The biddies talk about the documentary Blind Ambition, about 4 Zimbabwean refugees who flee to South Africa, become sommeliers and participate in the World Blind Tasting Competition. They also detour through the science of blind tasting and ways you can test your own blind tasting skills at home, or at the bar with a bartender who will probably quickly become annoyed.

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Sources:

At the 2023 World Blind Tasting Championships at Château Sainte-Roseline in Provence – 

Fédération Internationale des Confréries Bachiques (winebrotherhoods.org)

Romania Beats Netherlands 108-107 in RVF’s 2023 World Tasting Championship; Team USA 9, 10 or 25? | wine predator………….. gwendolyn alley

The Science Behind Blind Wine Tasting – The Napa Wine Project

The Science and Psychology of Blind Wine Tasting – Spiral Cellars

The Subtle Science of Wine Tasting | Wine Folly

The Legendary Study That Embarrassed Wine Experts Across the Globe | RealClearScience

What Is Blind Wine Tasting | San Francisco Wine School

What Is Blind Wine Tasting? (vice.com)

Image Credit: The Guardian

Study Notes On Blind Ambition & Wine Tasting:

*Please note these are the literal notes we created to record the podcast and sections may be copied and pasted from our sources above.

WHAT IS BLIND TASTING?

  • The process of tasting and evaluating wine without any information about what those wines are (San Francisco Wine School)
  • 5 reasons to taste blind:
    • Can improve your wine evaluation skills and your ability to describe the wine based only on what you perceive through your senses
    • Can increase focus and make it easier to identify similarities and differences between individual wines in a flight
    • Test your tasting skills and knowledge of varieties, regions, producers
    • Taste without bias
    • Useful for consumers trying to determine what they really like

THE SCIENCE BEHIND BLIND WINE TASTING

  • “The outcome of wine tasting depends as much on the psychology of the taster as on the psychochemical characteristics of the wine”
    • Draws upon a whole host of psychological traits such as analytical ability, sensitive perception, methodical proficiency and memory
  • True wine specialist and expert blind tasters must not only have remarkable and sensitive palates but also extensive knowledge of vineyards through the world in order to identify the country, region, vintage, and winemaker responsible for what’s in the glass
  • Is there a science to wine tasting or does it come down to years of practice? 
  • If you want to get serious the first step is to …. drink .
    • The next recommended step is to sign up for a certified course and gain official accreditation
      • WSET, Court of Master Sommeliers
      • Even Society of Wine Educators, Certified Specialists
  • The “flavor” of wine is an interpretation of all the sensory stimuli by the brain
  • The brain is experiencing something similar to a sensory overload when it taste wines which can make it difficult to pinpoint different flavors and aromas
    • This is why part of tasting is relying on previous memories of wine and preconceptions of what you should expect from it
    • Ex – if a white wine with lemon and apple flavorings is food dyed red the taster might describe red berry aromas because the brain is being fooled
    • This process links to the olfactory bulb (an area in our brain which is linked to emotions and memories, meaning both smells and tastes can trigger them and influence the way we perceive wine
    • In 2001, a PhD candidate Frederic Brochet at the University of Bordeaux in Talence France did his dissertation
      • He dyed a white wine red and gave it to 54 enology students and this supposedly expert panel overwhelmingly described the beverage like they would a red wine
      • This was later published in the journal Brain and Language and is now widely used to show why wine tasting is total BS
      • Gave 27 male, 27 female students a glass of white and red and asked them to describe (floral, honey, peach, lemon for white; raspberry, cherry, cedar, chicory for red)
      • A week later, invited back for another tasting but the two wines were both the same white wine except in one glass it was dyed red
  • This is why blind tasting can help over some of these processing issues by not completely overwhelming the olfactory bulb
    • Also helps us to focus our sense on taste
    • Even knowing things like the price, bottle, coloring or other information can influence how we perceive the wine
  • There are actually two ways to smell wine – externally and internally
    • External sense is called orthonasal olfaction and this is when you place your nose in the glass to small
    • The internal is retronasal olfaction and is from the inside of the mouth (translate to reverse smell) and is what gives you the perception of flavor
      • When you say taste cherry in reality its smell cherry
  • True blind wine tasting should be done under red light or with black glasses

WORLD BLIND TASTING CHAMPIONSHIP (France)

  • Organized by the Revue du Vin de France (the leading French-language wine magazine)
  • Has been running this for the last 10 years
  • Following national selections, teams from each country compete made up of 4 experienced tasters and a coach
  • Last about 4 hours where 12 wines are blind tasted and points are won for identifying correct
    • 6 whites, 6 reds
    • Have to identify the grape variety(ies) – 10 points, country of origin – 5 points, appellation – 5 points, vintage – 3 points, producer – 3 points
  • In 2023 – 33 teams from five continents (for the first time)
    • Romania won by 1 point (108) above the Netherlands
  • In 2022 – Luxembourg (139 points); 25 teams

BLIND AMBITION – HIGHLIGHTS, CHARACTERS, ETC

  • 4 Zimbabweans who fled economic collapse in Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa
  • Most foreigners are looking for jobs in restaurants because they can’t find the same jobs they had as refugees/foreigners/people of color in South Africa
  • Main Characters:
    • Tinashe – head sommelier @ The Test Kitchen (one the 22nd best restaurant in the world)
    • Pardon – sommelier @ Aubergin
    • Marlvin – head sommelier @ Cape Grace Hotel
    • Joseph – team captain; sommelier @ La Colombe Restaurant
  • “It’s probably like Egypt putting together a team of skiers to compete in the winter olympics” – Tamlyn Currin, wine writer)
  • Kumusha – Shona word for your roots or origin but not just a physical place – relating to terroir
  • Tasting wine in books is more European (imagine all the berries) found a sense of “kumusha” or “place” in wine when began to find “home” flavors 
  • Jancis Robinson started a crowdfunding program in order to help get them to France
  • Held in different places in France every year, this particular one was in Burgundy at the Chateau de Gilly

BRYANT GUMBEL – REAL SPORTS & OXFORD/CAMBRIDGE WINE TASTING

  • Founded in 1951 was the Blind Wine Tasting Society of Oxford University
  • 20-plus member club meets 4-5 times a week to “taste wines” and master the art of identifying an unlabelled glass of wine from its color, body, taste, smell, ABV, acidity
  • Using this information, the members learn to guess the grapes, region, etc by deduction 
  • Meet and train for hours every month with some even saying they spend 35-40 hours a week on “wine related stuff” including studying, tasting, teaching
  • Every year for the past 69 years, the Oxford team has competed against the Cambridge University team to be named best blind wine taster
    • Oxford has won the majority of the time (article in 2019, 41-24)
  • Only two people from the previous year’s winning team are eligible to compete
  • Team is made up of 6 and 1 reserve so most are first time competitors