Posts Filed Under wine tasting
The Journal of Wine Economics has just published a study authored by Robert T. Hodgson titled An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition. The reported findings should make the fodder for about 10,000 wine blog articles over the next few weeks.
The study tracked the ability of wine competition judges to replicate the scores that they gave to wines (during blind tasting competition) at the California State Fair. The study found that (emphasis is mine):
…judges were perfectly consistent… about 18 percent of the time. However, this usually occurred for wines that were rejected. That is, when the judges were very consistent, it was often for wines that they did not like…
Let the blood-letting commence!
I fear that the media will take hold of this and start to sound the death knell for the ability of so-called experts to taste and rate wines (again), or use it to shake up an already arguably unfavorable view that wine appreciation and competition is the height of snobbery.
Neither are true, and this study does little to bolster either point. Why? Because wine tasting is, at its heart, heart a subjective exercise.
The study is clear on its intentions, which was not to shake up the world of wine competition, but to “provide a measure of a wine judge’s ability to consistently evaluate replicate samples of an identical wine. With such a measure in hand, it should be possible to evaluate the quality of future wine competitions using consistency as well as concordance with the goal to continually improve reliability and to track improvements associated with procedural changes…”
To understand why this study doesn’t ring so true with me, I need to give you a little detail on the mechanics of the study:
When possible, triplicate samples of all four wines were served in the second flight of the day randomly interspersed among the 30 wines. A typical day’s work involves four to six flights, about 150 wines… The judges first mark the wine’s score independently, and their scores are recorded by the panel’s secretary. Afterward the judges discuss the wine. Based on the discussion, some judges modify their initial score; others do not. For this study, only the first, independent score is used to analyze an individual judge’s consistency in scoring wines.
In summary: the judges weren’t consistent when faced with tasting hundreds of wines in a day, and there revised scores (based on panel discussion – which can have a huge impact on how you would evaluate a wine) weren’t used.
If the study proves anything, I think shows that trying to judge hundreds of wines in a day is a first-class non-stop ticket to palate fatigue, even for experienced wine judges.
Now that I think about it, blind tasting is so notoriously difficult that I give the judges in this study credit for being consistent almost 20% of the time. That would be a respectable hitting percentage in baseball (not sure… I don’t follow baseball actually)…
While the media may latch onto this one, the study hinted that there is some modicum of possible salvation for the madness surrounding wine competitions in general – not by way of wine judges, but by way of the ultimate judges of wine: the Consumer.
…a recent article in Wine Business Monthly (Thach, 2008) conducted as a joint
effort by 10 global universities with specialties in wine business and marketing found that consumers are not particularly motivated by medals when purchasing wine in retail stores. If consumer confidence is to be improved, managers of wine competitions would be well advised to validate their recommendations with quantitative standards.
Interesting conclusion. And a hopeful one.
(images: legaljuice.com, wine-economics.org)
Actually, it’s not so much a smackdown as, it turns out, a comparison of apples and oranges. Or, a comparison of Old World style vs. New World style.
After visiting both Opus One and Penns Woods Winery, located on the Left and Right Coasts, respectively, I thought it would be interesting to host a blind tasting between the 2005 vintages of both winery’s Bordeaux-style red blends.
What would a clash of the titans like this prove?
Not much, it turns out, but it was an enlightening experience, and one that you will want to read if you appreciate differing styles of fine wines, and are interested in a bit of a litmus test on how far wines from both coasts of America have come…
Or, if you want to read the extremely geeky musings of two wine dorks.
Anyway, for this blind tasting, I was reunited with my 2WineDudes partner in crime, Jason Whiteside, who was in town taking a few of his exams for the WSET Diploma in Wine & Spirits. The wines (hereby referred to as Wine 1 and Wine 2, until such time as their true identity is revealed) were decanted a few hours before our tasting, and neither Jason nor I knew which wine was poured into which decanter. Both wines were then poured into separate (but identical) Riedel wine glasses.
Following is the uber-geeky tasting play-by-play:
- Jason: “There’s really good color in both of these wines. Wine 1 is Ruby with a nice garnet hue, and it fades more at the rim than Wine 2, which suggests that it wasn’t handled as gently. Wine 2 is deep ruby with blue tinges and nice pink legs.”
- Joe: “I really want to drink both of these suckers.”
- Jason: “I definitely get a Pennsylvania harvest/Autumn leaf aroma on Wine 1. Lots of smoke, not quite as complex as Wine 2. Plenty of bright red fruit, with black cherry, currants, spice (coriander and cocoa), and Macadam/tar. The finish on Wine 2 is waaaaay long and the wine is more concentrated – bakers chocolate is going on here, Lots of oak, menthol, and heat. Wine 1 might have had more exposure to oxygen and is a little more reductive. “
- Joe: “Wine 1 is more subtle on the nose. I’m getting a lighter red fruit on it than Wine 2, which suggests PA more than CA. Wine 2 is very dark with more fruit, I’m thinking figs, mint leaf and plums. I’m not going to spit either of these, though…”
- Jason: “Wine 1 is mineral-forward. The finish isn’t extraordinary, but it’s good. It’s got medium intensity and great acidity; it’s just really well-balanced. It’s very Italian in style, weight, and acidity. If you hadn’t told me these wines were from PA and CA, I’d have thought this wine was from Tuscany. Wine 2 has more dry extract, it’s got to be riper, thicker-skinned grapes. Wine 1 has to be PA, and Wine 2 is from CA.”
- Joe: “Wine 1 has ‘greener’ fruit to me. I would’ve expected a little more on the length of the finish though, based on how well the wine showed up on the nose and on the visuals. Wine 2 has more oak tannin, I think, and good acidity; it feels like a wine built for a “longer haul” to me. By the way, what the hell is dry extract?”
- Checking in with Mrs. Dudette confirmed our assessment that Wine 1 was Penns Woods Ameritage, and Wine 2 was Opus One.
- Jason: “At a quick glance, these wines look and feel very similar. But when you investigate them more deeply, they are very, very different wines. What’s striking is how the different raw materials – the grapes – come through, even with two flawlessly crafted wines; which these both are.
- Joe: “Totally agree. Bottom line for me is that Penns Woods is aiming for an Old World style, and the wine totally begs to be sampled with food. Opus has more of a New World/CA thing going on. Both are clearly made with passion. Let’s get stupid on the rest of this stuff!“
There you have it. East Coast meets West Coast turns out to be more like Old World Italy meets New World California. Who’da thunk it?
I’m guessing that most of you out there have probably been to a wine tasting room in a winery before, and went there to sample that winery’s wines.
Which means that the same number of you have probably encountered at least one severely drunken patron acting in a totally obnoxious way.
Which also means that the same number of you understand the phrase “suppressed the urge to do bodily harm.”
Now, I am fully aware that wine tasting room etiquette is not a novel topic, and has been covered before by several sources, including wineries themselves. Most of these sources talk about how to prepare yourself for a tasting room visit (no perfume, chewing gum, etc.) and how to taste the wine while you’re there (swirl, sniff, sip, savor, etc.).
They don’t tend to touch on what I’m about to lay down about wine tasting room etiquette, however.
Knowing me, it will come off as a bit of a rant, but it’s not meant to be a rant (and it’s not directed at you, dear reader – it’s directed at the small minority of wine tasting room visitors who just still don’t seem to “get it”).
And it’s a simple plea, really…
If you plan to get totally hammered on wine, and you happen to also be an obnoxious drunk, please don’t go to a winery tasting room.
By providing a tasting room, a winery is primarily trying to teach you about – and to sell you – their wine. They are not providing a place for you to drink yourself stupid, get loud, and ignore the winery staff. There are places where you can do that (within reason) – they’re called bars.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t plan to have a great time when visiting a winery tasting room, and I’m not even saying that you should stay sober when you visit a winery tasting room (assuming you have arranged transportation, of course).
I’m just saying that you need to stay sober enough – enough to retain adequate coherence so that you can take advantage of the winery staff’s knowledge, ask them questions and engage them in conversation about their wines, and remain civil and reasonably polite to your fellow patrons.
I am saying that if you plan to get smashed and act in any way that you want when you hop on a winery tasting tour or visit a winery tasting room, then you need to stay home instead – because you’re not respecting the wine, the winery, or the the winery’s patrons.
And I don’t think that’s asking for too much.
Thus endeth Dude’s diatribe.
(images: rockstarsmommy.blogspot.com, pleasanthillwinemerchants.com, woodbridgeliving.com)