First of all, let's identify the wrong way to blind-taste wine. The wrong way involves taking a sip of some mystery wine, swirling it around in your mouth in a disdainful way, and then saying something like, "Well, Bonneau, of course. The Celestins...and definitely '89. I mean it's almost impossible to miss." This is called the "pretentious jackass" approach to blind tasting. As Master Sommelier Shayn Bjornholm says in my recent interview with him: "If you want to show off your great wine-tasting abilities and act like you're cool because of it, hey, I've got a Dungeons & Dragons set for you, too."
However, there are also right ways to blind-taste. And thanks to a recent party I was at, thrown by financial writer Felix Salmon, I have a new method to throw into the mix.
Salmon's approach is simple: Throw a blind-tasting party. The host picks a theme—red wine from Mediterranean islands, in his case—and asks everyone to find an appropriate wine and bring two bottles of it to the party. One bottle goes into a box; the other gets concealed in a numbered bag. Then everyone tastes the numbered mystery wines while hanging out, chatting, and muching on tasty snacks. There's no time pressure, and certainly no pressure to determine the origin or expert-level details of wines; the only real requirement is to decide how much you like each one. (Of course, part of the fun is talking how much you don't like some of the wines, too.)
After tasting every bottle, each guest ranks the wines from least to most favorite. The host adds up each wine's score, and once that's done, the wines are revealed in order. The best part: At the end of the evening, the guest whose bottle was the highest-rated overall takes home the entire box of second bottles.
At Salmon's party the winner was the 2009 Barrua ($40), a Carignane-based wine from Sardinia, luscious and very polished, with just enough age to give it some aromatic development, too. A lovely wine, its only real downside ws that I was not the one who brought it. (Check out Salmon's take on the evening's results if you're interested in how all the wines we tasted did.)
I love this approach. No one really needs to know anything about wine to have fun with it, the results are inevitably surprising, it's all very casual and social and fun, and on top of that some lucky person wins a whole bunch of wine at the end. It just wasn't me. At least this time...