Removing Our Biases to Create Space for Exploration!
I believe I speak for every wine lover when I say we have all experienced the following scenario:
We are out and about tasting beautiful wines in beautiful vineyards amidst gorgeous weather and good friends. We ultimately fall in love with the wines we are sampling! But then we go back to taste the exact wine after purchasing an entire case, and it doesn't bring as much joy. It's a rainy day in our lousy basement, and we cannot understand why we loved this wine so much we got an entire case home!
Fact: Nothing is wrong with you. Nothing is wrong with the wine. Nothing is wrong with your palate! This scenario only proves that you are human - someone affected by your surroundings, current mood, and even the weather.
Our opinions about wine and often our opinion about ourselves, for that matter] are far from objective or internal - everything around us will affect our perception and how we enjoy certain wines. The truth is that humans often become biased about different wines in many different ways: drinking wines from a specific area, particular grapes, affirmation of gender ("big reds are masculine while light pinks are feminine"), how "serious" we want to be perceived (Pinot Grigio is "light and easy-going, so not to be taken as seriously as a Big Red), how much we "like" the sommelier who is serving the wine, or even our boss's approval ("but they're a wine aficionado!"). Our past and present experiences shape and mould our opinions about everything!
Becoming aware of this human tendency and aiming to limit these influences will help you understand wine better - enter the blind wine-tasting experience. But this experience goes way beyond taste; a blind wine tasting will humble you, surprise you, and even open your mind to regions and grapes you thought you wouldn't enjoy or aren't worth trying.
So, why is a blind wine tasting important? And how will it change our perceptions about wine?
Blind tastings help us stop our tendency to generalize and instead focus more on things that matter, like winemakers/sub-regions/vineyards. How often have you heard someone say, "Italian wines are excellent, but Canadian wines are not as great..." Too many times to count, and it's incredibly wrong! People rely on their set-in-stone opinions about entire countries, vintages or regions. But in doing this, we ultimately lose the potential for complexity in our palate!
It establishes acceptance and appreciation of lesser-known grape varieties and regions! Unfortunately, most people are hesitant about the unknown - most will not try an unfamiliar wine when out and about, never mind purchasing an unfamiliar bottle. A compounded reason for this is fear is looking "dumb" or uneducated when ordering something, especially something with a pronunciation you are unfamiliar with (quickly addressed by pointing to the wine on a list or, of course, a blind tasting). Tasting wine in a blind way - a fun way - will inevitably expose people to new grapes without the usual concern and hesitation that comes with trying something new.
Social pressure should never dictate your life and what brings you joy! Limiting outside influences and having the time and attention to focus on wine without other people's opinions will help you to discover your palate, concentrate on the type of wine you are tasting, and memorize its flavour profile. Don't be afraid to focus on what you like! (even if it makes you look "gay" 😉)
This being said, what kind of rules should you set for your blind-tasting event?
First, respectfully encourage your participants to keep their opinions to themselves! This includes conversation and body language. Encourage your participants to avoid glancing at other people to see their reactions. After all, who cares what so-and-so thinks when it matters what you think?
Consider the physical conditions of the space where you are hosting the blind tasting. Why? Well, tasting full-bodied wines like Amarone or Barolo around 2 pm on a patio at 35 degrees celsius will affect your taste and experience!
Palate cleansing is not just for show! Guests can cleanse their palate between each wine by providing something such as crackers or bread, providing a neutral place to begin.
Remember, you are not preparing for your master's sommelier examination! Moving from a light-bodied red to a full-bodied red (Burgundy to Bordeaux) and not rinsing/changing the glass in between will probably not affect the second bottle's flavour in ways you will notice. However, when moving from aromatic to non-aromatic wines [reds to whites or full-bodied to light-bodied wines], it's essential to change the glass or rinse it well because it will affect the next wine's flavour. Use your discretion! This is why it is also a great idea to begin with lighter-bodied wines and progress towards fuller-bodied wines.
Let the designated driver cover the bottles or cover the bottles a few days before. You want to ensure that none of the participants in a blind tasting can remember which number is associated with which bottle. When even one person knows the answers, it will automatically change the experience for everyone involved.
Here are some exploratory themes when hosting your blind wine-tasting:
Cabernet Sauvignon [and relevant blends] from around the world: Can you distinguish which one is from Napa? Further, is it a "better" wine than a Cab Sauv from a less commercial region? Finally, what are the differences in flavour?
Choose well-known grape varieties and compare them with lesser-known grape varieties worldwide. Does a familiar grape variety guarantee its likeability for you? Does the popularity associated with certain grapes dictate quality?
Let's get bubbly! Compare the various types of sparkling wines, from Champagne to Cava, Prosecco, Canadian sparkling to Crémant. Discuss whether Champagne really is "the best" [as many wine aficionados claim], or if there are sparkling wines that express differently but are outstanding as well.
A vital consideration to facilitate a mind-opening blind-tasting experience:
When hosting a wine tasting, encourage your guests to avoid the most typical discussion: "Which wine do you like the most?"
Why? What is problematic with hierarchically viewing wine? What do you lose from the experience when asking these types of questions?
To better explain, let's channel four-year-old-you. Do you remember the first time you tasted coffee? It was bitter & weird - you didn't like it at all! But you learned to enjoy it with age. Somewhere between the ages of 12-18, you probably had similar experiences with beer, vodka, tequila, etc. But somewhere around 20, you are told there are only 24 hours within a day; you must create hierarchies of things you like and don't like to spend your time more wisely, doing all these "better things". What's the price we pay for this mentality? We lose all the fun and knowledge that comes with enjoying and learning new things - the price is high.
Are you a person who goes to Italy and logs their favourite pizza place, best pasta, only coffee place you'd ever come back to, the highest mountain, the prettiest vineyard etc.? If yes, I encourage you to try and enjoy life a bit differently! I encourage you to let the areas you travel to shower you with unique beauty, diversity, realness, and fresh outlooks.
When exploring (travel or wine) in a non-judgemental fashion, we are not constantly asking "if we like it" or not. Instead, we are simply investing our limited time on earth getting to know something new - and what better way is there to spend that time? As a result, we inevitably embrace uniqueness and diversity - we stop being shocked by anything that is "different".
Blind wine tastings can help you embrace a refreshing perspective when we ditch our biases. This type of experience encourages us to open our hearts and minds to new experiences. When we acknowledge that some flavours are simply acquired tastes that are often based within culture, our curiosity and sense of adventure will flourish! After all, even when we find that we do not like something after trying it out, it's important to expose ourselves to what the world has to offer and create these distinctions in ourselves.
Book a wine seminar with our expert Wine Sommelier Rebecca Meir and taste the nuances of each wine as she leads you along a journey, following the crescendos of the food and highlighting the intercepting storylines between wine & food.
Contact Chef & Somm today!