🍷 Host an evening your friends will remember and want to repeat again and again. 🍷
Are you tired of the usual happy hours or game nights and ready to be the host who raises the bar and *dazzles* your friends? While you could simply default to your typical wine night, re-living office drama around a cheese board is getting pretty dull.
Instead, why not spice up the routine? Host a fun group activity that triggers the senses and engages the mind.
Here I’ll be giving you all the tools you need to throw a killer Blind Wine Tasting Party for your fellow wine lovers & friends.
You’ll find it’s like a murder mystery party, but instead of — “Mrs. White in the conservatory with a dagger,” you might conclude it was — “Pinot Noir from California with a hint of ripe cherry and potting soil.”
And if by the end of this, you’re still unsure whether you can pull this off (you can!), then get your feet wet at Limoges Cellars by participating in a blind tasting class taught by a pro.
You’ll see how much fun it can be to play wine detective and will be able to pass on pro tips and tricks to your friends. You might also learn a thing or two about why you like the wines you like, and how to choose a wine that better suits your palate in the future.
But before we get into the ingredients that will make your event a smashing success, you might be wondering:
What exactly IS blind wine tasting, and — what the heck is the point???
Allow Me to Open Your Eyes to Blind Tastings
There once was a time when good wine was synonymous with French wine.
The year was 1976.
Winemaking in the United States was seen as experimental, and the American palate was largely accustomed to fortified wines often enjoyed before dinner or as a dessert.
The French perfected the art of winemaking first and established themselves comfortably atop the international podium of wine. There was no one who could rival the French.
Steven Spurrier, a British wine shop owner in Paris, met some traveling winemakers from Napa Valley, sampled their products, and discovered they were in fact producing wines to rival those of France. With the encouragement of his colleague Patricia Gallagher, and after further research, Spurrier set out to organize a tasting of Napa Valley wines in Paris and invited select California winemakers to showcase their proudest creations.
Spurrier convinced some of the world’s most revered sommeliers to judge the tasting, but at the last minute — anticipating the bias the judges would bring to the table — Spurrier decided to include top-of-the-line French wines in the tasting too, having the judges rate them all blind. They would not see any labels nor have any prior knowledge of what they were about to sip.
This momentous event is why Stag’s Leap vineyard in Napa Valley might sound familiar to you. Maybe you’ve even had their wine or visited the winery in person.
Proving Spurrier right — and much to their own shock — the judges were giving superb scores and effusive praise to the American wines, confident they were tasting the French ones.
Stag’s Leap 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won in the red category that day. The 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena in Calistoga took the prize for the whites.
For more details on the historic day that brought unprecedented competition to the international wine landscape, changing it forever, keep reading here.
Better yet, tee up your blind tasting night and experience the excitement of the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” by watching the movie Bottle Shock! It’s one of our favorites.
What’s the Point of Blind Wine Tasting Nowadays?
Today blind wine tasting is a tool for wine connoisseurs and novices alike to train and develop their palates without preconceptions about a wine’s characteristics based on fancy labels, an esteemed producer or a “famous brand”.
As you’ve probably experienced in your own wine shopping, labels can be very influential!
In blind tastings, the objective is to identify wine features using your senses (sight, smell, taste, and even touch — think tannins on your tongue) and to use these characteristics to draw conclusions about the wine’s origin story.
Gaining familiarity with the distinguishing features of various wines over time will allow you to better describe to wine shop owners or restaurant servers what kinds of wine you enjoy. This will help them make better selections for you.
And while blind wine tasting is also just good fun, did you know it can activate more gray matter in your brain than solving a math problem??  When you ‘see, swirl, smell, and sip,’ not only are your motor and sensory systems engaged and working together, but also the part of your brain responsible for cognition and processing memories.  It’s an excellent way to exercise your mind.
I don’t know about you, but I’d take wine-tasting over sudoku puzzles any day…
To summarize, blind wine tasting:
- Trains your brain to recall and identify specific smells and tastes
- Calibrates your wine likes and dislikes
- Makes you a more successful wine shopper based on your taste
- Exercises your brain
- Is a fun, challenging, and delicious activity!
Now that you have a better understanding and appreciation for blind wine tastings, let’s jump into how you can host one of your own.
Step-by-Step Blind Wine Tasting
- First, choose your theme.
- Do you want to focus on a particular wine grape? (i.e. Chardonnay)
- Do you want to showcase the wines of a particular country? (i.e. Italy)
- Do you want to feature ‘New World’ whites? (i.e. California, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.)
- Decide how many wines you want to include.
- If you’re on a budget, try at least three!
- Or, invite five friends and have them each bring a bottle that fits the theme. (Give your guests specific parameters so there are no duplicates, i.e. one person grabs an oaked Chardonnay from Napa and Burgundy, someone else is tasked with buying unoaked from Sonoma and Chablis, etc.)
- If you opt for more wines (I’d recommend no more than eight) remember — small pours!
- Open each bottle and remove the foils from the top so they all look the same.
- Put each bottle in a paper bag or wine sleeve to conceal the label and bottle shape as well as possible.
- Number each bottle by writing on the paper bag (or use different color wine sleeves).
- Set out the wine glasses for your guests. If you’re trying three wines, each guest gets three wine glasses.
- We recommend you number each glass from left to right using a washable marker that writes on the glass. Each glass corresponds with a different wine.
- Pour the wines (wine #1 goes in glass #1, and so on)
- It is said you need two tastes for your palate to make an informed analysis of a wine. So you only need a small pour, and you can top up as needed! Try not to form a hasty opinion before taking at least two sips.
- Give each person a pen and paper for note-taking. Using the number of the wine, they can jot down their tasting notes, comments, and likes/dislikes about each.
- Taste wine number one! Allow time for two thoughtful sips and note-taking.
- The first taste is said to calibrate your palate. With the second taste, you are searching for all the nuances and flavor.
- Continue in this manner with the rest of the wines.
- After all the wines have been tasted and everyone has made some notes you can discuss your thoughts as a group. Does anyone have a guess as to which wine is which? Is the oaked Napa Chard a dead giveaway or are you also getting some oak from a Burgundy Chardonnay? Are you shocked that one of these Chards is tart and zippy? Could that be the Chablis or is that Sonoma? Talk about your guesses.
- Now it’s time for the host to reveal the wines.
- Make sure to update your notes if your guesses were incorrect. This way you’ll have the correct information to reference later.
Some other important notes…
- If you want to get “nerdy” with it: we recommend printing out a Court of Master Sommeliers Deductive Tasting Format Sheet for each person. This handy reference sheet gives you a vocabulary list of aromas to choose from. It helps your brain connect the dots between the “what am I smelling?” to “maybe it’s a type of citrus…” or “I’m getting a hint of something floral..perhaps it’s a white flower”
- Another useful printout we recommend creating is a list of all the wines being tasted (not in order, of course).
Be sure to include:
- The name of the wine
- The country of origin
- The common grape
- The price point
- The vintage
Doing this adds the fun of trying to guess which wine is which because you have a multiple choice ‘key’ to reference.
Can you pick out the most expensive?
Can you figure out which one is from which country?
Which wine is which grape?
Which is your favorite overall?
The first round of bling tasting may only include simple notes like “good,” “bad”, or perhaps “too dry” or “sweet.” The more you practice and let yourself swirl and smell, the more your notes will evolve to include wine descriptors like “dark cherry”, “licorice,” “potting soil,” “baked apple,” or “tropical aroma.”
Our final recommendation: Save the eating for last!
Don’t start the wine tasting at dinner time when everyone is starving. Food can change the flavors of the wines! Start the wine tasting at a comfortable happy hour time, and plate up after the big reveal.
Still Feel Like You’re ‘The Blind Leading the Blind?’ — Learn From a Pro!
If all of this sounds fun and interesting — but a little overwhelming — don’t stress.
Why not try your first blind tasting with a pro? You can even bring your friends and learn together before re-creating the fun for yourselves.
At Limoges Cellars we’ll be hosting monthly blind wine-tasting classes starting with *Sparkling Wines* on August 5th.
Who doesn’t love refreshing bubbles…in August?!
In this class taught by Kelly Cornett of A Cork in the Road we will learn:
- How to taste wine
- The different methods of sparkling a wine
- About the grapes most commonly used
We will taste 5 distinct sparkling wines from around the world to discover your favorite! A pairing of charcuterie is also included, and to top it all off — you’ll get 10% off of any bottle you purchase the day of the event!
This class is for you if:
- You want to learn more about the art of wine tasting
- You want to improve your wine knowledge
- You want to taste 5 delicious wines from different growing regions and learn how to compare and contrast these styles
- You want to discover your wine style and preferences
- You want to be able to articulate which wines you enjoy and discuss why you enjoy them
Space is limited, so secure your spot for August 5th now! Visit our events page to register or sign up at the bar next time you’re visiting the vineyard in person.
We can’t wait to see you there!
Daniel & Kristina Limoges: Our Journey in Blind Wine Tasting
“Our introduction to the study of wine began in the culinary world. Food and wine pairing classes really piqued our interest at The Cook’s Warehouse in Atlanta.
I [Kristina] began working there alongside Nancy Waldeck, a food and wine chef instructor, helping her with food prep for the wine classes she taught paired with small bites.
Then, when Dan and I bought our first house in the city, we started hosting dinner parties. When buying wine for the parties, we often found ourselves totally stumped in the grocery store wine aisle because we weren’t confident in our picks.
Did we prefer Merlot or Cab Sauv? Was it safer to go with a blend? What was in this blend? Did it matter? Maybe we like a particular grape more than another…
So when we made friends with a couple who were also in the culinary world and wanted to start sharing meals together, we suggested buying a couple bottles of wine and tasting them side by side over a meal to see which we preferred to drink.
We stayed away from blends initially to make it easy on ourselves. We had to start with individual grapes so we could decide whether we liked them, or whether to rule them out forever (spoiler: we never ruled out a single grape!)
By the way, when you taste so many wines (Cabernets, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, etc.), you realize over time there is indeed a wine for everyone! Not only that, they can all be made vastly differently depending on where the grapes were grown and the style the winemaker likes.
Our little supper and wine club met roughly once a month at first, and then we picked up the pace. We used a spreadsheet to track our schedule, the wines, and our ratings! See below a never before shared document! haha
Keeping track of the wines you enjoyed best really proves useful when asking for assistance at your local wine shop. We pretty quickly transitioned from shopping for wine at grocery stores to shopping at wine shops. The staff at wine shops are so knowledgeable about their wines. It is such a time saver to walk in, tell them what you need, and have them pull recommendations in your price range off the shelf.
There is a common misconception that wine shops are much pricier than grocery stores. While some may be, in reality, they all have value options and the quality for the price is usually far superior. The shops often source wines from smaller producers, which means no mass production, and fewer additives like sugar, which large wine producers are notoriously guilty of adding to their mass-market wines.”