Making Blind Tasting Easy

Oxford Winning team - wine cellar Pol Roger

(Well, as easy as it can get!)

Hello everyone. A bit of slow start back to blogging for me following the Christmas/New Years break. I do apologise for that, but I have a pile of material from several recent wine region tours through Australia and New Zealand that I will start to post in the coming weeks. In the meantime, blind tasting in Oxford has gone into full swing as we prepare for the annual Varisty Blind Tasting Match against Cambridge.

In all the preparations of trying to instruct new team members on the art and science of blind tasting, it has come to my attention that there are two general approaches people take with blind tasting to identify wines.

Firstly, there is the ‘identification by feel‘. You simply recognise a wine because it ‘feels’ right. Or more specifically, you have built up a memory bank of the general characteristics of a wine and this is triggered by what you experience in the glass. This comes with tasting experience and is not something one can generally achieve without either drinking a lot of a particular type of wine, or via approach two.

The second approach is ‘identification by analysis‘. For most people, this is the fastest way to make blind tasting ‘easy’, however, like all good things in life, it does require an initial expenditure of effort. By concentrating on the various characteristics of wines you drink – appearance, aromas, taste, structure – all mentioned in the back catalogue of this blog, you start to build up an appreciation of what a wine ‘should’ taste like given its grape variety, country and region of origin and the like. This is the basis of building up experience to allow you to identify by feel.

One way of improving quickly is to commit to memory the various general features of the more (or less) common wines that you encounter. If you have access to a ‘cheat sheet’ of wines, this may be done by memorising this in whichever way you find the easiest. Otherwise, I would suggest creating your own cheat sheet by recording characteristics of wines you drink over time and using them as a database from which to draw your conclusions.

Whichever you do, having the general ‘expected’ features of a wine held readily in your mind will allow you to quickly recognise a similar wine. Or indeed to draw contrasts, and to learn how some winemakers may like to break the rules!

Committing information to memory requires an initial investment of time, however, you will save on time and frustration in the long run, and your blind tasting skills will improve dramatically.

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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2 Responses to Making Blind Tasting Easy

  1. Pingback: 2011 Varsity Blind Tasting Match Report | The Oxford Wine Blog

  2. Pingback: Improving blind tasting (part 1): the best tip ever! - The Wine NutThe Wine Nut

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