When it comes to buying wine, most people “taste” with their eyes and not their mouth. Do you want a wine that’s fun and modern? You might choose something with cool graphics and a cheeky brand name. How about something tasteful and refined? Nothing like a picture of a good ol’ vineyard to demonstrate that this winemaker takes his craft seriously. If you want something that’s guaranteed to be good, why not pick out a bottle with a big “90” on it (hey, we’re totally guilty)? And as a rule of thumb, don’t drink anything with a critter, cake, or footwear on the label. That’s just asking for trouble. Not to mention pricing. Is there such thing as good wine under $5? What about bad wine over $30? (The answer to both is yes, by the way).
With all these outside messages, chances are you’ve partially decided whether or not you like a wine before you even taste it. If you like the label, and you’ve invested $12 in it, it wouldn’t make sense not to (if you don’t believe me, look up cognitive dissonance). So how can you find wine that you like without being influenced by these outside factors? Try blind tasting.
Blind tasting wine is a great exercise. It helps you focus on what you see, smell, and taste and makes you think about what you drink. And though with practice you might be able to name a varietal, region, or vintage, you’d have to be some kind of wine ninja to be able to pin down a brand if you’re tasting wine poured from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag. So when you’re deciding whether or not you like the wine you’re drinking, it’s down to your senses…and they will surprise you. At a recent blind tasting I attended, the group favorite was a Syrah/Grenache blend from the Languedoc. It cost $4.99 and the label was ugly as sin. One member of the group commented that he thought about buying it, but he didn’t think it would be good since it was priced so low. He took a bottle home that evening.
So next time you feel like learning a little and trying something new, get together with a group of friends and have each person select a wine. Put them all in paper bags and taste through the bunch. Talk about what you see, smell, and taste, and take note of what you like. You might discover that you like a varietal you’ve never heard of. You might find a new favorite for under $5. No matter what, you’re likely to learn a lot and be pleasantly surprised.