I’ve gotten into a bit of an awkward habit lately. Here’s how it goes down: I go into a bar I don’t regularly frequent, probably a beer n’ whisky joint or, like today, a local brewery, and I ask for all of their red or all of their white wines, usually three to four, in small tastes. I ask the person serving me to remember which they are, but not to tell me. For reference, I do this only when it’s not busy, because I know I’m being a pain in the ass. Then I start blind tasting. I take some notes, which I’ve decided to start sharing (see below), and I see what I can learn without the label. It’s difficult, and most days, if I can get one right, I’m pretty pleased with myself. But gradually I appear to be learning.


I know there are flaws in my approach if I’m actually studying for the exams; I’m limited to what beer joints sell by the glass, which is typically cheap and almost always domestic. But it’s a place to start, and a fairly affordable one, and I sort of enjoy it. Sort of. Essentially, the take away here is that I have a lot to learn, and a lot of time left to learn it in, so any experience is good experience. My next exam doesn’t involve blind tasting, though the one after that will, so this is really just a chance to get my palate wet, begin the process, and enjoy a little wine. So, here’s how it went down today, in a local brewery that had four red wines available, and a very kind bartender (the second one – the first one blew me off).


Wine 1



Dark. A nose of ripe dark red and purple fruits. Hints of leather and clove. Off balance, very acidic, flimsy with weak tannins, a quick finish, hints of leather and herbal flavors on the dark fruit profile. This may have been open a bit too long.


My (Semi-Educated) Guess:

I think it’s a cheap Cabernet Sauvignon from California, most likely not vineyard-specific fruit. Vintage 2012-2015.


The Answer:

Argentine Malbec, 2015 (Opened April 4, according to the markings on the label . Today is April 18. Hard to hold that one against me.)


Wine 2



The color may be darker. Hard to tell looking at them in the little rounded beer glasses they were poured in (no big deal; I did ask for something ridiculous, after all). Oaky, smoky nose. Dark red fruits on the palate. Velvety mouthfeel makes me think Merlot. Softer fruits that seem to be more blue as it opens up reinforces that guess. Better balance than the first, but still fruitier and less tannic than anything I’d call balanced. If there is oak, it came in the form of chips. Less acidic, maybe medium to medium plus.


My (Barely-Educated) Guess:

California Merlot. Vintage 2012-2016.


The Answer:

Lodi Zinfandel, 2013



Wine 3



Lighter color visible even in this odd glass and a nose with delicate musky notes makes this a Pinot Noir, almost for sure. Palate is consistent. Unfortunately, if it is PN, it’s a bad one, and I don’t get any of the things I love in the varietal. Still, the nose, ultra light body, and fact that its available in a brewery makes me think Pinot.


My (Fairly-Educated) Guess:

California Pinot Noir, vintage 2011-2015.


The Answer:

Oregon Pinot Noir, 2015


Wine 4



Huge fruits on the nose, sweet, like a Malbec from the Suisun Valley I had recently. Candied notes. Dark color. On the palate, mild fruits. This wine is far more subtle than the others. This is really throwing me. Great fruit. I like the wine; that doesn’t help. I’ve smelled these fruits before, but where? It’s not spent much if any time in oak. The flavors are simple. Lots of cocoa, hints of leather. Fine tannins lend structure. It’s slightly hot in the back of my throat. Medium plus to full minus acidity. Now there’s chocolate on the nose. Candied fruits upon the palate. WTF? This must be a blend. Right? Right?!


My (Desperate) Guess:

California red blend, vintage 2012-2016.


The Answer:

Dark Horse California Red Blend, 2014.



So, in conclusion, I’m obviously not great at this, but I feel pretty darn good about 3 and 4, especially 4 (even though I’ll never get tested on a blend like that). One thing that I find increasingly difficult here is that, given where I am, I know there’s got to be a Cabernet, probably from California, in almost every bar. That actually makes this harder, because instead of tasting the wines objectively, I find myself playing “which one is it?” and, often, being wrong (especially when there freaking isn’t one, like tonight, dammit). But this is fun, and holy crap but I got two of them more or less correct today, which is a record for me. As Michael Wilbon says, I’ll try to do better the next time. I may even attempt to use the word “viscosity” correctly at some point, so brace yourself. Cheers to the love of learning!


Stay winey, my friends,



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