When I took the Pepsi challenge I discovered one cola, Pepsi, tasted bigger and fresher than the others. By comparison, Coke seemed weak and thin. I needed to experience both of them right next to each other to really taste the difference. It was the same with Hostess Ho Hos and their leading competitor, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. When comparing them at the same table, in the name of science, I discovered Ho Hos to be moist, rich, and aromatic. By comparison, the Swiss Rolls, tasted like waxy sawdust, only not as delicious. The point is, I drank Coke and ate Swiss Rolls for years without knowing they weren’t my first choice. It required a side-by-side, head-to-head smackdown to really learn how one compared to the other. It went on from there. I began testing other things next to each other and can now tell you exactly why I prefer Vietnamese cinnamon to Ceylon cinnamon, Columbian coffee over Ethiopian, and don’t even get me started on why I prefer the AMC Gremlin to the Dodge Aspen.
Tasting two wines next to each other in the same way is a great way to learn what you like in a wine and why. Pop the cork on two different bottles and pour a glass of each. Start with two different grape varietals. Notice the differences in their aromas. Do they feel different on your tongue? Do the flavors of one wine stay with you longer than the flavors of the other? Push the cork back in and try them again the following day. They’ll last for a day or two. Have they changed after breathing for a day? For a tighter competition, try two wines of the same grape varietal next to each other.
Performing tests like this accelerates your wine knowledge quickly. Below are two good side by side tests to give you an idea of where your tastes lie with both reds and whites.
Oyster Bay 2008, Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99) vs. J. Lohr 2008, Chardonnay ($12.99): One of these is fresh, crisp, and loaded with citrus, while the other is rich, creamy, and loaded with butter.
Mark West 2008, Pinot Noir (13.49) vs. Ave 2007, Malbec ($12.99): Again, these wines stand on opposite sides of the isle when it comes to flavor profiles and body weight. One is driven by fruit and has a lighter body while the other sports bigger flavors of oak, cedar, and tobacco.