28 Feb 2013

Blind test

Do you consider bathing in donkey's milk decadent? Then how about watering flowers with champagne?

Typically, I do not indulge in such debauchery. But on a recent Saturday night, on occasion of a bubbly blind tasting amongst friends, precious champagne was indeed horribly wasted.

It was the second time that I was invited to join my friends for this fun event in a snowy corner of the United States. With none of us being an oenophile, we all bring one or several bottles of sparkling wine, from any choice of origin and price range, which are swiftly put in velvet bags and hidden away by our host.

Once we're all settled in with our little grading sheets in the ready, the first plopp of the night is not far off, and soon we're all eyeing, smelling, slurping and swallowing bubbles, wondering from which of the wrapped bottles they may have come. As we work our way through the seven varieties at hand, the differences become noticable. This one is much more pale than the others, there is hardly any perlage (hey, I can throw the odd wine snob word, right?) in that one, and #4 has an intriguingly complex set of aromas. What may be seen as a somewhat standardized drink suddenly seems wonderfully nuanced.

Openly commenting on the samples is frowned upon, but the expressions on the testers' faces speak volumes, the ohs and eews being potent clues. But would somebody dare invoking that flower vase in the middle of the table, which doubles as a spitting bucket? The spirits are high, and with one cork after the other popping, they are only getting higher.

At the end of the leisurely sampling, our grading cards are collected and swiftly run through a highly sophisticated weighting algorithm (okay, so it's just a spreadsheet) to come up with the fizzy flight's winner. And this is were the embarrassment starts.

Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the list sees the $3.99 André Ro, a genuinely horrible concoction. The Cava doesn't do so well either, and even the specialty non dosé champers from the liquor store only gets mediocre marks. At the top of the podium, last year's winner is able to defend its title: The shockingly palatable, and even more affordable, $9.99 Barefoot Bubbly from California. It is closely followed by Cosco's Kirkland store brand champagne, an excellent buy at $20, and my personal favorite, on which I bestowed not just the highest marks, but also the comment "airline grade".

This, of course, is the very same product that another taster, who shall remain anonymous, deemed worthy of watering the flowers. In comparison, even christening boats with it seems less profligate. But the old monk probably wouldn't care either way. A la vôtre, Dom Pérignon!


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