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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

The Benefits Of Blind Tasting

As a Master Sommelier, blind tasting is a subject that comes up often, and this is not the first time I have written about it.

There are those who agree that, like art or anything artisan, wine is in need of context.

A rare piece of art loses its meaning and value if displayed in a simple bistro rather than a museum.

The same can be said if the most beautiful music played by a virtuoso at a subway station will be lost without the proper attention of the correct venue and audience.

However, this also assumes that no one drinks wine without knowing what they are drinking. But isn’t that far from the truth?

The large majority of drinkers actually don’t know what they are buying when they purchase something for the first time. Their buying habits are more dependent on recommendations from people selling the wine, critics, friends and marketing, which include the color, size shape, orientation of the label and even the name of the brand or producer.

I wonder what percentage of drinkers actually are shooting blind when it comes to choosing wine? I would propose that that number is fairly high. Even if it is a quarter of wine drinkers, and much more for beginning wine drinkers, that would be argument enough for them to attend a comparative blind tasting.

This is where blind tasting can have a purpose and even be beneficial. Over the past 15 years, I have taken part in many comparative blind tastings outside the deductive blind tasting types where the purpose is to identify the wine. These comparative tastings are meant to determine which wine you like better.

I also think that this group of drinkers, who don’t know about the history of a particular estate, vineyard or variety, need not.

Did I just write that? Yes, I did. I say this under the assumption that there is a large number of people who drink wine simply for the flavor and taste. They are not looking to elevate the beverage to anything greater. What matters most to them is the flavor of the wine on their palates and its affordability. I do not and cannot totally agree with this drinking philosophy. It is quite simplistic and basic, which is not to say bad or unworthy.

I personally see wine as a much more valuable product than the sum of its flavor. It is a part of history and culture. The best can be emotive and be a “message in a bottle.” And the best of those always have a “sense of place.” But for those who do agree, blind tasting comparison between different wines to be able to find the one that suits them best without any prejudice to origin or price can be elucidating and more influential than any score or recommendation.

Blind tasting is far from being the best solution for finding the best wine for the money. For a large number of us, wine is much more than dollars and ratings. But it is a good start.

Recommendations: 2011 Tyler Pinot Noir

($39) This is one of the most soulful Pinot Noirs I’ve had from the Santa Rita Hills, and that is saying a lot. It brims with sweet aromas along with a scent of earthiness. It is a complete wine and very, very impressive.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email rviernes@southernwine.com or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.

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