Carl Kanowsky: Humiliation and Exaltation at Blind Wine Challenge

These are the eight wines I was asked to identify at the Heritage Auctions Blind Wine Challenge last Saturday. Courtesy photo

Staring back at me, mocking me, not-so-secretly giggling behind my back sit these eight glasses of world-class wine, coming from, well, around the world, I assume.

Some superior, god-like beings possess the training, skill, and innate ability to swirl the contents of a glass, judge its color (both depth and shade), assess the bouquet emanating forth, and swish the liquid in their mouth and over their tongue and then, inconceivably declare, “That’s a 2012 Cabernet-based Bordeaux from the Pauillac region.  Specifically, it comes from Chateau Lynch-Bages.”  And they can determine their estimate as to what the wine is with no aids other than their senses and with no hints or ability to select from a multiple choice.

Today, my challenge is to do the same with the eight glasses you see pictured.  I have crutches to support me in my endeavor.  As to the one white, I am given seven varietals to choose from.  On the reds, my odds improve dramatically because I am given ten types of grapes to match to the seven glasses.  I could probably close my eyes and randomly pick one choice after another and get at least one or two right.

After the wine is poured, I am given 45 minutes to 1) identify what country produced it; 2) the region in that country; 3) the varietal; 4) the vintage (that is, what year were the grapes picked); 5) the appellation (e.g., St. Helena in Napa); 6) in what vineyard the grapes grew, and 7) the producer of the wine.

Full disclosure.  I did cheat, just a little.  As the wines were being poured, I sampled the bouquet of each, even though Frank Martell, Senior Director of Fine and Rare Wines for Heritage Wine Auctions (sponsor of the event) had not yet signaled the start of the competition.

Honestly, my journey to the dark side of cheating did nothing to enhance my chances.  The aromas of the light-colored red (my initial guess was a Pinot Noir) were almost non-existent.  No strawberry fragrance.  The bouquets from the other redAmzas were similarly unavailing.

All the wine poured, Frank announced the kickoff of the Tasting.  I went immediately to the white.  The color suggested a young, robust Chardonnay, but the taste said, “No way.”  (I sound so confident – I’ve still to learn if this assessment is even close to reality.)  There was no hint of buttery oak.  Actually, my guess was that it saw little if any oak.  After studying both the wine and my choices of seven varietals, I went with a Roussanne/Marsanne blend.

The seven reds went about as well as the white.  There were no obvious choices.  So, I used my well-honed senses of smell and taste and …. guessed.

Frank delivered my scoring sheet back to me.  Out of a possible of about 850 points, I received the truly insignificant score of 100!

Truly, I was thrilled.  Amazingly, I actually got a few right.  I felt even better when Frank declared that one of my fellow tasters had achieved the highest score ever from a history of about 900 participants.  His score – 425, not all that far from my lowly 100.

Thank you, Heritage Auctions, for giving the opportunity to be humbled but yet elated to sample fine wine.

By the way, the inestimable Robert Parker, king of all wine critics, is hosting his Matter of Taste wine tasting on November 4th in San Francisco at the City Club San Francisco.  Featuring 150 wines from around the world.  Go to for tickets and info.

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