Showing posts with label Master Sommelier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Master Sommelier. Show all posts

Friday, September 30, 2022

Somm Blinders - Blind Tasting for the Rest of Us

If you are a wine geek, you are probably familiar with the 2012 documentary, Somm. The film follows four individuals as they prepped for the Master Sommelier exam. You were likely awed by the candidates’ impeccable ability to blind taste a wine and guess correctly its vintage, variety, appellation, and sub-region. While you aspire to have that kind of palate, you secretly wonder if you could even tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or even Diet Coke.

The good people behind the documentary have since produced sequels, started a streaming service, and even come up with a blind tasting game for the rest of us. The Somm Blinders is a fun card game that anyone who enjoys wine can play. You may even learn a few things along the way. I’m going to share a few tips on how to get the most out of the game.

How to Play

The Somm Blinders now consists of three decks - the original, the red, and the white. Each deck has a list of wines to be included in the blind tasting. Most of the cards in the deck are about that wine (such as its flavor profile, country of origin, and vintage). Each card is also assigned a number of points.

Somm Blinders Original Deck
For each bottle round, you will blind taste a wine on the list. But first, every player gets five cards. At each turn, you will pick a new card and then discard one so that you will always have five cards in your hand. As you taste the wine, your goal is to match the cards to the wine. The bottle round ends when someone calls the wine correctly. Each player then gets the total points of the cards that match the wine. For the player who calls the right wine, five extra points will be given.

Not All Rules Are Meant to be Broken 

The game came with quite a bit of rules. Like many drinking games, part of the fun comes from breaking the rules. But to get the most out of the game, I’d suggest that you not break the following rules.

1. Include only wines that are on the list

Do not go rogue, and I don’t mean French red. Do not pick a bottle of wine that is not on the list. The cards are set up to describe the wines on the list and will not work as well if you decide to pick something else.

Five wines from the original deck
2. Use only “typical” wines 

Here’s a wine term for you - typicity or typicality. According to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, this refers to the wine’s quality of being typical of its type, geographical provenance, and even its vintage. An often sited example is Chardonnay from California versus one from Chablis. 

Oaked and unoaked Chardonnay
First, the grapes may taste different based on the soil and climate from which they grow; in other words, different terroirs. The winemaking method also differs. Chablis is not typically oaked (with the exception of the Grand Cru) and tends to produce a lean and clean Chardonnay with high acidity. California Chardonnay is often oaked, which produces a richer, buttery wine with spice notes. Watch James Beard Award-winning author and wine communicator, Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly, blind taste both wines.

How do you pick a bottle that is “typical” of the grape variety and region? Ask your wine merchant or wine steward from where you purchase your wine. If there is none around, read the label and go for at least a mid price range bottle. I would avoid bottom shelf wine as they are highly unreliable in terms of typicity or typicality. (That is a blog post in itself for another day.)

3. Swirl, smell, sip, and spit

While spitting is optional, this is a friendly reminder to play the game responsibly. Depending on how many bottles you are blind tasting and how you are getting home after the game, spitting may be the smartest thing you do. Even if you don’t win the game this time (who is really keeping a straight score anyways), you will likely live to play another day.

Blind tasting
My Verdict: I have played Somm Blinders with both serious wine nerds and social wine drinkers. Everyone had a great time! We even made up other rules just to keep things interesting. It presents a level playing field so no one has to worry about how much or how little wine knowledge they bring to the game. I currently own the original deck but will definitely be adding to that. Cheers, and let’s have some fun!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Hail Cork Master, the Master of the Cork!

I remember my first wine tasting class. My notes went something like this:

Appearance - Red/Gold/Pink 
Nose - Smells like wine
Palate - Tastes like wine
Body - Liquid?
Finish - Glass is empty?

Bordeaux Blend Tasting
My interest in wine started during my consulting years in Northern California. While my palate was not quite discriminate, the proximity to Napa and Sonoma provided many opportunities to try great wines. I became intrigued by how one could train one's palate to get a fuller appreciation of the different types of wines - be they varietals, terroirs, or vintages. There was also the romantic notion of being able to blind taste like a Master Sommelier.

I recall fondly the Frasier episode where Frasier and his brother Niles were vying for the title of Cork Master of their wine club. To break the tie, they had a wine taste-off. I remember thinking, What fine palates they must have to be able to guess the wines with such precision!

I re-watched the episode recently and cracked up at the descriptors used during the taste-off. Now that I know a little more about wine, the descriptors did not make much sense. Neither "ripe, round, and thoroughly seductive"  nor "dark, dusky, and supple" would have helped me identify a wine as Australian Shiraz.

That said, blind tasting is extraordinarily difficult. A lot of sommeliers will say that the underlying criterion for successful blind tasting is typicity. Typicity describes the quality in a wine that is typical of its geographical provenance and the varietal origins from which it is made. Even then, wine experts can be fooled, and the best of them are often humbled by the difficulty of that task.

Pinot Noir Horizontal Blind Tasting
Nonetheless, comparison wine tasting, whether blind or not, can be fun and very educational. Comparison wine tasting is when you put two or more wines that have something in common but also have enough differences so that the different notes picked up can be attributed to those factors.

A few years ago, we did a Pinot Noir tasting where we tasted through different expressions of the grape - Bourgogne (or Burgundy), New Zealand, California, Oregon, and for fun, a ringer bottle from Trader Joe's. Except for the ringer bottle, each wine reflects the typicity of its classification or geographical provenance. To make it easier, we provided the list of wines and corresponding descriptors to help the tasters narrow down the guesses. Still, it was hard, real hard. Most of us could not get even half of the wines right. But we had a blast. We learned a few things and hopefully burned the memory into our palate. New World wines are generally more fruit-forward, and Old World wines are generally more earthy.

Brady Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical Tasting

More recently, we did a vertical tasting of Brady Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from 2010 to 2014. This time, it was not a blind tasting, and winemaker Kim Brady walked us through the different vintages. The great thing about vertical tasting is that you get to appreciate how wine evolves over time. Younger Cabs tend to be most fruit-forward and full of bold tannins. Older Cabs tend to lose some fruit in exchange for higher complexity and softer tannins. If your palate is not quite ready to pick up the difference, one telltale sign is the color. Older red wines tend to have a brick-ish hue whereas younger red wines tend to be deeper in color.

So you may not have the palate of a Master Somm. You can still have a blast with comparison tasting. Think about what you would like to learn about - the influence of terroir on a grape varietal, the evolution of wine in a bottle over time, or even just tasting different grape varietals from the same geographical area. You will find that the notes on appearance, nose, palate, body, and finish actually make sense, and you may be the next Cork Master of your wine club.