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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

A Bluffer's Guide to Blind Tasting
Part 3 - The Snotta Method

© Murray Almond
26 August 2001

In this lesson, Murray shares his darkest trade secret . . . .

In the first two lessons of the course I provided a series of clues on how to bluff your way through the blind wine tasting, firstly by getting a peek at the bottle and then by knowing your enemy. Should these be still not sufficient to nail the identity the wine and elevate you to the stellar heights of "esteemed wine buff" there are further opportunities to identify the wine in the glass without, in fact, being the all-round wine expert you're giving the impression of being.

This phase, which I call the "Snotta Method" involves a couple of steps, the first of these is, in fact, and finally, smelling and tasting the wine. These are very useful techniques to know, as aside from aiding in the art of the bluff, they also help your overall appreciation of wine, which is a bonus in itself.

Smelling the wine serves three key purposes, it gives you the first clues at to what the wine may be, and second, more importantly what the wine is not, and thirdly it looks impressive to the people watching you do it.

The technique is quite simple, get a bit of wine into your tasting glass and give it a good swirl. Practising a good swirl should be done ahead of time. Holding the glass by the base and not looking at it while you're swirling gets good bluffing points. In case you were wondering, swirling the wine releases the wine's aromas for you to sniff, so it serves a real purpose as well as looking good.

Next comes the sniff, stick your nose into the glass and have a good sniff; this is not a chemistry prac. where you wave the glass vaguely in front of your nose. A good sniff is important both for the bluff and the real taster. It tells you a lot about the wine.

  • If the smell is fruity, the wine may be young.
  • If it's dark berry with chocolate, then it could be a cabernet sauvignon
  • If there's spices or pepper it could be shiraz
  • If it smells like passionfruit plant of fresh-cut grass it could be Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling.

If it smells off, it probably is. Querying the taster "do you think this wine is OK?" gets good bonus points. If the wine is truly off, you've scored. If not, you've demonstrated, or seem to have shown, that you usually taste better wines than this one.

The expert bluffer knows the tasting technique; you don't just sip and swallow. The expert bluffer takes a decent sized sip, then sucks some air in. The noisily the better, this will take practice, so do it at home to refine your technique. You then swirl the wine in your mouth, hold it there for a couple of seconds and then swallow. This is what the experts do.

By the way, that contemplative pause that the experts do after tasting is not about trying to disguise a stray fart, it's actually considering the 'finish' of the wine. That is how long the flavour hangs around after you've swallowed. What the bluffer needs to know here is that if there's little or no finish, then the wine is bad or faulty. If you strike such a wine it's pretty safe to do the deep considering/fart disguising thing and then claim "the nose didn't show it for certain, but the wine could be corked, could you open another.?" If the blinder looks alarmed and distressed, you may have picked up a great clue that the wine is a good one, especially if they don't want to open another, even if they let slip they have more in their cellar (see 'Get Them Tipsy' in Lesson 2).

Now comes the key component of the lesson.

The Snotta Technique
OK you've smelt and tasted the wine. Even if you know what the wine is don't say so. Your first comment should be about what the wine is not. Couch this phrase in words that will get the blinder talking as, after all, a talking blinder is giving away clues to the wine.

Use a phrase like "Nice red berry, quite a bit pepper; it's not a Shiraz?" or to phrase the last bit in context; "'snotta Shiraz?".

In other words you start off with what a wine is not ('snot) rather than what the wine is.

This has enormous advantages to the blindee . Rather than having a wild stab at one of 20 likely varieties or blends, you're taking the path that gives you the most chance of being right with each guess. As such you can narrow down the wine with guesses of various degrees of education while maintaining the aura of the expert.

If you get absolutely no herbaceous character out of the wine, and think that it could be a Semillon or Chardonnay, start with "'snot Sav Blanc?". When the answer comes back in the affirmative, nod knowingly and say "obviously" and move onto the next guess of greatest probability.

As such you can narrow down what the wine is by talking about what it 'snot. This can work for Variety ('snotta Riesling?), or Region ('snotta Victorian?) or age ('snottan old wine?).

Note that even if the response is in the negative, this can work equally to your advantage. For example when you say "'snotta Sav Blanc?" make sure your intonation is such that if it is a Sauvignon Blanc, that you can respond with "Thought So." without appearing to be a goose with a wooden palate.

The outcome is when you finally sit back and say what the wine is, your audience forgets about the nine prior comments you've made and is in awe of your wine tasting prowess.

The Snotta method is the key to being a success at the art of bluffing your way through blind wine tasting. But there are still other ways to increase your chances. I'll discuss these in the next lesson.

© Murray Almond
26 August 2001

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Other Lessons in the Bluffer's Guide to Blind Tasting
Introduction and Part 1 - Check the Bottle
Part 2 - Know Your Enemy
Part 4 - Taking a WAG and getting to Carnegie Hall

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