Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Blind tasting and blind reading

As a wine professional, I have to admit to a degree of ambivalence when it comes to blind tasting, the supposed art of spotting a wine (region, grape, maybe even producer and vintage) purely on the back of sniffing and slurping the contents of a glass. It too often feels like a contest for bragging rights. However, it does have certain benefits, especially when a blind comparison of a little-known wine and a famous product results in a challenge to expectations via surprising conclusions. Moreover, it often underlines my view that while there might be a lot of very well made wines out there, very few of them are different enough. In other words, I can't spot most wines blind, only the ones I love or hate!

Much the same is true of poetry: amid the huge homogeneous mass of well-produced verse out there, it's incredibly difficult to guess the identity behind a new poem in a blind reading unless there's a real idiosyncrasy at work. Nevertheless, a PPCE is sometimes a useful tool so long as it's undertaken with a huge pinch of salt.. That's not an Oxford degree, just a Poetry Palate Calibration Exercise. And then I go around claiming I loathe acronyms...


  1. Dear Matthew

    Greetings from Venice. We haven't bumped into Craig Raine yet but we live in hope! I remember arguing with my late father that French wines were acidic. He didn't agree with me and gave me a blind tasting of a French, Italian and Spanish wine. I identified them all perfectly. Although I genuinely know next to nothing about wine, I do know what I like!

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish

  2. An interesting point of comparison, Matthew. Taste is a funny old thing of course, but it's the only way to build some kind of consensus around what's great, good, and better than the merely competent. The North, I recall, used to publish poems without names. The poetry equivalent of getting someone to blind taste a wine without vintage, terroir or price coming into it. Certainly helps to broaden the palate! Though I expect poets were a bit miffed to see their work without name proudly attached, hidden instead in an index.

    1. A lot of flash winemakers have also been undone and left blushing by blind tastings! They're good fun and can certainly open a few eyes. Maybe even an interesting activity for students? Spot the famous poet!

  3. Indeed! I'll have to give that one a go with my students one of these days.