There’s not much point in beating around the proverbial bush as, if you want to gain a massive leg up on tasting wines blind, run out now and pick up a copy of Dr. Neel Burton’s “The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting 2nd Ed.”
With that out of the way, let’s talk for a second about blind wine tasting as it’s one of those “magic” things for those who are more accustomed to just drinking the stuff. And of course that’s the trick to it in that if you’re one of the people who works on this, you’re rarely “just drinking” and are instead tasting a lot of wines, memorizing a lot of facts, and most importantly, doing it often. While it may seem like it when someone runs through an analysis, no one just picks up a glass to nail a 1996 Château Margaux one day. I’ve read articles of varying levels of bullshit by people who claim some innate ability but the reality is that it takes years and literally having tasting thousands of wines to get to that point.
If this seems like an onerous, sweat-inducing, bad-digestion prone activity, that’s because it is. I think once you get into it, it’s a good deal of fun as it allows you to break down wines and analyze their individual parts to see what makes the wine tick. That said, there are days when you just gotta turn it off so that you can enjoy wine without thinking. And then there are days where you can’t call anything correctly. Despite the whole magic of it, those days we call, “many”.
This is where Neel’s book comes in with great aplomb. It’s essentially two books in one. There’s the first part that goes into a great deal of detail how to taste and set up a blind tasting as well as the mechanics behind what makes wine, wine. But it will most likely be about halfway through Chapter 4 where he breaks down general tasting profiles for just about all the major wines of the world. This is the book’s core value for anyone at any level of tasting and studying. Trying to find a consistent, easily-digestible format is next to impossible and it will save most anyone a great deal of time in trying to wrap their head around say, what the differences are between Loire Chenin Blanc and Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc to name but one example.
The remaining two thirds of the book goes into explaining and mapping various wine regions the world over. This is well done and for someone starting out or mid-level in their learning, it’s a worthy section as well. For people in more advanced studies, this will largely be a rehash but then again, it never hurts to go over material yet again.
If the book was just the tasting section, I’d say that it’d be better to have as a lengthy PDF. This is why I surprised at the length of it when I first received it. But, delving into all the additional region information, I’d go so far to say that anyone studying for the Court of Master Sommeliers or to a large extent, the WSET would do very well to have this book. Perhaps it’s a bit weighty in terms of information for a complete beginner, but once you get a couple of concepts under your belt, this book will serve you well to get to newer and more exciting places in wine.
For added fun, it’s quite recommendable to follow Neel’s Instagram and Twitter where he’s constantly posting about beautiful things he’s tasting.
So I went straight to Amazon and looked this up because it seems just the thing to help me study for the WSET Diploma and I discover that Dr. Neel is a psychiatrist, has written a dozen books on that subject, is a Fellow at Oxford and that before he turned 40.