Wine Ratings – Bogus?

WSJ-Logo-11-09A fascinating article by Leonard Mlodinow in the Wall Street Journal yesterday skewered the whole idea of wine ratings and cited some pretty impressive research to support his opinions.

Bottom line, a professional wine rater, Robert Hodgson, spent four years conducting blind tastings with other professional wine judges and came to the conclusion that “even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more”.

Hodgson also looked at scoring and found that wines were likely to receive very different scores from the same professional judges if they were offered blind to the judges in the course of tasting 100 wines. The judges’ ratings varied by plus or minus 4 points. He also evaluated the results of many wine competitions and found that wines that were awarded prizes in one competition did not in others.

Tasting wine with hundreds of customers and wine industry members over the years has made one thing super clear to me. What someone tastes in a wine is very different from person to person, no matter how experienced. We taste wines together every day at Avalon and usually, to some degree, use different words to describe what we are tasting.  As the article suggests, one person’s raspberry is another person’s cherry. Lavender to one can be rose petal to others.

So how do I know what a wine is going to taste like? Getting to know the person writing the tasting notes really makes a huge difference. I’ve followed Robert Parker for years, and tasted enough of the wines that he writes about to know what his descriptors mean to me. Marcus and I taste together constantly, and I can often tell what he’s going to write about a wine (it’ll usually be somewhat different than my tasting notes).

I depend on people I have followed in print, or know personally, to find out what a wine tastes like. The bottom line, for me is asking trusted sources whose palate may not be identical to mine, but who are going to describe the wine to the best of their ability, with a minimum of prejudice.

Everyone’s palate is a bit different, and the words they use to describe what they taste vary. Is one person’s experience of a wine more valid than another’s?

Your thoughts?

One Response to Wine Ratings – Bogus?

  1. Mike December 10, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    I do not drink wine regularly, and I really know nothing about wines. I do not have a passion, nor desire to learn either. Anything I think I might know is based on the movie Sideways, or just listening to others talk. Bill Holloran has his own vineyard in West Linn, and every wine of his my family members have tried they always like. They told me the riesling was dry, more like a chardonnay. I asked if that was a bad thing, they said no, it’s quite tasty, it’s just not wht they expected. We tried his Oregon Red Wine and they absolutely loved it. My mother does not like normally drink red wine because (I think) she says it’s too dry? Not sweet enough? I’m not sure, but however Mr. Holloran prepared this particular red wine was first rate in their books.

    To me, every wine is tasty. I have not had a bad wine in my life and I honestly do not know if I would know a bad wine if I drank it. What I love, the next person may think is garbage. What I know is when I drink wine, it’s with others, usually around the holidays. For the past few years I’ve been bringing wines from Holloran Vineyards and they’ve been a smash hit every time.

    So I go with what works.

    I really liked your article because it sheds light on an aspect of wines that I think goes overlooked. Many wine drinkers that I’ve met all want to talk about what makes a wine good or bad; why it tastes good or not… and what specifically they like about it. Fact is, it all comes down to personal preference. Not everyone likes wine, not everyone drinks it, and some people like me do not care to know everything about every wine. I’m not sure why some people are so driven when it comes to wines, but I figure it’s synonymous with my passion for sports and movies… I like to know things and be able to discuss the topics I like, and sound like I know what I’m talking about. But I do not have that passion for wines. Maybe one day I will. For now, I just drink wine socially (usually during the holidays) because it’s sort of festive, and it tastes good :) And I haven’t had a wine yet that I don’t like.

    Happy Holidays


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