Group Tasting Without a Group


Wine in a bag for blind tasting

With any of the primary wine award organizations, one of the major requirements is knowing how to blind taste. For those who may not know what blind tasting is, or for those who have seen it and thought it was magical that by just taking a few sips of wine, a person cannot only tell you the type of wine but give you its characteristics, land of origin, and vintage year.

All of those seemingly miraculous things don’t just happen. They happen because of a lot of practice and becoming familiar with as many different types of wine as you can. It is daunting, indeed.

The California shutdown happened the day before I was scheduled to take my WSET3 exam, and to say I was devastated doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.

Pre-Covid, we had a little group going. This is necessary because you can bounce ideas or observations off each other. Naturally, not everyone agrees because people are different and have different perceptions of aromas and flavors (cilantro, anyone?). That being said, it is still a good way to observe that particular aroma or flavor that seems to stay just out of reach, and you can’t think of what it is. Other people sharing their observations is key, and you might pick up on that one elusive thing.

During these tastings, taking notes and committing the characteristics of the wine to paper is an excellent way to solidify it into memory. During our tasting group sessions, several of us acquired new awards, and those who were unsuccessful shared their experiences. For instance, our friend Shannon easily passed her Intro Sommelier, shared the issues she had with the first taking of the Certified, and celebrated passing the Certified later. She’s now in Napa, living the dream!

Since Covid, our group has scattered. A few have moved away because of family or health, some are no longer interested, some have a variety of reasons that are a continuing barrier to participating in the group, or some just don’t have time. “Real Life” and working on finishing my first book (now available at all online book retailers) made my schedule too crazy to commit to a set date every week.

So what do you do if you don’t have a group but desperately need a group tasting?

This has been a concern of mine because four years after the initial Covid shutdown, I had more or less stopped pursuing any more certifications. The California shutdown happened the day before I was scheduled to take my WSET3 exam, and to say I was devastated doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.

Lately, however, I have given it more consideration. Because I was fresh off of getting my WSET2 award (with Distinction), a lot of info was still fresh in my mind, our group was still busy just until shutdown, and I had inhaled the contents of several more wine books, flashcards, etc. In other words, I was deep into it and very ready.

Tasting Notes

The WSET3 exam is, from what I understand, roughly equivalent to somewhere between the Certified Sommelier and the Advanced Sommelier exams. In other words, it can’t be taken on a lark. Every place I’ve read and the online communities I belong to said not to take it lightly; it will challenge you, and you will need to know more than you think you ever needed to know. I like challenges and decided to give it a go. Let’s just say, however, that I gave it a go in about 90% of my mind. Picking up books, reviewing, summarizing, and memorizing the mechanics of wines and wine-making is one thing. Tasting is another thing altogether. My wine collection probably has every wine type I will need for the exam. Obviously, however, I cannot drink an entire bottle every time I want to taste and/or familiarize myself with a wine. It’s that whole liver and health thing.

What’s a girl to do?

Coravin to the rescue!

Coravin, for those who may not know, is a pretty nifty wine preservation system. It was invented by Greg Lembrecht, a biomedical engineer, who is also a dedicated wine aficionado. And he had the same problem we all have who enjoy drinking wine.

My Personal Coravin

What if you only want one glass of fine wine, but you don’t want to open up that precious bottle and have it spoil? Wine spoils easily. White wine that has been opened can spoil within 2 to 3 days. Red wines, which have the extra protection of skin contact and tannins, will spoil within a week. Suppose you’re opening up a 10-year-old bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from, say, Rutherford Hills in Napa. In that case, you obviously don’t want that pricey bottle to spoil.

The Coravin system comprises a gadget that has a little canister of argon gas and a very thin needle. The wine drinker pierces the cork (another shout-out to natural corks!) and pushes the argon gas into the wine by pressing a lever. A spout pours the wine into the glass while simultaneously keeping a layer of argon on top of the remaining wine, thereby preserving it. Argon is a heavy inert gas that protects the wine from air, sort of like a thermal blanket for the wine.

From what I understand, it is possible to keep the wine for up to eighteen months (or more) and revisit it from time to time. I read {{somewhere}} that for those who may still be uncomfortable with leaving a bottle of wine with a hole in the cork, the use of Wine Condoms (#screwthecork) is a good way to relieve the concerns. Definitely a recipe for safe wine!

Coravin also has a screwcap alternative that preserves wines for up to six weeks, not unlike box wine. Their newest wine preservation system is made for sparkling wines, the most difficult to keep fresh. Nobody wants a non-bubbly, flat Champagne! However, because I don’t drink a lot of sparkling wines, and the cost of the Coravin is prohibitive for me (nearly $400), I’d rather have the occasional sparkling wine over at a friend’s house, at a social tasting, or at dinner at a restaurant.

So, how do I use this minor miracle to preserve my precious wines when I only want a couple of tasting pours?

I prefer to use the thinnest needle I can so that there is no chance of air getting into the wine. As a result, a wine that has been “Coravin’d” is indistinguishable from one that is freshly opened. What I do is the following:

  1. I do not remove the capsule unless it is wax. The wax will completely destroy your needle, and at about $80 a pop (for three), it can quickly become very pricey.
  2. I carefully slide the needle down the middle of the cork just as I would a corkscrew. Pressing the lever, I pour the amount of wine needed into one or two glasses. I prefer two glasses because I have a weird habit of swirling the glass of wine, tasting it, and then dumping it. It enhances the aroma in the empty glass, and I can better assess the variety.
  3. After that, I take a strip of brightly colored painter’s tape and wrap it around the neck of the bottle. I also make a notation on the wine tag before returning it to the wine fridge. This is purely experimental on my part, and I hope it works.
  4. Whenever possible, I’ll have food to match the wines I’m tasting. For instance, I will try to taste a variety of wines, but only reds and whites. At this level, Rosés are not usually tested. Sip the wine, taste the food, sip the wine. This is important because if you decide to take the Certified Sommelier exam, the Masters will ask you about pairings.

This method allows me to taste 3 to 4 different wines in a night with zero chance of inebriation. I’m better able to assess its traits by comparing online reviews, notes, and my observations of the character of the wine.

Will I be successful? Well, I don’t know. I won’t rush this and will push it to the end of the year/early 2025; only time will tell. I will probably do an extended video on how I studied for the WSET3 at that time.

In the meantime, I’ll hop on any opportunity to do a group tasting with real people. That’s always preferable because there’s nothing like peer-to-peer interaction.

Stay tuned!

Vegas Wineaux
Vegas Wineaux
Life now, especially after leaving the day job, is even crazier! I hope that you continue to follow and enjoy the wine and Vegas news!


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