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The Blind Leading the Blind

September 26, 2010

The next few days are going to be all about tasting.  Yesterday I completed the Tour de Donut with an intrepid band of readers, and I am looking forward to running all the score sheets through the computer and telling those who could not come about what you missed.  Also in the next few days I will attempt to conduct a tasting between Snow (a new natural soda) and other similar but different products.

Plus remember how excited I was to find the good butter at Target?  Well, I have some very local butter purchased from the Honest Weight Food Co-op, which is about three times the price.  We’ll see how those stack up against each other.

I love tastings.

It’s one thing to taste something, but it’s entirely different to taste it and be able to directly compare it to something similar.  The process of direct comparison magnifies the strengths and reveals potentially hidden weaknesses that may have otherwise gone undetected.

Friday night, my in-laws came up from the farm with a few bottles of wine in tow.  My mother-in-law, bless her heart, had the fantastic idea of conducting a blind tasting with two bottles of California Zinfandel they brought along.

The question was, “Do you think you can tell which of these is more expensive?”  Did I mention that I also love a challenge?

Unfortunately when doing a blind tasting, you really need someone to proctor the event.  Mrs. Fussy nobly stepped up and agreed to be the secret keeper, as she was the only one who knew which wine was in Glass A and which wine was in Glass B.

This was an especially fun tasting because the wines both came from the same vintage, producer, and appellation.  They were both 2008 Cline California Zinfandel.  The more expensive bottling was labeled “Ancient Vines” and the other bottle was the winery’s solid, entry-level zin.

Immediately upon smelling the two wines, I found it clearly apparent which was the higher quality bottle.  One had aromas that were leaping out of the glass, and the other did not.  One had a rich and round mouthfeel, while the other was a bit leaner and more astringent.  With probably more confidence than warranted, I declared which wine was which.

Turns out that I was right.

But it would be nicer to prefer the cheaper wine.  Mrs. Fussy did.  She found the Ancient Vines to be a bit too heavy.  Given that it comes in at 14.5% ABV versus the 14% of her preferred bottle, she is onto something.  Plus the basic zinfandel was more palate cleansing, which might have gone better with her fattier roasted chicken thigh than it did my roasted chicken breast.

But this isn’t about being right or wrong.  Sometimes I just like to gloat.  But if you play this game at home, it doesn’t make sense to keep score.  Even wine professionals in a blind tasting can be hoodwinked into thinking a red wine is white and vice versa.

No, this is simply about the joy of tasting and discerning differences in wine.  A while back I advocated for doing four-bottle tastings.  And I stand by that.  Except it can be a bit much.  Besides being a bit intimidating at first, it requires a lot of glassware.  Friday’s tasting reminded me how much fun it can be to keep it simple and taste even just two bottles side by side.

The wine needn’t be fancy.  It needn’t be expensive.  You needn’t wax poetic about the different aromas in the glass.  You can even taste Kendall Jackson chardonnay against chardonnay in a box.  I’m guessing the KJ will win most of the time.  But then it’s up to you to determine if that extra bump in sensory pleasure is worth the additional cost.

If you keep on tasting, before you realize it, you’ll know a thing or two about wine.

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