Years ago, at a wine-themed casino in Wiesbaden celebrating 100 years of the VDP – the German wine growers’ association – I found myself drawn to a blackjack table in a corner of the grand ballroom where the event was held. There was a James Bond air about the place, everyone dressed in black tie, but no martinis in sight. Instead, the table was set with black glasses – the sort that conceal the color of their liquid contents. Each player received a glass into which the dealer had poured the same mystery wine. The players placed their bets and began swirling and sniffing, until, 10 rounds later, one had correctly deduced the appellation, vintage and producer of the wine in question.
What a brilliant concept, I thought. A skill widely viewed as little more than a parlor trick outside the realm of competition tasting and exam taking was transformed, here, into a parlor game. And it was much more riveting than filling out any tasting grid. I camped at the table for hours, and while I never got as far as nailing a producer, I did record the rules involved solidly enough to bring Blind Tasting Blackjack back to New York. It has since become a favorite pastime among friends in the trade who, it turns out, enjoy stumping their colleagues for money on occasion. What’s more, the game evens the playing field between those who taste according to rigid Court guidelines and those who are gifted intuitive tasters, much in the same way that seasoned card sharks don’t necessarily have the upper hand over those with grit and a bit of luck. It’s a great way to breathe new life into your tasting group and get everyone to let their guard down a little.
In order to host your own Blind Tasting Blackjack party at home, all you’ll need is a set of black glasses such as Riedel’s Blind Blind Tasting or Ravenscroft’s Double Blind glasses, and poker chips, coins, or anything that can be used as betting currency. Each attendee brings a mystery wine for the group to try, the level of difficulty determined by the level of experience of the group. Each person acts as the dealer for his or her own wine.
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The dealer leads the group through 10 rounds of betting based on attributes of the wine that grow more and more specific as the game progresses. It’s basically deductive tasting made fun. Bet according to how confident you are with your answer, as an incorrect response results in a loss of the bet. For each correct response, your bet will be doubled, and you can choose to stay or up your bet with each successive round.
The rounds are as follows:
By smelling only
- Is the wine red or white?
- Is the wine dry or off-dry?
- Is the wine from the Old World or the New World?
By smelling and tasting
- What country is the wine from?
- What is the grape variety or dominant grape variety (if blend)?
- What region is the wine from?
- What appellation is the wine from?
- Is the wine 1 to 3 years old, 4 to 6 years old, or 7 years or older?
- What is the exact vintage of the wine?
- Who is the producer?
Spitting is not required!