blind and save money
What’s the story behind the rather odd title? It’s an
idea prompted by a recent ‘offline’ dinner, where a group of
internet wine geeks got together to taste a range of wines blind,
loosely gathered around the theme of Rhône wines and Rhône grape
Not knowing a wine’s identity when you taste removes any
subtle preconceptions that a glance at the label brings. It’s a
fascinating experience. If you are trying to guess the wine, then to
have any measure of success you need a lot of experience and even more
From this particular tasting I came away with a few
thoughts, first of which is that this could be a way for wine drinkers
to save a lot of money. One of the wines tasted was a Cornas Reynard
from Thierry Allemand from the late 1990s. Blind, the rather austere,
high acid raspberry fruit palate put this firmly in the Northern
Rhone, but I guessed that it was a Crozes Hermitage or St Joseph.
Allemand’s two Cornas cuvées are wines I often buy, but on this
showing I won’t be buying any before tasting. At £25 a pop I can
get these flavours for £10–12 elsewhere.
Another of the wines was a 1990 Alsace Riesling from Sipp,
which I spotted as Riesling but beyond this there was no real
complexity or class. A wine cellared for more than a decade whose
flavours could be replicated by a middling new world effort?
This reminds me of a Harpers (UK wine trade magazine) blind
tasting of Chardonnays from around the world, held a few years back.
Trade and press alike performed like donkeys when it came to
distinguishing among a disparate bunch of wines. If experienced
professionals can’t spot a £5 new world Chardonnay from one costing
four times this amount, then why does anyone buy the more expensive
Another thought was that age is a leveller, bringing wines
together. New world wines tend to taste a bit more like old world
wines with several years’ bottle age. As wines begin to senesce,
they all begin to taste a little similar – with a characteristic
‘old wine’ bouquet. This makes blind tasting challenging, but it
also makes me question spending a lot on a bottle if you are aren’t
going to drink it till it’s on its down slope.
These are just a few examples, and from other experiences I
could come up with many more. Taste the sorts of fine wines you
normally buy blind, and then see whether they stand up to scrutiny
without sight of the labels and without their reputations preceding
them. If you can’t tell the difference between certain posh bottles
and cheaper alternatives, then you could save yourself a lot of money.
Ignore what the critics say in this case. Either they are
seeing complexity that isn’t there, the particular region in
question offers poor value for money, or your palate isn’t yet
finely tuned enough to dissect out the subtleties that you are paying
so much extra for.
I made several
duff guesses at this blind tasting. In my defence, I’d argue that I
was drinking the wines in a restaurant setting, and several bottles
were open at once. Tasting in more clinical surroundings at a slower
pace, these mistakes might not have been made. However, few if any of
us drink wine in clinical conditions. We have to question whether it
is worth paying a lot extra for subtleties and complexities that
either don’t exist or that we can’t pick up. So try some blind
tasting, and work out which wines you really want to pay more for.
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