John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Tasting Cabernet Blind!

From time to time, I have the opportunity to attend or conduct a tasting where the wines are evaluated before anyone is shown what they’re tasting. These events are known as “blind” tastings.

Don’t get the wrong idea. We’re not talking about drunken parties where the tasters are blind from overindulgence. Rather, since the identities of the wines are kept hidden from the participants, the wines are being tasted “blind.”

Why? Well, tasting wines blind takes away the bias you may have toward a particular label because of past experience with the wine, or because of the reputation or price of a specific product. Without any idea of the wine’s identity, you’ll find you’re also better able to concentrate on the qualitative aspects of the wine such as color, aroma and taste.

I encourage you to attend one of these events or, better yet, conduct your own blind tasting with a few friends at home. It’s pretty simple. Just ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine which has been covered with a paper bag (be sure to tape the bag around the neck of the bottle).

I suggest using a specific type of wine such as zinfandel or sauvignon blanc so that you’re comparing different wineries’ versions of the same varietal. Most grape varieties, regardless of where they are grown around the world, produce wines that have defining aroma or taste characteristics that are universally recognizable.

Take cabernet sauvignon for example. Cabernet produced in such geographically diverse regions as the Napa Valley in California, Bordeaux in France or the Barossa Valley in Australia share varietal characteristics with which most wine drinkers can identify.

Some of the aroma and taste characteristics I find in cabernet are cola, leather, eucalyptus, tobacco, mocha, currants, green pepper and green olives. I don’t mean to suggest that every cabernet sauvignon has all of these components, but I can usually detect one or more of them in this world famous wine.

I had the pleasure of conducting just such a tasting recently where cabernets and cabernet blends were tasted blind. The blends are wines with cabernet and/or other traditional Bordeaux blending grapes (merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec).

This tasting consisted of six wines hailing from California, Bordeaux, Chile, Argentina and Australia. To make sure I was unaware of the order of the wines, I asked a person not in the tasting to bag and number the ones we were going to sip.

The wines ranged in price from around $11 to $35 a bottle and I asked the assembled group of wine lovers to taste each wine against all of the others and then to rate them. You may be surprised to know that the number one rated wine was far from the most expensive. In addition, I can honestly say that I would buy any of the wines we tasted and be happy with them.

So what were the wines and the results? Well, I’ll list the wines, but you’ll have to conduct your own tasting to determine which you prefer. After all, that’s what wine appreciation is all about – your preference after careful consideration. Incidentally, all the wines are readily available in wine shops around the state.

The wines tasted blind (in alphabetical order): 2007 El Portillo Cabernet – Argentina ($14); 2003 Falcor Le Bijou – Napa Valley ($32); 2007 Guenoc Victorian Claret – California ($15); 2006 Larose De Gruaud – St. Julien, Bordeaux ($35); 2006 Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet - Chile ($19); 2007 McWiliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet – Australia ($11).

Let me know what you think of the wine (s).
And the winner is…..
Wine is an acceptable water substitute !

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