Blind Tastings: an objection to a subjective view: redux

What’s the story about?…Blind Tastings

As most people know there is a world of difference between getting ‘blind drunk’ and blind tasting.Tasting with friends ladies Both can be a lot of fun for those seeking either experience, yet neither are particularly useful to the novice. Caution is required.

I do get asked rather often if I do wine tastings. It all sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Sitting around chatting about wine. Sharing a few insightful anecdotes, gems of wisdom, Sip Sip, Hooray. Everybody has a lovely time and gains something through the pleasure centre. That’s the idea, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love to do all that, when I’m the not running the event. You see, after a few glasses, the attendees rarely keep to the script (and the clients generally wants there to be one). So if I’m in the hot seat, wine ‘tastings’ per se are a bit, err, well, naff (for me). It’s just not this Wine Man’s scene. Let me explain.

I still run tastings, but I am always extremely reticent when first asked (quite guarded, in fact) and I generally decline. It’s a complicated social interplay that I have come to realise I should approach with caution.

You see, there’s often a mismatch in the reasons various guests attend, which are often out of sync with theNew gripe man ‘organisers’ aspirations. Sometimes that organiser is me and sometimes it’s a client who’s put an event together expecting me to make it ‘GREAT’ for the many attendees who often vaguely know each other and vaguely remember agreeing to an evening of (nearly) drinking ‘loadsa (possibly) nice wine‘. The vagueness in the setup is the weakness?

Most guests are uncomfortable (me included) because enacting these events as a social glue, can be intimidating for some, boring for others. For another guest type it’s all about the competition; rarely the healthy sort. Underlying social and workplace frictions can and do come out under the influence of a tongue loosened by drink, especially amongst co-workers, colleagues or loose friendship groups. And seldom is a consensus sought or discovered. The more cynical guest might eye me up, testily announce that they don’t like wine and proclaim that they ‘won’t be buying any’ either. Cheers.

Events can of course be designed as a more ‘comfortable‘ experience when they follow the ‘educational’ tac with full gusto. Sadly, that can also make them a bit dull, or tricky to pitch to a mixed, or even prickly audience, if not everybody present wants that learning vibe.

For this wine man, negotiating all the necessary social interactions in informal gatherings, rather like a school-teacher, or as the party cabaret, like a balloon artist or clown, really isn’t very appealing at all.

I guess, I am in a quandary. I love wine in all it’s mystery and expression. I love to meet new and old friends and talk about wine. It’s a part of what I am. But, as well as not personally enjoying many events I am asked to run, I am not interested in wine simply being a social glue.

If I do get invited to attend wine events myself, I usually politely decline, though they might be fun or interesting. Hosts aspirations are often counter to mine. I’m also just a little too long in the tooth to put up with dominating boorish types.

Similarly, I can’t also see any edu-benefit in chatty-led blind tastings, either.

BLIND AMBITION

Blind Tastings involving novices are actually just a spurious marketing ploy. Comparison and analysis by factual interpretation or scientific method don’t usually make much of an appearance. Blind tastings are at best, a chatty piss up and at worst, some self-agrandising pseudo-science. A con. A malignant narcissism. Ouch! Keeping the distinction is what’s important.

To put ‘some fruit on the vine’, I’ll explain.

Decades of my own personal experimentation and exploration have taught me that Yadda Yadda Yodathe key to maximising my wine pleasure comes from a whole host of experiences and that my relationship with the ‘whole package’ is a crucial influencer on my experience. I don’t believe quasi-examination or thrashing around to uncover aspects within a (mystery) liquid helps anyone, and being fast-tracked into a position on ‘What’s it taste of?’, ‘Do I like it?’ or ‘is it better than the last one?’ is disingenuous.

Sure, ‘bling tasting’ has a place, but it needs to be very carefully considered and constructed for serious purposes or just for fun; not a combination of the two. The distinction must be kept and this needs to be made clear by organisers.

By maximising information in the form of knowledge and sensual experience, one can achieve a truly sublime experience. And public Tastings simply don’t tell me anywhere near enough information, are not scientific and therefore leave me uncomfortable. They need to encompass history in all that that entails, mundanities, such as bottle shape, producer info, date of production, place of production. vintage pedigree.

I have used blind tastings in the past (and was initially in favour of them as a means of honing concentration and attention to detail). But over time, I have come to find them to be rather unsatisfactory as a group endeavour. Usually, it’s the group make-up that’s the problem: that which precludes the merit of the exercise. Or the time limits. Add alcohol to the mix and ‘blam!’

Strangers in a room sharing subjective opinions over 3 hours, while becoming generally inebriated, are not conducive to good experiences, serious learning or finding consensus. it just doesn’t work.

Sideways Spitoon stupidityDespite my best efforts to the contrary, I witnessed too much potential for confrontation (between attendees). As in much of the human social condition, some wanted to make others adopt their opinion. Others let them. Others just wanted to argue.

Wine is personal. Taste is personal. Experience is personal. Social pressures are real and often subconscious.

For the most part, groups often displayed elements of disharmony, brought about by some perceived skill and knowledge disparity. Rather than an open, exploratory forum fostering growth with a view to sharing and growth; often simplistic, defensive positions arose. In short, many attendees felt unsettled during the experience and I had no desire to be in a room full of people who either didn’t want to be there or who wanted to crow louder than anyone else, so I stopped doing them.

Counterfeit copsBLIND FAITH

Furthermore, and possibly more relevant in China, before I consume it, we want to know as much as we can about a wine. Either for personal or business reasons. (In fact, whenever offered a free taste in a shop or at bars, I decline. I never trust the other guy to know what he is attempting to put into my body.)

Simply from a food security perspective we have no idea what we are comparing unless we can see the bottles. In our business, we simply avoid any and all locally-bottled, bulk wines to reduce the threat of deliberate and accidental use of inappropriate additives such as unlicensed chemicals, of poor hygiene and dark provenance. We know many low priced and high priced wines to be counterfeit or smuggled.

That’s not to say that all are such ut it seriously muddies the waters.

The vast majority of wines we sell are successful, globally recognised, winning wines. End of. There’s really no academic need to undermine that by pitting them against wines that don’t put up their credentials. To play a dumbed-down taste test game against an unknown product isn’t just unscientific; it’s stupid.

There are simply too many uncontrollable variables, open to too much abuse, and we want to play it safe by avoiding unqualified discredit.

For our business, we need to know where a wine was made, who made it, how it arrived here, what is the pedigree (if any). All this is additional information that needs consideration irrespective to the flavours, the prices, the pleasures; but is no more or less important from a business perspective.

Awareness of the location of production, for example, tells me what accompaniments the wine is meant to be enjoyed with: whether solo or with food are the best options. Cultural associations inherent in a wine are not mere affectations. They really do impart references that affect experiences, pleasure. We want to maximise that pleasure by triggering all aspects of brain function (as this is where pleasure is centred).

BLIND

Finally, and worthy of a mention; nobody actually sets out to buy a wine ‘blind’ unless they are choosing not to know things which would help improve the experience. Yet, it remains a potential prerogative (of course).

Like most consumers, we buy with our eyes. It’s impossible not to, so, tasting blind, while it can be fun, yet also stressful for those involved, is certainly not a methodology for maximising pleasure or making business decisions, which are my 2 main influencers.

All the best with your own personal journey.

TWM

Further reading  here (Wineducation: Choosing Wine 2: Presentation Matters) on tasting panels, Judging wines and the real problems with trying to make an objective call on a subjective issue: and here (the rise and rise of wine tastings) and here (2015; snooth.com)

Previous post:

Next post: