In a great little piece by NPR, All Things Considered (See Here), GABRIELLE EMANUEL highlights the Blind Tasting Competitions held at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. "We treat it like a sport." - Coach Wilson.
They mention honing the tongue and one's tasting abilities, but what is just as, if not more important as one's sensory abilities is training one's mind. Understanding that 2009 in Piedmont was warm and that Nebbiolo is a high acid, high tannin, high alcohol variety, with more garnet/brick hues in the glass is what will ultimately lead you to success.
Now, I am a HUGE advocate for blind tasting, clearly.
But, a "sport"? Wow.
And the universities who are participating? Ivy League? If people thought wine was snobby before, this certainly does not seem to help wine's image much.
I, perhaps not not too unlike some of these students, started blind tasting while in Graduate School (pre-wine-industry), but I never considered it a "sport". It was merely a way for me to learn about wine.
Do these students really care about wine? Or are they honing their skills just because they can? Do they want to understand why a wine tastes the way it does for some greater reason or purpose? Or, is this truly all for "sport"? I am hoping this article left out the details about how passionate they are about wine, otherwise, it just seems like a silly game and trivializes the whole point of Blind Tasting. At least, to me, Tasting for points seems... well... like a silly, meaningless game.
If these schools are simply blind tasting for sport, why not throw in some other beverages? Lager? Ale? Is it Pepsi, Coke, or RC Cola? Why only blind taste wine?
Perhaps it is because with wine you not only have the grape, but region and vintage to worry about as well (and for me, I always consider wine-making practices to be critical as well - Stems? Malolactic? Extended lees? These will also help with your conclusion).
The whole point is, while Blind Tasting Wine is fun, what the Oxford Wine Team and the rest seem to be doing is trivializing the importance of Blind Tasting.
As sommeliers, we don't simply blind taste for party tricks or for "sport".
Instead, the whole point is to make sure that we fully understand what a wine should taste like, and to check our own knowledge - Did we call Moulin-a-Vent Cru Beaujolais when it was a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley?
Why did we make that mistake? What did we confuse? The "green-herbacious" quality we thought was from stem inclusion was actually just from pyrazines (green bell pepper flavor) that is a tell-tale for Cabernets. How can we correct this so that we can relate this information to the guest? What are the similarities (light bodied, juicy red fruit, slightly earthy), and what are the differences?
Each Blind tasting is a learning opportunity.
Getting it right feels great - and at the end of the day, we need to blind taste successfully to pass critical industry exams (either with the Court of Master Sommeliers or Wine and Spirits Education Trust).
But even then, we are training and attempting to succeed for something more than a "high score" - The whole purpose is simply to ensure we have the knowledge and tools to accurately describe and assess a wine, with the end goal being helping guests and customers.