TNs: Black Glasses and 4 Wines

The Wines:

2006 Patz and Hall Chardonnay Hyde Vyd Carneros
2006 Derain Mercurey Le Plante Chassey
2006 Nicolas Joly Coulee de Serrant Savennieres
2004 Novy Syrah Garys’ Vineyard

The Premise: “Is the wine white or red?”

6 tasters of varying experience levels volunteered for the black glass treatment. Three tasters were served one flight at a time while seated at the same table. The wines were totally unknown to the tasters (no knowledge of how many reds, whites or what the wines were).

Serving orders were changed so that two people had the same wine (not always the same 2 people), but didn’t know it. The room was kept light until just before the glasses were passed to the tasters, at which point the lights were dimmed to near darkness. Combined with the black glasses, there was very little chance of “cheating”. After each flight, the tasters were told how many correct guesses but not who. At the end of the 4 flights, the individuals were told how many flights and which they’d guessed correctly/incorrectly.

Of the 6 tasters, only 1 accurately guessed all 4. The Coulee de Serrant tripped up all but 2 participants. One of the most experienced tasters promptly declared the Cali Chard as being an Aussie Shiraz, until a change of heart emerged after nearly 5 minutes of focused study. Another taster immediately nailed the Mercurey as a light red Burg, and stuck with it.

Surprisingly, a couple of the more inexperienced tasters did well. Pre-expectations often dominated the evidence, even with no overt hints provided one way or another. The main “tell” for the reds were the tannins and finish, which is exactly why the Joly was so perplexing.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tasting blind for many years. Despite being an underestimated and often maligned “parlor trick” by some among the wine cognescenti, it’s a uniquely successful way of stripping away preconceptions. The black glass challenge strips things pretty much to the bone. How good a taster are you…really? Pro critics tend to steer clear of public blind tastings. Be fun to see some try this!


Hah, cool, I had a feeling the “orange” wine would cause some trouble. A Gravner Breg would really throw people off.

Great post and a fascinating experience!

Awesome experiment! I’ve always wondered about those black glasses. Nice to actually hear from someone who has actually put them in action.

Using black wine glasses makes for a nice parlour game, but I prefer to see the wine’s colour in ascertaining its age and character. I believe sight plays an important part
in establishing a point of reference in evaluating any wine, and it can often identify flaws in a particular wine. Of course, it can also be misleading, since wine evaluation
and appreciation is far from an objective exercise. I seem to recall that some experiments in this area demonstrated that colour plays an important role in the overall appeal of wines.
Leaves me to wonder what a black glass might bring to any form of wine evaluation, other than the trick of guessing the identity of wines.

Reminds me of the old soft drink commercial where a blindfolded Orley Dunstan had trouble separating a Pepsi from a Fresca. [basic-smile.gif]

Hank [cheers.gif]

I’m probably even more rudimentary of a taster than Hank - my simple goal with each wine I drink is to decide if I like it or not.

I guess this would be cool to try from a “game” standpoint, but unless the black glass magically removes the oak from a typical Kistler Chard (as just one example of a wine I typically detest), I’m not sure what it does other than to force me to say “I know I don’t like this wine, regardless of color”.

I’ve done tasting out of black glass, too, and besides being terrifically fun and more challenging than you might think, it’s also humbling. Certainly, if you’ve been in one of those funks wherein wine is often less-than-thrilling, this type of tasting will probably leave you nonplussed and thinking about how amazing the variety of wine is!

An easy mistake to make… oodles of oak and fruit, some R.S. and no acid.

Pretty cool. It seems like it would not be so hard, but I believe you that it is much harder than it seems (of course it might be easier if the wines had some flavor neener ). I take it this was completely blind, you had no idea of what wines would be served. What temp were they served at? What size are the glasses? Thanks for posting. This sounds quite intriguing.

This was more fun than expected. Probably helped having a familiar group experienced and humbled from regular blind tastings.

Eric, Gravner can be so orange that red guesser’s might have a valid argument!

Hank and Bob, nothing wrong with tasting the way you prefer. Sometimes it’s fun to stretch. And Bob, a few tasters wondered if the glasses did have magical properties.

John, there wasn’t a lot of criticism of guesses. The complete reversal from far red to far white did generate some smiles and some commiseration when the taster expressed lingering ambivalence about the correct switch.

Loren, Completely blind to the tasters with no clue as to what the wines might be. Only I knew, and administered the tasting. All wines started at approx 50F and probably warmed to approx 65F by the end of the tasting. Wine temps were relatively uniform during each flight. The glasses are 10 oz and had 2 - 3oz pours. Only once did I add a little extra upon request. All pouring was done in a separate room out of sight of the tasters…during which times the lights were turned up in the tasting room. All guesses were made before turning up the lights. The lights were turned down upon re-entering the room with the new flight. The tasters never had a chance to look inside the glasses before the lights were dimmed.


Rich, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but wouldn’t the temperature of the whites give them away? I mean, one doesn’t expect a Shiraz to be chilled, do they?

The purpose for tasting “blind in black” (or is it triple blind?) is not to assay or enjoy the wine, but to deepen understanding of HOW one tastes.

No one was ruling out enjoyment! It certainly stimulated intense focus on one’s taste.


No, of course! I was thinking that, philosophically, no one would argue that black glasses are best for pure enjoyment, and in that way agreeing that seeing and understanding color are part of enjoying and assessing wine.

Um, orange? Are you saying this is a skins on ferment?

Chaad, I would add that for pure enjoyment, blind tasting (in its many forms) probably wouldn’t make the top of the list either. They certainly can serve to highlight biases, preconceptions and sensory limitations. I’ve been questioning the validity of ratings for years as well as my own biases and the popular hierarchys of wine quality. These exercises seem to confirm what a huge part expectations play as well as adding insight in to one’s tastes and taste limitations. One thing’s for sure, the more I learn, the less cocky I am about wine tasting prowess.


Great post. Thanks for sharing your results. I agree that blind tasting is an important part of serious wine tasting and wine evaluation. For the exact reason that you state: “it’s a uniquely successful way of stripping away preconceptions.”

We use black glasses in our part of our evaluation of our red wines. Very useful.

Sounds like fun. If nothing else, it seems to me that consistently tasting in this format could (theoretically at least) enhance your ability to rely more on the olfactory senses and perhaps even heighten your sense of taste/smell. Kind of how they say that blind people learn to understand their other senses better than the rest of us.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I stopped into Ehlers Estate in Calistoga. They had a table set up with about 8 or so of the black glasses. Instead of putting wine in there, they had various spices and herbs (things like cinnamon, clove, vanilla, rosemary, thyme, espresso beans etc) that are commonly used as wine descriptors. Then they had about 16 or so cards, and each card had one of the items from the glasses or one of 8 other similar spices/herbs/items pictured on the card. You had to guess which card went with which glass…it was a pretty fun way to try to identify specific smells.

It is very interesting and thank you for posting.

I often read that blind tasting is a parlor trick or simple skill. I participated in a similar tasting fifteen years ago. It was ten different varietals served while blindfolded. It was my first blind tasting experience but I was able to correctly identified all ten. Trust me it is not a parlor trick. The point that I am constantly making is there is a need to check the very basic individual sensory capacity. The issue is that the truth hurts and it is easier to trivialize what is fundamental eg “I can’t tell a white from a red but I really am a great taster when I know what I am drinking.”

A neat tasting, however, 50 seems very cold for a red wine. I think it would be harder to taste the differences at that temp. I’ll bet it would be easier to distinguish the reds from the whites when both are at 65.