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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Ambiguity of Wine

If you’re a serious wine lover you have no doubt heard about the tasting that changed the wine world---the Judgement in Paris.  There have been books written about it and movies made about the tasting that turned the wine world upside down when two American wines (a Napa Cabernet and a Chardonnay) beat out many costly Bordeaux & White Burgundies.  But, have you heard about the riveting follow-up tasting, the Judgement in Princeton?

This second tasting closely modeled the original 1976 event in Paris.  The tasting was blind.  Several of the iconic Bordeaux vineyards (e.g. Chateaux Mouton- Rothschild and Haut-Brion) were represented.  The nine judges were French, Belgian and American wine experts.  This tasting also had a huge twist.  The American wines were all from New Jersey.  While French wines won in both red and white categories, they narrowly squeaked by wines that cost pennies on the Euro of the French wines.  It is interesting to note that the two winning French wines were ranked in the last position by at least one of the judges.  Moreover, wines like Mouton-Rothschild received scores all over the map:  some judges rated it as low as 11 (out of 20), while another rated it 19.5. 

So what do these two hallmark tastings tell us?   When tasted blind, world-class wine is in the eye of the beholder.  But, hold on, there’s more.

The University of Bordeaux gathered over 50 wine experts for a mischievous tasting and asked them to give their opinion on two glasses of wine:  one was white, the other was red.   What the connoisseurs didn’t know was that they were both the same white wine—red coloring had been added to one.  Several of these knowledgeable wine lovers described the red-colored wine with words such as “jammy” or “red fruit.”

Another experiment from the same researcher at the University of Bordeaux was even more damming.   This time he upped the ante by taking a middle of the road Bordeaux and pouring it into two different bottles:  one had the label of a fancy Grand Cru chateau, the other a label of an ordinary “table wine.”  If you’re following the drift of this article, it will be no surprise to you to learn that the experts described the Grand Cru bottle with illustrious words indicating a pedigree, while the exact same wine poured from the table wine bottle was referred to as “faulty,”  “weak,” or “light.”

Preconceived notions play a big part in wine and that is exactly why I prefer to taste everything blindly.  These studies also point out another salient point:  if wine experts can’t often tell the difference between a several hundred dollar bottle of wine and one that cost less than twenty bucks, why pay for the more expensive one?  Even more important, relying on expert opinions may not be your best bet in deciding on what wine to purchase.  Trust yourself and purchase bottles you enjoy!

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