Monday, May 19, 2008

Put the Blinders On . . . and Taste "Blind"

Sommeliers are professional wine guinea pigs. We taste the good, the bad, and the ugly, so hopefully all you taste is the good. More accurately, we train to understand what a person enjoys - in some respects better than they do themselves. This involves plenty of practice to develop a strong palate memory (a.k.a. "a Rolodex of aromas and tastes"). (Note: when I say practice, I do not mean lengthy wine-soaked dinners, or marathon rounds at the wine bar). I’m talking about formal deductive tasting, involving spitting, note-taking, and often executed ‘blind’.

Blind tasting - when no information about the wine is disclosed - is not only a test for one’s memory of grape flavor profiles, but also is a very enlightening study in the power of prejudice. Often customers will state their preferences by referring to producers rather than wines. For example, they may say they don’t like Rombauer [Chardonnay]. This information is helpful, as a savvy sommelier will know to avoid thick, butter-drenched chardonnays. In contrast, some customers will state they don’t like chardonnay, assuming that all chardonnay reflects the Rombauer style. This is what I refer to as a ‘wine bigot’. Wine bigots can be a challenge to serve, and require finesse . . . and perhaps a bit of guerrilla wine education. In this situation I simply offer them a taste of a crisp white, layered with citrus and pear - and not a hint of butter - without saying a word about it. If they love it, I pour it, and then happily inform them they are drinking a chardonnay, made in a style they had yet to encounter. This scenario illustrates how blind tasting is actually a beneficial experience for all wine drinkers, not just a sport for wine geeks!

In an effort to educate and entertain both the curious and the connoisseur, Savvy Cellar is kicking off Flying Blind! A blind tasting experience held on select Wednesday evenings. The inaugural flight is Wednesday, May 21st, and will feature two sessions of tasting: 5pm designed for more experienced tasters, and then the Amateur Hour at 7pm. Each session is $22, and will be hosted by yours truly, the Savvy Sommelier. Come for the education, come for the challenge, or come just to taste a few good wines.


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