And wineries are fast becoming marketing whores like the rest of the consumer product world, throwing ads at us, offering coupons and volume discounts, and pushing product samples as often as they can. But since there are so many brands out there screaming for attention, you can't really blame them.
That's both good and bad news for the consumer. We reap the price benefits of the competition, but also frequently fall prey to the gimmicks. Like insipid, tasteless beer, some popular wines out there only sell because the brand name is emblazoned in your conscience. Consider the last time you bought a bottle of wine. Why did you choose it? What if all wine bottles were generically labeled "Wine"? Wouldn't we then have to purchase by taste?
That's what "blind tasting" is all about. Hiding the label forces people to assess a wine without mixing in the external influences. Most wine writers, including myself, are not immune to marketing, and to counter-balance that influence, we often "blind taste" by disguising the bottles with aluminum foil, paper bags or anything else that will hide the label. I can hardly say I blind taste every wine, but I do find that some of the surprisingly better deals I've uncovered emerged from blind tastings. It's as if the blindfold sucks all the marketing out of the bottle, leaving it clean and unfettered.
Duping your friends with blind tastings can be equally satisfying. Invite some of your snobbier wine friends over -- bribe them with food or lure them with hints of expensive, highbrow wines such as Opus One, Dominus and Silver Oak. Before anyone arrives, make sure the labels are completely hidden from view, including the neck label. Buy a few bottles in varying price ranges, from $5-$40. You can buy a mix of wine types, like Merlot, Zinfandel or Cabernet; or you can buy the same varietal with different labels. I prefer the latter. If you taste several Merlots or Zins from different wineries, your guests will be able to explore the versatility of one grape varietal. Have everyone pour their own wine, sit back and let the marketing-free games begin.
Invariably, no one will be able to guess the most expensive bottle. And it's really quite delightful to watch the wine snobs squirm when it turns out their favorite cost only $8.
Here are some wine suggestions for your games.
Banrock Station 2000 Chardonnay ($8)
Liberty School 2000 Chardonnay ($12)
Lincourt 2000 Chardonnay ($20)
Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel ($7)
Ballentine 1999 Zinfandel ($15)
Green & Red Vineyards 2000 Chiles Valley Zinfandel ($24)
Buena Vista 2000 Merlot ($9)
Toasted Head 1999 Merlot ($15)
Trinchero 1999 Chicken Ranch Merlot ($25)
Trapiche Estate Bottled Cabernet ($8)
Barnwood 2000 Cabernet ($18)
Rodney Strong 1997 Cabernet Reserve ($40)
Yellow Tail 2001 Shiraz ($8)
Hogue Genesis 2000 Syrah ($15)
McCrea 2000 Yakima Valley Syrah ($35)
Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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