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There Is No Bluffing In Blind Tasting

By Stephen Eliot

It is one thing to revel in the populist spirit of the internet and the wholly unfettered broadcast of opinions that it has made possible, but that does not mean that every opinion is worthy of respect, and sometimes it is right to say that “enough is enough.” That is just what our pick as the best blog of last week does, and Jamie Goode is to be complemented by taking a long-overdue stand in defense of connoisseurship and blind tasting in his piece “Is Everything We Know About Wine Wrong?” 1

There are cynical, near-daily, electronic ramblings that delight in telling you that wine expertise is a hoax, that so-called professionals do not know what they are doing and those who believe any wine is worth more than ten dollars are delusional at best. It is nice to read a few words that challenge such simplistic nonsense. What appears to have rightly raised Mr. Goode’s hackles is a recent article in London’s The Telegraph newspaper that once again drags out the now-tiresome analyses of Robert Hodgson concerning the seemingly random nature of one large wine competition in California and concludes that “if what you after is a nice bottle of wine, perhaps it is best not to worry about the label or the critics or the medals. The most rational decision is the one judged on price. But despite the work of scientists, it still appears as if there is very little rational behavior to be found among wine lovers and makers.”

Jamie responds with an articulate, worth-reading rebuttal that is succinctly summed up by his statement that:

“Outsiders frequently want to believe that wine tasting is nonsense, and because it seems rather opaque and difficult to them (many find all wines taste the same), they are reassured when any evidence emerges that those of us in the wine trade are bluffing or making it up.

The problem is, we aren’t. Yes, tasting wine blind is difficult, but it is not impossible.”

Amen, and thank you.

We would agree that there are pitfalls aplenty when it comes to large wine competitions and the awards they bestow, and we will concede that taste and style are far from objective, but experience teaches that competence and expertise are real and should not be flippantly dismissed as irrational by those who have not done the work.



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Industry call to action
by Deborah Parker Wong
Posted on:5/6/2014 10:41:56 AM

When voices like Goode and Eliot speak out in defense of a skill that can be broadly defined as evaluating wine quality and one that I've spent the last ten years developing, I'm grateful.  In the past, I've openly taken on Hodgson and the journalists who misinterpret his studies using metrics from a sensory evaluation study conducted by a respected "big data" mathematician that show expert tasters can repeatedly identify the aromas, flavors and intensities in blind evaluation greater than 90% of the time.  This comes as no surprise to those of us who evaluate wine for a living but it somehow seems implausable to the rest of humanity.

My question is this. Why are so few industry opinion leaders willing to stand up for this hard-won skill?  Ours isn't the only professional to suffer this indignity, psychiatry and chiropracty have their share of naysayers, but until we as an industry get on the same page as to what defines an expert taster, we continue to reinforce the belief that wine evaluation is a skill not worth defending.  

Being defined as a human sensory meter takes some (OK, all) of the mystery and romance away from the lauded status that's associated with wine criticism but it could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

For handy reference, I've included links to articles that discuss the metrics mentioned above:

Thanks, Jamie and Steve.

by Geoff Weaver
Posted on:5/6/2014 5:12:04 PM

I'm with Jamie. There is no doubt in my mind that experienced tasters can discern and evaluate fine wine reliably. Fine wine is no myth but the characters are generally subtle and understated. In fact this is often what distinguishes fine wine from ordinary wine and is why it may be missed in big tastings.

The problem I believe comes in big wine tastings where taster fatigue is a huge problem. I have tasted in many wine shows and it is difficult, if not possible to avoid the effects of fatigue.

I no longer enter my wine in shows because I don;t believe the results to be of any value but i'll happily submit my wine to a journalist who I believe will evauate the wine on its own or with limited numbers of other wines.

Too many wines!
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:5/6/2014 7:14:33 PM

Geoff, I wholly agree that taster fatigue is at the root of the problems with the big competitions.

 I literally make my living by tasting wines day in and day out, and, here at CGCW, we typically limit oursleves to fewer than twenty a day.

 I am particulary annoyed by those that use the "statisical data" of the big competitions as some sort of proof that all wine expertise is a hoax, but the specious use of statistics to make a point is hardly limited to the discussion of fine wines.

 I applaud your thoughtful approach to getting your wines the kind of consideration they deserve.

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