What is a blind tasting? How do you host one? What food should you serve? Here are the tips you need for a successful event.
What Is A Blind Tasting?
First of all, there are no blindfolds involved in a blind tasting. A blind tasting allows you to focus on the wine without the preconceptions that a bottle and the label might impart.
When you see a 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet from Stag’s Leap, your mind immediately sends a signal, “This is going to be an incredible bottle of wine.” If you see a bottle of Merlot and sip it, your sixth sense says, “Yeah, this tastes like Merlot.”
Take away the visual cues and it is a different ball game. Unknown wine regions compete on an equal footing with the big boys. Varieties like Cabernet Franc become more difficult to identify.
With a blind tasting, the bottles are concealed. This heightens the mystery and creates an outstanding social event.
Setting The Stage
The tips suggested here are straight from a recent smashingly successful blind wine tasting hosted by our good friends Glorious T and the Cabernetor. They are sensational party hosts and took their game to a new level with this event.
A key step in the blind tasting is the invitation. In this case, guests were asked to bring a single-variety wine (no blends) costing between $15 and $25. In several cases, guests brought a bottle of red and white. Part of the fun is guests guessing what each wine is. If you have a blend of seven exotic wine grapes, no one will have a clue. Guests were also invited to bring an appetizer to share – although in this case Glorious T got into a cooking frenzy and prepared almost all of it with the help of her friend Michelle.
You may have friends or their “plus one” who don’t know that much about wine. Provide a brief explanation about what is taking place – with the emphasis on fun.
The anticipation is ruined if you see Joe walking in the door with a bottle of Cabernet for all the world to see. Not a whole lot of suspense there. Most guests get it and bring their bottles in a paper bag.
Cabernetor and I set up a staging area for the wine on their dinner table. While guests went into the kitchen to mingle, they handed off their bottles to us. Each red wine was placed into a cloth bag or a paper bag with a number. A few years ago, I got a nice blind wine tasting kit. It included five cloth bags each with a letter in the word WINES. So we had those “alphabet” wines and once we got above that number, Glorious T had printed some fancy numbers. Adding those to a paper bag added a touch of class.
The white wines were a different story. They were served out on the patio and were chilled in a large bucket of ice. Those were wrapped in aluminum foil and numbers were added.
Cabernetor and I were the only ones who knew all of the wines. The guests didn’t even know which bag contained their bottles. Insider tip” - be sure the foil or bag covers as much of the neck as possible – some wineries have their name on the neck or it is so distinctive it gives the identity away.
We were also on standby in case the wines needed to be supplemented with different bottles from Cabernetor’s cellar to provide variety.
The Event Unfolds
Each guest was given a cool tasting sheet that Glorious T found on Etsy.com. (This site also has other supplies for blind tastings.) The evening began with eats and mingling before official kickoff.
As you can tell from the aerial photo by Cabernetor (he climbed up on a chair), the food was out of this world. It was a feast for the eye as well as the stomach. The appetizers were designed as one or two bites that could be paired with different wines and could be handled easily.
You will want to have a variety of foods. We would suggest shrimp, seafood and/or puff pastries for pairing with whites. One the red side, you’ll want some savory apps, perhaps some mushrooms, meatballs or olive dishes supplemented with spreads, dips and cheese. Don’t forget about the chocolate and sweet bites too.
With a house filled with guests and lively discussion, it was on to the white wines.
Blind Wine Tasting Unwrapped!
On the deck, the tasting began. We had a smaller number of white wines, but no shortage of discussion. The wines were indeed single varieties – but they included Torrontes, Kerner and Gruner Veltliner! It was a tasty way to get things going and the wine favorites were as controversial as the presidential debates. This was merely the opening act.
When tasting a dozen or more different wines, as we did, having bountiful good food is crucial. It’s also important to let your guests know that they don’t have to sample every wine and that they should start with small sips. Let them know dumping is OK too. At the end of the evening, you’ll want to make sure they get home safely.
There was quite a battle to select and identify the favorite red. Again (and I plead guilty) there were some offbeat reds, including Tannat, Dolcetto and a wine I brought from Turkey (Kalecik Karasi). Surprisingly, no one was able to successfully identify the Kalecik Karasi! We also had a couple of Cabernet, a Zin and Pinot Noir.
After all identified their favorite, the bottles were revealed. The top choice? A Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon from Wellington Vineyards. This sub-$20 bottle crushed the competition with its great value and taste.
Whether it is a small group or large, a blind wine tasting can add spice to your next party. We close with a loving look at all that great food!