Blind Tastings–The Best Way to Taste Wine, or the Dumbest?

This weekend, I will be conducting The Seventh Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé. That sounds like a grandiose title that is completely made up and, well it is. While I do know that it will be the seventh such tasting I will have hosted (the first was shortly after we moved to Houston seven years ago), I have no idea if it is actually the “world’s largest” such tasting.

But I am pretty sure.


Well, on one hand, I rarely see much mention in the wine press about the inherent qualitative difference between a True Rosé and a saignée. And I don’t think I have ever seen a tasting solely focused on rosé and certainly not one that only included those made in the U.S.

[For those that do not like to quick on links: With a True Rosé, the grapes are often planted, raised, picked, and processed with the intention of making rosé. True Rosés are therefore not a byproduct of red wine production (as with a saignée), they are intentionally or purposefully made. They are True Rosés.]

Last year’s lineup (there were 51 wines).

But that is not the focal point of this post.

This post is about another word in that over-the-top self-aggrandizing title: “Blind.” In addition to hosting three blind tastings a year in my home (Pinot Noir in the fall and sparkling wine right before the holiday season), I also have served as a judge for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Wine Competition for the last seven years and, for this first time this summer, I will be a judge at the Critic’s Challenge in San Diego.

So, over the course of the year, I taste a lot of wines “blind”, probably in the neighborhood of 300-500. Simply put, a “blind tasting” means that the identity of the wine is concealed from the taster (no, it does not mean that we taste with blindfolds on). For the tastings I conduct at my home, while I know what wines are in the tasting, we have a system to bag and number the wines so that it is virtually impossible to know the identity of any given wine.

For example, this Saturday a group of wine writers and I will be tasting through 52 American rosés. Once the come over, we will all spend a few minutes opening all the wines, then a couple of writers will put the wines in paper bags (to conceal the labels) and then a couple different writers will number the bags randomly.

Maybe not “classy” but effective.

For the larger tastings, they are “double blind” which means that the judges are not involved in the process at any point other than receiving the wine already poured into a glass. We might know the variety of wine (e.g., “Pinot Noir”) and the relative price range (e.g., $15-25) but that is it.

I believe this flight was “Oaked Chardonnay.”

Blind tasting has been a cornerstone of the wine evaluation process for quite some time and the premise is solid: one should not be influenced by knowing who made the wine, the wine should be judged solely on the merits of what is in the glass.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has biases. While I certainly try to remain as objective as possible, it is very difficult to eliminate all previous experience when tasting a wine. I know that I am probably going to love certain wines before I open them (Tongue Dancer, Clos Pepe, Mailly Champagne), while others, not so much (cough, Caymus, cough).

“Flavored Sparkling Wine” it was hard not to think the blue one might have been toxic.

So blind tasting has its merits, there is no question.

But is it the best way to evaluate a wine?

In most cases at blind tastings, a judge is given about 2 ounces (50-60 ml) of wine and probably has somewhere in the neighborhood of a minute or two (or less) to evaluate it. That’s it.

66 wines in about an hour, so less than a minute a wine.

Thus, one has to be fairly focused and it does require a great deal of concentration. It is a great exercise to hone one’s senses and become better at wine evaluation. You also get to taste a large number of wines in a short period of time.


There are also some negative aspects to blind tastings.

It is pretty tiring. I can say from experience that palate fatigue is real. I was once on a panel that tasted 40 Pinot Noirs under $9. Holy cow, was that difficult–it was after five hours of tasting about 100 other wines and by that point, a bunch of those cheap Pinots sure tasted the same.

Super Panel One: Top Value Wine. 36 Wines from sparkling to saké to Syrah and everything in between. Choose the five “best” in a bout an hour. No problem.

Also, spending just a few seconds on a wine seems inherently unfair. I have stated many times that I like to taste a wine over the course of several hours, if not days before I write a tasting note since I am a firm believer that wine can and should evolve over time once opened.

I also like to see how wine interacts with food since I think most producers would agree that wine is meant to be served with a meal.

A sweet Bordeaux with my Gochujang red shrimp linguine? Not possible at a blind tasting.

Neither of those is possible or practical in a blind competition.

So, are blind tastings the “best” way to evaluate wine? I certainly think it is one way and it certainly has its merits (eliminating bias, tasting many wines rapidly, judging solely on what is in the glass).

Blind tastings inherently remove, however, some of the more compelling aspects of wine appreciation: how the wine evolves over time, how it interacts with food, and the stories behind the wine.

Tasting Moët et Chandon’s range with chef de cave (winemaker) Benoît Gouez with oysters seems much more civilized.

Thus, I feel blind tastings are an important component in wine evaluation, but I feel even more strongly that they are not a gold stand and should not be the be-all, end-all way in which we evaluate wines.

What are your thoughts?


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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3 Responses to Blind Tastings–The Best Way to Taste Wine, or the Dumbest?

  1. wineismylife says:

    I pretty much concur with your final paragraph. They are an important component to wine evaluation as well as a wonderful way to hone your skills as a taster and evaluator but they are not the be all, end all to the wine tasting experience. Time, food and most important fellowship are equally key when evaluating wine.


  2. Also agree with your final graph. I sometimes think we should blind taste them in dark glasses to remove any color bias (i.e., blue sparkling wine 😉 ) — that would be super interesting!


  3. Tom says:

    I’ve done blind tastings (never more than six wines) and it is fun to find biases. As someone who has judged beer and cider for competitions, as palate fatigues the “bigger” versions stand out. So with wine I assume the same, so a bit of RS stands out, etc.

    But the last paragraph is key. Much of my enjoyment is not that the wine I am drinking now is better than X, but the story behind it. Most wines I have I bought at the wineries, it it the memory of the visit and their description of how it was made that enhances the enjoyment.


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