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Fraudulent reviews have no place in professional wine writing!


I don’t often express outrage on this blog, but reading this made my jaw drop and my eyes bulge in sheer consternation: Jamie Oliver’s Australian wine expert has defended himself against criticism for not tasting some of the vintages he recommends.

Seems that Matt Skinner, the Australian wine “expert” who runs the wine operations for celebrity chef Oliver’s Australian restaurants, rated certain wines he never tasted, in his annual guide to wine, “The Juice.”

On “The Juice”’s webpage Skinner describes it as “a beginners guide to wine – a guide that is designed to inspire and encourage those that know little about the subject to feel more confident, more knowledgeable, and more enthusiastic about wine.”

Well, I don’t know how “confident” his readers will feel when they find out they’re reading reviews of wines Skinner never tasted.

(Skinner also has reviewed wine and restaurants for periodicals including GQ Australia, and Gourmet Traveler Wine.)

The original report that Skinner had not tasted all the wines he reviewed appeared in an Australian publication, according to Decanter., on Nov. 13, wrote that Skinner “has admitted to not tasting several wines that he recommends in his latest book.” After the scandal broke, Skinner defended himself on his website, explaining that “It is imperative that I taste all the wines that I recommend however [sic] there are some releases that are consistent from year to year, and as popular, good value and accessible wines I want to include them because I know that my readers will appreciate them.” In other words, Skinner made the decision that just because a particular wine performed well for several years in a row, he can recommend that his readers buy it for the new vintage, which he hasn’t yet tasted!

Mitchell Beazley, the publisher of The Juice 2010, also issued a statement on Skinner’s website in response to the brouhaha. “One small category of wine in Matt’s selection regularly comprises wines which he rates worthwhile buying and drinking as soon as the most recent vintage comes on to the market. For these few wines, Matt’s [sic] has always based his recommendations on the qualities a particular wine has regularly achieved.” In other words, Skinner reviews — or let us more accurately say previews — wines of the new vintage, which he hasn’t tasted, so that his readers can rush out to buy them before they sell out.

Besides, Beazley is saying, Skinner only does this for a “few wines” in “a small category,” so it’s not like he’s committing massive fraud.

Look, here’s the truth. Just because a winery has a track record of excellence doesn’t mean it can’t make a dog. A wine critic simply is not allowed to review a wine he hasn’t tried!!! It’s irresponsible to the highest degree. This insults my profession and feeds into the perception that we’re all sleazebags. Skinner could have written, in a transparent way, “Here are some wines I haven’t had yet, but they always perform well, so I can recommend them.” But apparently (Decanter again) he didn’t.

I can’t conceive of myself writing about a wine I haven’t had. It’s just beyond the pale. I can’t imagine what Skinner was thinking, or how Mitchell Beazley thinks they can blow this off by calling it a “few wines” in “a small category.” That’s like saying to the police, “I only stole one Rembrandt from the museum, not the whole collection, so let me off.”

There is one implication to be had here, and that concerns the reputation and quality of annual handbooks on wine. I have always had concerns that some of them, like Hugh Johnson’s, are cranked out like cans of soup, rather than thoughtfully re-written each year. And I can tell you, personally, that I was asked to write the California section on one very well-known pocket guide published under the name of a famous wine writer. When I asked to be given written credit as a contributing editor (he was going to pay me anyway), the famous wine writer summarily fired me. (This was about six years ago.) His pocket guide went out under his name, misleading readers into thinking he’d written the actual reviews when I knew for a fact he hadn’t. Now Skinner’s annual guide casts further doubt on the accuracy of these annual guides. I won’t go so far as to say Skinner should lose his job. But he, and Beazley, need to come up with something more heartfelt and confessional to explain this egregious lapse of ethical standards.

  1. Over-reacting to a non-story. Must be a slow/lack of idea weekend.

    While a shame, you’ll find many sommelier’s don’t actually taste wines they recommend. Do a little research and get to know a sommelier .

    Did you berate Chef Oliver for not tasting the wines potentially being paired with his wines? Did Oliver actually design the menu/dish?

    Get over your tabloid wine journalism!

  2. The key point here is full disclosure. It’s bad enough that he’s not tasting the wines but to not disclose this fact is unethical as a writer of any kind. It’s kind of like the potential FCC rule that a blogger must disclose when they received a freebie when they review a product. Especially in this modern era when writers come in so many forms, it’s extremely important for them to be honest and disclose any factors that may affect their opinions.

  3. I’m here to tell you that the next RUSH album, which has yet to be written or recorded, is easily 4.5 out of 5 stars!


  4. Steve,
    Even those rascals in Montalcino hiding behind their attorneys think that Skinner and Beazley should look up the word ( ETHICAL ). Great post.

  5. Wow! Do you mean the Emperor is (sometimes) not wearing any clothes? I had no idea. Will we find out next that organic lettuce “becomes” organic on the truck trip from Mexico to the loading dock at our grocery? Or that some wines are reviewed by the mail guy or gal of the publication’s tasting department? Could it be that some wineries buy highly rated wines, put it in their bottles and resend them to review? No way.

    Actually, good post. And the outrage is well understood by this cynic with a purist’s heart…

  6. 1Cynic, the rumor has been around for years that wineries send certain critics “highly rated wines” that are not theirs, but are in their bottles. I wouldn’t put it past them, but it’s awfully hard to prove.

  7. Steve,
    While I unserstand what you’re saying and why you are upset I have to admit that I have “reviewed” (for a store newsletter) a wine that I had not tasted the new release of. It went more like, “I have always found the Pommard from this estate to be….” not really talking about that specific wine but I can see how it can me misleading, but not any more misleading than writing a review based on a barrel sample. I was in Burgundy of January of last year tasting young wines out of barrel, had I written a review of say, the Maume Gevery based on the way it tasted from the barrel, (pure red fruit, lusty meatiness, supple tannin) people might think I was high when they popped the bottle and found fierce acidity and matchstick aromatics. So I guess I would be less offended to see a copy and pasted review of something like, Bitch Grenache, (like that wine changes much vintage to vintage) than reading notes on wines tasted from barrel.

  8. Samantha, thanks for the comment. I’ve done the same thing — written (to make up an example) “Chateau X consistently produces among the best Pinot Noirs in California.” Nothing wrong with a generalized statement like that. But to say “The 2007 Chateau X Pinot Noir is a beautiful wine” etc. etc., without having ever tasted it, is completely wrong. As for barrel samples, I stay away from writing about them, and if I do, it’s with the fair warning that it’s really, really hard to make predictions about them.

  9. I just liked looking at my RSS feed and seeing the headline “Fraudulent reviews have no place in professional wine writing!” I thought it was the Onion feed. Then I thought I’d call my next post, “Professional reviews have no place in fraudulent wine writing!”

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s Steve Heimoff post, “Saran Wrap has no place in professional blind tastings!”

  10. Steve,

    It would be pretty easy to prove the type of cheating you refer to if wine reviewers ran independent labs on wines they review. The chemical fingerprint is unique to each wine. Just a thought 🙂

  11. Note to Skinner and Beazley;

    “The Juice” is a registered trademark, owned by me.
    The paper work will be in the mail.


  12. William Bixby says:

    Well, to be fair, the same can be said for winemaking in general. Wines are made through the culmination and hard work of many people, yet the accolades and fancy dinners go to the winemaker. In some cases, the winemaker has hardly touched a grape, broom, rake, etc during harvest or any other process thereafter, yet their name is on the label as the creator/mastermind.

  13. sounds like a mix of publisher’s deadline and ego made a bad decision.

    I personally think it happens a lot more than people realize. I mean should reviewers know who they are tasting at all? I find many reviews are (maybe not intentionally), skewed in favor of someone maybe not so deserving.

    I have replaced high end bottles contents with much lesser quality goods up to and including Yellow Tail and sneaked them into non blind tastings. I’ve only had a couple people either catch it or know enough about the producer to go “eh? somethings wrong” Everyone else crows and mews about the fantastic wine.

    Mean, probably, but it proved my theory. People are influenced by ego.

    I’ve had wines from people (reviewers, wine celebrities, etc) who have an interest in the wine who gave them glowing reviews and it was well……not so good.

    Same difference

  14. I know I’m on a soapbox about this lately, but … here’s a guy in print with no ethics whatsoever. But he’s in print, so the FTC would not require him to announce that he got free samples, whereas a blogger will.

    In fact, in this case the guy clearly needed some free samples. And some scruples. You’re dead-on, Steve, in saying all he needed to do was say he usually likes this wine.

  15. Nice post, Steve. Whether the topic is winewriting or reviews of Rush’s new album, we have a right to demand that a receommendation be based on reality, not thin air.

    All that Skinner need have done was to comment in the manner you have suggested. Instead, he brings shame on himself and, by reflection, on all who work hard to do honest, informed reviews. In my opinion, Skinner and Mitchell, Beazeley deserve to get a big black eye for this outrage, should offer to return the purchase price for the book to all who bought it, remove the book from the market and promise that future works will be honest about how they were put together.

    It is entirely possible and appropriate for a reference book to refer to a winerys’ track record and to the track record for individual wines. But, when a buying guide comes out of the type that Skinner wrote and MB published, it cannot pass off generalizations as specific reviews.

  16. I understand the outrage but I think there is an exception for low end commodity wines. The winemaking process is different. The goal is not to make the best wine every year but to make the same wine every year. Much like every can of Budweiser is pretty much the same.

  17. Eric, I actually wondered about that, since I receive your “The Juice” through email.

  18. Josh, good idea. Will you pay for it?

  19. Dare I say his name in this forum I am sure the fireballs will come raining upon me. But his is one of the reasons why I liked some of Parkers earlier books on Bordeaux and the Rhone. He had a piece on different estates and rated them in regards to the general quality style and then spoke of different vintages. So he may not have reviewed the 95 but you had a idea of the general performance of the chateau so you could say you were hedging you bet. There is no good reason for this guy to lie about these ratings. All he had to say was. While the 2009 Eden valley Riesling was not available before printing of this book they are known for making stellar expressions of dry Aussie rising and they almost always receive 4 of 5 stars. No harm no done. If the wine has a real bad vintage it does not look bad for the writer like Steve said many wineries/wines have an off year. The fact is this was a pure LIE. No grey area. no BS. He lied. And they all deserve the full force of criticism that comes upon them. It may have been a mistake but it was a dumb mistake and these actions have consequences.

  20. I think we’re missing an important bit of info. here — like what’s the wine / winery and what’s the context of the review — like what specifically does it say?

    Without these two small details any outrage is chasing windmills.


  21. C’mon Jeff. This is Steve’s opinion blog. Opinion is not journalism–you know that; you told me yourself. 😉

  22. Jeff if you look at the article from Decanter I believe it lists the wines and some excerpts from the reviews. It is very clear he is not painting with a broad brush with statements like “the palate is fresh as a daisy and punctuated by the kind of lip-smacking acidity that makes this wine almost impossible to put down.” clearly give the impression he is speaking about a specific wine. It really does not matter what the wine or winery is he giving the impression that this is a first person experience and not a overview of winery style.

  23. If this guy can’t even do his job- review wines- why does he get a pay check? Staying safely on the sidelines, jabbering about what some folks are ACTUALLY doing sounds about as lustig as it appears. Although wne reviewing seems to be morphing into a contact sport. Better call the paramedics, the talking heads o’ Wine Industry stray afar yet again. It is my belief that no one should get paid to taste and review wines. It should be a fun hobby that one enjoys after work. This would ensure there’s no funny business- no high score for ad rev, no ego review, nada. Besides, “professional wine writers” get free wine shipped to them daily. That should be sufficient payment indeed.

    If wine writers really like to work in the industry, they should sign up for a crush position or maybe work in a tasting room where they can pontificate all day long about wine. It’s fairly easy to write a review… how’s your hand with the pumice shovel? It might assist in legitimization if a writer has some actual experience, eh?

  24. Brad Alderson says:

    Well as one of the former winemakers of many “commodity” wines, I often wondered if the wines we sent were really tasted. Writing or speaking about a wine without giving it a fair measure of actually being tasted just renews the consumers perception that all wine writing and judging is garbage. We worked hard to make interesting “commodity” wines that had a personality and we often tasted them blind against wines that 1X, 2X, 3X and more expensive that had gotten good reviews to see if we could be on the same table and be proud of our work. I would actually like to ask how many reviewers not only taste the wines they write about, but also taste them blind without looking at the pedigree first.

  25. Brad, I guarantee to sincerely taste and review every single wine that anyone cares to send me. It’s my job and I take it seriously. When I taste wines I have no idea what they are when I’m tasting them but in the interests of full disclosure (and as I’ve written many times), I do know what wines are included in the flight, so you might say that I form a prejudice from the start. However, I try with all my intellectual strength to maintain objectivity, which really is all you can ask a wine reviewer to do.

  26. Just a couple of points
    1/ Get off your high horse’s
    2/ If money had changed hands for inclusion in the book then I think that would be something to sqwark about.
    3/ After 15 or 16 years as a wine proffessional I think Matt Skinner would have the accumulated to make a call on wine that has a consistant style performance over a long period (even in poor years). It is not unusual for retailers and sommeliers to recomend wines in this way.
    4/ Who is to say that Matt’s appraisel of this wine is any worse than the notes of the multitude of wine critics with exceedingly poor palates or those who have been primed with expensive lunches and travel????
    5/ We all learn from our mistakes

  27. Steve Boyer says:

    Reading the linked Decanter article makes the situation seem worse than ever.
    Hilary Lumsden, Mitchell Beazley(sic) commissioning editor, said “The majority of the wines in The Juice don’t rely on vintage variation. A lot of them are going to be consistent each vintage.”
    When one of the editors involved in vetting the publication admits to the uselessness of said publication as a defense of reviewing untasted wines the reader is left with the obvious conclusion that Skinner really needn’t have tasted any of the wines he reviewed.
    Steve H justifiably pontificates about chicken noodle wine reviews, and is equally justifiably upset by having to share a profession with such an unmitigated shill masquerading as a reviewer.
    Each profession has its hacks just as each profession has its standard bearers.
    Perhaps Mr. Skinner is simply turning the tables and asking his readers to taste his recommendations blind rather than himself…

  28. Well, I said it up above, and now it has come to pass. Folks like Randy, who treats winewriters with disdain at the best of times and Brad Alderson, are now questioning how many reviewers are honest–and doing it in this forum written by a guy who has carefully and fully laid bare his tasting regimen.

    Now, I get Randy’s problem. There is no talking to him. The notion that shoveling pumace (and the word is pumace, Mr. Shoveler, not pumice which is volcanic rock) would make anyone a more acute taster is nonsense of the first order. You need to get off that soap box. We are not training for the winemaking derby. You say no one should get paid for writing about wine–what a load of crap that is. Writing about sports is a lot more fun. Should sports writers not get paid.

    How about baseball players? I would rather play centerfield for the Red Sox or the Giants than write about wine. Should I or anyone else who plays sports not get paid. Enough already with the snide, uninformed remarks.

    And Brad, I don’t get your complaint either. Not all tasters taste blind. OK. But most of us do. And I will tell you flat out that our GOOD VALUE designation is the single most used search engine in our data base so finding wines like that are obviously good for my rag, and if I am not overstepping my bounds here, good for most of the rest of us who review wine for a living.

    And I want you and everyone else to note that it was a wine reveiw publication who called this guy Skinner to task and it is two reviewers, Steve and myself, who are most outraged by this unacceptable practice.

  29. Steve,

    If you form a prejudice from the start, I cannot imagine how you can maintain objectivity, as prejudice is the opposite of impartial.

  30. Thomas, I don’t agree with your comment at all. If one is aware of the prejudices in one’s mind (which cannot be avoided, as we are all mere humans), then one can behave as if those prejudices did not exist.

  31. “…then one can behave as if those prejudices did not exist.”

    I agree. Wanted your answer. But I will add this caveat to my agreement: much depends on prior training.

    Without training, I don’t believe that criticism can be objective. In fact, criticism is largely an exercise in aesthetics, which is largely personal.

    This is why I prefer double blind evaluation–so that a review is aimed directly at the wine as it is and not as it is hoped to be.

  32. So, are we doing a better job at what we do than Skinner is doing at his? Before we throw stones, are we being as transparent as we can?
    How would you review a wine that you tasted as a barrel sample at a winery three months before bottling? “This is based on a barrel sample at the winery on this date and not from a final product”
    Transparent – yes. As useful as it could be – no. Worthy of being posted – up to the blogger’s discretion.

  33. Mike, I don’t do very many barrel samples. But if I did, and wrote about one, I’d say precisely as you did: “This is based on a barrel sample. Predictions from barrel to final bottle and aged wine are notoriously difficult. Having said that, here’s my impression.” In other words, I’d qualify and hedge my remarks. I don’t know how I could say anything more useful than that and still be factual.

  34. Randy and Charlie,

    If you guys are referring to the stuff that remains after the crush, it’s “pomace.”

    From the Latin “pomum,” fruit.

    One more reason to bemoan the disappearance of Latin classes in public schools.

  35. Mike Holland asks if we are doing a better job than Skinner?

    OK Since you did not provide an answer to that question, I’ll bite.

    Are we? And how do you define better job? I have just been to your web site. You do a pretty good job of laying out your standards, but it is clear that you are not writing a comparative tasting note column. You are writing an wine experience column. Nothing wrong with that. But, nothing that informs me one way or another about your views.

    “Are we being as transparent as we can be”, you ask. Steve has been very open about what he does. Who is “we”?

    And, as a way to move this conversation forward, I have several times suggested standards for wine critics–which we be different, by the way, for column writers and bloggers who focus on a wine or two as opposed to reviewing wines by the armloadful in a broad and comprehensive way.

    Tom P. has some questions about objectivity. Those questions move the ball forward. I would ask you to answer some of your own questions in order to also move the ball forward. The questions are good, but they are raised in a manner that suggests that you might have answers. Care to share them?

  36. Well, Charlie, I did say that double blind is one way. In fact, it is THE way to objectify wine evaluation, after training, of course.

    There’s no reason after making the evaluation–in words only, no scores–that you can’t reveal the wines and then compare the evaluation with what the wine is and hopes to be. At that point, you can assign scores based on how well the wine lived up to preconceived expectations.

    Two things need to be done before such a system would have meaning.

    1. Critics should undergo organoleptic training, to weed out the actual as opposed to the perceived flaws.

    2. A set of standards needs to be established for wine classifications so that in the end, the comparison of the evaluation to the standards allows for the score achieved (and the scores should also have meaning and they should start at 0, plus each level should be identified in guidelines, not in someone’s vague notions).

    You have to do all that is possible to stop the aesthetes from seeking in a wine what it is that is supposed to be there. When they know anything about the wine they are evaluating, they will be looking for those things. When they know nothing about the wine they evaluate, they must rely on their senses and their training, and not on prejudices presumably placed in abeyance.

    As far as I’m concerned, anything short of real attempts at codifying objectivity is just someone’s tasting note. Fine, but it illuminates little concerning the wine.

  37. That first sentence in the last paragraph got garbled, but you get the drift…

  38. Wow! In retail, we would call it

  39. Tom–

    If all a person knows is variety and range of vintage, and all conclusions are reached blind in limited trial tastings–not hundreds but something less than two dozen, then I would argue that what you describe “as just someone’s tasting note” goes very far in “illuminating the wine”.

    That is what the tasting note is all about. You have seen long tasting notes that I have sent you privately. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions is a matter of taste. We are never, ever going to get away from “matters of taste” so please do not ask us to do that.

    But, when you read a long tasting note this is full of analysis and description, then, unless you are looking for technical analysis and growing and winemaking details, you are learning an enormous amount about how the wine actually tastes.

    All that other detail is story but does nothing to “illuminate” the character of the wine. It only “illuminates” how the wine got to be what it is. That’s fine, but, frankly, I do not need to know if the grapes were picked in the waning moon phase to know what the wine tastes like. And I really do not need to know how big the crop load was or who raked the pumace to know what the wine tastes like.

    Tasting notes are descriptions of the character of wine. They are subjective. They are judgmental. They ought to be done blind in peer-to-peer tastings by knowledgeable tasters. I think we all agree on that, except maybe Randy, who thinks my 35 years of professional tasting experience amounts to nothing because I do not rake pumace or carry lug boxes.

    Your second to last paragraph says it all. “rely on their senses and their training”. That is exactly what most of us do. And the folks who do not do that, whether this Skinner idiot in OZ or Jay Miller or A. Dias Blue, are going to get called out for what they are. Their shortcomings, however, should not be allowed to demean the honest, knowledgeable, thoughtful, rigorous work of those who do it scrupulously by the book.

  40. I agree with Thomas.

    If you have pre-set criteria for points and benchmarks of quality, you take the evaluator out of the equation. The assessment becomes more informed.
    And that is what an evaluation/assessment should be: an informed judgment.

    But there are various things that inform: experience and worldviews are among the most common informers that misinform.

    Experience alone can mislead because it does not factor in knowledge and information demonstrated to be true. Opinions informed by experience alone are erroneous and thus pretty worthless when the experiences lead the opinion giver to erroneous conclusions and assumptions – in ignorance of factual data.

    How many here would prefer their doctor to follow evidence-based diagnostic and therapeutic criteria and how many would prefer to be treated by their building’s superintendent who has lots of opinions and conclusions based on the experience of having seen a doctor and having family members fall ill?

    That is where training comes in (and drinking a lot of wines for a long time – alone or with groups – does no qualify). Organoleptic findings mean real things about the wine. Those things are based in tangible findings rooted in chemistry, physiology, etc.
    To dismiss this fact ranges from intellectual laziness to denial.

    Codification of quality benchmarks (or at least scoring criteria) is very possible.

    Wine assessment is supposed to be about the wine, not about the wine reviewer.

  41. Whether you subscribe to the “wine tasting is a subjective experience” or “pre-determined rating/quality criteria take the subjective out of wine evaluation” it all boils down to one thing: if you’re somehow “wrong” about the wine, you have something to fall back on. In the case of the first approach, the credibility of the critic is indemnified because “we are all just so unique” etc, etc.
    In the latter, one could say the same happens – if you don’t like the wine, well the critic followed a system. However I would say it speaks to the credibility and integrity of a evaluator when they consistently and accurately follow some pre-determined criteria. They are free to say: I know the score ends up low/high but, personally, I really love/hate this wine.
    The final point here is that only the latter does something to advance wine culture and collective wine intelligence (and understanding of wine) – rather than dictating preference.

  42. Charlie,

    If a person knows the variety and range of vintage, there is no blind tasting.

    Whether consciously or not, people seek what they expect to find in the wine. If they know the variety they will be looking for its marker. If they know the vintage, and they know something about that vintage, they will be looking for its marker. In each case, the taster brings a preconceived notion or prejudice. And that prejudice is powerful enough to overlook certain problems in a wine if the prejudice is for that type of wine and to find certain problems if the prejudice is against that type of wine.

    Only a rare person would be able to put prejudice aside in matters of taste, and I don’t think I’ve met that rare wine reviewer yet.

    If you know nothing about the wine, then you are evaluating the wine without prejudice. If it is Cabernet Franc, and your notes seem to be about Pinot Noir, then either you or the wine has a problem, provided there was an already established criteria for what Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir should generally be like.

  43. Charlie,

    Let me be clear. I don’t find fault with issuing tasting notes. That’s an opinion.

    I find fault with what people are led to believe about tasting notes.

    As Arthur stated, wine assessment is about the wine–tasting notes are about the taster.

  44. This is my first time responding here but this topic seems to be coming up frequently – that is, analytical sensory evaluation vs. quality scoring. As a sensory scientist working in the wine industry, I have had to deal with this confusion quite a bit.

    For those of us who are UC Davis grads, we were taught that quality scoring is subjective. However, there are people who argue that you can be objective about quality. I suppose it gets back to how one defines “quality.” Most people must have an experienced person to illuminate the attributes of the wine or art object which constitute the “quality” of the work. In that way, they can build up their experience and form a more complete picture of what consitutes a “Burgundy” or a “Ribera del Duero,” for example. People’s concepts of quality differ because we each have different experiences with wines. We assume that “experts” who have similar wine concepts will judge wines similarly. As we have seen from Hodgson’s work, this is not the case.

    What is also not discussed, is that humans are very variable as measuring devices – this is a “given” in analytical sensory evaluation. That is why we use statistical techniques (analysis of variance) to detemine who is scoring consistently or who is having an “off” day or doesn’t understand the concept.

    Analytical sensory evaluation can provide a “snapshot” of the sensory properties of a wine at one point in time. This technique will not tell you if you’ll like the wine. The only way to figure that out is to EVALUATE THE WINE YOURSELF AND FORM YOUR OWN OPINION or rely on critics who share the same preferences and opinions that you do.

  45. Hallelujah. A scientist who understands that wine drinking is not about technical analysis. It is about how much one likes the wine.

    Individual consumers cannot taste four or five thousand wines a year so that rely on expert opinion. One presumes that they choose those experts based, in the long run, on consistency, similar preferences, the kind of knowledge that allows the critic to describe the wine in such a way that not only guides the reader to wines that he or she likes but also does tell a bit about the wine.

    The kind of analysis that both Arthur and Tom want is far too technical and hidebound to be of use to the ordinary consumers, who, by the way, number in the millions and millions and get their guidance from paid and free sources. I have no objection to the kind of analysis they want. I simply will not do it because it is not about enjoyment of the wine.

  46. Charlie. There are scientist who will completely contradict these assertions. They are neuroscientists. Sue Langstaff is a Geneticist and has a Master’s in Food Science.

    However (and with all respect), I’d point out that when you want your carburetor rebuilt, you don’t go to a Gynecologist.

    People in this kind of debate like to quote people of science. That is all fine and, certainly, these scientists are accomplished – IN THEIR OWN FIELDS.

    Just like those debating this topic, the scientists who are doing wine or sensory research are often coming from a limited perspective so the din of contradictory findings can be likened to the proverbial blind men examining an elephant.

  47. By the way, that scientist does her own technical and quantitative analysis of wines to pay the bills so…….

  48. I’d also like to clarify that there is no “right” or “wrong” analysis. What is important is to use the “correct” method for the task at hand. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver for a task which requires a hammer; similarly you wouldn’t ask consumers to do analytical sensory evaluation when all they can really tell you is which wines they like and how much they like them.

  49. Charlie,

    The discussion is not about enjoyment; it’s about abilities. People can enjoy drinking urine if they choose, but I doubt you’d want to evaluate it for them.

    In my view, someone claiming the talent to evaluate wine needs to have also the ability to do the evaluation. If a critic can’t determine when a wine is not what it purports to be, then I’m at a loss to understand that critic’s value.

    So you tell me, Charlie: what are the requirements for becoming a wine expert.


    Wine critics are not evaluating for quality–they are evaluating for hedonistic aesthetics. It is not an absolute (so it needs no numbers) and it is far from objective (so it needs no study).

    When you analyze what critics say to defend their turf it sounds very much like: if you agree with what I like, I can help you; if you do not agree with what I like, I cannot help you.

    Thanks a lot for that, but I can get that same service from the guy down the road.

  50. Thomas,

    If wine critics are not evaluating for quality, what do call the score that they give after all of the verbage? It’s not called a “hedonic” score.

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