I can’t stand blind tastings

I can’t stand blind tastings

By Cesare Pillon

 

I admit it: I’m suspicious of blind tastings, the ones where you don’t know what wine you are tasting. I prefer guided tastings, where you know exactly what you are drinking and the producer or the winemaker illustrates its characteristics and is prepared to answers tasters’ questions. I like them because they help to enhance the pleasure of wine through more indepth knowledge, whereas I don’t trust blind tastings because they turn that pleasure into a contest. In fact they serve to check who is and isn’t able to discover what wine is being tasted in a group of tasters, or to establish which is the best wine of those being tested by means of a scoring system.

Why I don’t trust in blind tastings

I admit that it is an examining tool that enables you to give an assessment without being influenced by the prestige of the label. This is undeniable. So why don’t I trust them, then? Because it is on the basis of blind tastings that wine guides are compiled, and this is precisely why I am convinced that they lead people to look at wine from the wrong angle. I think the mistake comes from the pretext of measuring quality with a score: the premier cru of a Bordeaux, which is not equatable with that of a Champagne, becomes so, however, with a score, be it points out of a hundred or a number of glasses. And the mechanism it sets in motion is perverse, because the identification of an absolute best wine is abstract and the wines examined, in turn, become abstract themselves. In order to analyse them, the tasting tools nature has given to man are sterilized.

The importance of eye, nose and palate

The wine isn’t tasted: it is observed, smelled, and after having “auscultated” the flavour, swishing it round your mouth, it is spat out. It is not judged as a whole, but divided into colour, aroma, taste, assessing it for what it communicates separately to the eye, nose and palate. A more intense colour is demanded, a bolder aroma, as well as a more concentrated flavour. With disastrous consequences for introvert and pale wines: Bordeaux wines regularly beat Burgundies and Sangiovese beats Nebbiolo wines hands down. The anomalous mechanism turns upside down the very point of tasting: instead of assessing the pleasantness of what you are drinking, it urges you to hunt for its flaws. But this doesn’t mean that a wine without flaws is a great wine. Have you never heard of the Strabismus of Venus? The truth is that by concentrating only on one aspect each time, it becomes difficult for the taster to capture what is most important: the character, the personality. It is as if he were test driving a car and giving it separate scores for engine power, brake safety and gear precision, without judging the car as a whole. Formula One racing cars would win every time. But you don’t need a racing car to go to work or take the family to the seaside: you only need one to win a race. The hasty driver does blind tastings, and blind tasting rewards muscular wines.

 

From Italian Wine Chronicle 1/2015. Read for free the magazine

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