I’m reading the new Adam Gopnik, The Table Comes First . In a chapter on wine and wine-writing, Gopnik repeats the off-told story of a study demonstrating that even experienced tasters, when tasting blind and blindfolded, could not distinguish red wine from white?
I thought that had been debunked. And, seriously, can it possibly be true? I can imagine that some red wines might possibly be mixed up with some white wines, but that isn’t what we mean here.
I’m not very skilled nor very knowledgable about wine, and my palate is not particularly fine. Still, I’m confident that I could reliably distinguish between pairs of distinct wines without seeing them or their labels. For example:
- a typical Sauternes
- a somewhat under-aged Cabernet-led Bordeaux
One has tannin, the other doesn’t. One has sugar, the other doesn’t. If you can distinguish apple cider from unsweetened black tea, you ought to be able to tell these apart. Or, take another pair:
- a malo-lactic fermented Napa Valley Chardonnay
- a characteristic McLaren Vale Shiraz
One has lots of butter. One has lots of pepper. They’re both rich wines with lots of body, but I can’t imagine getting them mixed up.
- an acidic, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (about $10)
- a dry Amontillado sherry
First, the wines themselves tend to jump up and wave flags. Ones says, “I’m sherry!” If you opened a bottle of sherry and you got a light-bodied wine with grapefruit notes, no residual sugar, and not much finish, you’d be raising your eyebrows or summoning the gendarmes.
Now, I can imagine finding pairs that would be tricky. White wines with tannin. Light-bodied, fruit-forward reds, paired with big whites. Off-beat grapes. So, sure, I can believe you could set up some pairs that even experts would find puzzling. But can anyone confuse the common cases? “One of these is a typical Hermitage; the other is a Chablis. Can you distinguish them?”