Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Black Glass Tasting

Posted by EMark, Aug 30, 2011.

I have just recently encountered the expression "black glass tasting."  It sounds like in a black glass tasting, the participants are using black glasses so that they cannot discern the color of the wine.  I went to Wikipedia and saw this sentence regarding the rationale behind black glass tasting, "A taster's judgment can be prejudiced by knowing details of a wine, such as geographic origin, price, reputation, color, or other considerations." 

The same Wikipedia article defines wine tasting as "the sensory examination and evaluation of wine." 

Now, I will agree that Wikipedia may not be completely reliable in every aspect of its entries, but it does have some merit, and I'll bet that there are a lot of supporters of the above two quotations.  In fact, I agree with them.

I am a firm believer of blind tastings.  I have found that blind tastings in which I have participated have been a lot of fun and, most importantly, very educational and revealing.  However, to my way of thinking the visual appearance of a wine is part of its "sensory evaluation."  Vision is a sense.  Denying the utilization of that sense ipso facto reduces the sensory evaluation.

Am I missing something here?  Can anybody who has participated in a black glass tasting add their comments?

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 30, 2011.

I'm also a fan of blind tastings, though I don't seem to be doing many these days (last one was maybe last December). Never have done a 'black glass' tasting. Would personally be more tempted to taste blindfolded if I wanted to go in that direction. The aesthetic bleakness of the glass would, I imagine, be extra offputting, while blindfolded sensations can be fun, as many of us know.

Carrying it further, how about tasting with a clothes pin over our noses? That would similarly narrow scope, too! 

Oh yeah, and Wikipedia is a great resource. If you're unhappy about one of its entries based on additional knowledge you have, why not edit the entry yourself?

Reply by ScottLauraH, Aug 30, 2011.

I have never done any type of blind tasting at all, but I would be very interested in trying one.

In regards to a black glass, that seems to be taking it too far.  (Again, that is coming from a place with zero experience on the matter.)  I always understood the point of blind tastings was to remove bias for things like vintage, varietal and vineyard location.  Since wine is really a sensory experience involving all five senses, to truly "taste" it, shouldn't you be able to see the color, as well as smell the bouquet, feel the weight and taste the flavor nuances?

Reply by GregT, Aug 30, 2011.
Edited Aug 30, 2011

The black glasses aren't all that great. For one thing, you can't see how much you're pouring. 

Anyhow, you can usually tell fairly quickly whether the wine is red or white. If not by the nose, then on the palate.  I've never known anyone who knew a bit about wine to be confused.  I suppose if you took random people out of the supermarket, they may be flummoxed, but that's about it.

The idea of removing color is interesting depending on what you're trying to accomplish.  It's not like there's a one size fits all approach.  Some people refuse to have wine w/out food.  That's fine.  But other people also enjoy learning about wine and blind tasting and black glass tasting are several ways to do that.  They're not the only ways, but they are useful. And having wine w/out food is also useful. 

So as to the sensory evaluation - what is the purpose?  Are you looking at a wine and trying to figure out what it is, in a kind of challenge?  Are you evaluating it for sales purposes, trying to figure out if you'll  stock it?  Are you trying to figure out if it's worth the price it's being offered at because you're thinking of buying?  Are you having it with dinner?  Are you assessing it because you're trying to figure out if that wine was heat damaged since it just got delivered to your store/restaurant/warehouse in 100 degrees and you don't know how long it was on the truck?

All that matters and you'll evaluate differently in each situation.

If it's with dinner and you sit there and obsess over it, that's just being socially awkward, especially if you're trying to impress someone else with your wine knowledge, or lack of it.  If you are trying to figure out if the wine is off in some way, you want to see it, smell it, etc.  If you're trying to figure out what it is because you have $50 riding on whether you're able to tell wine A from wine B, then you want to see everything.  But if the color of the grapes are a giveaway, maybe you use black glasses to make it more interesting.

If I'm just using the black glass because that's what I have at hand, I don't really care about the color. I don't find wine less enjoyable because I don't see the color, or because I'm using the "wrong" glass.

As far as wine being a sensory experience involving all five senses, I never really heard wine, but THAT would be pretty cool!

Reply by dmcker, Aug 31, 2011.

So you do grope the wine, then, Greg?

Definitely want to see the wine to judge it and to sensorily enjoy it. Still, I stand by my blindfold comments, unless I'm wearing a white shirt....

Reply by GregT, Aug 31, 2011.

D - I wasn't going to touch the blindfold but um, well, I get the idea that you're rather open-minded . . .


Reply by EMark, Aug 31, 2011.

I dashed off my original post yesterday just prior to my fairly regular mid-day constitution through the neighborhoods and hills of Diamond Bar.  On my walk I spent more time thinking about this black glass tasting thing.  This was before I read the comments above by dmcker and GregT.  They are well presented and, with one exception, I agree with them.

On my walk I conceded that the black glass tasting could have an intellectual basis.  A test that deprives one sense to investigate the effect on another sense, is intellectually valid.  The suggestion of blocking the sense of smell is a good example.  Another similar test would be to taste the same wine at different temperatures.  We all agree that temperature does affect our appreciation of wine.  Thankfully, years of history have provided excellent guidelines for the optimal seving temperatures for different wine types.  I for one would not look forward to a test of eight glasses of the same cabernet sauvignon that differed by five degrees (in either the Celsius or the Fahrenheit scales), but I'm sure it has been done and I appreciate the effort.

GregT's comments reminded me that many years ago we had some black stems in our kitchen, and we used them until they broke.  (That's what happens to glass.)  I don't ever recall thinking that "this wine really sucks" or "this wine is totally awesome" just because we used the black glasses.  I had totally forgotten about that set until I read his posting.  That's what happens when you get old.

I loved the comment about the white shirt.  That gave me a chuckle.

I want to make one more comment.  This is regarding GregT's statement about never being able to hear a wine.  This may be an exception, but I submit that you can hear the fizz from a sparkling wine.  Another example is a real stretch, but I think you can also hear a good cork being removed from a bottle.  Similarly, you can hear a bad cork disintegrating in an attempt to pull it.  I am OK with screw caps, but the sound of removing a screw cap just has no romance.


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Reply by ScottLauraH, Aug 31, 2011.

You can definitely "hear" wine!  Like EMark points out, you can hear the bubbles in your sparkling wine, and hear the pop of a cork.  There's also that sound as you pour the wine, both as it leaves the bottle and as it hits the glass.  For me, that's all part of the experience.   

Reply by steve666, Aug 31, 2011.

Many of us, including me, have a mental connection between the darkness of a red wine and its quality .... I tend to have a California palate and when I used to see a light red my first thought was oh, shit, not another thin acidic european wine .... but I have worked on training myself to not write off all of the lighter colored reds.  So, black glass tastings eliminate our prejudices, one way or the other.   Petit Verdots and Petite Sirahs are often used to darken lighter colored wine, not particularly for their specific varietal characteristics.   BUT, I like to look at my wine -- analogous to having the lights on in the bedroom. 

Reply by JonDerry, Aug 31, 2011.

Yeah, color can definitely give some hints at typicity.  In fact, whenever I taste blind, I can't help but look at the color for clues on how the wine will be on the palate.  Black glass sounds like an A-OK idea.

Reply by EMark, Aug 31, 2011.

Here is my, hopefully, last cut on this.

The appearance, color and clarity, of a wine in the glass gives me an expectation.  However, subsequent evaluations from smell, taste and feel, may or may not confirm those expectations.  They are all independent judgements.  It appears that the whole issue about this topic is that the visual cues prejudice the subsequent sensations, but I feel that most experienced wine buffs are able to make each evaluation independently.

Reply by dmcker, Aug 31, 2011.

Steve, some of my worst wine experiences have been with the deep purple--wine with MegaPurple added, and blended sodapop with no acid, no tannin--just overripe grapes mashed together with no refined skill. Need to brush my teeth afterwards not only to get the MP off my teeth, but also the taste out of my mouth...  ;-(

Reply by GregT, Aug 31, 2011.

OK you can hear sparkling wine.  I'll give you that.  But popping a cork isn't hearing the wine, it's hearing yourself.  You can take a cork out with no sound or with a pop.  I prefer the former because if it pops, you end up splashing some sediment or wine on the wall or the cupboard or some person.  And it's not the wine making the sound any more than slamming your glass on the table is due to the wine.

As far as the color giving you an expectation, that's entirely correct and that's why whether black glass is helpful or not really depends on what your aim is.  If you're my wife, you look at it and decide whether or not you have any interest at all in tasting it or you're just going to go down to the cellar and bring up something else. 

If you're evaluating it for some purpose, and frankly much of the time it's just the intellectual challenge, you may want a black glass to eliminate some of the clues.  There are many people who opine on the quality of this producer over that, or who claim they can taste the quality of this vineyard over that, but I've found precious few who can do it without a lot of clues as to what they're drinking.  Some are even published critics and the like. 

I like inviting those people to prove that they know what they're talking about. Most really don't. If they're honest, they'll admit it. Clues, like the shape of the bottle, the capsule, even the form of the bottle neck, can convey a lot of information.  If that's correlated with the color of a wine, that's lots of info. So the best idea is to put all the wine into exact matching bottles and taste w/out seeing what it is.

It's really next to impossible to be given a glass of wine and to talk about what it is and where it's from and so on.  Some people can do that if they're very familiar with a particular wine, but I've seen winemakers fail to ID their own wines. There's no shame in it. 

But black glasses are a way to separate the astrology people from the honest people.  Everyone has had someone ask them "what sign are you?" As soon as you tell them Taurus or Aries or whatever, the person exclaims "I knew it!!"

Duh. If they knew it, why did they ask?  But now that they know it, all these different traits that they imagine they see form a perfect example of that sign.

Same w wine.  People know all about the limestone or granite in Chablis or the Mosel as soon as they know what they're drinking.  It's why black glasses are cool.

Just another way to taste wine.


Reply by Andrew46, Sep 1, 2011.

We use black glasses in our tastings, particularly when we taste several different vineyard's pinots from the same year.  We find them useful.  The benefit of the using black glasses is that it eliminates whatever prejudice we have in favor or against a particular vineyard.  The black glasses prevent us from recognizing each wine by color, and force us to evaluate the wine on nose and mouth alone.  In the book Wines:  Their Sensory Evaluation, they talk about wine tasting error, including stimulus error.  Color is a major source of stimulus error. 

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 1, 2011.

That supports what I had suspected while blind tasting in the past, definitely the color gets your mind racing ahead of tasting.  But I supposed identifying color/variety or style matches isn't a bad skill to have either. I'm also wondering how some of these black glasses look like...will have to check it out.

Reply by Vine Master Fanucchi, Sep 1, 2011.

First I haven't had the time to read the responses; I just responding to the original post...
While I agree that vision is a sense when it comes to evaluating a wine the color can be quite deceiving.  (I have done professional tastings with black Riedal Crystal Glasses.)  Some times a light colored wine can be packed with complex flavor while a taster may consciously or sub consciously prejudge it assuming it to be the opposite.  My Fanucchi Vineyards 2006 Trousseau Gris is a great example: It was slowly cold fermented dry, in stainless steel & it's protected from things that "yellow" the wine like air, oak, & ml, this technique successfully captures all of it's deep aromatics & a tremendous complex fruit flavors, and leaves the finished juice a very pale straw color. On the Red side of things I have been to Zinfandel Tastings with 12 numbered & bagged highly acclaimed Zinfandels knowing mine was among them & been able to pick mine out by choosing  the deepest darkest color -so, I'd of course taste the one that most looked like mine first & ...I did this on several occasions, well it was for fun & all ratings were written down in silence before any discussion but I was able to it with my eyes first and of course give it my top rating! :-) The Trousseau Gris was cool & I took this photo out side on a hot day the glass was steamed up with condensation

Reply by zufrieden, Sep 2, 2011.

I am going on a technical mountain climb tomorrow - after downing some middling Bordeaux - so forgive me any frivolity, but I'm a little surprised that black glass would not raise an eyebrow (or two) for anyone who beleives that such qualities as "color" have any meaning in the wine score-card.  I happen to believe not only that color is a quality to be enjoyed for its own (aestheic) sake, but that it is a very real indicator of health not only in animals and vegetable life but in wine - a chageable organic leaving of animal intervention in plant life.  So unless you are looking only at ofactory or taste sensation, black is limiting.

Reply by Andrew46, Sep 3, 2011.

To be clear, tasting in black glasses is not for everyday drinking.  Nor is it for common tasting.  It is a good way to taste more blindly if your goal is to evaluate the mouth and nose of a wine without being prejudiced by pleasing or displeasing color. 

They are not fun to drink from.  I find it disorienting not to see the color as part of the drinking experience. 

Still, they are very useful as a way to find out more about how wines taste and how color affects your perception of wine.  Sometimes we will rank wines blind in black glasses.  Then, rank the same wines in clear glass.  The ranking is often different.  Interesting.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 3, 2011.

Andrew, I'll stand by my statement that the view in a black glass would be offputting, and that I'd prefer blindfolded to meet your stated aims--and you don't have to pay extra to some gimmicky stemware vendor.

Zuf, hear hear. What kind of 'technical'?

Reply by Andrew46, Sep 4, 2011.

dmcker,  I am not here to promote black glasses, nor to argue.  I can't say that black glasses are better or worse than a blindfold, since I have not done a comparison.  I will say that tasting without being able to see the color of the wine is a useful tool from a winemaking POV.  As a consumer, it seems to me to be more like a novelty to all but the most serious and curious.  My 2 cents.

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