How to Do a Deductive Wine Tasting

Okay, wine geeks, fasten your seat belts. We’re going to talk about deductive tasting, or “double-blind” tasting, the ultimate test for the wine enthusiast, a high-wire act performed without a net.

The purpose of any blind tasting — single or double — is to evaluate the wine with none of the expectations that can arise when you’re staring at the label. You’re experiencing only the wine itself, not any preconceptions you may have about it.

“Single-blind” tasting is when you know something about the wines in your flight: the vintage and appellation, perhaps, but not the individual wineries. That’s hard enough; “double-blind” tasting means you know absolutely nothing at all, except the color (although some experts these days taste wine from black glasses so they don’t even know that! Sometimes this is referred to as a triple-blind tasting).

When you’re tasting double-blind and the wine can be anything in the entire world, you must look for clues as to what it might possibly be. If it’s red, is it full-bodied like a Cabernet Sauvignon or delicate like Pinot Noir? Let’s say you think it might be Pinot Noir. Where’s it from? Does it have the enormous depth of fruit of California, or is it earthier, like Burgundy, or bright and silky, like New Zealand? If you think it’s from California, then from what region? You can begin to appreciate how difficult this challenge is and why so few people on Earth can actually do it well with any consistency.

This sort of tasting is sometimes called “deductive” because “deductive reasoning” is a form of reaching specific conclusions based on general information. In double-blind tasting, for instance, you might conclude that this particular wine — based on its acidity, clarity, flavors, sweetness and finish — must be, not only a German Riesling, but one from the Rheingau. If you’re taking an examination and get it wrong, your instructor will at least give you credit for proper reasoning. If you’re right — well, you’ve just performed the most difficult feat in wine tasting, the equivalent of hitting a home run in the last out of the last inning of the series, and winning the game.

Still up for it?

How to Do a Deductive Wine Tasting

Here’s How to Do a Deductive Wine Tasting.

  1. First, look at the wine to determine its color, depth, clarity and so on. A seasoned taster will even be able to approximate the wine’s age based on its color.
  2. Next, sniff the wine. Pros say that “nosing” the wine is more important than tasting it. Trust your initial instincts: those blackcurrants suggest Cabernet. That slight green pea note might mean a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley.
  3. Finally, taste the wine. Swirl it vigorously in your mouth, let it sink into your tongue and gums, and pay attention to the finish. Is the mouth feel consistent with the aroma? Is the wine fully dry, medium-dry, off-dry or sweet? Can you tell if it’s an Old World or a New World wine? Is there a tang of minerality, a touch of petrol, lots of new oak? Every little clue helps.

It sounds hard, doesn’t it? And it is. Click here to download the “Tasting Format” for a double-blind tasting from the Court of Master Sommeliers. It will give you insights into the complexities of a deductive tasting. Good luck!

Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.