Over the past year GOTN has tasted, reviewed and analyzed many single varietal wines. With all of this experience and knowledge I thought that it would be fun to do a double blind tasting of common single varietal red wines that we have experienced at GOTN and in our own personal wine tasting adventures. So what is a double blind tasting and what makes it so challenging? For this type of tasting, the participants do not know the winery, varietal, origin, etc. Everyone drew a varietal from a bucket at the previous GOTN for this event. The wines were brought in and brown bagged with a number written on the bag for identification. The one caveat that I requested was for everyone to analyze the wines on their own. The power of suggestion will cloud your judgement. Everyone has different senses and there are no right or wrong answers.
Blind tasting requires a process for deciphering what a wine is. It can be thought of as a jigsaw puzzle that you put together to make it possible for you to identify the wine. To be able to put this puzzle together you must concentrate on all of the details of the wine. Here is a common process that one can use for such a tasting.
First you should look at the appearance of the wine through the glass. Look at the color of the wine. Is it a light red that you can see through (possible Pinot Noir), does it have purple hues (Cabernet Sauvignon) or is it dark inky purple (Petite Sirah)? Hold the glass at 45 degrees and look through the wine at a sheet of white paper. Are there any signs of brown or red tile color noted on the leading edge of the wine? This is a sign of age or the wine was possibly been exposed to intense heat during stages of the wine making process.
Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the side. Do you see a clear coating which is known as glycerin? This is what are termed legs vertically. Different wines may display no glycerin and others may have legs down the entire side of the glass. Why is this important? The glycerin provides details on the viscosity of the wine. High glycerin levels is an indicator for sweetness and body. It also provides information on the alcohol level. The longer the legs the higher the alcohol. Here are some more pieces that you can use to solve your puzzle. If it has sweetness (residual sugars) and high alcohol it can be an indicator that the wine was from a warm region. Very short or no legs and low residual sugars it can be assumed that the wine is from a cold region.
Next you need to swirl the wine to let it breath and put it up to your nose. The aroma of the wine is one of the most valuable tools for analyzing and identifying a wine. The nose can identify 180 different aromas verses the palette which can only identify 5. Grape varietals have certain characteristics when made into wines. For example, a Pinot Noir will display aromas of cherry or a Syrah which displays blueberries, etc. One very important thing to remember, deciphering a wine is all about memory. Sampling many different wines and adding what your senses have learned to memory increases you potential for solving what a wine is or what you are detecting. If you have never smelled or tasted an item that you detect in a wine, it will be Greek to you.
As you swirl and smell the wine can you detect alcohol? This would lead you to the possibility that it is New World. Do you smell earthiness or do you get lots of fruit? Earthiness can be a sign of Old World (France, Italy, Spain, etc) where lots of fruits would point you to New World (USA, Australia, New Zealand).
The final step is to taste the wine. First, twirl the wine to help oxygenate it or open it up. Take in a good amount of wine rolling it around your entire mouth coating the whole inside. The senses on your tongue are different depending on the location of specific receptors. When you taste the wine are you detecting residual sugar, high acidity or tannins? Is it a simple or complex wine? Is it a low or high quality wine? These are the key items that you need to solve the puzzle. As examples, high tannins are found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo. A wine that has only one flavor or aroma is simple while wines that have many are complex and is generally a sign of quality.
Wines poured at the GOTN blind tasting:
1998 Kendall Jackson Great Estates
2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah
2011 Carlson Cab Franc
2011 Jarda Grenache (Newhall)
2005 Turley Petite Sirah (Haines Canyon)
2012 Go RRE BUS To Tempranillo
I found this evening very interesting. For the first time there was dead silence as I looked around the room. Everyone was in deep concentration as they sampled the wines. Most important was how well each individual put their puzzle together for the wines poured. Worksheets were used that had wine number, color, aromatics, taste, old/new world, age, notes and varietal. Everyone did fantastic. I hope that everyone enjoyed this challenge. I will setup another such tasting for white varietals in the near future.
As always thanks to Guy Lelarge, owner of Valencia Wine Company and to Jennifer who takes such good care of us.