I once heard something crazy and it went like this. Red and white wines when tasted blind at about the same temperature are difficult to identify. Studies say 60% of participants failed and this Wine Lovers Page article explains more. This is shocking because a) so many people consider themselves exclusively white or red wine drinkers so how could they screw up telling them apart and b) red and white wines are often posited as polar opposites both at the dinner table and in wine talk in general.
Although I thought I could distinguish the two in a blind taste test, how shocking a notion is this really? Not really that shocking, especially if you had styles of red and white wine you were largely unfamiliar with. After careful reflection, I think that b) is a vast oversimplification of the world of wine and a) can be the expression of a preference for many different things -- not just taste -- such as the refreshment value of chilled drink like white wine, for instance. But basically, in the end, shouldn't the presence of tannin in reds -- and all the elements it helps to create, structure, depth and astringency -- be a dead giveaway?
And so with that, I got out my trusty Riedel blind tasting glasses, a gift from my thoughtful friend Johanna who visited Austria last year and picked them up for me as a souvenir. I was glad to christen these top-notch glasses in this way as until now they only made for lovely conversion pieces that sat impressively atop my wine fridge. In action they are even more fantastic, as you may be able to see here. They are thin but strong crystal and they have a purple tint when held up to the light but do not reveal the slightest hint of its contents' colour. Obviously stemless, they have depressions built in the bottom and side for your fingers. Easy to swirl and a great shape for catching aromas. Using these babies, determining red wine from white wine was going to be a cinch!
And what can I tell you. It was easy. Here we are pouring out "the reveal" ... drumroll. Correct answer! My tasting companion who is an occasional wine drinker but mainly a beer lover, had no difficulty whatsoever. Seeing this, I told her to open a bottle of rosé wine and then secretly choose two of the three available wines to feed me. This was also relatively easy to detect. She had given me pink and white wine. The pink wine had a tell-tale tartness and slight astringency that simply was not there in the soft and rich white wine. The white we opened actually had much more body than the rosé, and maybe even than the red. That level of "lightness" which people often assume creates the great divide between red and white was not really a true factor here. Despite a lighter wine with a darker colour, I correctly guessed which was white and which was rosé. I pour out the reveal again.
Reds lighter in tannin would've given us more trouble likely. We had a red from southern France (a Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre blend) with a firm tannic presence (Clarification: the red is this one not what the label would indicate on the half-bottle, which I used to conserve the wine which had been opened previously.) I also wonder whether a white wine with greater bite, like a Sauvignon Blanc, might have muddled the identification process with its bracing attack. (I know I once had a Beaujolais that seemed so sour and attacking that I thought it could been mistaken for white.) Incidentally, our white was a unique Chardonnay-regional grape blend from Sicily, which I like a lot.
We probably should've had a third person there who would try to decipher the red from the rosé. After all the rosé was the same basic blend as the red and came from the same region. Yet, I'm betting it would be simple to distinguish, since the rosé was so noticeably less consistant and extracted than the red. Like comparing water to wine, you might say?
The serving temperature for this experiment is a key variable. I recommend something in the middle -- 12 degrees say -- so as not to give one side or the other too much trouble in naturally expressing its aroma-driven characteristics and acid levels.
All in all it was a worthwhile experiment. I think the lesson here is to picture wine as a full spectrum rather than just red, pink and white. Cheers!