To See or Not to See - that is the question!

Is 'blind' the only fair way to go when it comes to tasting wine? A new book thinks so...

by: Cathy Marston | 30 Nov 2009

This past year, a war has been raging about whether you should know which wine you are tasting when judging it or whether seeing the label influences your assessment.

In the ‘blind’ corner, very loudly and vociferously stating their case, stands food fundi Michael Olivier and Neil Pendock, wine critic for the Sunday Times and a myriad other publications, and so convinced are they that blind tasting is the only fair way to judge a wine, that they roped in a gaggle of like-minded tasters (including me!) to produce this Christmas’s must-have wine book, The People’s Guide.

Why taste blind at all? Results have shown that it is very difficult to be objective if you know who has made the wine – past history, reputation, personal friendships, likes and dislikes all play a huge part in a wine-taster’s reaction to a wine. And, although I am not saying that you always end up with a different result (most of our top wines – our Coups de Coeur – also did rather well in other guides too), it does seem unfair to consumers to factor in anything which isn’t right there in the bottle in front of them.

So over 6 days earlier on this year, we gathered in de Waterkant to work our way through more than 1,200 wines. My teeth rotted, my tongue turned black – yes, these are the sacrifices we made for you, dear consumer! We tasted in price category – because after all, isn’t that how most of us shop? – and discovered that there is amazing value to be had at all price levels.

We also discovered that there are amazing rip-offs at all price levels too, and perhaps that is the best reason to taste blind – it wasn’t so much what went into the guide, it was actually the ones we left out which supported the blind-tasting argument. If the wine wasn’t good enough in its price category, then it didn’t make it into the book and that was that.

And the result is a really handy guide, especially for people starting out on their wine-drinking journey. The book assumes no extensive prior knowledge of wine, just a willingness to enjoy it – exactly how you should drink in my opinion!  It’s bright, it’s fun, it’s completely un-intimidating and user-friendly so everyone, no matter what level of wine knowledge they have, will find something useful in there.

I freely admit that some of the results surprised me enormously, but I LOVE the fact that I have discovered a whole new raft of labels and blends which I might not have touched with a 10-foot barge pole beforehand. It’s opened my eyes – and I think that from now on, they will always remain resolutely closed when I try wine!


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