August 03, 2010

Tasting by suggestion

I've often read about how blind tasting is the only way to properly evaluate wine. I'm usually one of those who bring up context in such situations. Wine, like almost everything, is about context for me. It matters where a wine is from, even what it is or is supposed to be. Tasting wine blind ends up more about finding faults, which can be helpful to a winemaker. It can be fun for the wine lover to try. But really, it has little to do with real wine appreciation.

Tonight something else struck me. Just this morning I was reading  about how people tend to smell or taste a wine descriptor when someone in the group finds it in their glass. We've all had that experience, in wine or anything else. It's the power of suggestion and it's usually met with eye rolling, as if we're cheating or noticing something that isn't there. Blind tasting must be silent, otherwise you'll get ideas in your head about things that aren't there, further ruining the objective evaluation of a wine.

I'm sorry to say I've always assumed that's right. Then tonight I was struggling with replacing what seemed like a simple part on our water heater. I'll be honest. I'm not really handy. I do, however, read well and I have pretty good comprehension skills. At least I think so. Mechanical diagrams are a blind spot. I stared at the drawings that came with the part and simply couldn't make sense of them. Enter my neighbor, an engineer and embarrassingly handy guy. He looked at the diagram and helped me understand it. Of course, we figured out I'll need a technician type to take care of the job right. But he essentially pointed out details in something I was evaluating, details I hadn't noticed or understood without his help.

Doesn't that happen a lot? I think it's called teaching and learning, and while wine isn't an objective thing like the diagram, what's wrong with noticing or understanding better a descriptive element in a wine after someone suggests it to us? It's not like it's made up. Some times people suggest things and I don't get it. So many other times people suggest things and they strike a true chord with me. That's real.

A few years ago, my dad was on the board of a start up bank and went through an interesting experience when they were working on logo design and shared part of it with me. He asked me if I'd ever seen the FedEx logo. Yes, of course. Had I seen the arrow? Huh? The arrow. Hmm. No, I'd never seen or noticed the arrow. But it's there. Check it out for yourself the next time a truck rolls by. As he often said, I ain't making it up, pally.


Portland Charcuterie Project said...

Holy cow... I just noticed the arrow.

That sounds like a lot of work just to replace a hot water heater... 2 incoming water connections, one fuel(elec or gas ), venting, and drain.

Call me next time you need help.. I'll call you a plumber :)

Michael Alberty said...

I know what you mean about that arrow. It took me years to notice the middle finger on a bottle of Opus One.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

finger? Ok.. now you're just messing with me.

All I've ever seen is 2 bears eating a peanut butter sandwhich sitting on alfred hitchcock's head.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

That middle finger isn't on the Opus One label. It's on the price tag. Geez.

Suppositions Tasting Club said...

I agree. To me, tasting in a group setting is synergistic. It helps us put our sensory experiences into words. Communicating our perceptions is often difficult, and it's exciting to hear feedback from multiple tasters - especially when opinions don't always align.

Florida Jim said...

'Never liked blind tasting.
It assumes a level playing field and forces ranking or competitive evaluations.
Besides, when is the last time you drank wine with wine - I usually drink it with food.
Best, Jim

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Jim, I admit I can enjoy blind tastings. There's a novelty that still interests me. I do hate ranking wines though. What interests me is noticing markers in wine - could it be terroir? - that remind me of other wines I've tried. Of course you can do that any time you taste wine, but when I have tasted blind, I find it's especially heightened.

I like what you say though. I drink wine with food, not other wine.

Doug A. said...

I like blind tastings when you are comparing apples to apples: eg a vertical of Pegau, or 2005 Chambolles... It helps me solidify a house style in my mind, or a vintage characteristic in a particular region. This can help me make purchasing decisions our help with food pairings later. Or to decide which bottle to give to my in-laws for Xmas, but I digress.