Every Friday night, a little wine shop in Pasadena called Monopole puts an item on their menu called "Friday Blind." The game is simple: taste four wines – two white, two red – and if you can name three out of four varietals, your wine is free, the equivalent of about two full glasses. It may sound like a gamble exclusively for sommeliers in training, but you’re provided with a detailed tasting guide that explains typical colors, bodies, and flavor notes for the different grapes on offer. I've gone to do the Friday Blind three times – the first was a total whim, the next two were very much on purpose – and each night, somewhere near the end, I declare it "the greatest thing ever."
To clarify, my wine tasting companions and I are by no means experts. We have all consumed a fair amount of wine in our free time, but always at an amateur level, i.e., sans tasting guide, sans careful analysis, sans much thought period. I know from experience that I tend to love Sauvignon Blanc and make a sour face at a sip of Chardonnay. I prefer red over white unless it’s hot or I am thirsty, and then I chose white because it’s cold. I have entertained daydreams about sommelier training, because a job that’s all about taste and smell sounds like…well, the greatest thing ever. There’s a slight chance I might be one of those “super tasters” and a keen sense of smell runs in my family (we call it “the Berg nose” after my great great grandparents, not to be confused with “the Berg tongue,” which has nothing to do with taste at all, but is rather a kind of absentminded facial tick).
Aside: When it comes to the canonical Five Senses, taste and smell don’t get enough credit. People ask “would you rather go deaf or blind?” as a kind of sick parlor game, but losing smell or taste would make a pretty grim impact on my daily life. It’s noon on a Saturday and already today I’ve compared the taste of 4 different stone fruits at the farmers’ market; tested a long list of perfumes at a local beauty shop; noted the subtle flavor change as I added cream to my iced coffee (and the less subtle change of adding the spicy house salsa to my chilaquiles); lamented that the gelato shop where I bought that coffee uses the cleaning solution that has become my personal odor nemesis since moving to LA (in case you’re trying to get me to avoid your home or business, it’s called it’s the “lavender” scented Fabuloso); and been greeted, upon my returned home with the delicious smell of pancakes (which I am too full of chilaquiles, stone fruit, and coffee too eat).
Anyway, back to the wine tasting. The Greatest Thing Ever.
On our first outing, none of us guessed any of the wines correctly. The second time, one of us got ONE correct. Last night, I was the big winner: I got two out of four correct (both the whites), and was roundly congratulated by the owners. I felt very proud of myself.
But guessing right isn’t what makes it fun. What makes this process fun is the way half a glass of wine, once merely a classy way to loosen up/refresh, becomes a world unto itself, a conversation, a quest, an article of examination. Last night, we all agreed that one of the wines had a definite “tar” note to it, and I confidently stated that the final wine had a bouquet of burnt blackberry pie. And you know what? I meant it.
Because we were having so much fun, and it was getting late, we got to try the last bits of a couple other bottles when we were done. We were give sips of a white wine that was a clear as water and tasted like jasmine perfume — I’d never had anything like it. When we asked the people serving us how they learned so much about wine, the woman behind the counter told us, “You have to keep drinking. If you don’t drink, you don’t learn.”
Now there’s some advice I can run with.