April 17, 2016
Theme: Blind Wine Tasting Challenge on CTV Morning Live… Red? White? Can anyone tell the difference?
Today on CTV Morning Live we tried a fun wine tasting challenge. The challenge was to taste a few wines blindfolded and try to guess what’s in the glass. Is it a red, a white, a rosé? CTV colleagues had the ability to smell and taste the wines but not look at them, not even a peek! Although this may seem quite simple, it’s harder than you may think to tell what kind of wine is in a glass, if you can’t see it! Let’s see how they did! Check out the CTV video here
Sampling wine blindfolded is fun, but when you remove one of our sensory tools, such as sight, if makes it that much more challenging as we’re left to rely solely on aromas and taste.
All sorts of experiments have been done with this and more often than you’d think tasters get stumped when trying to figure out if they’re drinking a white or a red or a rose…
To give our colleagues the best chances of succeeding, I chose the most popular red wine in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the most popular white wine, Chardonnay as part of the blind tasting line-up. To keep it interesting I included a Rosé and a Pinot Noir, but due to time limitations we opted just to include three in the line-up, keeping the Pinot for another tasting. All wines were served at room temperature to not give away the white wine in the line-up.
Here are the wines we selected to challenge our colleagues with today:
Silver Buckle Chardonnay, Chardonnay, $22.95
Silver Buckle Chardonnay is a crowd-pleaser perfectly suited for enjoying with BBQ’d chicken, shrimp, fresh corn on the cob, or creamy orzo risotto with pan seared scallops – my personal favourite. Golden yellow, it shows yellow apple, pineapple, and lemon tarts on the nose and palate. Medium bodied, with a creamy texture, the sweet orchard fruits, baking spice, and lemon tart persist on the refreshing finish. If you like California Chardonnay you’ve got to check out this value-priced gem. Tasted April 2017. 89 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Château des Charmes Cuvée d’Andrée Rosé, Ontario, $15.95
A gold medal winner at the 2016 Ontario Wine Awards, this value-priced rosé was produced with 100% estate grown Pinot Noir from one of Canada’s famous wine regions, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Deeply coloured for a rosé thanks to a cold-soak the winemaker employed to extract the right amount of colour and maximum amount of flavour from those tiny thin-skinned Pinot grapes. Aromas of freshly picked berries emerge with sweet strawberry, cranberry, a hint of fresh watermelon, with some sweet spice completing the bouquet. Creamy, soft, and loaded with sweet and refreshing red berries and spice on the finish. A great choice for sipping on your patio this spring and summer, and enjoying with grilled shrimp kebabs, pan seared scallops, or a grilled veggie burger. Tasted April 2017. 88 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Available at LCBO or at one of the winery’s boutique wine shoppes across Ontario, such as Minto Place in downtown Ottawa.
Inniskillin Pinot Noir, Ontario, $15.95
Inniskillin’s Niagara Estate Series Pinot Noir offers great value. For under $16 you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Pinot.
An easy-going Pinot that shows tart cran-cherry, dried herbs, and a touch of baking spice on the nose and palate. Dry with dusty tannins, this medium-light bodied Pinot is a great choice to enjoy alongside grilled salmon, roasted poultry, or pork tenderloin dishes. Tasted February 2017. 88 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Lander-Jenkins Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $19.95
Sweet vanilla and rich stewed fruit on the nose and palate. Rich and balanced, this is a super star of a wine for any social gathering. Guaranteed to be a hit, this is a buy by the case wine. Great on its own, it’s also great when paired with BBQ fare and hearty winter meals. Enjoy now with good company. Tasted January 2017. 90 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.mattswinepicks.com
So, how do you succeed at blind tasting wines?
First of all, everyone is a winner when you’re tasting wine. Whether you’re a wine novice or expert, tasting wine is a very enjoyable thing to do. Although there’s no limit to the wine education and the experience you can accrue as you hone your skills, tasting wine doesn’t need to be perceived as being that complicated as it’s quite simple actually.
It typically starts with looking at a wine, then smelling it, then sipping it, and finally savouring it. That’s it!
Look, smell, sip, savour, repeat.
Voila. Pretty simple stuff, until you remove any of those elements (such as look, smell, taste) which makes is increasingly challenging to fully assess the wine and to reap the full benefits out of the wine experience.
Today we’re trying a fun wine tasting challenge with colleagues at CTV. The challenge is to taste a few wines blindfolded and try to guess what’s in the glass. Is it a red, a white, a rosé? They’ll have the ability to smell and taste the wines but not look at them. We’re curious to see how many will guess accurately what’s in their glass as this challenge is actually harder than it may seem.
Before we get into that though, here’s a bit of a backgrounder on the advantage of looking at a wine when you’re tasting. When you look at a wine it reveals so many indicators about a wine. Colour (white, red, pink), varietal/style, the wine’s age, it’s alcohol and sugar content, whether it was oak aged or not, etc. So many of the wine’s characteristics can be initially assessed simply from looking at the wine in a glass.
Since the colour of a wine largely comes from contact with grape skins after the grapes have been pressed in the early stages of wine production (often within hours of picking the grapes), the longer the freshly pressed grape juice (soon to be wine) is in contact with the pressed skins, the more those skins will impart their color on the wine. A great example is rosé wines, often those have only an hour to several hours of skin-contact, which imparts only a very subtle pink colour, whereas Cabernet Sauvignon can see the juice and skins in contact for multiple weeks which imparts lots of deep colour, flavour, and tannins from the grape skins. Add oak aging to any wine and that can modify the colour too, which is especially noticeable in white wines that have spent time in oak. Picture a California Chardonnay versus a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Between extended skin contact (called maceration in winemaking lingo), and oak aging, these two winemaking practices contribute to colour, aromas, taste, and texture in wines, which are great clues to look for when tasting blind!
All this to say, if you remove the visual element of wine tasting it makes it that much more challenging to ascertain exactly what’s in that glass, but if you’re attentive to the aroma profile, flavours, and texture that the wine exhibits then you’re well on your way to guessing whether it’s a white, red, or rose.
As you gain more experience with blind wine tasting then you can start to narrow-in on more precise descriptors such as varietal (Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), where the wine may come from, whether it was oak aged, and the age of the wine too. We’ll leave that for future blind tasting sessions but you can see how this can get really interesting (geeky!) and of course those that have tasted thousands of wines can get really good at it!
Matt’s tips for blind wine tasting:
Take your time when you smell the wine.
Swirl the wine in the glass to open-up and reveal the aromas of the wine, and smell it a few times, each time diving deeper into the bouquet to identify additional aromas beyond the initial one(s) you encountered (I call that the initial impression).
Once you register that initial impression aromatic profile, then it’s time to look for (smell) other aromas that are present but perhaps just not as abundant or dominant as the initial impression was.
In wine tasting we often talk about primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas, meaning the primary aromas come from the grapes themselves, while the secondary aromas come from the winemaking process (such as oak aging which contributes vanilla aromas, and aging a wine on its lees (the yeast cells that were used to ferment the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol), and finally tertiary aromas which come from the wine’s aging in bottle (fresh fruit aromas turn to more earthy aromas over time…which is why we smell things like mushrooms in many older wines). So with practice you get used to looking for those primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas, and the same goes with taste.
Added to taste perception are elements such as texture of the wine. Is the wine heavy on the palate (indicating high alcohol, and perhaps coming from a hot wine region), are there tannins present (those fine dusty invisible particles that make your teeth grippy, which come from oak aging and extended skin contact for red wines), and of course the level of acidity in a wine which is what makes wines refreshing and great for pairing with rich foods as the grape’s natural acidity helps cleans the palate and contributes to the enjoyment of wine and food together.
All these elements give clues to what’s in your glass and with time you’ll get the hang of it and be able to confidently ‘guess’ what’s in that glass you’re tasting whether it’s partially blind (i.e. you can’t see the label) or fully blind in that you can’t even see the colour of the wine.
I said earlier that wine tasting is not that complicated, but according to Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd, who says the flavor of wine “engages more of our brain than any other human behavior”, so it actually is quite a complicated process after all even if we don’t understand what our nose, taste buds, and brain do to arrive at our sensory conclusions. Mark Schatzker, author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, interviewed Dr. Shepherd recently and here’s a bit of what he discovered: Dr. Shepherd notes that when you sniff wine in the glass, you appreciate the bouquet. That’s called “orthonasal” smell — the external smelling we’re all familiar with. But what most people are unaware of is that when you take wine in your mouth and experience the flavor, most of that flavor is due to a form of ‘internal smelling’. The air comes in from the throat, not your nostrils, and they call that “retronasal” smelling. The molecules are carried to the same receptor cells in the nose, but from the opposite direction. This is very important when it comes to wine flavor.
An example is the famous jelly bean test. If you put a jelly bean in your mouth and plug your nose and sense it with your tongue, all you sense is sweet from the sugar. But if you then unplug your nose, suddenly you’re flooded with the full flavor experience, and it’s because you’re smelling through the back of your nose/throat. This demonstrates how much we rely on our sense of smell when we “taste” wine indicating that much of the experience of wine tasting actually comes from scents rather than taste itself.
Next time you get together with your friends, why not put some of this wine tasting knowledge to the test and try tasting some wines ‘blind’. It will be great to see how you all do with this fun sensory challenge.