User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Wednesday Warblings
There Are No Wine Experts-—Except Some Guys Who Think They Have Invented The “Way”

By Stephen Eliot

Just ask them and they will hurt themselves while patting their own backs. But, first, a little background on why these folks think they can get away with it. Consider the following conclusions drawn from the writings of those who criticize the critics.

-- Those who call themselves wine experts are delusional frauds. They cannot taste the difference between wines of supposed pedigree and the three-dollar stuff from the shelves of Trader Joe’s, and, even worse, when put to the test, they cannot even distinguish red wine from white other than by looking directly at the color.

-- They are “proven” by statistical study to be woefully confused and inconsistent when handing out medals at this or that wine competition, and, having been so exposed, they should be dumped in history’s trash bin and their hoodwinked followers freed. Wine tasting, we are told, is a bogus science, and there has been plenty of bogus science to prove it starting with Professor Robert Hodgson’s statistical “proof” of expert-wine-taster incompetence as evidenced by wildly varying ratings of wine at 13 US. Wine competitions.

The new popular message is clear. We don’t need no stinking experts!

Now, needless to say, as one who has plied his trade as a wine writer and critic for over three decades, I do at times get a little defensive and uneasy at the rocks being tossed my way. I have tried, whenever possible, to avoid the argument and have chosen instead to let my work speak for itself. I am wholly comfortable with letting my readers decide my worth rather than the latest angry, attention-starved poodle yapping away on the internet.

Still, I confess to often finding myself wishing that there was least an occasional word of support for what I believe is a rigorous profession; one that when done right involves a good deal of experience and hard work.

Well, lo and behold, a rare word of validation of wine expertise is now being proffered by a new Texas start-up called VineSleuth1. I cannot comfortably say that I am entirely clear as to what VineSleuth really does (they are soon to release a new smartphone application called Wine4.Me and they seem to be somehow involved in tracking, data collection and analysis of wine criticism,) but the important message that comes through loud and clear is that the folks at VineSleuth are convinced that at least some experienced wine professionals actually do know what they are doing, and they have algorithms to prove it! As their website states,

Every wine in our database is analyzed by a large panel of expert wine tasters working hand-in-hand with a team of sensory analysts. All of these professionals have passed our own rigorous tests for repeatability and consistency. In fact, we only use tasters who can repeat their assessment of any given wine at least 90% of the time. This is no small feat. These folks really know their stuff.

We then run the collected wine evaluations through a battery of tests that are anchored in the fields of sensory science and statistics. These tests ensure the wine characterizations are objective, repeatable, and predictable, and will lead to high consumer trust.

By rigorously characterizing individual wines this way, we avoid the influences of irrelevant opinions, cut through marketing blather, and pinpoint the qualities consumers truly prefer.

Well, I guess I can rest easy now that the light of real science is shining on the profession I love. A wine world free of “marketing blather” and “irrelevant opinions”? Now that would be something. It all sounds too good to be true.

Good Night Mr. Hodgson, wherever you are.



by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:8/15/2013 9:33:39 AM

That's a pretty unskeptical acceptance of Vinesleuth's accumulated data from their alleged "expert wine tasters." Especially considering they're hawking their app that will "pinpoint the qualities consumers prefer?" Really? I prefer honesty. Can I find some of that?

But you're right, Stephen, that ultimately it's your work that speaks to your tasting prowess and consistency. On that count, you don't need no stinkin' Vinesleuth for validation. They need you.

No Subject
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:8/15/2013 9:55:23 AM

Wine assessments that are "objective, repeatable and predictable?"  Anyone who claims this dubious claim clearly doesn't know what he/she is talking about.  Bullshit.  But sadly, anyone who believes that... well, let's just say that you are only bound to get "Parkerized" of "Spectactatored" all over again.  

Where is the 'Yawn" emoticon
by doug wilder
Posted on:8/15/2013 11:00:41 AM



You and Charlie shouldn't even need to address this stuff. I don't!  Just do what you are great at and let the chips fall where they may.

by doug wilder
Posted on:8/15/2013 11:11:51 AM

I looked at the website just briefly and there is no indication who they use for a panel although there are some names i recognize who have reviewed or recommended wines, including their own brand. I couldn't help but notice they left the 't' off of Pinot Noir.

Fool or Fraud
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/15/2013 11:34:10 AM

Doug, Randy, Ron--

What these guys are doing is perpetrating an intellectual fraud. Are they fools or charlatans? Either way, their antics need to held up to the light of day.

I can't wait for their reviews of Pino Noir, Pino Gris and Pino Chardonnay.

by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:8/15/2013 12:13:52 PM

Just to be clear, the fools and charlatans perpetrating intellectual fraud? Me and Doug and Randy, right?


Who? You?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/15/2013 12:17:23 PM

Well ......................

Stirring the lees
by Deborah Parker Wong
Posted on:9/4/2013 8:12:07 PM

Stephen, Sorry to be coming to this discussion late but I participated in VineSleuth's research earlier this year and then followed the story until VineSleuth gave me a cautious interview that resulted in this article...  My take is a little more circumspect that the company website and intended to serve those of us who are fed up with headlines like "Wine tasting: it's junk science."  While you don't mention having read it, it caused a kerfluffle due to lack of specifics but then much of what they're doing can't be disclosed due to pending patents.  Wilder and Caparoso will have to wait out the feds to be schooled. 

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.