Drinking Blindly: Why blind wine tastings are more fun

bagged wine mediumIt’s sad to say, but our culture is polluted by marketing. When’s the last time you made a decision based solely on the quality or usefulness of a product? Whether we like it or not, we are programmed by advertisements in the media. Remember that frighteningly feasible sci-fi movie called Minority Report? In it, Tom Cruise’s character is inundated with customized, video-produced advertisements on billboards, at clothing stores, and on street corners. It gave me the heebie-jeebies, almost like watching a reality show. Can you feel it coming?

Wines are fast becoming marketing whores like the rest of the consumer product world, throwing ads at us, offering coupons and volume discounts, and pushing product samples as often as they can. But since there are so many brands out there screaming for your attention, they are compelled to use these tactics. You can’t really blame them.

So that’s both good and bad news for the consumer. We reap the price benefits of the competition, but also frequently fall prey to the gimmicks. Like insipid, tasteless beer, some popular wines out there only sell because the brand name is emblazoned on your conscience. Consider the last time you bought a bottle of wine. Why did you choose it?

What if all wine bottles were generically labeled “Wine”? Wouldn’t we then have to purchase by taste?

That’s what “blind-tasting” is all about. Hiding the label forces people to assess a wine without external influences. Most wine writers, including me, are woefully not immune to marketing, and to counterbalance the nefarious influence, we often “blind-taste” by disguising the bottles with aluminum foil, paper bags or anything that will hide the label. I can hardly say I blind taste every wine, but I do find that some of the surprisingly better deals I’ve uncovered emerged from blind tastings. It’s as if the blindfold sucks all the marketing out of the bottle, leaving it clean and unfettered.

Duping your friends with blind tastings can be equally as satisfying. Invite some of your more wine snobby friends over, bribe them with food or lure them with hints of expensive, cult wines such as Opus One, Dominus and Silver Oak. Before anyone arrives, make sure the labels are completely hidden from view, (don’t forget the neck label). Buy a few bottles in varying price ranges, from $8 to $40. You can either buy a mix of wine types, like Merlot, Zinfandel or Cabernet; or you can buy the same varietal with different labels. I prefer the latter. If you taste several Merlots or Zins from different wineries, your guests will be able to explore the versatility of one grape varietal. Have everyone pour their own wine, and sit back let the marketing-free games begin. The best part is when the wine snob’ favorite wine costs only $8. They squirm, you smile.

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