Who Turned Off the Lights? – Dining in the Dark Jan 2019
Wine drinkers, especially those who work in the industry for a while tend to have a bit of pride when it comes to tasting wine. I know that this is a bit of an understatement for some. Regardless, we like to think that we have at least a decent understanding of what we are drinking and selling. Lets face it, if we didn’t feel this way we would not be selling wine or be any good at it. I know that a few years into working with wine I felt like I had a bit more of an understanding than most. Because of this, one of the most favorite things that we do in the wine trade is blind tastings. When was looking for my second job in the industry there was not real “interview.” Rather there was a conversation over a bottle or wine, wrapped in a paper bag. My task was simple, speak about the wine which out knowing its origin, region, vintage, producer, varietal(s). I did well enough to get the job, but I was also humbled slightly as I did not get everything correct. This led me to join a weekly tasting group where every Thursday we gathered around a table, everyone had to bring a bottle, wrapped in a paper bag, and we had to try and figure out what each was while talking about why we had come to whatever conclusion we had reached. It sharpened our palates and minds and opened us up to re-evaluating some varietals, producers, and regions which some of us had previously dismissed as too mainstream or less than ideal.
I am not the only to enjoy this game, just the other week on Christmas Eve, Bryan was tested with a bagged bottle. He was asked to come up with nine, count them, NINE distinct characteristics – Old or New World, Country, Region, Sub Region, Vintage, Varietal, Varietal blend make up, Producer, and one other that I am forgetting at the moment. He got 7 of the 9. A strong showing I think you will agree. Testing one’s self on wine tasting blindly is as fun as it is challenging, and it is not just for those of us working in the industry.
Last spring, Jeff and I came to Bryan with an idea of doing something a bit different for a wine dinner. We wanted to raise the bar a bit and challenge our diners, keep our cards close to our chest. Every wine dinner we have done here at OWS&B has had the menu and the wines provided to those ahead of time. What if we changed this formula? What if we altered the input, would it change the reaction and thus the outcome? In short, what if we kept you all in the dark? No I am not suggesting that we blindfold you all for the meal (this was a topic of intense debate for a minute) after all this is not Bird Box. No what we are proposing is keeping you all in the dark about the menu, not telling you what you were being served ahead of time. Sure you would be able to look at the dish when it was served to you and I am sure that much of it would be discernible, but perhaps not everything. The main idea is to take away all preconceived notions from the equation. We will provide some paper and a pen for each guest so that they can take some notes and jot down ideas of their own. This will also give you all time to discuss among yourselves the food and wine. We think that this is a fun experiment worth trying, at least in the minds of Jeff and I.
What you get to do is enjoy and do a little bit of thinking/challenge your mind. Thinking of this nature is important due a number of reasons. First, it challenges our senses of taste and smell while making us use our taste memory. Last spring I penned a piece on “Working Out and Wine” where I went over some of this in greater detail but a little recap couldn’t hurt so check out the piece ahead of your dinner.
Second, this sort of tasting and dinner will remove the expectations from the equation. Expectations that when we say” this is a Chardonnay from [insert well known California wine producer],” you will not fall into the trap of familiar tropes, i.e. clearly this wine will be fruit forward with a buttery and oaky finish…. No, we do not want those thoughts to cloud your tastings and judgement. Rather we want you to be a blank slate where you taste and let the wine paint the canvas of your mind and palate, enabling you to see/taste for yourself what is really in the bottle. By removing the expectations you just might be surprised with what remains.
Third, we are removing some of your assumptions about wine and food. We are not really breaking the rules but rather bending them. You might have new and exciting pairings presented to you. Pairings and wine that you would never before consider. By not considering them you may have been doing yourself a disservice, not only in enjoying wine and food but also in finding quality wines from other locations you may not have even considered. If you happened to come to our Ch Ste. Michelle wine dinner the past August you may recall that we served Merlot after we served Cabernet, more than a few were surprised by this and actually spoke to us to see if we had made a mistake. We had not, it was all down by design, and I think that it worked rather well.
Come dine with us. Take a chance on dining in the dark. See what can happen when you approach a meal blindly, no expectations apart from it being well executed and fun.
So make your reservations and then show up with a cleansed palate and an open and inquisitive mind.