Point : Counterpoint. Wine tasting – Junk Science or High Art?

Is the influence of the wine critic waning?
Is the influence of the wine critic waning?

Two interesting, and contrasting, news items are buzzing about the wino-sphere this week.  

The first article bore the inflammatory title of “Wine Tasting : It’s Junk Science“.  The author reports on findings that wine judges (and those setting the scores that, for three decades, have famously determined what wine is good, which wine is not) are embarrassingly inconsistent in their evaluations.  It concludes that there is so much variation in an individual’s judging ability as to make nonsense of such silly notions as scores, medals, and awards.  Take this notion to the extreme and it becomes silly to even evaluate a wine’s components, or to describe it, or attempt to pair it with food.

Next thing you know, they’ll tell us to drink Cabernet with Oysters.  Cats and dogs sleeping together, Armageddon.  OK, so you know where I stand on this bit of journalistic sensationalism – a good point, lost in hyperbole.

Movie Poster for "Somm"The second “article” to stir up excitement in the wine business this week was the flurry of reviews for the movie “Somm”, which comes out this Friday in four lucky cities and on iTunes wherever you are.  The 90 minute documentary has won critical awards, but blase response from the general public.  Which is surprising to me, though less so considering doesn’t feature a single offspring of a former Olympic gold medalist.  Not even one.

But it DOES feature great music, beautiful photography, and that one element so often missing from most scripts – a moving story of human trial and triumph, of perseverance and dedication.  It’s a movie to see if you love wine, if you don’t love wine, and if you can’t even spell wine.  If you’re human, you’ll relate.

And viewed next to each other – debunkers of human taste on the one hand and exhalters of it on the other – the two make sense. Given the 3% pass rate at the court of Master Sommeliers, it seems fairly clear that few people posses the natural ability – the palate talent – to consistently judge the magical combination of flavors and aromas that we know as wine.  Does this invalidate every other attempt to do so?  Yours?  Mine?  Ours?  

I vote no.  But it DOES suggest that wine should be sold by means other than scores, points and medals.


3 Replies to “Point : Counterpoint. Wine tasting – Junk Science or High Art?”

  1. Two Buck Chuck wins a Triple Gold? WTF? What’s this world coming to?

    Hey, wait a minute, they didn’t give the entry bottles a “special fill,” did they? Say a little Haut Brion, perchance?

    1. Dickinson B, those competitions are split into price ranges. To make it fair, wines only compete with with sold for similar prices. So no, Two Buck Chuck didn’t beat Chateau Montelena for the Triple Gold. They beat other $3 wines. The take-away is that it’s pretty dang good for a $3 wine, certainly better than many others. But it’s no system-shattering wine phenomenon

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