Can’t taste or see the wooded for the trees

USEFUL? Many winemakers argue that blind tastings serve no real purpose. Picture: Thinkstock

There is no shortage of wine producers who would prefer to keep their wines out of blind tastings.

They argue, in defence of what is clearly an indefensible position, that unless you know a little about the pedigree of a wine, you cannot properly assess how it will evolve. Since there is a grain of truth to this position, it has come to be regarded as an alternative position in the great debate about how best to evaluate the inherent quality as well as the future potential of a young wine.

The sighted versus blind discussion often draws on the metaphor of the horse or dog breeder. If you look at a day-old pup – so the argument goes – it’s hard to tell how it’s really going to turn out. You won’t even be able to say if it will be big or small, the ultimate colour of its fur, whether it’s pure or a mongrel. Knowledge of the gene pool is as important as anything immediately discernible. That’s why at yearling sales (we’ve moved from dogs to horses) the track record of the dam and sire counts at least as much as whatever can be seen of the beast in the paddock.

Herein lies the grain of truth – even though the young wine at a competition like the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show is hardly comparable to a day-old foal or puppy. By the time a wine is bottled it’s pretty much fully formed – you’re not exactly looking at grape must on the eve of its primary fermentation. All other things being equal, knowledge of the wine’s gene pool will help even the most astute blind taster to draw a

final conclusion of how a wine might turn out once it reaches its dotage – assuming that what went to bottle came from exactly the same site as the older wines on which the taster’s judgement is based. If you know that one of two recently bottled Bordeaux reds you have in front of you is a First Growth, it’s fair to assume it will deliver greater complexity over a longer life than the lesser Cru Bourgeois.

But that’s the limit of it all. Only by tasting a wine blind can you discount the winemaker’s hype, the efforts of the marketing department, the presumptions and pretensions of the producer and deal with what the grapes yielded and the cellarmaster made.

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