How We Do Our Blind Tastings

We rotate being host and guest for each of our tastings.  The host selects the varietal and the wine, sets up the tasting, and may choose to serve a meal afterwards.  The guests bring replacement wines and a dish for hors d'oevres or to go with the meal.  There are lots of wine tasting recommendations available on the web and we provide a few interesting links below.  Overall, though, our philosophy is simply to enjoy ourselves and learn what our impressions are when not influenced by a famous label or hefty price.  We have found lots of favorite inexpensive wines this way.

The Set-Up

To set up the tasting, the host makes a list of all the wines, including vintner, vintage, and price.  We use the price the vintner sets rather than what was actually paid, since this is a better indicator of relative worth.  If vintner's tasting notes are printed on the label, these are recorded as well.  The list is then hidden and the bottles are placed in plain paper bags.  A few hours before the tasting, the wines are uncorked and the corks replaced with generic stoppers so as not to give clues to the wine inside.  The paper-wrapped bottles are then randomly rearranged so that nobody knows what's inside, and each bottle is numbered. 

The Tasting

Each taster receives a small sample of each wine  in sequence and evaluates its appearance, nose and taste.  Tasters take notes and rate each wine according to their individual tastes.  We like to have a  list of wine terms handy to stimulate our imagination.  When all wines have been sampled,  we  have additional pours of each wine as needed to be sure of our ratings.  When everyone is sure, we collect ratings to get a group consensus.  Next, we bring out the list of wines and everyone tries to guess which is which.  There is a strong tendency to use price as an indicator here and we are most often quite surprised at what a poor correlation this provides.  The final step is to unveil the wines and then, of course, have more samples of our favorites.

The Words

Here are some of the wine terms we have collected, together with some interesting on-line dictionaries:

Appearance | Smells | General Tastes | Specific Tastes | Dictionary Links

  • GENERAL:  Clear, Cloudy, Maderized (brown with too much age)
  • WHITES: Almond, Amber, Gold, Green, Lemon, Straw, Brown, Butter, Orange, Tawny
  • REDS:  Pink, Ruby, Rose, Garnet, Blackish, Purple, Raspberry
  • APPLEY An apple-type aroma in young wines comes from malic acid
  • AROMA Describes the simple smell of a single fruit in younger wine ? "an aroma of blackberries"
  • BOUQUET` A mature wine gives off several smells.  Bouquet refers to their total effect on the drinker's nose
  • BUTTERY Often a result of malolactic fermentation, a second fermentation that reduces a wine's fruity crispness and softens and rounds it
  • COMPLEX The wine may suggest to the nose many overlapping aromas.  For example, one wine might bring to mind chocolate, cherries, pine and tarragon.
  • FLINTY A smell like that of flint sparks, often noted in French Chablis
  • FLOWERY A scent reminiscent of fresh flowers
  • FOXY Distinct, gamy scent of wine made from native American non-vinifera grapes
  • GREEN, STALKY, STEMMY Sometimes this sharp scent adds crispness, but it can be overdone. It might be due to under-ripe grapes or immature vines.
  • HONEY A scent found in some fine sweet wines.
  • LIVELY An attractive, fresh scent 
  • NOSE Denotes either bouquet or aroma or both
  • OAK Retains scent from oak barrels and oak chips 
  • STALE This "off" odor is sometimes evident right after opening the bottle.  Dissipate it by moving the wine around in the glass.
  • SULPHURY This "burning" smell causes the drinker's nose to recoil.  It can be from leftover sulfur used in winemaking.
  • VANILLA One of the scents that an oak cask can give to a wine.
  • VEGGIE A smell of asparagus or other vegetable instead of the smell of grape or fruit.  Often due to over-watered or over-fertilized grapes.
  • YEASTY A fresh bread smell in the wine.  It may mean that the wine is poorly made or that it's still fermenting. 
Taste, General Flavors
  • ACID Tasted especially on the inside of the lips and tongue tip.  In wine, its best when balanced - just to give a crispness --and not overpowering
  • APPLEY An apple tang in light white wines comes from the wines' malic acid
  • BAKED, TOASTED The result of the hot sun on grapes, or of heat used in the wine's making.
  • COARSE, ROUGH Wine whose qualities don't blend together
  • DRY Opposite of sweet
  • FRUITY Describes a fresh sense of the main grape in the wine
  • HARSH, HARD A sensation often due to tannin
  • LONG FINISH This phrase denotes the wine's aftertaste that lingers in the mouth
  • SHORT FINISH Flavor quickly disappears off the tongue
  • SOFT, SMOOTH The wine imparts a plush sensation and is non-aggressive in the mouth
  • SWEET Come on!  You know you don't need a definition for sweet.
  • TANNIN This component puckers the mouth, especially the sides of the tongue and cheeks.
  • YEASTY This taste of fresh bread often means the wine is poorly made; perhaps it wasn't cleansed of yeast particles, or it is still fermenting.
Taste, Specific Flavors
  • BERRY Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Black Currant
  • CARAMEL Honey, Butterscotch, Butter, Soy Sauce, Chocolate, Molasses
  • CHEMICAL Sulfur Dioxide, Burnt Match, Cabbage, Garlic, Etc.
  • CITRUS Grapefruit, Lemon
  • DRIED FRUIT Raisin, Prune, Fig, Strawberry Jam
  • EARTHY Moldy, Mushroom, Dusty
  • FLORAL Geranium, Violet, Rose, Orange Blossom
  • FRUITY Cherry, Apricot, Peach, Pineapple, Melon, Banana
  • VEGETATIVE  Bell Pepper, Green Bean, Asparagus, Green Olive, Black Olive, Artichoke
  • HERBACEOUS Green Grass, Hay, Tea, Tobacco, Eucalyptus, Mint,
  • MICROBIOLOGICAL Mousy, Horsy, Sweaty, Sauerkraut, Yeasty
  • NUTTY Walnut, Hazelnut, Almond
  • OXIDIZED Sherry
  • PUNGENT Menthol, Alcohol
  • SPICY Licorice Anise, Black Pepper, Cloves
  • WOODY Toasted, Smokey, Coffee, Bacon, Medicinal, Oak, Cedar, Vanilla



Here is a great wine site with tasting advice:

Wonderful World of Wine
How to hold a Wine Tasting

A Wine Tasting Checklist
Wine Tasting Vocabulary
Talking Wine Dictionary

And here is an excellent wine dictionary: 
Wine Lexicon




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