Blind Tasting hang ups

Okay, so here's my start to a discussion board thread. (and by the way- thanks Andy and Nick!).


There are wines that I miss all the time in blind tastings. And after the tasting I always am the first to say, "But I love that wine!" And then I go out and buy ten examples of the wine that I "love". And I drink them. And I read about them. And I enjoy them. And then I go to a blind tasting and instead of landing the flight I crash it. Because one of the these wines I "love" is what I misbelieved.


I'm a firm believer in "bankers" and "Achilles heels" but how many times do you (anyone reading this thread) taste a wine and miss it and think to yourself "but I love (insert emoji here if you're that person) that wine???"


Here's my take.


I don't really love that wine I miss because I never recognize it. Maybe that's the case! If you never get Rioja and claim to love Rioja you might need to rethink the relationship. And you may ask yourself, "How do I nail this?" I mean, maybe David does. But sometimes you don't connect.


Does anyone else miss "wines they love" consistently? How do you get past blind spots? Do you love them?


Asking for a friend.


And yes Jeff, I am popping popcorn.


  • CDP, Gigonda, Vacqueyras it what you want but It may as well be my red "Pinot Grigio". I tend to make Grenache based blends into whatever I want. Struggling on identifying how get over this hump, has anyone had this issue with GSM blends?
  • See I feel like I have more of bouts where something will be tough to get, but it's never really been anything truly consistently. I'll tell you what was frustrating was struggling with Sancerre for a while. I used to be able to Crush that wine everytime it came up, take no prisoners... Then something weird happened; I couldn't really pick out pyrazines. Then I started Struggling with Sancerre for a couple months. Wife would pick it out when selecting wines hoping i'd buck that trend, and I called it wrong everytime. Our of nowhere, something just... "Snapped?" I could pick up pyrazines again and I was able to crush the wine after that. I had this same thing with Gruner for a little while. it seems to be confined to something overall, but maybe that's just growing pains. I did make myself reassess what I think a specific wine is supposed to have or how it should taste and basically redid my entire varietal dossier. if I came up with the same conclusion I had before, i'd leave the wine alone and put confidence in the fact that I have it down good. If I had a discrepency, I would make it focal point of a serious analysis into what I was missing... Who knows, maybe that helped keep the "achilles heel" a moving target.

    I like your point; If you really emoji that wine, and keep missing it, do you truly love it? Great damn point!
  • Have you tried this type/write out all the grape varieties and their characteristics. Once that is done when you miss a certain wine, find that sheet and mark what you called on it. Then on the back of where you put down the wine you called explain why it can't be that wine. Keep doing this to see if your calling a certain wine certain things and then taste them side by side. Right now I'm currently doing this and will continue when I start blind tastings but for now I've been doing regional varieties and comparisons from the Deductive Tasting Workbook.
  • Personally where I'm at is just enjoying wine for the next few years. What I usually do a few times a week after work is just open a bottle/half bottle for myself and watch shows and relax. It's important to study before and after you drink a wine, but I think the dedication to one wine vs 4-5 is helpful for long term memory and to not trick your palate. I personally like to study alone most of the time and I feel like group work takes a lot of my focus away from what I'm trying to taste and think/research about. I track my individual wines on Delectable with my notes and follow people to gain producer knowledge as well as get ideas of tasting notes.

    I mean, honesty about you're tasting notes is the most important part. I don't like blind and group tasting often because yeah everyone shares things you may not pick up which helps you, but then again spending 2 hours on one $20-40 bottle wine especially earlier on is enough for me to grow.
  • I’ll give you my take on this for what it’s worth. I think a wine that is testable from the perspective of any exam should have a set of objective qualities that will lead you unambiguously to that conclusion. I’m not saying that everybody will agree with this, but personally I don’t see the point in examining to a nebulous standard.

    My recommendation is to look at any wine style that you think is classic and identifiable and figure out what are the objective criteria which will lead you to that wine and no other classic wine. If you do this and you misidentify a particular wine, then there are four possibilities:

    1. You don’t know the objective factors that define that wine style
    2. You are not perceiving the objective factors correctly
    3. The individual wine you are tasting is not totally representative of the benchmark
    4. My theory on blind tasting is bogus

    Also, please don’t misinterpret this perspective for an argument that a wine has to be perfectly classic to be good. Some of my favorite dogs are not purebred. There’s nothing wrong with a mutt, but I do prefer them to be clean.
  • I honestly think this is a pit fall of many tasting groups. The group I belong to, as great as it is, does suffer (as I would imagine many others do), from the simple fact that it's expensive enough to open up 6 bottles of wine the week it's your turn, so that it's not always feasible to also make sure that the bottles you've chosen are truly classic.

    I believe, for most of us, we're trying to kill two birds with one stone. Provide a challenging but fair line-up, but also open up some cool shit for our friends. And that's where the exercise can go sideways. Opening wines that you're not super familiar with for the sake of sharing something "cool".

    Actually, once, curious about all the Kirkland house brand wines I'd begun to see at Costco, including Brunello, Paulliac, and other "fancy appellations", I actually did a themed tasting using nothing but Kirkland wines. I did catch some flack from the peanut gallery during the reveal, but, sort of got the last laugh because I don't recall another time when everyone got at least 4 right and most got 5 or 6. Average though they may have been, they were all doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.

    Now, I'm not saying I'd be batting 1.000 if every wine was text book, but I do recall plenty of times when, at the reveal, we all tended to agree that the wine wasn't classic. Mind you, it does help if you accurately described what the wine was acting like, even if you missed on what it says on the label.

  • Eric,

    Dr. Jaimie Goode in his book "I Taste Red" mentioned some recent discoveries in how the brain works that might explain this.  I know it made me feel a little better about the really difficult thing we do when we evaluate or blind taste wines[:)].

    It kinda goes like this: If you try to construct an AI robot to do a simple task like picking something up, most people would probably start installing a bunch of cameras and sensors to record everything that is going on and rely on the robot's computer to crunch all that data to accomplish the task.  Truth is that there is so much data involved that the computer would crash before it would accomplish the task.

    The brain, he explains is similar and relies on previously experienced models to shortcut the process, reducing the amount of data needed to be saved.  This works well if all goes well, but when it does not, the brain starts recording real time and saves the experience as new and potentially useful.  

    The parallel with your example is that when you like something, it goes into the "good" bucket and your RAM gets wiped clean.  When something goes bad or is different or unexpected, you remember it much better, because your brain is trying to record the anomaly.  

    From an evolutionary perspective, this makes total sense. If something tastes good and you "love it", no need to remember anything. No harm done, or better., you really enjoy the endorphin rush.  But if the experience is different than expected or unpleasant (bad), that might be important to your survival and would be handy to your survival to be remembered.  Like bitter things in nature that might hurt you.  

    Thank goodness for the relearning process that allows us to enjoy things like Fernet, or to swim upstream sufficiently to be able to describe or blind taste wines.

    Fun stuff. Thanks for the discussion!


  • I'm only at the certified level, but I think that - when tasting - one problem may be in the wines choose for practice.
    For example, if I'm tasting nebbiolo I don't expect new oak. If someone in my tasting group has chosen a Barolo with new oak on it then they've done me a disservice, as far as CMS exams go.
    I know the CMS provides a list of examinable grape varieties, which I appreciate. What I would love is a list of classic producers we might see on an exam. For example: Rioja - Lopez de Heredia. Nebbiolo - Gaja or Produtorri, etc...
    Just a thought:)
  • I'll offer another perspective of the same couple points if it please the court:

    Geoff spoke in a blind tasting podcast about early on when he was "intuitively" tasting and enjoying fluctuating success. I think there's a connection to be made here whereby if youre not nailing the "wines you love" you may be relying too heavily on intuition and emotion because you "know" the wines versus, as Geoff mentioned, approaching the glass more pragmatically from the benchmarks that are or are not present. One of my tasting mantras has always been "what's in the glass is what's in the glass" meaning, in a test setting, no one is trying to trick you, the wines are exactly what they are, for better or worse. That was born of a hard lesson learned and one that I always remind myself of.

    What Jim mentioned from Dr. Goode's book, which is on my need to read list, sounds much like Tim Gaiser's work on mappingthe brain so that familiar information can be recalled more easily.

    A vintage or winemaker's style, even when classic, can fluctuate a little and cause our benchmarks to be subdued or shuffled. 2015 Sancerre can be pretty tough because they're showing so much more fruit. And I've caught myself (and was called out for it) calling NZ because "I didn't get as much minerality AS I WANT to justify calling Sancerre". So there I wasm making the wine what I wanted it to be even though all the markers were there, just in a different order of magnatude.

    Drinking and enjoying wine is subjective. Tasting blind has to be objective and pragmatic.
  • I think that you can absolutely miss and struggle with wines that you love. loving a wine does not necessarily mean that you are exposed to it all of the time. And when you buy a case to increase your exposure, are you buying the producers you love, or are you buying all types of examples?

    I love well made elegant mainly used oak Nebbiolo, but i confuse Nebbiolos in blind tasting with Sangio more than i would like. Why? Because its not the grape that my friends are usually drinking causally, it is a difficult grape to produce well, bottle variation, and when i buy it for myself, I focus on the producers that make it the way I enjoy.

    You absolutely need a strong foundation to get past these obstacles, and to use all the objective tools. However, i am a firm believer of time and exposure. it hasn't yet gotten me to where i need to be with Nebbiolo/Sangio, but there are a lot of grapes that over the years have moved from wines that I struggle with to wines that I rarely ever miss, and i absolutely believe Nebbiolo/Sangio will eventually be the same.

    I guess the approach I use is as follows:

    1. Buy it and keep it at home.

    2. When I miss wines in a blind tasting that I struggle with, I try to go home and write down the mistakes that I made. I used to be very guilty of accusing the wine of being not testable or being a bad example, but now I think that is silly. Unless everyone in the group gets it wrong (and even sometimes when we all do), I try to find out what the wine had to offer me and what I could learn from it regardless of how perfect it was or was not.

    3. I drink (spit) all of the wine in my glass and i ask for more if there is extra at blind tastings. If your glass of wine is not finished and you missed the wine, well you have education in front of you. Try to learn something from every last sip.

    4. Take any subjective comment someone gives you about how to accurately describe a wine with a grain of salt. I can think of so many times where I would try to use someone else's key aroma/flavor description to accurately identify a wine with utter failure. Objective attributes are the only descriptions of a wine that can be shared with everyone.

    5. Casually drink the wine. The wines that I sit around and drink causally with colleagues, family and friends the most, are the wines that I can identify the most consistently.

    6. Time. No matter how hard I try sometimes, I cannot identify a wine consistently enough for my satisfaction, but then a year or two passes and all of a sudden I realize that the wine is no longer difficult.
  • "For love is blind all day and may not see." -- Chaucer, Merchant's Tale
    To Geoff's point, write down everything you love about the beloved, and then identify what those loved things are. Dissect. We become so familiar with, say, aged Red Burg, that we choose not to see its pickle juice, dried sour cherry, leather, brett and barrique. So it becomes Gran Reserva Rioja in our minds.
    Before this turns into a therapy session . . .
    Love, jimmy
  • Flipping this around, I have heard a couple masters say they have narrowed down to a specific wine because they didn't like it. Is it Gruner or Pinot Grigio... This can show inexperience as well. My understanding of CDP Blanc is poor because I have been (unfairly) not a huge fan and it's damn expensive, so I have missed it every time. I have said "it's Cote de Nuits because I like it" on an excellent example of Beaujolais because I hadn't tasted enough excellent Beaujolais. I try to suspend all emotion or opinion and taste like I am dead on the inside.