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"Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

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"Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby ResIpsa539 » Sun Nov 15, 2009 5:39 am

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 53628.html

This article ran in the Wall Street Journal this morning. I'm sure we're all aware of the inherent subjectivity of wine and whisky tastings/awards, but this article helps drive it home. The article focuses on wine, but most of it seems applicable to whisky as well.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Chef! » Sun Nov 15, 2009 8:09 am

I've had my fair share of wine snob exposure starting early in my career as a line cook. You can usually tell the type right away... the dead giveaway was the fact this particular manager referred to herself as a "mixologist" :roll: I can remember asking her if she went to bartender school for 4years to get the "ologist" :D

During one Christmas party I decided to bring a bottle of an exceptional ten year cabernet sauvignon. What she didn't know was that I had already drank the contents earlier (with the staff I enjoyed) and replaced it with a much lesser, albeit drinkable wine. As I recall it was a table wine around $8 from Lodi. Everyone was in on the joke except her. She drank this wine as if it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. She even described the intricacies and how it reminded her of various napa vintages. It couldn't have been more perfect!

On the other hand I have had the privilege of knowing some very heavy hitters in the industry. And while not everyone fit the non-pretentious category, the ones that truly taught me something were the ones that preached "drink what you like and can afford." Simple enough and have been doing ever since without regret.

I am guilty of giving tasting points but only as a barometer reflected off what I personally enjoyed. It gives me a sense of direction by helping me understand my own palate better for the various regions and styles.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Aidan » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:30 am

AlanLaz wrote:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703683804574533840282653628.html

This article ran in the Wall Street Journal this morning. I'm sure we're all aware of the inherent subjectivity of wine and whisky tastings/awards, but this article helps drive it home. The article focuses on wine, but most of it seems applicable to whisky as well.


This pretty much confirms, for me, my long-held theory that whisky tastings are the height of spoofery.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby The Third Dram » Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:24 pm

Just a few brief thoughts off the top of my head...

I agree that any tasting competition represents a far from ideal way in which to assess various wines. Why? Not because I would necessarily dispute out-of-hand the conclusions of the tasters, but rather because most wines should be made to be enjoyed with food. And many a wine that mightily impresses within the confines of a competition (especially one accentuating grandiose characteristics such as over-ripe fruit, high alcohol and soft or non-existent tannins) will simply fall flat when served with food. Unfortunately, the contemporary market demand for such wines has induced producers to make such immediately appealing products rather than wines that may taste less than ideal by themselves but magically 'turn the corner' when paired with appropriate dishes. I won't get into the ongoing (and vociferous) debate currently raging between Mr. Parker and Mr. Broadbent (the latter of whom I have untold respect for).

Yes, tasters are humans. Does this mean one should discount their opinions out of hand? Of course not. Read their conclusions carefully, if necessary 'between the lines'. Get to know of their preferences and dislikes. Find those whose taste perceptions seem to most closely match your own. Better yet, get into the habit of learning from the sometimes wide differences that exist between tasters' assessments. One person's 'peach' might be another's 'pear', but both qualifiers still constitute 'fruit'.

Try to avoid the pitfall of the 'numbers racket'. Throw away those ratings (momentarily, at least) and actually dig into what people are saying. It's not all rubbish!

Lastly, learn to trust your own best judgement. It's your mouth, after all.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Aidan » Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:52 pm

I'm sure it's not all rubbish...
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Iain » Sun Nov 15, 2009 11:30 pm

Aidan wrote:This pretty much confirms, for me, my long-held theory that whisky tastings are the height of spoofery.


Perhaps not spoofery - the tasting "master classes" are often part of a clever and entertaining show put on by old-fashioned confidence tricksters, like the folks who once led seances, or sold snake oil. Great fun, so long as you realise it's all hokum.

I'd certainly except those tastings where the tasters or tasting "leader" is someone who actually makes whiskies and is not a smooth talking, script-perfect "brand ambassador", a journo who has sold his services to any company that will pay his fees and tell him what to say, or someone hawking "Bibles" .
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby corbuso » Tue Nov 17, 2009 1:50 pm

And what about giving ratings to unbottled wines:

http://www.harpers.co.uk/misc/content/a ... wines.html

?
Even better
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Aidan » Tue Nov 17, 2009 3:37 pm

Iain wrote:
Aidan wrote:This pretty much confirms, for me, my long-held theory that whisky tastings are the height of spoofery.


Perhaps not spoofery - the tasting "master classes" are often part of a clever and entertaining show put on by old-fashioned confidence tricksters, like the folks who once led seances, or sold snake oil. Great fun, so long as you realise it's all hokum.

I'd certainly except those tastings where the tasters or tasting "leader" is someone who actually makes whiskies and is not a smooth talking, script-perfect "brand ambassador", a journo who has sold his services to any company that will pay his fees and tell him what to say, or someone hawking "Bibles" .


Entertaing spoofers, I think. I mean that in a lighthearted way. I have a lot of respect for some of the tasters, but I can't understand how they mark out of 100 still. It does no harm, though.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Chef! » Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:15 pm

There's always the chance that the taster's palate isn't as sophisticated as everyone perceived (or had hoped) someone in that position would possess. It could be a combination of credentials, working the trenches and their obvious passion for wine to snag such a wonderful position. The only greater position I can think of would be a QC chocolate taster for Lindt or Valrhona. Truth is Joe Public's untrained taste buds may be close, on par or better at picking-up the details. Unlikely, but my point is there's really no way to tell given the saturation of so-called "experts" and reviews

I've always viewed the 100pt rating as a personal rating which is why there's a name associated with the review. I can think of a couple reviewers that I don't even bother with anymore. Wong for example... it's come down to me being disappointed in so many of his 90+ recommendations that I would rather take a chance on something that didn't get high marks from him just to prove how much our palates vary. For this reason I have had better luck with medal winners (from private and state held events) for the simple fact more than one palate agreed (for the most part) on the same wine/spirit. This seems more apparent in whisky... lagavulin, talisker come to mind immediately (please correct me if I'm wrong). And even this approach isn't full proof as we have already witnessed.


The way to get past the 100pt system is to simply study the reviewer's likes and dislikes so you can understand how your personal 100pt system varies. Even if you do not have a criteria it's still a good idea to follow a reviewer that shares similar tastes that hasn't been a major let down. This begs the question on how wines (and spirit blends) can be tailored to a specific reviewer's palate. Just saying... I know I can ramble off what my town's lousy food critic likes/dislikes and looks for in his food. In fact, this very knowledge payed dividends for me years ago.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Iain » Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:26 pm

Aidan wrote:Entertaing spoofers, I think. .... It does no harm, though.


Agree, absolutely.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby lancj1 » Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:29 pm

I am no real expert. I enjoy wine, but believe its a support rather than the main act. I have bought expensive bottles but as time has passed by I realise red wine is red wine (I am slightly, but not a lot, more choosy on white).

A friend once paid me a great compliment. My wife and I were on holiday with him and his wife, in Greece of all places, and he was buying quite expensive bottles, and doing the wine thing. I told him "your in Greece, get the house wine".I dont think he has paid more than £4.50 for a bottle since, anywhere in the world.

Whisky is a different beast, though
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Lawrence » Mon Nov 23, 2009 12:46 am

Iain wrote: Perhaps not spoofery - the tasting "master classes" are often part of a clever and entertaining show put on by old-fashioned confidence tricksters, like the folks who once led seances, or sold snake oil. Great fun, so long as you realise it's all hokum.


Hmmm, if this were true would it also be true that the whisky was in fact no good? Snake oil salesmen were in fact selling a bogus product but with whisky, in the vast amount of cases, the product is sound but the presentation in a setting may be slightly less than perfect.

In any case I'm very sorry for you if this is the situation in Europe (or just some parts?) in that people talking about whisky are behaving so badly. It's certainly not the case over here thankfully.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby desouza » Tue Dec 01, 2009 4:45 am

My take on this subject is very simple:

It is assumed that these people "know their wines" and have experienced
the gamut of flavors normally encountered. Be that as it may, the problem I see is that there is what I call an "individual bias". Each ones taste buds are unique, that's why some like vanilla and others like chocolate. Compound this with "dulled taste buds", because of excessive and / or successive tasting, doesn't help the objectivity assumed of the taster. True, that this is as appropriate in whisky tasting as it is with wine tasting.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Muskrat Portage » Tue Dec 01, 2009 6:21 am

I really appreciated Julia Child's quote at the end of the article. I really don't drink a lot of wine and tend towards Australian and Chilean when I do. I remember quite a number of years ago there was an outcry over some foreign wines being "beefed up" with antifreeze so I tend to keep away from that countries' wines on principle.

On the whisky tasting front, which I am much more conversant, although by no means an expert I do know what I like. I lean away from heavily sherried ones (they give me a headache as does most red wine) and lean towards the heavy peating and smoky ones.

I've hosted a large number of tastings and it's always been a fun time with good friends and a nice selection of various SMs. As the evening progresses, the whisky takes effect and things get a bit more jolly. We do not take these tastings seriously as they are primarily an evening of cameradrie and enjoyment.

I fail to see the enthusiasm for wine tastings and the use of a 100 point marking system. As the article shows, everything is subjective and limited by a multitude of variables . To my mind, the least of which is the limits of olfactory senses on any given day.

If a person can make a living doing what they enjoy, be it wine tasting, writing about wines, beers or whiskies, or what have you, and get to the end of the day having enjoyed what they do, that is a lucky person. The late Michael Jackson strikes me as one of those people. He enjoyed what he did, made a fairly decent living at it and when he left this mortal coil we call life, left a strong impact on the rest of us.

Do I really care about wine tastings and the marking which smacks of Olympic judging practices? No.
I respect that someone has done a study of the wine tasting practices but do not think it will have much of an impact on future awards of medals. Kudos to Mr Hodgeson for developing and providing the study for review, however it will have little impact on future wine grading practices as long as those involved have an enthusiastic following hanging on their every word.

Give me a Stillman who knows his craft from a lifetime of "learning the ropes" over a self described wine expert any day. Now I think I'll mosey on down and bask in my eclectic but enjoyable collection of Stillman created Single Malts.

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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby The Third Dram » Wed Dec 02, 2009 1:37 am

Muskrat Portage wrote:I remember quite a number of years ago there was an outcry over some foreign wines being "beefed up" with antifreeze so I tend to keep away from that countries' wines on principle.

Times change, MP. The antifreeze scandal primarily centered around certain 'bulk' German wines (and possibly also a few Austrian ones as well, I unfortunately can't recall clearly this 1980s scenario in full certitude) that were 'doctored' so as to meet higher grape must (i.e. residual sugar) levels.

Remember, the Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (quality wine with distinction) designation denotes, in German wine regulations, wines that have absolutely no additional sugar employed prior to fermentation. Some less than scrupulous merchants abused this stipulation in order to 'elevate' specific wines from lower categories (such as Kabinett, or 'normal harvest' wines) to higher categories (such as Spatlese or Auslese, respectively 'late harvest' and 'select bunch harvest' wines), which generally fetch higher prices.

The rigorous, somewhat OCD wine regulatory bodies quickly tracked down the offenders and administered quite stiff penalties.

Far worse was the 'methanol' scandal that affected the Italians. After all, glyecol compounds can make a few people ill. But methanol can, and in this instance did, actually kill some individuals. Drink any Italian wines lately?

Trust in the marketplace is a very valuable commodity. And having it tarnished can lead to significant long-term consequences.

As a wine consumer, one should look to those producers with estbalished track records for offering quality wines. That's the bottom line.

But to shy away from any nation's product solely on the basis of the actions of some less than savory individuals and/or firms can only keep one from sampling, especially in the case of German wines, some of the greatest vinous products available.

Sorry for this rather lengthy response. I just happen to be someone who HAS experienced the best that German vintners have to offer, and who continues to be amazed at how competitive many of their wines continue to be pricewise when compared to counterparts from other countries.
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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Muskrat Portage » Wed Dec 02, 2009 4:04 am

The Third Dram;
Thank you for your clear and informative posting on German wines. I was referring to the earlier scandle involving French wines but that was a longer time back than I realised.

The German wines that I've had the opportunity to sample were quite enjoyable in their own right. I tend to steer towards the drier wines, courtesy of the guidance of Mrs Musky. Sorry if you thought I was trashing germanic products, my buddy the LCBO manager has quoted long and eloquently on the virtues of QMP and is always trying to get me to expand my palate with their quality wines. I let him persuade me when it comes to SMs and to a lesser extent to some wines.

I've not sampled much in the way of Italian wines due to our distance from major centres - we really are out in the middle of the wilderness in this part of Canada. After our trip to Portugal last year, I've become enamoured of a few of their offerings which I readily scoop up when available in Ontario.

I really should put a bit more effort into enjoying wines and at some point, I'd like to take a sommelier course for personal improvement, to expand my knowledge base. (Probably once I'm retired and have finished taking the rest of the UK steam drivers' courses)

Again, thanks much for you sharing of your considerable and interesting knowledge.

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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby The Third Dram » Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:07 am

Peter,

My apologies for jumping to the conclusion that you were referring to the Austrian- German wine scandal as regards diethylene glycol additives. I assumed this to be the case given how 'hard' that news penetrated the general media.

Of course, the French have not escaped their fair share of scandals either. One has only to recall that this is a nation that harbours a long tradition of blurring its supposedly 'sacrosanct' regional designations, ranging from the many-centuries-past practice of 'beefing up' of red Bordeaux wines with grapes brought in from Hermitage (not a bad idea at all at the time, mind you) to the more recent clandestine trucking of southern French grapes into Burgundy for use in rather exclusive cuvees, as ably exposed by Burton Anderson in his groundbreaking treatise some years ago.

Heck, I've even been informed by an ex-Argentinian physician I know that the Chileans routinely imported Mendoza-grown grapes and finished wines across the Andean border into Chile in order to blend them into their own products, subsequently labelling the wines as purely Chilean.

Apparently, these sorts of happenings aren't exclusively Old-World phenomena.

I suspect, however, that such shady practices are far less prevalent nowadays.

At least, I hope so! :wink:

Thanks for your kind, informative response.

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Re: "Why Wine Tastings are Flawed"

Postby Muskrat Portage » Mon Dec 07, 2009 3:55 am

Doug:
I was being veiled in my initial post as I didn't want to offend any particular nationality, especially the odd one that can be quite prickly when it comes to national issues. Sometimes a bit of "political correctnesss" is too much.
:oops:

I'll ensure I am a bit more forthright in future responses. I wouldn't want to offend the wrong party, now would I?

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