Blind tasting and strip poker, Oh my!

After our most recent wine tasting club meeting I began to wonder why it is that the least expensive wine frequently wins.  At our wine tasting club, we do blind-tasting. The bottles are covered up to conceal the identity of the producer. We typically pour an ounce or two, and score the wine on a 25 point scale, 5 points each for appearance, aroma, body, taste, and finish.  We scored 10 different sparkling wines. The winner was the least expensive of the bunch.

Is it simply that once potential external influences are removed from the equation, that we’re more readily able to identify what we truly like?  Or is there more to it? Inquiring minds want to know!

The advantage of blind-tasting wine is that price-based expectations don’t unduly influence the tasting. In other words, you’re not predisposed to respond positively to a more expensive, and/or well recognized brand. Instead you get the opportunity to discover what pleases your palate, regardless of external influences like advertising, marketing or price.

On the other hand, blind-tastings, especially in a group setting, tend to favor wines that offer immediate pleasure and gratification (i.e. wines that are soft, fruit and sweet) because I think our senses gravitate toward the obvious rather than the subtle, especially untrained senses.

I offer the “Pepsi Taste Challenge” as a comparable situation that might illustrate the point.  When Pepsi is blind tasted against Coke, most people prefer Pepsi.  But when they purchase, most people prefer Coke. Branding experts claim that all the advertising/marketing investment in the Coke brand explains the reversal.  However, another explanation is that Pepsi tastes sweeter and therefore we like it more when we drink small amounts.

I think the same thing can happen when blind tasting a wine, and that’s why often, the least expensive wine is the winner.  It offers the most immediate pleasure and gratification.  I’m not suggesting anything is wrong with that, or that the winners are not worthy.  They are. Rather, I think it’s important to be aware inherent limitations of blind tasting in a group setting, such as a wine club tasting.

And in my opinion, there’s something to be said for a wine that gets better the more time you spend with it, as opposed to a wine that may be more enjoyable initially, but that’s as good as it’s going to get.  And from a practical stand point, unless you regularly polish off a bottle of wine in one night, something to consider is what a bottle of wine will taste like the day after it’s opened.   Of course there are numerous factors that could affect the taste the day after, including how “complex”, the wine is and how it’s stored. But I think all things being equal (and they never really are, are they;-) a more “complex” wine will hold up better the day after opening than one that is less complex.

So go ahead a buy a bottle of the least expensive wine that won the blind tasting, especially if it was the one you enjoyed the most.  It’s worth a shot, but a couple of things to keep in mind.  Just because you liked a sip, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy an entire bottle. And keep your palate and your mind open to wines that you find interesting, but may not be what you’re accustomed to.  And just like you evolve with time, so will your palate!

There’s a whole wide world of wine out there, let your palate lead you to new and interesting places!

Finally, I leave you with this interesting quote from Kermit Lynch“Blind tastings are to wine what strip poker is to love”

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