Fun, and potentially embarrassing, plan your own wine tasting - blind
I’ve never been so humiliated or embarrassed in my life. Well, I have, but I’m not going to relate that dreadful débâcle here.
About this second most humiliating and embarrassing occasion, then. There I was at a small, intimate wine tasting. To my chagrin and the raucous amusement of the others, I had managed to identify correctly just one out of six wines. This was shameful enough, but the final nail in the coffin of my ineptitude, the vinous coup de grâce, came when I mistook a (red) beaujolais for a (white) sauvignon blanc from California.
I know, I know, what on earth was I thinking? Or, rather, not thinking? How could I be so bloody thick? Oh, don’t go on about it. You can’t make me feel any more foolish or ashamed than I already am.
In my defence, the wines had not only been served blind (that’s to say their labels and bottle shapes had been obscured so as to leave no clue as to their provenance) but – crucially – the liquid itself had been served in opaque black glasses.
To be honest, I’m not usually too bad at blind tasting and can generally spot the obvious grape varieties, styles and regions. But bung the stuff into one of Georg Riedel’s Sommeliers Blind Blind Tasting Glasses (£75 each at www.riedel.co.uk) and suddenly I’m completely at sea.
They are the devil’s work, these glasses, and an absolute must for any devious wine buffs intent on catching out their mates. They rob you of one of your senses, you see, and make it fiendishly difficult to identify what the heck you’re tasting. You cannot see the colour of the wine at all and with that basic yardstick gone, it’s all too easy to be hopelessly misled.
The first thing any self-respecting wine taster does, before even swirling the glass about and stuffing their beak inside for an exploratory sniff, is to judge the wine’s colour. He or she will hold the glass up to the light, and then against a plain white background. Colour will reveal much about the condition of the wine and its age, not just the blindingly obvious fact that it’s white, pink or red.
The colour of the beaujolais I tasted, however, was a complete mystery, so black and impenetrable are the Riedel glasses. But it was served lightly chilled, it was young, fresh and fruity and so my brain immediately told me the wine must be white. Once I thought that, there was no going back and I was in deep trouble.
I could tell it wasn’t anything obvious like a riesling (invariably smells of petrol) or a chardonnay (often of vanilla or butter) and I reckoned that it was too exuberant to be Old World. It had to be New World, then, possibly South Africa, but probably California, and its touch of enticing, lively, brambly, jammy fruit reminded me of the way New World sauvignon can often smell of blackcurrant leaves. Bingo! It was therefore clearly a young, unoaked sauvignon blanc from the Napa Valley. Or not.
Oh my, how everyone laughed. Ha, ha, ha.
In fact, I can smile about it now, too. Just. Largely because I immediately invested in some of these fabulous black Riedel glasses and have had hours of merriment getting my own back on many of my wine-trade mates.
And it has reminded me that having folk over to taste some vino is a fine way to spend an evening. It’s cheap, fun and educational, and you don’t have to use black glasses if you don’t want to.
You could compare Old World against New World, or contrast Australian shirazes with Rhône syrahs, say, or California chardonnays with white burgundies.
Or grape against grape, for it is only by tasting wines against each other that you will learn what you like or don’t like, and comparing two classic varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot, is always fascinating.
Or do a half-blind tasting where you tell your tasters what country or region the wines are from, but not what varieties or vintages. Or tell them the grape variety but not the country or vintage.
You could taste different wines from the same year (a horizontal tasting) or taste the same wine from different vintages (a vertical tasting).
Or, how about the price test? Present 10 bottles, all obscured, and a sheet of paper with 10 prices on it and ask your guests to match them. It is both easier and harder than you think.
Books and articles are all very well, you see, but as a wine-trade friend of mine often observes, if you’re serious about wanting to learn about wine, “You need to get your throat wet.”