I am a memory researcher… …who has recently become obsessed with learning everything there is to learn about wine.
For my “day job” as a graduate student, I study how to improve memory in an educational context by assessing which learning strategies lead to the best performance on later tests.
So far in my own research, making a guess, even when you are wrong, is better than not having made an attempt to answer at all. In other words, making a mistake is better than just studying the correct answer from the beginning.
This is pretty interesting since many people believe that errors and mistakes will only confuse you later. So far, my research (and that of others) shows that one possible explanation for why making errors can be helpful is that the error can actually serve as an extra cue, or link to the correct answer.
One caveat is that in the lab we have primarily used simple materials, such as word pairs.
So, where am I going with all of this? Isn’t this supposed to be about wine?
Don’t worry – I’m getting to it…
In the world of wine, Blind Tasting has become a mandatory skill for almost all certifications. For those not familiar, Blind Tasting is where one has to taste a wine and identify what grapes were used, how old it is, where in the world it is from, even down to the specific vineyard. If you want to hear/see more check out the Guild of Sommeliers Blind Tasting Podcasts: HERE and check out the Trailer for Somm (a documentary I am dying to see).
When tasting a wine, you need to note the color, look at the viscosity, detect the nose (what you smell), then what is on your palate (taste), etc. etc, so on and so forth.... What is key is not only being able to detect and correctly assess what is in your glass, but THEN you need to put that together with all the information you know about wine.
For example, if you had a wine that you said was a bright ruby red, smelled of cherries, lavender and earth, had medium to high acidity, and medium to high tannins, medium alcohol, you THEN need to run through ALL the possibilities of what this wine could be….
To break it down, there are two phases of this blind tasting:
- Detect and articulate as many of the characteristics of the wine as possible (from what seems like an infinite number of possible descriptors).
Phase 2 (Identification)
- Search through the memory bank of wines to find out what this glass of fermented grape juice is and where it came from.
Are you scared yet?
I sure am.
Which is why I need to do this…
I am going to blind taste as much as possible over the next year and do by best to document it on this blog. I need to try to guess what the correct answers are, even if I fail… Hopefully, making the effort and actively guessing (even if I am incorrect), will help me learn more than if I just sip the wine passively.
*If you are brand new to wine, don’t let the above terms (acidity, tannin, etc.) intimidate you. We’ll learn together. What better way to learn than with someone else? As I go through and describe each wine, I’ll do my best to explain what I’m seeing, tasting, smelling, and then give some background of how/why I end up with my conclusion. For example, if a wine is REALLY high in acidity (makes under your tongue water), it is likely from a cooler climate! Eventually, hopefully you’ll learn more about wine and what you like/don’t like…
In full disclosure, I’ve only been learning about wine for less than a year in my “spare” time. While I have come a long way since the beginning (admittedly, a year ago I didn’t know what grape was used in a Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir!), and to be honest, I didn’t know there even was such a thing as a White Burgundy (Chardonnay!)). But now with a few basics under my belt, I have just begun to realize how much I do NOT know. I have a LOT to learn and a long road ahead of me…
*If you have a lot of experience with wine, hopefully you can use this blog to:
1) Laugh at me and let it be source of a daily self-esteem boost.
2) Test yourself! I’ll be posting pictures of the wines and my notes, and at times, maybe even videos. (This is a great way to keep sharp.)
3) Help me! I’m still in the beginning stages of learning, so I’m sure I’ll have questions along the way… For example, if I keep missing Chablis (Chardonnay from Northern France that is highly acidic, mineral driven), PLEASE give me pointers on how I can get it correct next time!
I know many professionals taste several wines a day, but hey… give me a break. I’m just a beginner!
With every post, you can try to deduce what wine I’m drinking based on my notes… I’ll post the correct answers either below the post or the next day. (Research is still inconclusive on if immediate or delayed feedback is best for learning…)
Inevitably, I’ll make mistakes in my notes of the description of the wine. I might not pick up on the “petrol” notes that are key in Rieslings. Maybe I’ll think the wine is more golden than it actually is and that will lead me (and you!) to the wrong conclusion. However, if your conclusion of the wine is correct based on my incorrect notes, you can still give yourself credit. Not your fault I messed up Phase1 (Description).
I will also make more mistakes than I can count in Phase 2 (Identification). Right now, I am barely even able to list more than 15 grape varieties…but that is the whole point. To learn. and grow.
I must admit, I have been doing some blind tasting at a fabulous wine bar in NYC (Corkbuzz Wine Studio, owned by Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier). I have been able to identify some red grapes... Just the other day, I correctly guessed a Sangiovese grape from Chianti in Italy, and the vintage range of 3-5 yrs old), but that has been my greatest victory to date. I’ve had far more failures than victories at this point… and even when I guess the grape, I am still not able to even produce a guess of where it is from or how old it is… It is going to be a long year. But I am excited to see if/how I can improve not only my palate at detecting various flavors, but also expanding my knowledge.
So, how will I taste all these wines?
Sadly, I cannot afford (nor can my liver tolerate) a bottle of wine a day; however, living in NYC, there are a TON of great wine-bars and wine-shops. My plan? Visit one each day and ask for a small pour of something… that simple. (I hope.)
So begins the experiment, with an N of 1…
Learning about wine by Blind Tasting. Trial and error at its finest…