Blind Tasting and the Karate Kid


I have been thinking a lot about blind tasting recently. When I was in New York, it was very easy to find a tasting group and most people kept to it weekly. This was mostly because so many people in the NYC wine community are actively pursuing some sort of Court of Master Sommeliers certification, whether it is Certified, Advanced, or Master. We would meet weekly and do "6 on 6": 6 people bring one white and one red, and you break up in pairs. The first round someone tastes and someone takes notes, and in the second round you switch. Each flight of six is timed and the goal is the finish in 25 minutes, the same amount of time you have when taking the Advanced or Master Exam.

I passed the Advanced Exam and moved to Portland only a couple weeks later. I knew I needed some time to take a deep breath and settle into my new city. Now that it is the new year and my Master exam is just about a year away, I feel ready. In trying to get a blind tasting group together, I am interested to find that here it is a little harder. The wine community in Portland is thriving and exciting, but have not embraced the regimented blind tasting idea. Which is kind of obvious. It begs the question, "Why would I decide to put myself through this?"

In the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel to wax on-wax off and paint the fence. The student was endlessly frustrated until one day, without even knowing it, Mr. Miyagi demonstrated that he had been teaching him how to fight all along. This is what I have found with blind tasting. It seems you are just going through the motions and memorizing flowers and different types of dirt, until you find that you are eloquently and succinctly describing a wine to guest. The analysis of structure of a wine (sugar, body, alcohol, acid, and tannin) helps immensely with wine pairings - how else can you assess what would contrast or compliment if you can't break apart the components? People often dismiss blind tasting as a 'parlor trick,' but the skills that are acquired for blind tasting make us better tasters and better communicators when it comes to wine.