Even if it can be intimidating at first, blind wine tasting is a very effective exercise to acquire or refine one's knowledge about wine. It can also be done in a playful way to spend an even more convivial moment! From clues such as color, smell, taste and length in the mouth, you will have to guess a maximum of elements about the tasted wine. What color is it? What region does it come from? What is its vintage?
Objectives of blind tasting
The principle of blind tasting is simple : it is about guessing the origin of a wine with little or no clues. Some will even go so far as to disguise the visual aspect, that is the color and appearance of the wine.
This type of tasting is used by professionals and amateurs alike. In the first case, it can be in the context of a competition or simply to make a selection of wines. In the second case, this practice is more and more popular in order to choose new wines to enhance one's cellar, in a totally impartial way. It is not reserved for professionals: it is an excellent exercise to learn to differentiate wines, to recognize their vinification methods, to know if you really like them without being influenced by the label...
It is finally a very good way to forget prejudices about wine, to taste it without prejudices and sometimes to have pleasant surprises.
Steps of a blind tasting
These are the same steps as during a classic tasting, which will solicit three of our senses: sight (if we do not choose to hide the color of the wine), smell and taste.
Step 1: Visual analysis
The most effective technique is to observe the glass in daylight, against a white background, by tilting it at 45°. Then you have to stand above it and observe the outline of the wine closest to the edge of the glass. The color of the glass will give you an indication of the age of the wine. For red wine, it will be purple if it is young and orange if it is older. For white wine, it will be white or green when it is young, and will also turn orange as it ages.
The coloring intensity also gives an indication of the grape varieties used, or the presence of tannins, alcohol and acidity. As for the grape varieties, a light-colored wine will generally come from a region with little sunshine and cool temperatures. Conversely, a darker color is often synonymous with a southern wine. For white wines, they will also be darker when it is a sweet wine.
Finally, we can observe the tears of the wine, that is the droplets that form on the walls of the glass when it is turned. If they are numerous, it is often a sign of a high alcohol content (this is the case of many southern wines). On the other hand, if there are only a few, it means that the wine comes from a region with less favorable weather conditions.
Step 2: Olfactory analysis
At this stage, it is not necessary to try to identify very specific aromas. To begin with, you can already try to identify the "family" of odors. There are generally 6 main categories:
⦁ Fruits : red, exotic, seeded, dry, stone...
⦁ Flowers : rose, violet, jasmine, honeysuckle...
⦁ Vegetals : wood, mushroom, fern, pine, oak, lemon grass, verbena...
⦁ Spices and aromatics : honey, nutmeg, vanilla, bay leaf, thyme...
⦁ Animal : leather, fur, musk, venison...
⦁ Empyreumatic : tobacco, coffee, flint, toast...
We must also add another category which includes all "abnormal" odors: when a wine is corked, when the smell of sulfur is too noticeable...
Aromas from the first two categories are generally synonymous with a young wine, or a little older when the fruit is more candied than fresh. Animal or vegetal aromas (especially wood and undergrowth) are on the contrary the sign of a much older wine. The aromas also give an idea of the wine's ageing conditions, the grape variety or the region from which it comes (the more mature they are, the warmer the climate).
Step 3: Taste analysis
When we taste the wine, we have to evaluate the sugar/acidity balance, as well as the level of tannins for the reds.
For whites, we generally consider that a wine is :
⦁ Sweet, if there is a nice sugar/acidity balance.
⦁ Lively, if the acidity clearly dominates over the sugar.
⦁ Smooth or round, if the fatness slightly dominates over the acidity, and the wine has a nice length in the mouth (time during which the aromas remain in the mouth).
⦁ Full-bodied, if the fat clearly dominates over the acidity. This type of wine ages very well in the cellar.
For reds, they can be characterized in four ways:
⦁ Tannic, when the level of tannins dominates over the rest. If there is not a dominance of tannins, then the wines can be of three other types:
If the smouthness dominates over the acidity :
⦁ Unctuous, when the fat of the wine comes to envelop the tannin/acid axes.
If the acidity dominates over the smoothness :
⦁ Light, when the tannins are low, the acidity is well present and there are fruity aromas. These wines are dominated by freshness and have little color.
⦁ Fine, when the tannins are present but not very aggressive, the acidity is felt, and the nose is more complex.
Our advice for a successful blind tasting
Do you now want to organize your own blind tasting? Follow our advice to win over your guests, whether they are professionals or your close friends.
1) Hide the identity of the bottles
If you want the tasting to be completely blind - in the first sense of the word - you should opt for black, opaque glasses to mask the color of the wine. Another option is to cover the bottle with a sock or an aluminum cover. It is also possible to decant the wine. The color of a wine already gives a lot of information: its grape variety, its vintage, its appellation...
Be careful in this case to remember the tasting order of your wines in order not to confuse them. Also remember to wash or change the glasses between each tasting to avoid mixing the taste of the wines.
2) Selecting appropriate wines
Two choices are available to you. You can either opt for an open tasting where all types of wines will be allowed. This is preferable if the guests are experienced wine tasters. Otherwise, it is better to focus on a particular theme.
For example, organize a tasting around a region (Provence, Burgundy...), or around single-variety wines. It is also possible to organize a match between two appellations. In any case, don't hesitate to provide a small explanatory document for beginners (with information on the aromas, the color... specific to each grape variety).
You will then be surprised to see how easy it is for your guests to confuse a light red wine with a rosé or a white.
3) Offer tasting sheets
To make the tasting more convivial and to leave room for comments and debates, we advise you to use tasting sheets. They can be written in a simple way, with comments on: color, smell, taste, persistence in the mouth, an overall note and comments if there are any.
4) Organize a game
For even more challenge, it can be interesting to organize a game with the attribution of points according to the wines discovered or not. Depending on the level of difficulty of the information to be guessed, more or less points will be given to the candidates (or also according to their level of knowledge in wines). It is possible to set up this game by teams, for example if it takes place during a dinner with several tables. You can also provide a prize for the winner.
5) Choose the right time and the right accompaniments
Finally, if the tasting is to be done as part of a meal, we advise you to plan it preferably before dinner. This is a good way to start the evening and to prepare the guests for the meal. Don't forget to provide something to accompany the tasting: bread, or cheese (mild, so as not to affect the taste of the wine).
Finally, it is a good idea to provide a bucket to empty your glass if necessary.
Now that you know everything about blind tastings, all you have to do is get started! And if you want to start slowly, you can opt for our 2021 Wine Advent Calendar which offers a new blind tasting treasure hunt, or our AOC Tour box (which contains 12 wines from 100% French AOC).