Want the next step in wine tasting? Hosting a blind tasting is an exciting way to try new wines and put your tasting skills to the test!
7 Steps to a Successful Blind Tasting
1. Bring the wine.
Ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine (in general, you can plan on 1 bottle of wine to serve 10 people for tasting). Set a price level, such as $20 a bottle, and some boundaries; for example, don’t allow brands you could find in a major supermarket (it’s not that you can't find decent wines at your supermarket, but if everyone goes to the same grocery store, you might end up with two of the same wines). Encourage your friends to seek out unique wines so that everyone can have a new experience.You may also want to consider a theme, like California Cabernets or Best Buys Under $20, or wines from a certain vintage.
2. Set the table.
Before guests arrive, set each place with a tasting mat and scoring sheet (you can download the left and right side of the tasting mat and ranking sheet here). Then set out enough paper bags for the wines, wine glasses and a water glass for each person on the tasting mats. For instance, if you’ll be tasting eight wines, set out eight glasses per person (you can also ask your guests to bring their own).
Set out 1 “spittoon,” which can be as simple as a bowl, for every four people, and baskets of crackers or bread, along with any nibbles you like.
3. Prepare the bottles.
Hand out brown paper bags and have everyone remove the foils from their wine bottles and put the bottles into the paper bags. Bags not only hide the label, they also obscure the shape.
4. Determine your lineup.
Group wines into main categories (reds and whites, for example), and then figure out a tasting order. You don’t want to start with a dry Cabernet and then move to a sweet white wine. A good idea is to start with off-dry whites like Rieslings, move to drier whites like Chardonnay, then move onto the reds.
The best way to know which order to serve in while at the same time maintaining the anonymity of the wine is to ask everyone to label their wine with a general category--"LW" for light white, "DW" for dry white and "R" for red, for example—with a sticker or piece of masking tape placed on the front of the bag. If someone isn't sure which category his wine should be in, have him take his best guess, or have a miscellaneous category.
5. Taste and take notes.
Then start the tasting. For a refresher on how to properly taste wine, see below. Have your guests take notes on their findings for each wine and rate each step of the process, using the scoring guide. This will come in handy if you have a tie-breaker at the end! Rank the wines from least to most favorite.
6. Tally the scores.
Have someone record each of the tasters’ rankings of the wines and add up the totals. The wine with the lowest score wins.
7. Reveal the favorites.
When the tasting is complete and the scores have been tallied, reveal the wines from least to most favorite. Then have fun debriefing on the surprises before going on to the next category!
Double Blind Tasting: As the host, you may know what is in each bag, as we are illustrating a single blind tasting above. If you would like to have just as much fun as your guests, we suggest doing a double blind tasting. Simply have one person bag up the wines and another determine the order while the wines are bagged in Step 4. For this to work correctly, we suggest that you use the same varietal so that you're not tasting a Sauvignon Blanc after a Cabernet!
How to taste
The first step to evaluating a wine is the color and clarity. Hold your glass over a white piece of paper. The intensity of the color is also a good assessment of a wine’s weight; a more brilliant or deep color generally indicates a heavier wine style. After assessing the color of the wine, look at the clarity. Is it clear or cloudy? Cloudiness can indicate that the wine you are tasting may be unfiltered.
Sniff the wine in the glass and think about what comes to mind. Next, swirl the wine in the glass and sniff again. Are there other aromas that you pick up on? Don’t be afraid to use connections that may seem unusual … “Grandma’s closet,” “a spring walk.”
Take a sip of your wine and let it rest on your tongue for a few seconds. How heavy is the wine in your mouth? As a great comparison, think of the different levels of milk. Does the wine remind you of non-fat milk, whole milk, or cream (which would correspond to light, medium or full-bodied, respectively)?
Take another sip of wine and evaluate the tastes. To further assess the flavors, incorporate air by parting your lips and sucking in. After you have finished the sip, how long do the flavors last in your mouth? Do you taste any other flavors on the finish?
Take your time.
A wine can change over 10 or 20 minutes, so allow time for everyone to discuss and debate. Encourage everyone to eat crackers and cheese or other little snacks and to drink water between wines to cleanse the palate.