Expert Eye: Eye Openers

  • Photo by Thomas M. Barwick INC
    Shayn Bjornholm, Court of Master Sommeliers Photo by Thomas M. Barwick INC
  • Photo by www.corderostudios.com
    Clarendon Hills 2010 Grenache Clarendon Photo by www.corderostudios.com
  • Photo by www.corderostudios.com
    Gaia 2013 Assyrtiko Wild Ferment ($43) Photo by www.corderostudios.com
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    Monte Rossa Franciacorta Sansevé Satèn Brut ($40) Photo by www.corderostudios.com
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    Gramercy Cellars 2012 Lagniappe Syrah ($55) Photo by www.corderostudios.com
  • Photo by Rodolphe Cellier
    Petit-Village 2010 Pomerol ($92) Photo by Rodolphe Cellier
  • Photo by Tooga Productions, Inc./ Getty Images
    Photo by Tooga Productions, Inc./ Getty Images
  • Photo by Thomas M. Barwick INC
  • Photo by www.corderostudios.com
  • Photo by www.corderostudios.com
  • Photo by www.corderostudios.com
  • Photo by www.corderostudios.com
  • Photo by Rodolphe Cellier
  • Photo by Tooga Productions, Inc./ Getty Images

“If I pour you a glass of Merlot, I guarantee that before you pick up the glass you’re tasting every Merlot you’ve ever had or even think you’ve had. Blind tasting frees you from that.”
—Shayn Bjornholm, Court of Master Sommeliers

As the examination director for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Shayn Bjornholm oversees the toughest test in the business: the master sommelier diploma exam—the three- or four-day beast chronicled in the 2013 film Somm, and its feared, rapid-fire blind tasting. After years of preparation, each candidate has 25 minutes to identify six wines—grape, country, region, vintage, and quality level—based on just a few sips. It is, shall we say, a bit nerve-racking. 

But Bjornholm is also a fan of blind tasting for fun, when there is no more at stake than bragging rights for a night. These informal blind tastings are also how professionals introduce each other to surprising discoveries, escape the label’s strong power of suggestion, develop a nuanced palate, and, of course, gain bragging rights (perhaps for a lifetime). 

In that spirit, we asked Bjornholm to name his five best ringers: intriguing wines that challenge even the most brilliant blind tasters. “The key to playing this game of ringers is, it has to be close” to tasting like a better-known wine, Bjornholm says, “but show just enough of its origins that someone could get it.” Each of his choices is also a world-class recommendation for collectors, a wine that challenges assumptions and rewards out-of-the-box thinking.

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