On Tuesday, September 12, Armada Wine & Beer Merchant will offer a chance to taste several mystery glasses of wine — and see, smell, and think of the drink in an eye-opening new way. Led by sommelier Carlos Mascherin, The Secret to Blind Tasting will serve up a series of blind tastings that make for a delicious, informative, and enlightening guessing game. Based on the deductive tasting methods of expert sommeliers, Mascherin’s class follows the format of the Court of Master Sommeliers exams and can help you better discern what to look for in a wine — and why you like (or don’t like) it.
Mascherin, a certified sommelier, will offer examples of two reds and two whites, using visual, aromatic, and flavor traits to determine their varietal, appellation, vintage, and quality level. “People who attend the event actually get to experience what even master sommeliers go through during their exam,” he said. It’s a class to help you “broaden and activate the palate” — a way of expanding your understanding of an activity that Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd recently proclaimed is more cerebrally engaging than math or just about any other human activity.
“The world of wine is so immense and broad and profound and vast, it’s mind-numbing,” said Mascherin. The art of blind tasting, he said, “is more than a trick at parties. The sommelier who can look, smell, and taste a glass of wine that is unknown to them and tell you what it is is a sommelier who truly understands the nature of wine grapes.”
The Santa Barbara native first discovered a passion for the ancient potation in his twenties when living in Italy, “where wine is a food group.” When he moved back to S.B., the fine artist took on a position as wine steward at Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez, his industry alma mater, before moving on to Santa Barbara Winery.
The deeper into wine he delved, the more his curiosity was piqued, and so Mascherin formed the Sommeliers of the American Riviera, a regional group of expert tasters who serve as judges on festival panels and consultants to area wine-seekers, among other activities. Now, Mascherin can be found most days pouring at Armada, where he’s known to dish out knowledge and charm in puncheon-sized portions.
I attended one of Mascherin’s classes earlier in the summer and walked away at class’s end with a broader vocabulary and perception of wine than before. Our senses sleuthed as we checked for clarity, concentration, and flocculation (the sight of sediment or particles); sniffed out citrus, eucalyptus, and barrel scents; and tasted for sweetness, body, and tannins. We tweezed out notes of bruised apple and wet wool, tobacco and bay leaf, finding words for varietal markers we before didn’t know we could detect. Mascherin tries to find exemplary versions of classic varietals to demonstrate differences across expressions and regions.
More than an identification method for the experts, deductive tasting helps the taster/buyer/customer “put into words what it is they’re looking for; their enjoyment grows, and they evolve as a taster,” Mascherin said. His tools and teachings can give even budding enthusiasts the confidence to enter a shop and specify by body, acid and tannin levels, or regions and get the wine they want.
As we wrapped up this summer’s class, the set of strangers had all become friendly, trading taste notes and stories. For Mascherin, it’s not just the wine, but the people and stories behind the wine that makes wine tasting so wonderful. “Wine has a human history of 10 thousand years, so there’s a lot of heritage there,” he said, “I love sharing what I find exciting about wine with people. There’s a lot to behold and enjoy [in wine] that just makes living so much fun.”
The Secret to Blind Tasting is on Tuesday, September 12, at 6 p.m. at Armada Wine & Beer Merchant (1129-A State St.). For more information, call (805) 770-5912 or visit armadasantabarbara.com.