How to Blind Taste Wine

Last night I attended a very interesting wine event at Park Tavern in Washington Square. The restaurant was closed for the party, a Bordeaux blend tasting, hosted by one of Napa Valley’s most established wineries, Franciscan. Magnificat, a blend of four Bordeaux varietals, is Franciscan’s most popular wine and the tasting was in celebration of the recent 2007 release.

Instead of just pouring the estate meritage, director of winemaking Janet Myers decided to give the small group an exciting challenge. Myers and her winemaker, Jay Turnipseed, selected seven Bordeauxs from around the world and asked us to taste them blindly. Myers revealed that two were from France, one was the Magnificat, one was from Washington, another from Sonoma, and two others from New Zealand and Chile. Tasters were supposed to swirl, smell, sip, and ultimately, identify which wine was which.

Since this was my first time to taste more than three wines blindly, I asked Turnipseed for tips on how to blind taste wine. Here’s what he shared:

  • Start by looking at the color. If it’s a vibrant shade, the wine will most likely have a lot of texture. Also, deep colors are often due to more tannins in the wine.
  • Once you’ve examined the color, swirl the wine and evaluate the aroma. Ask yourself: is it fruity or not? Is it earthy or not? Is it oaky or not? If you answer yes to one of the above questions, for example, yes it’s fruity, try to classify the type of fruit. Is it berry, stone fruits, or something different all together, like apples? Is it ripe or un ripe?
  • The final step is to taste the wine and let the flavors of it linger on your palette. This time pay attention to the levels of acidity and sweetness (Is it astringent? Is it sweet or not?) and the weight of the wine on your tongue.
  • Most importantly, Turnipseed says, “don’t over think it.” You should go with your gut feeling. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind after you taste the wine is the best description you can give it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of the wines correct. In order to do this, I believe one must know specific characteristics about the quintessential wines of each region in the world. Looks like I need to start studying!

I have little experience with wines from the Walla Walla Valley, so I was surprised by my favorite red, number 5, which turned out to be a Bordeaux blend from Washington State, the 2007 L’ecole No. 41 Perigee Seven Hills Vineyard. However, the bottle that stood out as the best wine was one I enjoyed after the blind tasting was over: the 2001 Magnificat. This smooth, luscious, full-bodied red is a perfect Napa meritage and I’m going to keep an eye out for it on wine lists.

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