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The art of tasting wine blind and learning humility.

by Jan-Erik Paulson

An old acquaintance of mine that I hadn’t met for many years handed me a glass wine and asked me to guess what it is. He had heard that I now was supposed to be "something of a wine expert“ and wanted to test me.

The wine showed cassis flavours and was quite alcoholic and overripe in style. So, my spontaneous guess was that it could be a Cabernet Sauvignon from a warm region. My acquaintance seemed a bit dissappointed that I had guessed the grape variety right but wanted to know exactly from which country the wine came. He grinned widely when I guessed that it came from Australia and pronounced loudly that I didn’t know all that much about wine after all, as the wine came from Mexico which is more or less on the opposite side of the planet earth.

 

It happens frequently that I am asked to guess wines blind and I enjoy doing this, assuming it is with people who really are knowledgable about wine. This is because they know how difficult it is even to get it nearly right.

It is a challenge and nothing (except maybe golf) teaches you humility as fast.

I am certainly not a great taster and my guesses are frequently spectacularly wrong, but I still think it is a fun mental test to“have a go at it“.

There are days when I just can’t seem to guess either the grape variety or the region of the wine and then there are days when through logic thinking I manage to get its geographical region and the age of the wine more or less right.

And then there are these extremely rare and glorious moments when you manage to get it all right. 

These are moments to savour and the more witnesses to your moment of glory there are, the greater the joy.

Sometimes this is a result of a sudden inspiration and this„gut-feeling“ is often quite a good guess. 

But if it doesn’t make an instant click in your mind, the best way is to work it out in a logic manner:

Bouquet of cassis: Cabernet Sauvignon.

Elegance and style: I’m going for a Bordeaux.

A hint of eucalyptus on the nose: let me try Pauillac.

Rather majestic and restrained: it has to be Château Latour.

 

Now, what about the vintage?

The colour shows a slightly tawny rim: probably older than 25 years.

Good wine with great complexity and a long finish: it must be a very good vintage.

It is a ripe with low acidity.

Now we come to the „excluding technique“:

It can’t be from the 1980s – too mature.

In the 1970s only 1970 produced a Latour of this quality, however that is still younger and has more acidity.

Four wines in the 1960s could be possibilities. 1961, 1962, 1964 and 1966.

1962 and 1964 should be more developed and 1966 shows more tannin and structure. Could be 1961.

1953 and 1959 are possibilities in the 1950s. The 1953 was not that successful at Latour -leaves 1959.

From older vintages the 1928, 1929, 1945 and 1949 come in question.

It can’t be the 1945 as it doesn’t show the typical volatile acidity of the vintage. 1928 is more robust in its structure and the 1929 is sweeter.

So this leaves 1949, 1959 and 1961.

1961 should be more concentrated and youthful than this and the 1949 should be slightly more mature.

So this leaves only the 1959.

This is where I loudly declare that it must be a 1959 Château Latour.

 

It is a moment of pure ecstasy if this happens to be right.

If it turned out to be a 1953 Château Mouton Rothschild, I can with a certain amount of pride declare that I was not that far off and that my way of reasoning showed a certain amount of logic.

It is however one of these moments when you promise yourself never, ever to try guessing a wine blind again if the wine in the glass turns out to be a 1990 Barolo - until next time.

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