.
How can anyone filter through all the possibilities from the entire world of wine and give the correct country, region, grape variety and vintage?
Experience is the main answer; there is no getting around the fact that one needs to have tasted hundreds, if not thousands, of wines to build their sensory memory.
In other circumstances (say, an examination), deductive tasting can be seen as a game – a game with rules (and therefore, limits), which can be won with the correct tactics.
The Rules Of The Game
In this game, the fact is that not all the wines and vintages of the world are fair game (pun intended).
Take for example the Court of Master Sommeliers list of recommended wines:
- What Should I Drink Next?
- Advanced – Probable List of Examinable White Grape Varieties (PDF)
- Advanced – Probable List of Examinable Red Grape Varieties (PDF)
Count through them and we find… 14 red and 11 white varieties.
Out of the 1,386 varieties considered to produce commercial quantities of wine.
14 + 11 = 25, which is roughly 2% of the world’s varieties.
So there is a lot, but when view in this manner, it’s also not much.
The complexity lies in the fact that grape varieties can be grown in multiple countries and regions.
Add to that the variable of vintage variation, and we have ourselves a fun game.
Let’s Start At Level Zero
For the novice, we can construct an even easier game, based on the rules above.
If the only grape varieties permitted in this game were…
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
… and I handed you a glass of white wine, what wine do you think you are tasting?
Excellent! Proceed to Level One!
Obviously I was being a little facetious with the above example.
So let’s make it a little more interesting.
Pick 2 white and 2 red wines from the below:
- Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand
- Riesling from Mosel, Germany
- Chardonnay from California, USA
- Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France
- Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France
- Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, France
- Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Australia
- Nebbiolo from Piemonte, Italy
Once you’ve chosen your 4 wines, just try to figure out what they are from the above options, no vintage required.
Unless you have a very bad cold, you should score at least 75%.
- I defy you to miss that capsicum and passionfruit in NZ Sauvignon Blanc.
- I defy you to miss that lemon/lime/honey combination in Mosel Riesling.
- I defy you to miss that oak in Californian Chardonnay.
- I defy you to miss that ginger and spice in Alsatian Gewurztraminer
- I defy you not to see the paler colour intensity in Pinot Noir.
- I defy you not to smell that green leaf character in Cabernet Sauvignon.
- I defy you not to sense that peppery, jammy black fruit in Barossa Shiraz.
- I defy you to not feel that face-ripping tannin in Nebbiolo.
The point is these are classic varieties from classic regions.
At higher levels, some of these are what we call “thank you wines”.
As in “thank you God for giving me something this easy”.
This limited exercise should illustrate to you how straightforward deductive tasting can be.
Deductive tasting is a skill that can be trained.
The above example eliminated the complexity of multiple regions. People can and do argue endlessly about the differences between the various villages of Burgundy, for example, and you can work your way up to that level if you truly wished to.
I must confess that this article was partly inspired by news that the CMS had invalidated 23 of 24 Master Sommelier diplomas awarded last month due to a “confidentiality breach” in the tasting portion of the exam.
This news has rocked the sommelier community and you can read many varied reactions in the link above.
All I can say is good luck and Godspeed to those affected by this event and facing a resit.