Wine Talk

Snooth User: Argovino

Why I Don't Taste Blind - A Manifesto for Argovino

Posted by Argovino, Apr 23, 2013.

Next week Argovino, a new reference for Argentine wines, is launching officially in New York.

We already have about 200 wines reviewed on - please stop by or follow us on Twitter at @TryArgovino.

This week the Huffington Post published our manifesto on tasting, which explains why we don't taste wines blind:

Have a look and please let us know what you think!


Dan Altman


Reply by EMark, Apr 23, 2013.

Reasonable sounding, but not compelling.

Reply by outthere, Apr 23, 2013.

I admittedly do not drink many Argentinian wines if at all. They just don't speak to me. Maybe it's because they are, according to the author, simplistic drink me now wines. I can buy plenty of those made form local grapes and I'm big on supporting local agriculture. Then again I like more structured wines that improve with air and bottle time. But that's just me. I'm sure you'll have quite a following.

Reply by Mike Madaio, Apr 24, 2013.

Though I don't have a problem with the idea of you tasting non-blind for reviews Dan, I'm not sure I agree with your reasoning as to why. The purpose of tasting blind is to remove bias and not be influenced by outside factors other than the quality of the wine. Because the average joe doesn't do it at home really is not a valid reason why you, the critic, would not want to remove bias. You need to hold yourself to higher standards - that's why people read your stuff.

For me, however, the bigger issue is that most critic blind tastings only reflect a moment in time. Critics don't open a bunch of bottles and drink them blindly over the course of a night with and without food. They take a few sips at a single moment in time and make a snap decision about the wine's quality. In a similar vein to the point you were making, this is not how people drink wine at home.

When I review a wine (I write for PA Vine Co.), I typically will drink it over the course of the night, with and without food, which is the very same way I would drink and enjoy the wine if I was not reviewing it. I often find that I don't like a wine on first taste, and love it 60 minutes later (or vice versa). Of course, I could do this blindly in theory, but that'd make it rather difficult to pair with dinner, which I also see as a crucial part of the tasting process (and consumer wine experience).

Lastly, to be perfectly honest, my reviews don't generate enough revenue to support opening wine that we're not going to finish. If I was getting complimentary bottles delivered every day like the big boys do, I might possibly consider opening a few similar bottles together and not sweating the leftovers.

Reply by JenniferT, Apr 25, 2013.

I just really couldn't agree more on the virtues of having  an immersive experience with a wine as opposed to making a snap judgement via a quick blind tasting. I am a relative wine beginner and have been quite focused on blind tasting as of late. For someone like me, I'm noticing that the advantages of trying a wine under different circumstances (e.g. first - alone, then discussing it with a companion with whom you're sharing, then perhaps with different cheeses or meats, then with dinner, then maybe even the next day (or even later, especially with degassing and pumping in the noble gas)....and/or comparing it to another wine at any of these stages. 

I notice that the differences between two VERY different wines may seem quite negligible to me at first, but these nuances become more pronounced as I try the same wine in the different scenarios listed above. It's helping me to learn and understand the differences between wines, and (hopefully), helping me to train my palate.

Now, I am sure the wine tasting professionals don't have the same requirements regarding palate development/education as I do....however, I still cannot fathom how the advantages of trying the wine in different environments/contexts does not enhance the tasting experience, and get one closer to discovering the true nature of a wine. However I would guess that many of the blind tasters would agree, it just seems to be a means to an end or a necessary evil for many blind tasters, for whom tasting is a business and therefore (understandably) it must be approached in a time efficient manner. Some compromise in that sense seems necessary, but I would still expect that it be recognized as compromise.

I am kind of enjoying how being such a beginner affords me a kind of  luxury of "ignorance related blindness"...I have noticed other people having what I often suspect as an unjustified reluctance to try a wine that's a different varietal and/or from a different region, or a preconception that an unknown wine is not as good as more familiar wine.....everything is still quite new for me, and that's not entirely a bad thing (so  I try to tell myself... they say ignorance is bliss, don't they?)  :) 

Reply by JenniferT, Apr 25, 2013.

Man, I just noticed that some of my sentences are kind of long and hard to read - sorry. Maybe writing/posting + drinking wine isn't exactly the greatest combo. :)

Reply by GregT, Apr 25, 2013.

Jennifer - don't worry about long sentences.

They're OK.

And you hit it exactly. 

Especially your last paragraph. 

Most people who taste blind don't do it most of the time, or even a large percentage of the time. Moreover, you're entirely correct that people have those sorts of prejudices you mention. It also seems to get worse the more people think they know about wine.

Every kind of tasting has its uses. Obviously it's nice to know about the wine you're tasting - note I said "tasting", not "drinking". If you're going to drink the stuff, just sit back and enjoy it any way you want. But blind tasting is a way to evaluate wine without the influence of extraneous factors. There's absolutely no way your opinion would be any less valid, or useful to a customer because you tasted blind. As to whether people like pretty labels or not, that's just silly. People can have their own opinion about the label because that's something obvious. The taste of the wine is not. If you like red labels do you care at all whether or not I do? My opinion on that would be of no use to anyone.

I don't want to get into an argument about blind vs non-blind and when and where one is better or worse, suffice it to say that I do both and have been doing both for a real long time and while it's educational to go to a winery and walk the vineyards and talk to the producers, blind tasting helps you learn a lot about your perceptions, your prejudices, and your knowledge. Many people can write reasonable descriptions of many wines without tasting or even seeing the wines.  

Doesn't matter if it's an old wine from Bordeaux or Rioja - I've tasted plenty of those blind and non blind, or if it's a young wine from Mendoza. 


Reply by JenniferT, Apr 25, 2013.

Yes, I've been thinking that it probably is good to do both blind and non-blind tasting - because both seem to have their virtues.

Also maybe blind tasting somehow leaves one more "open" to the tasting experience? For example, I once read that many people smell with their eyes closed. I meant to look that up to see if anyone had scientifically verified that smelling with your eyes closed somehow enhances your sense of smell. I suspect it may. People who are sight impaired often have a more keen sense of hearing or smell as well. 

Maybe having zero knowledge or preconception of what you are drinking somehow enhances your sensory abilities by leaving all the "possibility pathways" (I just shamelessly made that phrase up, I but hopefully you get my point) open. Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Maybe, maybe not :)

Reply by JenniferT, Apr 25, 2013.

Don't get me wrong - I think an argument the other way is equally valid. Context, whether it be just a label or knowledge of a region or knowing what you are drinking....especially if its something that has significant meaning or association - can actually enhance your perceptions of a wine when you taste. Maybe the wines that i picked up in California at a small vineyard and tasting really do taste better now, only by association - I swear I appreciate them more ,and they are more special. You could argue this context is some kind of extraneous interference or superficial enhancement but so what? Because I really do think it affects my tasting experience.

In that sense, it's advantageous not to be tasting blind.

So like I said - I can't see an argument that discounts one or the other (blind vs non-blind). I can see them both having their advantages, so I would imagine it is best to do both.

Reply by GregT, Apr 25, 2013.

Don't know about smelling with eyes closed, but I imagine that people are trying to eliminate other sensations to concentrate - they do that while listening sometimes too. We're not dogs, so our sense of smell doesn't like distractions.

There's no right or wrong way to taste wine. If I'm having dinner, I'm not blind tasting. Usually blind tasting is to learn or to judge,although I guess even that is kind of limiting. But that's how I use it.

And it's not an either-or. You're exactly right in that both ways of tasting have their virtues. It's ridiculous to imagine that there is only one path to learning.

Tonight I tasted a number of wines blind. I wanted to compare 2 vintages, tasting the same wines. Not knowing which was which, the information is much more meaningful to me. In other words, it helped me figure out whether one vintage was really that much better or whether it was the hype for one vintage that mattered? You take several pairs of the same wines and you can derive some useful information by tasting blind. 

And if you really know the wines, it doesn't matter if they're blind or not, any more than it matters if someone tells you that's Adele singing or someone else. You have memory after all. So you can tell that this wine is probably such and such, and another is something else. If you never taste blind, you never know if you know.

But any way you learn is good IMO. 

Having tasted hundreds of Argentine wines over the years, I still can't tell one producer from another in many instances. To me, that just means I don't know the producers as well as I thought I did. It also means that some of the wines are really pretty much the same, which is also true. If you buy at a store, you never know, but we've had the same wine in the market under different labels. Blind tasting, if you're any good, should expose that. If it doesn't, well, then how astute is your palate?

Reply by napagirl68, Apr 28, 2013.

I like blind tastings. Wines to be compared should be proffered appropriately.  On a personal scale,  I do it with meal pairings most of the time - I blind pour 3-max wines with a dinner or pairing that these wines SHOULD pair well with.   Any more would be too much for the palate.

If not with a meal, then the key is to pick a comparable taste point- vertical of same wine, or same varietal, etc...  Some pour 8-10 tastes and that is useless, as discernment is just gone.  Others mix too many varietals, IMO, making a blind tasting useless. 

Must be done by trusted source....

So, yes.  I see the uselessness of some blind tastings.  But I personally love them, and I set them up nicely :-)  I especially love when those who absolutely know what they like are astonished by something they taste.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 29, 2013.

There's no question that an "immersive experience" of wine affects our perception of it.  Which is exactly why we have to taste blind if we are truly comparing wines for rating purposes or to learn something valuable about whether it's worth spending $1000+ on a first growth or $100 for a Cal. Cab or just $15 on a Chilean Cab.  (My money's on the Cal. Cab but how could you bet honestly if you didn't do it blind?)

Absolutely the romance of the story behind a wine helps us to enjoy it.  It really doesn't hurt that Clay Mauritson's family has farmed Rockpile since before the lake was created below it, and that he knows the soils and the sights and the smells like no one else.  The fact that he probably wouldn't have wound up in the business at all if it hadn't been for a football injury that caused him to be home for a summer instead of training at Oregon is the kind of serendipity that makes a pretty great story--prodigal son stuff.  But if I am recommending someone buy something over something else, blind tasting is the only way that you know I am not just pushing a prejudice or parroting the first-growth Bord/rare Burgundy/cult Cab conventional wisdom. 

When I sit down to dinner with GregT or OT or GdP, I absolutely want to know why the bottle they brought to dinner seemed like a good idea to them.  I want to hear about their walk through the vineyard with the maker, or why they think this supposedly off vintage is really a sleeper, or why the funk on that bottle of burgundy is a good thing.  When I take a couple bottles of wine to my folks' house, who don't spend the time I do researching and reading, I don't cover the labels before I ask them which they like best, because they don't know enough (usually) to be swayed (except that people are swayed by the labels themselves--try selling wine with a picture of a cow patty on it and see how that goes).  But is a professional critic obliged to taste blind if he is going to say that 2007 is the best vintage ever in the S. Rhone and Beaucastel is the greatest wine of that vintage?  Absolutely.  In fact, I think they should always be tasting with control bottles of stuff that comes from other vintages, or costs a lot less, or comes from another place. 

It's fine and well to play the poet and talk about immersive experience or holistic blah blah, but the critic has a different job, especially if he or she gives points or claims some objective criteria guide him/her.  Different thing on my Cellartracker account where I just want to remind myself I enjoyed this wine a lot--although now that retailers have started using CT average scores to sell their wines, maybe all talk of standards is ridiculous.  True story:  Just got a solicitation for a wine with an "average" CT score of 92.5.  There were two raters, one of whom gave it a 95 and made no comment.  The other was me.  So I guess that's an average, but being marketed to with a number that is half mine (and higher than I rated the wine) is beyond strange. 

Reply by DEBarbie, Apr 30, 2013.

I am hosting a charity fundraiser wine tasting the Friday before Thanksgiving.  Due to many circumstances, the ticket price needs to be around $25.  All the liquor stores do tastings on Fridays and Saturdays for free and I am in a resort area.  Anyhow, I have a great wine shop partner in this and was hoping to go for a blind tasting, having our guests take notes and hopefully have a local wine critic there to get in on the fun.  The wine shop has new owners and has a reputation for being expensive,  I personally think it is not  deserved, they may be a dollar or two higher than the big box stores but nothing they sell is crappy.  


Anyway, can you help me with a name for the event?  I was thinking Deft and Blind but my husband hated that.   

Reply by JenniferT, May 1, 2013.

Thanks for that, Debarbie! Deft and Blind is pretty witty IMO, but it is arguably politically incorrect. (is that such a bad thing?)  :) 

Reply by EMark, May 1, 2013.

Debarbie, where do you live?  I'm wondering if there is a geographic angle that can help you.

Reply by Richard Foxall, May 2, 2013.

So "Blind Drunk" would be a bad choice, I guess.

Reply by Panos Kakaviatos, May 5, 2013.

Good points raised against blind tasting, which however has its uses. For example, if one wants to assess a given vintage for a variety of wines from the same region, then blind tasting is useful for consumers - provided the taster is capable.

By capable, I mean someone who can detect faults, who knows the region in question and who has experience tasting the wines from that region, and who understands stylistic preferences of each winemaker for the wines in question... What I am talking about is not a tasting that is completely blind, but "single blind" - meaning that you know (1) the region, (2) the vintage, (3) the wines. What is "single blind" is that the taster does not know the order they in which the wines are tasted. What this type of tasting does is in fact remove the "label" influence, and makes the tasting indeed more objective, in a useful sense.

That is what wine critics should be paid for. The argument about tasting wines like consumers is however a very good one.

For that reason, critics should do BOTH. They should taste the wines as a consumer would on one occasion, but also taste "single blind" and compare notes - that is the most professional manner to carry out tastings, methinks, and what I do when I go for example to Bordeaux.

Here my notes on Bordeaux 2012, from barrel, in case anyone is curious:

Reply by GregT, May 6, 2013.

That is true. And no matter who it is, blind tasting has a way of humbling the great and the good. 

But blind tasting doesn't always require one to know the region or producer. We did a tasting recently of a number of bottles that were proffered for sale to distributors, who would put their own labels on. They're called "shiners" in the trade because they have no labels, just a shiny bottle. Anyhow, the guy put in two ringers, one of which was Phelps Insignia. Normally if you're tasting wine from CA and you know it's going to have Insignia, you look for it. 

We didn't.

And I placed it third, thinking it was some kind of Petite Sirah. A Ridge did even worse.

Made me question first, my own abilities, and second, the respect I give those two wineries. It was a great tasting.

Having done it with wines from Bordeaux, CA, the Rhone and most often Spain, I find blind tasting very useful. In fact, the only wine that consistently comes in on top, no matter what the competition, is Vega Sicilia Unico, which is why I respect that wine so much. Never had a wine from any other region dominate so completely.

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