Help - a blind tasting for sparkling wine
For our New Years Eve party, we thought it would be fun to have a blind tasting of various sparkling wines/Champagnes. However, we have never been to a blind tasting and are not sure how to do this. There will be 12-18 people. We usually spend between $12-20 on a bottle and I want to taste those against less expensive and more expensive bottles. However, the most I would spend on a single bottle would be about $45. I also thought it would be fun to taste sparkling wines from different regions.
Any suggestions on how to do this would be most welcome.
Well, I must report back and say thanks for all the suggestions. Our tasting was the hit of the party. As it was suggested to limit the number to between 4-6, I decided on 5 sparkling wines:
Cook's Brut (cheap California)
Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut (Cava)
Nino Franco Rustico (Prosecco)
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (California, from a French house)
Mumm Champagne Brut Cordon Rouge (French, with its California counterpart)
I gave all guests a list of the wines with a description and the price. I covered all bottles in foil and gave everyone 5 numbered glasses. When we were ready for the tasting, I opened the bottles and had someone else number them. We all tried to match the sparkling wines to the list--for instance, was bottle #3 the cava, the prosecco, the cheap Californian, etc.? The person with the most correct answers won a bottle of sparkling wine.
Most of us didn't get any right, while the winner of the evening guessed three correct. It was a great success, so thank you!
In "blind tastings," no one knows what they are drinking (specifically). However, because you are dealing with sparkling wines, at least one person is going to know what each and every bottle is.
In order to make sure that knowledge is as limited as possible, have one person *completely* take off the foil on the neck that covers the cork, and wrap each bottle in aluminum foil (leaving the cork at the top exposed for later removal). Line the bottles up, and cover the tops of the bottles with a dish towel -- or some other covering so one cannot see the corks with their identifying metallic caps.
Now have a second person come into the room and randomly label each bottle on the aluminum foil with a letter or number (A through L; 1 through 12) with a Magic Marker or Sharpie -- but this person, not being able to see the metallic caps, will not know which wine is which.
When it comes time to serve, have the ORIGINAL person open each bottle and serve the wine to the other guests. That person, who can see the metallic cap with the producer's name on it, will be the only one who will know which wine is which.
* * * * *
Some suggestions for wines:
One moderately priced California Brut -- think something like Korbel, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, etc. "regular" non-vintage Brut.
One moderately priced California Brut Blanc de Noirs/Rosé -- hopefully from the same producer as above.
One higher end California Brut -- think Chandon's Étoile, Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, Schramsberg, etc.
One non-California Brut -- think Gruet, or something from Washington State, Oregon, or New York.
One CAVA Brut (from Spain) from a major producer -- think Freixenet, Codorniu, etc.
One CAVA Brut from a smaller, premium producer -- think Segura Viudas, Mont Marçal, Privat Laietà, Raventos, etc.
One Prosecco Brut (Italy) -- think Adami, Nino Franco, Mionetto, etc.
One Australian Brut -- think Green Point or Petaluma, if you can find it
One Crémant d'Alsace OR Crémant de la Loire OR Cremant de Bourgogne
One Champagne Brut . . .
ALL of the above are produced according to the "true" méthode champenoise/méthode traditionelle.
One caveat, regarding the removal of the cage for later opening: I've seen several corks dislodge and pop, on their own, without the cage, especially if the bottle's temp gets much above 45F. After witnessing these random acts of violence (and they were just that, as a friend almost lost an eye and he knows his way around a bottle of bubbly), I have begun placing the towel over the cork, the moment the cage is detatched.
With that out of the way, I like your suggestions.
re: Bill Hunt
No, no, no, no, no, Bill . . . I didn't say remove the cage; I said remove the foil that surrounds the top and neck of the bottle. I am sorry if that wasn't clear.
YES -- KEEP THE CAGE IN PLACE UNTIL READY TO OPEN THE BOTTLE!
By all means! Remove only the foil, all the way down to the neck label, to take off any identifying marks. Cover the entire bottle in aluminum foil, leaving only the cork -- with the cage intact -- and drape a towel over the tops of the bottles only to hide the identifying cap atop the cork from the person who will then come into the room and mark the bottles on the aluminum foil A through L.
Again, sorry for any confusion.
Happy New Year,
Yes, as I attempted to read your earlier post, I have visions of poor Ralphie - "You'll put your eye out!"
Just realized that we did not crack a bottle of bubbles for NYE. Ate early, and had plenty of wine, otherwise, but just did not get around to it. Well, I guess that we'll have to create a celebration, as I have some older ones, coming "on line." Maybe we'll do a bubbles tasting for the IW&FS, or just because it's Friday.
Along the lines of the other two suggestions, I'd hand out a factoid card with some references to the wines chosen. Everyone gets one. Then I'd do a card with the wines in one column and the answers, basically, in the other - multiple choice.
As an additional sparkler, if you can get Gruet (New Mexico), it would be an interesting option.
Considering your price, the top at ~ US$45 could be Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, which should be in the $35-40 range. Others will be less.
If the wine shop does not have the Kraft paper bags (a .75ltr. of Champagne/sparker, or wine btl. fits nicely into these), then aluminum foil will work well.
I make a placemat with circles, each containing a number, for each guest, and then pour and place the glasses in these circles.
I'd keep the factoids a tad cryptic, so everyone does not have ALL of the info. Offer a bottle of whatever, as the prize for the most correct matches.
Most of all, enjoy and have fun with your friends and the wines.
re: Bill Hunt
I love Gruet! It's sort of my go-to. Around $15 a bottle so you can serve plenty and not kill your pocketbook. I love Schramberg as well, but I tend to be serving sparklers at holiday parties and such and I'm just pouring one thing.
Something interesting to do would be to offer Deus Brut des Flandres (if you can find it). Deus is a beer BUT afer the first fementation it's shipped to Champagne where it's treated like a champagne (riddling, etc.) Someone described it as Dom meets Duvel. At first, it seems like a champagne, but the finish is more like a Belgian beer. Really fabulous and unusual.
12-18 people CAN BE a tough number for a tasting, and I'll tell you why.
For serious tastings, @ 12 people, you use 1 bottle for the group, @ 18 you use 2. I find the switch happens at the 14/15 conversion wher 1 pour is no longer sufficiant to get a good sense of the wine. That said, if you are just having fun, maybe you'll want 2 of everything, anyway.
I would do...
At least one Cava
At least one Prosecco
At least one CA (Or Oregon) Sparkler
At least one Champagne
And I would probably reccomend
At least one CA/OR Sparkling Rose
At least one Rose Champagne
I generally use brown paper bags and just label them 1, 2, 3, etc for blind tastings.
One sparkler that varies in price by region is the basic Schrambergs. They can be anywhere from $27/bottle (Northern CA) to $35+/bottle (midwest). At $27/bottle you might try the basic lineup -- all three. They are all very good wines. At $35/bottle, skip them for real Champagne.
I'd also suggest getting thee to a Safeway and picking up some Mumm's Napa Blanc de Noirs (which is actually a Rose) @ around $12/bottle (it is on sale, at least in CA).
The best $20ish Sparkler on the Market, imo, is Argyle (OR)
There are SOOO many good Proseccos under $16, but Nino Franco Rustico is ubiquotous and always delicious.
Champagne varies so widely based upon market it would be impossible for me to give you a good rec except to say if you can find NV Billecart-Salmon in your price range, I'd get that.
Keep the total no. of wines 'comprehendable', i.e. around 4 to 6 types.
A sample might be:
1 champagne (brut);
1 quality California brut.
1 Cava (generic name of Spanish sparkling wine);
1 Asti Spumante (sweet Italian).
Then, assuming you have friends who like wine but are not experts you could ask the group questions like:
Q. Asti Spumante is a sweet wine (unlike the others). Which one is it? (This should be easy to pick);
Q: Which wine is the Spanish one? (This should stick out like a sore thumb given the
distinctive taste of Cava, which you might describe first, so that neophytes know what to look for);
Q: Which wine is the Champagne/California? This could be quite hard depending which wines you choose.
If you increased the number of wines you could select different house styles of Champagne. For example a light Perriet-Jouet versus a heavier, more yeasty, Moet White Star.
You will need two bottles of each wine if you have more then ten people.
re: Worzel Gummidge
Personally I'd opt for a Prosecco rather than a sweet Asti. And I wouldn't use Moët's White Star, as that is an Extra Dry (I would want to stick with Bruts).
BTW, "Cava" is not the generic name of Spanish sparkling wine. Cava MUST be produced according to the método tradicional -- or méthode traditionelle, in French -- the traditional, fermented-in-this-bottle Champagne method. The Spanish also produce a lot of sparkling wine via the cuve close technique -- what we in the US generally call the Charmat Process or bulk method (think André or Cook's).