A 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?