Recall the fable of 5 blind men exploring an elephant with their perceptional senses- imagining it to be a tree, rope, winnower et al. Now imagine that these blind men knew they were exploring a four legged creature. And that further they were granted multiple attempts at exploring other such creatures with similar body parts. Does the scenario change? Certainly so, with these men becoming more adept at calling leg a leg, tail a tail and most certainly rule out the elephant if the trunk was absent . Tasting wine blind is much the same. Only difference is that the explorers in this case are not necessarily blind. Instead it is the wine information that is hidden from them until the end of the tasting.
The aim of tasting wine blind could be manifold but the overall goal remains the same- to do away with pre-conceived biases and rely solely on human perceptional senses. These biases could relate to labels, country of origin, grape varietals and so on. Tasting wine blind hence, provides an objective means to find how good or bad a wine is and much more than that. The extent of hidden information in such tastings determines their degree of difficulty and depends entirely upon the proposed outcome. For example, a wine competition seeking to establish the tasting prowess of competitors will blind out all information until the tasting is completed, whereas a tasting to develop deeper understanding of specific grape varietals or wine regions may disclose the grape varietal or region at the outset.
Recently when sommelier Gagan Sharma,a genial proponent of wine from India called me up, it was on an entirely different note. This time it was not concerning a formal wine fixture, but with a proposal to be part of a group of acknowledged oenophiles who would have no qualms in getting vulnerable to a blind wine tasting. The idea excited me and I took no time in accepting the offer. The premise was BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) of the themed wine and serving these blind to have a discussion on their characteristics and likely provenance. The general format was:
- Members bring in the wine confidentially and handover to the designated serving staff.
- Wines are served in sequenced identical decanters.
- Members taste the wines and take notes.
- Each member shares his/her tasting notes and pinpoints the probable country of origin/blend.
- Respective wines are unveiled after all members have shared their opinion
The first tasting happened in the fag end of 2014, quickly followed by another one, ushering in the New Year in its first week. Here is how it went:
Wines from Riesling grape varietal
Gulati Spice Market, Saket, New Delhi. The owners Sumit and chef Chiquita Gulati being part of the tasting group, afforded us undivided attention at the restaurant.
8 wines served in flights of 4 each were sampled. A good regional mix of wines made us labour, firstly to ascertain whether a particular wine was new or old world and subsequently to narrow down on the probable country of origin. Sumit was thoughtful in arranging printed tasting sheets with shortlisted flavours for white wines, making the work of taking notes a cinch.
After all the wines were tasted, Gagan moderated a discussion on each wine with participants bringing out their perception of these and their probable country of origin. The shrouded bottles were unveiled thereafter wine by wine.
A range of delectable finger food including bite sized pita bread with decadent galawati kababs, charcuterie, cheese platter and flavoursome dips with crackers made the menu dégustation friendly. After the tasting, chef Chiquita was generous to offer dough sealed pots of sumptuous Biryani, Mirchi ka Saalan and dessert to expand the ambit to a quick dinner.
Takeaways from the session
The inaugural tasting rendered some confident as well as disappointing moments that enabled us to identify our respective strong and weak areas. It was also a good ice breaker for the group.
Cabernet-Merlot blend or standalone Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The Wine Company, Cyber Hub, Gurgaon (NCR) . Again, the Wine Director at the restaurant Kriti Malhotra being part of the tasting group, made the affairs plus facile.
This time there were 6 wines as a couple of members could not arrive for reasons like being out of town or falling prey to the infamous Delhi cold affecting their olfactory senses. However, with around 12 members the group has adequate redundancy to ensure reasonable number of wines and the benefit showed.
The session went on much the same except that the wines were served individually and not as flights. There was a joker in the pack (by default than by design) in the form of a Cru Beaujolais wine that had everybody foxed. The reassuring aspect though, was that most of us could figure out something amiss and had plausible conclusions on the same.
The signature karari roti of the restaurant along side the melt-in the mouth chicken malai tikkas, mushrooms with pesto sauce and gourmet pizzas worked well with the wines.The cheese platter was well appointed and I particularly liked the Brie which was very fresh and creamy. All these were good companions to the reds that were served.
A bonus in this session came in the form of a bottle of Veuve Clicqout Ponsardin N.V. Brut Champagne generously brought in by Arun Varma, one of the group members, to raise a toast to the New Year in true esprit de corps towards the group. Sure enough, we did the honours.
Takeaways from the session
Increased comfort level with blind wine tasting and a lesson on not getting fixed on the theme of tasting even if it was known (Beaujolais here taught us that).
Two tastings old and the tasters’ group has already created a buzz. The best part of these tastings has been, that unlike highly publicised tastings which tend to get personality oriented, there is no halo around anybody despite their individual achievements with wine. The focus is solely on objectivity and continuous improvement of skills through interaction with a peer group that actually handles wine on a daily basis.
Removing the lunettes from wine-eyes just being incidental.