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Judging the Judges: Study Shows Wine Judges Aren’t That Reliable (or does it…?)

Vinted on January 27, 2009 binned in commentary, learning wine, wine tasting
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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.

Cheers!
(images: legaljuice.com, wine-economics.org)

Why Huge Wine Lists Suck

Vinted on January 26, 2009 binned in best of, commentary, learning wine

With the recent review I penned for WCDish.com, I’ve had restaurant wine lists on the brain lately.

Which means that this post will likely be ill-timed, given the dearth of restaurant-goers in an economy that is wading knee-deep in layoff announcements. Oh well – timing was never one of my strong suits.

Anyway, as a semi-educated wine geek, I fully appreciate that I might approach a restaurant wine list in a slightly different way than the average diner, in that I might have a deeper knowledge of what the foreign word mean, or what the wine is supposed to taste like from region XYZ.

Which is not to say that I think I’m smarter than the average restaurant-goer; quite the contrary, as I can tell you that 90% of them will be able to calculate an appropriate tip faster than I can (I like words – math… not so much). It just means that I’m probably geekier about wine than the average restaurant-goer.

But… at the restaurant table, while I may have more trouble with tip calculation due to my mathematically-challenged brain, my wine list perusal goal is no different than the average restaurant goer’s: find a good bottle of wine at a decent price that will go well with dinner.
Which is why I think that huge-ass restaurant wine lists suck.

Tyler over at Dr. Vino recently posted an article about a Tampa restaurant (Bern’s) that might be of interest to those who will be traveling to Tampa to watch the STEELERS trounce the Cardinals in Superbowl XLIII. Bern’s boasts 6,800 selections and more than 500,000 bottles. I don’t even want to see that wine list.

For me, dozens of pages detailing hundreds of choices of wine amounts to two things:

  1. A brief curiosity as I look up something geeky say softly, to no one in particular, “Wow. They have a bottle of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux that costs more than my car…” (this might have appeal to boring wine snobs, but if that’s your clientelle then I am probably not coming back to your restaurant anytme soon)…
  2. …that quickly becomes a big distraction. If I am at a dinner with a group of like-minded wine geeks, then by all means bring on the wine cellar curiosities. Chances are that I’m not, however, and a huge wine list distracts from the dinner conversation and enjoyment that I should be having while I try to reason with the weighty tome of vino choices.

And the wine geeks out there will appreciate that it’s always you that has to pick the wine – and the larger the wine list, the faster it will get tossed your way by the other dinner guests.

Here’s an example:

A few years ago Mrs. Dudette and I took a trip to Vegas (baby, Vegas) and caught up with some old college friends of mine. We decided to grab dinner at Aureole, the restaurant with over 800 bottles of wine, which are stored in a glass tower and retrieved by babes on hoists.

The wine list is a tablet PC with a touch screen, with which you can browse and search the wine offerings. Sounds like a time saver, but it turned into exactly the same type of curiosity / distraction. While trying to settle on one of the 800+ bottles, I spent too much time looking at the bottles of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux* that cost more than my car, and not enough time enjoying the conversation with my friends.

And after all, what’s better – oohing and ahhing over a list of stuff you can’t afford to drink, or drinking something good and sharing it with friends?

In my book, there’s no contest.

Kind of like there’s no contest in the upcoming Superbowl…

Go STEELERS!
(images: picasa/chung, m-kerho.net)

* – Not a real producer. At least, not that I’m aware of, anyway…

1WD @ WCD!

Vinted on January 22, 2009 binned in about 1winedude blog

Hey Y’all (did I just type “Y’all”?) -

A quick hit to let you know that my first piece for WCDish.com is now available on the WC Dish website.

The article details a recent dining adventure I shared with WC Dish founder and Dishious vlog star Mary B. at the Philly-area Asian-fusion spot Teikoku, during which we sampled on-menu items paired with specific selections from Teikoku’s new “elements”-inspired wine list.

Much goofiness ensued.

Though I regretfully report to you that, despite the clear and irresistible opportunity that the wine list presented us to make serious Earth Wind & Fire references, at no time during the dinner did I don a glitter cape and silver space-man jumpsuit.

Oh well…

I hope to make restaurant-hopping wine-list reviews with Mary for WC Dish a regular occurence. Enjoy…

Cheers!
(images: wcdish.com)

The State of Wine in America (or "A terrible amount of luxury and unease")

Vinted on January 21, 2009 binned in commentary

Frequent 1WineDude.com readers, as well as anyone who has conversed even momentarily with me on twitter, will know that I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens may want to skip this post entirely, with all speed and probably extreme prejudice.

Are they gone? Good, let’s get started!

Okay, I want to talk to you about the current state of wine in the modern world. I figured that I could work the U.S. presidential inauguration of our 44th President, the Steelers entrance into Super Bowl XLIII, and, of course, Wine. And tie it all together.

C’mon, it’ll be fun. I hope…

Anyway, it’s natural that, as we in the good ol’ U.S. of A. celebrate the (long overdue) 44th consecutive peaceful transition of executive power from one affluent male to another affluent male, that we consider the ‘state of things’ – not just of the country, but for anything that we hold dear.

Like wine, for example!

Ok, so that transition was a little abrupt…

…and speaking of abrupt transitions and startling segues…

Being a Steelers fan, I’m finding the state of American Football particularly rewarding at the moment. So it’s surprising (to me, at least) that I was able to control my blinding exuberance to notice a reference to Alice Munro in a recent, eloquently written Post-Gazette article by Gene Collier. Collier’s article describes the unique and conflicting emotions that engulf the Steelers faithful when they host the AFC Championship game at home – a game that, until this past Sunday, they showed an ability to lose like no other team (emphasis added by me):

…modern Championship Sundays in Pittsburgh deliver a seismic coupling of pride and wariness, something realist short story master Alice Munro might call “a terrible amount of luxury and unease.”

So, to recap.: that’s 44th Presidential innaguration to The Steelers to The AFC Championship to the Post-Gazette to Alice Munro. All caught up? Good. “A terrible amount of luxury and unease” – a beautiful phrase, and one that uniquely captures my feelings about the current state of wine, at least in America.

To be a wine enthusiast in the U.S. is to be someone that lives with the joy of having thousands of wine brands sold in a market that continually drives up quality at all levels, while simultaneously not being able to enjoy those wines depending on what state you live in.

It makes me so terribly uneasy that I’m ending sentences with prepositions!

On one hand, the quality and selection of American wine has never been better. There has never been a time quite like this in the history of America, when it comes to Presidents, and when it comes to wine. In terms of quality and selection, this stage of American wine development trumps all others in history.

On the other hand, the unfairness, dishonesty, and bile of the state wine distribution monopolies has never been greater. To protect the revenue streams afforded to them via their monopoly position on the distribution of alcohol, many states are screwing the wine consumer – high prices, limited selection, curtailing your rights, and handicapping the free market (which screws other distributors, wineries, and you).


So, to bring us all up to speed here: that’s 44th Presidential inauguration to The Steelers to The AFC Championship to the Post-Gazette to Alice Munro to the State of the American wine market to unconstitutional wine shipping laws.

Anyway…

How does the future look to me?

If you’re talking U.S. executive world relations, or American Football, the future looks pretty damn good. In the words of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: “Barack is selling hope. And I’m buying.

If you’re talking the future for the American wine consumer, the jury is still out.

Cheers!
(images: amazon.com)

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