Steve Heimoff, today, wrote an interesting post about the importance of tasting blind. The core of his argument is that it eliminates taster bias and it levels the playing field.
I disagree vehemently. In short, blind tasting is a fun exercise and can make for an entertaining party game.
I believe tasting blind, while eliminating “cues” of reputation (from the label), relies primarily on the taster’s preferences. The idea of leveling the field disregards regional variation. This notion represents very misguided thinking which can only contribute to the much-decried homogenization and loss of diversity in wine.
Blind tasting is a fun exercise. But it levels the field the wrong way. Wines should be evaluated in the context of cepage and terroir. This is what Appellation America’s Best of Appellation program is about and it is exactly what I argued for in a recent post.
I agree with Steve that people should look at wines without consideration of who made it and the reputation they carry. But unless one is looking at a wine and considering its merits in the context of cepage and terroir, one is only selecting wines on the basis of personal enjoyment. If that person makes it their pursuit to review and recommend wines, there is a fundamental problem with the value of the recommendation. Whether they know it or not and whether they mean to or not, they are dictating preference.
Creating lineups of wines of various price points for bind tastings can be entertaining, revealing and perhaps embarrassing for some. But beyond its “gotcha” element it does nothing to improve wine knowledge or communication about wine.
Steve exhorts wine bloggers to taste blind, claiming that many major critics don’t taste blind. Blind tasting to review, he says, will revolutionize the wine industry. I disagree.
The thing that will truly revolutionize the wine industry in the U.S. is a recognition that wines made from specific grapes will express specific characteristics and that the same cultivar grown in different localities will carry some unique, distinguishing characteristics. Further, this revolution will require the knowledge and understanding of how the choice of particular wine growing and wine making practice can affect the expression of grape and site.
The last key ingredient will be addressing each wine reviewed the way a doctor approaches a patient: they know key information about the subject, seek specific signs and findings in the physical examination to determine the client’s state of health, possible problem areas and make a diagnosis. It’s all matter of fact but, when communicated clearly, can relate a clear picture of the person’s state of health to another doctor. Blind tasting and writing about wines based on blind tasting is like a gynecologist making a diagnosis of a woman after speaking only to her husband and never laying a hand on her.
Many rail against the notion of objectivity in wine assessment and reject the possibility of any commonly agreed-upon standards or benchmarks of quality in the context of cepage and growing region. But none are so blind as those that refuse to see.
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