Blind-Tasting Tips from Candace Olsen

A second-career certified somm takes the SevenFifty Daily Supertasters challenge

In the SevenFifty Daily Supertasters video series, we choose the wines, then challenge some of the industry’s best palates to blind tastings in an effort to glean their extraordinary techniques.

Candace Olsen is a sommelier at The Standard Highline Grill in New York City—and a professional dancer. Her passion for wine hit an apex when she was living in Paris and dancing at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2014. Upon returning to New York in 2015 to perform in the hit Broadway show An American in Paris, Olsen began pursuing professional wine studies on the side. She is now a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds an advanced Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

Olsen emphasizes the importance of keeping your blind-tasting skills sharp by practicing regularly. She makes an analogy comparing her blind-tasting skills with the muscles in a dancer’s body: The blind-tasting skill set is like “a muscle,” she says, “and if it’s not exercised regularly, you lose your edge.”

When preparing to blind-taste, Olsen always takes a few moments to get into the right mindset. “My advice to myself every time I sit down is to relax, breath, and focus.” She concedes that her biggest mistake is skipping steps and making early conclusions. “It’s kind of a ‘me versus me’ thing,” she says. “I need to resist the urge to freak out and tell myself I can’t smell anything—because that definitely happens.”

The goal, she says, is to really focus and break down the wine, then compare the information you’ve derived from the wine in the glass to the body of knowledge you’ve accumulated through your studies and experience. “When I take each component step by step, and then look at my body of deductions, the answer is usually right there staring me in the face.”

Olsen also underscores the importance of paying special attention to any characteristics that tend to stump you. For example, she says she sometimes has difficulty judging the level of acidity or alcohol correctly in wine. Mixing up certain varieties is another common problem that blind-tasters experience. “I call Malbec my nemesis,” says Olsen, “because I almost never guess it right.”

But she believes that nailing blind-tasting is all about practice, practice, practiceher credo through years of dance studies and performances. To improve her capacity to judge acidity and alcoholand to recognize Malbec by sight, smell, and taste when it’s in her glass, she goes through the process of blind-tasting flights of four to six wines that, for example, either have varying levels of acidity, alcohol, or are Malbecs from different regions, and then analyzing and comparing her deductions for each one.

“I’m in the early stages of this new career, and I can’t help but absolutely compare it to my [dance] career [in] that through loads of study and hard work, I’ll become the best I can be in wine.”

And so can you.

We gave Olsen a glass of red wine to blind-taste. Watch the video to find out if she guessed right—and to see if you have what it takes to be a SevenFifty Daily Supertaster.

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Jen Laskey is the former executive editor of SevenFifty Daily. She is also an award-winning wine, spirits, and lifestyle writer and editor based in New York City, an associate judge for the IWSC, and a WSET-certified advanced somm and Diploma candidate. 

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