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Is Blind Tasting a Waste Of Time?

L-R: Charles Metcalfe, Steve DeLong and Justin Howard-Sneyd MW lead the debate
© W. Blake Gray | L-R: Charles Metcalfe, Steve DeLong and Justin Howard-Sneyd MW lead the debate
W. Blake Gray reports from the European Wine Bloggers' Conference, currently underway in Turkey.

Blind tasting and the 100-point ranking scale are such hot topics that during a seminar devoted to them at the European Wine Bloggers' Conference, the speakers nearly forgot to blind-taste the wines in front of them.

Time ran out, bloggers were still frantically waving their hands for the microphone, and only as the organizers pressured the three-man panel to leave did they finally raise their glasses. They refused to rate the wines, which pleased the audience.

British critic Charles Metcalfe, co-founder of the International Wine Challenge, opened the seminar at the conference in Izmir, Turkey, by stating: "I think blind tasting is the only true way to assess wine." He cited a study which showed that if a vin de pays wine was poured into a Château Lafite-Rothschild bottle, "people ooh and aah over it."

Metcalfe confessed that he had switched to the 100-point scale made famous by American critic Robert Parker when a magazine he once published sought readers in the U.S. He still uses it for his personal notes, but prefers not to show others the numbers.

Wine-map creator Steve DeLong, an opponent of wine ratings based on blind tastings, had prepared for the seminar two nights earlier by asking conference attendees to blind-identify wines brought by other visitors. Only 6 of 33 people were even able to get the country and grape right. (I failed, but the wine he asked me to identify was the first Czech wine I've ever tasted.)

DeLong, who got a laugh by mocking Robert Parker's pride in his sensory memory, said: "The 100-point scale is a house of cards. It's built on blind tasting, which no one's good at. And it's supposed to be helpful to consumers, but nobody cares. So why do it?"

Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, global director of wine for the retail giant Laithwaites, suggested that the range of published wine ratings was so narrow because critics don't want to embarrass themselves if they later change their minds.

In his opinion, "Scoring wines is like scoring your friends. How many people invite only friends scored over 90 for dinner?" A few people raised their hands. Their daily-use friends better shape up.

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  • Comments

    pat wrote:
    12-Nov-2012 at 18:17:01 (GMT)

    Organized blind tasting is useful to remove pre-concieved notions about price point of the wines and the reputation of producers. If all that is known about a flight is the varietal, a taster can evaluate the wines for varietal typicity, and quality w/o being influenced by "how good it should be" for the price, or reputation of the producer or AVA/appellation.It is also helpful if all the wines in the flight are of the same vintage. Given these parameters, a blind tasting w/ preference ranking can reveal useful, un-biased, taste preference info and allow some conclusions to be drawn about price/quality relationship;once the wines are revealed.

  • grahan wrote:
    11-Nov-2012 at 13:29:51 (GMT)

    DeLong, who got a laugh by mocking Robert Parker's pride in his sensory memory, said: "The 100-point scale is a house of cards. It's built on blind tasting, which no one's good at. And it's supposed to be helpful to consumers, but nobody cares. So why do it?" "no one cares"? which planet is this guy on? It is fashionable for "wine professionals" to mock Parker, just like it is for therapists to mock Freud, however neither would have jobs with the giants. Sour grapes me thinks

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