The fallacy of identifying wines blind

by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

jeff-smjamie goode did a xmas tasting of wines blind.  You can find the results at:  “A spot of blind Christmas tasting, in which I fail”,

I take some exception with his conclusion that he failed.  He missed badly on several of the wines he tasted.  For example, he guessed that a Bordeaux was a Rhone.  That’s pretty far off.  But on several he was pretty close.  No ringers, but no one ever gets a ringer.

But the post highlights the fallacy that anyone can pick out a wine blind with any consistency.  I know I can’t, and I have never met anyone who could.  I remember once when I had a group of wine enthusiasts over to taste wines blind and try to identify what they were.  In most cases, most tasters couldn’t get the region, or even the continent right.  Variety?  Forget about it.  They did considerably worse than goode did in his 5 wine tasting.  They could accurately differentiate reds from whites, but that was about it.

What’s most of interest here, though, is the fact that while we go through life assuming that we can differentiate one wine from another, or “good” wine from “bad” wine, we really can’t.  A wine that we love one day can be deficient the next.  People offer all kinds of explanations for why this can be:  bottle variation, food pairing, the list goes on.  But they are looking in all the wrong places.  The fault doesn’t lie in what we’re consuming–it lies in us.  If a wine rates very differently on two different occasions, it’s more likely that our limited tasting abilities are the culprit.

When you think about it, it’s not hard to see why this should be so.  First off, the challenge isn’t an easy one.  Pretty much all the wines we drink are varieties of one species of grape.  While at the edges (Pinot Noir vs. Petite Sirah) the differences may be great, for most of the wines closer to the middle of the bell curve, the differences may not be all that substantial.  Add into the equation that all kinds of other things (e.g. flaws, oak, etc, etc. etc.) can throw us off stride, and it’s pretty clear the challenge is pretty daunting.

But apart from that, we’re mercurial creatures.  One day good things happen to us, or we just wake up on the right side of the bed, and everything tastes great.  Another day, it’s the opposite, and everything tastes bad.

I play a lot of racquetball.  Some days, I can’t miss.  Other days I’m pathetic.  My wine tasting abilities are no different.

So the whole concept, upon which much ink is spilled and millions of dollars spent on wine publications, that we really can with any consistency identify and judge wines is an outright fallacy.  I think the sooner we all wake up to this simple fact, the more we can turn our attention to more important things, like the simple enjoyment of what we’re drinking.

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