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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

How to practice blind tasting solo

While most of the time I enjoy living alone (everything is exactly the way I want it, my home is lovely and to my taste, and if there's a mess, it is my own damn fault), it has its challenges. Besides being solely responsible for upkeep, a unique challenge is practicing blind tasting -- compounded by the fact that I live in a fairly rural area and there are no other MW students near me, so I am kind of on my own. Here are a few ways I tackle that.

Blind tasting kits: This seems to be a growing market, as wine certifications become more and more popular. I think especially during the pandemic, wine education institutions were eager to come up with ways to incorporate tasting into a distance learning model, and several new ventures came to be as part of that. I have used Master the World tasting kits for several years (even pre-pandemic). These kits are usually around $90 for six samples. While geared more to CMS style tasting, the wines are selected because of their classic, benchmark styles -- exactly what you're looking for when blind tasting. I like the smaller format bottles and the user friendly interface as well. This format is focused entirely on correctly identifying wines (variety, region, vintage). For more MW style tastings, I turn to blackpool matt's wine club. There are several fun themes to pick from; I belong to the Headmaster Ritual option because it is geared toward wine students. The wines arrive in bags and are accompanied by questions geared toward whatever certification you're working on. Prices vary shipment to shipment but are usually around $120 -150 for three full bottles. The Coravin comes in handy here. Also, I love the enclosed playlist suggestions.

There are a lot of other tasting kits out there, too; these are just the ones I have personal experience with. Napa Valley Wine Academy recently launched their TasteCoach wine kits. While I haven't tried them, I am a huge fan of NVWA and am sure these are top notch.

A few examples of my favorite blind tasting kits.

Dry tasting exercises: In the MW program, we know there are several basic question types we'll encounter on the practical exam -- variety, origin, method of production, quality, style, maturity/vintage, market appeal, and commercial position. You won't get every question for every wine on the exam, and there may be variations (compare and contrast, for example) but this gives a basic framework. So, it is fairly easy to pick a wine, whether a specific bottle or a generic style (2018 Chablis Grand Cru, for example) and write sample answers for each of these question types. This can be done with the actual bottle (open label tasting) or a hypothetical wine. This approach does not help in honing on of physically assessing acidity, for example, but is great from practicing logic and arguments, and building up muscle memory for answering wines that appear again and again on the exams. Also, its free when practiced as a truly dry exercise. Nice.

Vials: Invest in some small vials (available on Amazon or via scientific supply stores) and create your own blindish tasting. So, if you have an open bottle you're not going to finish, pour the rest into vials and label inconspicuously with a random code (be sure to keep track of the code and what wine it represents; I use a Google spreadsheet). Then mix them up in the fridge and force yourself to try and forget what is in there (if you want to get fancy, sparge with argon to prevent oxidation). Now you can pour a tasting sample, go through the above mentioned question types, and then double check yourself. Once the initial investment in vials is out of the way (and honestly, that is not going to be much), cost here is very low, assuming you are just stretching bottles you would have purchased and/or opened anyway.

Utilizing local resources: While there are no other MW students nearby, there are plenty of CMS/WSET students, and with that comes weekly tasting groups. There are mostly based in the cities, about an hour from me, but not totally inaccessible in a pinch. I am planning on attending a weekly tasting group more frequently between now and exam time -- it can't hurt. Also, there is a local MW willing to put together some flights for me. The cost does add up, so it is best to find some other students to split with. Teaching classes and mentoring WSET students is another excellent way to reinforce one's own learning and practice tasting.

Currently listening to: Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Its a mood.

Currently drinking: at this very second? Water. But I am planning on tackling a few Master the World samples later this evening.

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