The Fraud of Wine Tasting

This may sound like an odd thing for a foodie to admit, but wine tasting is pretty much a scam. Study after study has shown that in blind tastings, even a sommelier with the most discriminating tastes has a difficult time telling a $5 bottle of wine from a $500 bottle of wine. And now there’s this:

Each panel of four judges would be presented with their usual “flight” of samples to sniff, sip and slurp. But some wines would be presented to the panel three times, poured from the same bottle each time. The results would be compiled and analysed to see whether wine testing really is scientific.

The first experiment took place in 2005. The last was in Sacramento earlier this month. Hodgson’s findings have stunned the wine industry. Over the years he has shown again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine.

“The results are disturbing,” says Hodgson from the Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County, described by its owner as a rural paradise. “Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.

“Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win.”

These judges are not amateurs either. They read like a who’s who of the American wine industry from winemakers, sommeliers, critics and buyers to wine consultants and academics.

This should come as no surprise. Robin Goldstein’s book The Wine Trials: 100 Everyday Wines Under 5 that Beat $50 to 50 Wines in Brown-Bag Blind Tastings presented a mountain of evidence of this problem years ago. If the tasters know the identity of the wine, they will rate wines that are viewed as more exclusive or are more expensive much higher than they will cheaper, less exclusive ones. If you make the testing blind, the results will be entirely different. The obvious message: Drink what you like and forget about the vintage.

68 comments on this post.
  1. smrnda:

    I’m not really into wine, but aside from distinguishing types (say a dry red as opposed to a riesling) I really don’t think there’s much else to find out.

    Has there been any investigation into other alcoholic drinks, such as beer or hard liquor?

  2. IslandBrewer:

    I detect notes of shadenfreude and a soupcon of eyerolling.

  3. democommie:

    I drink cheap wine by choice (and necessity). I brought a bottle of NH Marechal Foch to a friend who pronounced it undrinkable–before tasting it. After I opened it and poured some he grudgingly admitted that it might be alright as an “emergency wine”.

    I was at the same winemaker’s house, the first time I tasted the Marechal Foch and was the only person of about a dozen there who said that it was better than decent. I came up six months later to buy a case and he said it had won a gold and two silver medals in blind tastings against CA wines. It was about six bucks a bottle back then. It’s now about $13.

  4. erk12:

    Has there been any investigation into other alcoholic drinks, such as beer or hard liquor?

    The same people who did “The Wine Trials” also did “The Beer Trials”, which I found interesting since I mostly drink beer. It wasn’t terribly useful to me (in Canada) as there are far fewer reviews and it’s heavy on American and Belgian beers (not surprisingly), but it’s probably pretty good for USians.

    Mostly being a beer-snob, I can tell you the stupidity present in wine tasting is prevalent in the beer community as well. They’re now starting to certify “cicerones”, the beer equivalent of sommeliers.

    I recall one beer that recently arrived in Ontario this past winter from a well-respected American craft brewery. I tried it, and it was one of the worst I’ve ever had, it was a gimmick beer and tasted awful, just treacly. The reviews I read from several people I interact with online read very clearly, to me, like people who were really trying to like the beer (they mostly couldn’t finish it in one sitting), and just couldn’t admit that it was awful because the brewery was respected and they had been chomping at the bit to get this beer. Not to mention they payed a pretty penny for it. So as with wine, price and the brewers reputation influence reviewers a lot.

  5. Anthony K:

    Ha! Sommeliers my ass!

    I once found a mostly unopened bottle of Big Bear malt liquor behind a dumpster in the alley by the Army & Navy store. Can’t beat that for a cheap buzz.

  6. Reginald Selkirk:

    Vodka blind taste test

  7. tbp1:

    Love “The Wine Trials.” It has saved us a ton of money and turned us on to some great wines. I don’t always agree with their assessments, but since nothing in the book costs more than $15, an occasional clunker is a small price to pay.

    We were recently in NYC, and made a fairly hefty purchase of some hard-to-find amaro (pretty much every bottle in the US; it will last us for years), so the guy invited us back to the tasting room and let us have some of the $1,000 burgundies they had just had a tasting of for their rich clients. We thought they were really good, even excellent, but absolutely no better than some $30-50 wines we have had through the years. It was a very interesting experience.

  8. Reginald Selkirk:

    Here’s something to be skeptical of: gluten-free vodka
    Scamalicious! Since vodka is a distilled spirit, all vodka should be gluten-free.

  9. eigenperson:

    Any food with strong and complex flavors, whether it’s wine, chocolate, cheese, or whatever, leaves a lot of room for discrimination of flavor, but also a lot of room for conformity and bullshit.

    I do believe it is possible for people to describe the flavor of wine objectively and consistently, but not the way it’s done now. Wine-tasters willing to condemn an expensive wine from a respected vintage by describing it accurately will not get hired again. And while it is presumably possible to broadly categorize a wine as “fruity”, I doubt it’s really possible to distinguish between strawberry and raspberry, for example, because the full flavors of strawberry and raspberry are not actually present in any wine.

  10. wunelle:

    I remember reading several similar tests about beer and the results were pretty solid: you basically can’t pick your favorite basic pilsner beer out of a lineup, and in fact you’re MORE likely to pick the wrong one. So the idea of preference is pure marketing victory and nothing to do with taste. (Alas, I’m remembering this and cannot cite the studies.)

  11. jd142:

    So pretty much like audiophiles and high end cables. Mix 1 part placebo affect and 1 part snobbery, with 1 part limited human sensory input, stir, and charge the rubes through the nose. :)

    See also http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/jref-news/102-blake-withdrawls-from-pear-cable-challenge.html and http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/06/22/amazon-reader-review.html.

  12. eigenperson:

    #6 Selkirk: I really wish they had included some “vodka” made from industrial ethanol and tap water, but perhaps that would be too cruel to those brands that would inevitably be rated lower.

  13. Strewth:

    Wunelle, certainly there’s going to be a ton of similarity between beers of a given style. And there are going to be differences in taste perception based on food, ambient aromas, nasal congestion…

    But I will say that in general, I don’t like lagers much.

  14. erk12:

    certainly there’s going to be a ton of similarity between beers of a given style … But I will say that in general, I don’t like lagers much.

    I would say that it’s definitely true that most people can be trained to distinguish between major styles with a little education. Given several beers of the same style, yeah I may or may not be able to tell which is which, depending on how similar the ingredients and breweries are. I’m also generally not a fan of lagers and pilsners, though there are exceptions.

  15. DaveL:

    DId you hear about the results of the moonshine blind taste test?

    Well, it didn’t start out blind…

  16. Steve Morrison:

    Mark Twain pulled a similar trick with cigars a long time ago. This is from his essay “Concerning Tobacco”:

    No one can tell me what is a good cigar—for me. I am the only judge. People who claim to
    know say that I smoke the worst cigars in the world. They bring their own cigars when they
    come to my house. They betray an unmanly terror when I offer them a cigar; they tell lies
    and hurry away to meet engagements which they have not made when they are threatened
    with the hospitalities of my box. Now then, observe what superstition, assisted by a man’s
    reputation, can do. I was to have twelve personal friends to supper one night. One of them
    was as notorious for costly and elegant cigars as I was for cheap and devilish ones. I called at
    his house and when no one was looking borrowed a double handful of his very choicest;
    cigars which cost him forty cents apiece and bore red-and-gold labels in sign of their
    nobility. I removed the labels and put the cigars into a box with my favorite brand on it—a
    brand which those people all knew, and which cowed them as men are cowed by an
    epidemic. They took these cigars when offered at the end of the supper, and lit them and
    sternly struggled with them—in dreary silence, for hilarity died when the fell brand came
    into view and started around—but their fortitude held for a short time only; then they
    made excuses and filed out, treading on one another’s heels with indecent eagerness; and in
    the morning when I went out to observe results the cigars lay all between the front door
    and the gate. All except one—that one lay in the plate of the man from whom I had
    cabbaged the lot. One or two whiffs was all he could stand. He told me afterward that some
    day I would get shot for giving people that kind of cigars to smoke.

    (The essay is in his collection What Is Man? And Other Stories.)

  17. leftwingfox:

    Slow clap for DaveL. :D

    I almost always have a bottle of Grey Fox Chardonnay and Merlot around the house. At $8, it’s one of the cheapest wine brands in my liquor store. The merlot is boring but completely inoffensive, and disappears happily into tomato sauces and stews. The chardonnay is actually pretty good, and disappears into me quite regularly.

  18. gridlore:

    See “the Judgement of Paris”.

    I love a good wine, but fully understand that a prestigious label doesn’t change the nature of the fermented grape juice in the bottle. I’ve had a First Growth Bordeaux, absolutely sublime in complexity and flavor… much like the Santa Cruz AVA Pinot Noirs I favor, and a third of the Bordeaux price.

    The key to enjoying a good wine is understanding pairings and having a good local wine shop where the staff understands both wine and a budget. BevMo, amazingly enough, is an excellent place to get great wines for good prices, even on imports and exotic stuff. For pairings, there are many websites that give good choices, and with a little knowledge, you can start experimenting.

    One last wine whine: I have never understood the mania for Beaujolais nouveau. It hasn’t had any time to age and get the complexities that mark a really good wine. It’s grape juice with an alcohol content. Pass.

  19. leftwingfox:

    One last wine whine: I have never understood the mania for Beaujolais nouveau

    Not everyone loves the bitter. While there are plenty of people expounding the virtues of tannins and hops, I can completely understand the preference for something sweet and fruity instead.

  20. Ace of Sevens:

    This goes double for wine accessories like specialized wine glasses and aerators and decanters and such. Randi has covered the subject pretty well.

  21. A Hermit:

    http://www.intriguing.com/mp/_scripts/previous.php

    A lot of people in this country pooh-pooh Australian table
    wines. This is a pity, as many fine Australian wines appeal not
    only to the Australian palette, but also to the cognoscenti of
    Great Britain.

    “Black Stump Bordeaux” is rightly praised as a peppermint
    flavoured Burgundy, whilst a good “Sydney Syrup” can rank with
    any of the world’s best sugary wines.

    “Chateau Bleu”, too, has won many prizes; not least for its
    taste, and its lingering afterburn.

    “Old Smokey, 1968″ has been compared favourably to a Welsh
    claret, whilst the Australian wino society thouroughly
    recommends a 1970 “Coq du Rod Laver”, which, believe me, has a
    kick on it like a mule: 8 bottles of this, and you’re really
    finished — at the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were
    fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour.

    Of the sparkling wines, the most famous is “Perth Pink”. This
    is a bottle with a message in, and the message is BEWARE!. This
    is not a wine for drinking — this is a wine for laying down
    and avoiding.

    Another good fighting wine is “Melbourne Old-and-Yellow”, which
    is particularly heavy, and should be used only for hand-to-hand
    combat.

    Quite the reverse is true of “Chateau Chunder”, which is an
    Appelachian controle, specially grown for those keen on
    regurgitation — a fine wine which really opens up the sluices
    at both ends.

    Real emetic fans will also go for a “Hobart Muddy”, and a prize
    winning “Cuiver Reserve Chateau Bottled Nuit San Wogga Wogga”,
    which has a bouquet like an aborigine’s armpit.

  22. CaitieCat:

    I think I could reliably tell my beer from other types, because a cream ale (think Kilkenny/Smithwick) is a fairly distinctive type of beer, but telling it from other cream ales? No way. I know my local microbrewery (The Brick, just a few hundred metres from here) had a cream ale they did once, and I would never have been able to tell it from my usual Kilkenny if both came off the keg. They were different out of the bottle/tin, though, partly because they were one bottled and one tinned, but also because the Kilkenny uses that wee plastic draught-simulation widget like Guinness does, while the Brick’s didn’t.

    Wine I don’t care much about – I’ll drink it at a wedding or something, when it’s traditional to, but rarely consume alcohol anymore, and was very much a beer girl when I did drink. I’m hardly a purist, though, as I’ll cheerfully consume a lager shandy* – which most men who drink beer would eschew, I think, as a girly abomination. Used to drink much more, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve lost the taste for it, plus some of my much-needed meds are very, very bad for the liver when taken alongside alcohol.

    * A mixture of lager and either ginger beer or lemonade (as defined in the UK, namely a fizzy citrusy drink).

  23. Synfandel:

    I hope “cicerone” is pronounced differently from “chicharrón”, ‘cuz I like to munch on some pork rinds with my beer.

  24. unbound:

    @1 – Actually, one of my MBA classes did the test themselves long ago (this was a part-time MBA program, so there wasn’t a lot of us in the class). After the professor assured them of similar studies, many of my fellow students proudly proclaimed that they could easily distinguish the difference.

    Since I don’t drink (nothing against it, I just can’t stand the taste of alcohol despite trying many times), I helped the professor set up the test. He did what he promised (got super cheap beer, mid-grade beer, and pricey high-end beer), and I helped him poor into cups labelled A, B, and C. The professor pointed out that if people simply picked at random, then 3 should get none of them right, 4 to 5 will get one of them right, and 1 or 2 should get all of them right (you can’t get only 2 right with this set up); he then let them taste and write down their answers. We ended up with 4 getting none of them right, and 5 getting only one right.

  25. A. Noyd:

    As a picky supertaster, it’s been obvious to me for a long time that tasting experts are full of shit. Taste is too variable and subjective to allow the kind of expertise claimed. If, for example, you taste bitter more strongly than other flavors, it completely changes the palatability of lots of foods and ingredients. There is no “right answer” to what a particular food or wine tastes like.

    They do free tastings at my local grocery store for wines in the $12-30 range. Mostly I enjoy participating in these because I might find a wine I like. But they incorporate some of the pretension of formal tastings into it and don’t appreciate independent opinions. When they asked me what I thought of this one wine that, to me, had a strong brine and iodine-like flavor to it, I said it tasted like licking crusty rocks at the beach. (Really, it was more like stagnant seawater with notes of rotting shellfish, but I was being nice.) The head of the wine department was all like, “Oh, you mean it’s earthy? Yeah, this is a really earthy wine.” Because, guessing from his tone, that’s either what he tasted or what the other “experts” said about it, therefore he couldn’t process what I said as something very different.

    Also, blind beer tasting as part of a Japanese game show where wrong guesses are punished with a smack to the face. (It’s subtitled.)

  26. kieran:

    Parents are big wine drinkers, learned a bit about wine tasting from a fairly famous guy in the industry, his advice, “if you like it drink it, it doesn’t matter what the price is”.

  27. steve oberski:

    Say it isn’t so.

    Next you’ll be saying that professional wrestling is fixed.

  28. Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant):

    As someone who really ought to know once confided to me, “the first sip is with the wallet”.

  29. coragyps:

    Pah! In my wine-tasting youth I could tell the vintage of a Bali Hai to the nearest week!

  30. magistramarla:

    I lived in the Monterey Bay area for over three years. The women’s group to which I belonged sponsored a wine & beer tasting every year as a fundraiser. These weren’t people being pretentious – they were just people out for a night of drinking. We also had a silent auction to go with it, and the more people drank, the more they would bid. The most hilarious situation was when two very drunk young men bid on and won a hand-quilted baby blanket. We wondered what they thought when they sobered up the next morning!
    Our group generally made $5000-$6000 for scholarships and charities from this annual event.
    After living in Texas and the Midwest, I always found it amusing that even the local elementary school would have a wine tasting as a fundraiser.

    Last year, Monterey Valley wines were more highly rated by a wine snob magazine than Napa Valley wines. I certainly agreed with that rating. The hubby and I found several vineyards in the area that produced delicious and affordable wines.
    Man, I miss California!

  31. grumpyoldfart:

    When I was working at at a bottling plant we had huge stainless steel tanks full of white wine and used it to fill bottles with many different labels. The girls in the tasting room had a hard time keeping a straight face as the suburbanites praised one white and condemned another, completely unaware that they came from the same tank.

    Also, whenever a wine was lacking in sales, the boss would send it out to every minor wine competition in the country where it was sure to win at least one or two gold medals and then it could be advertised as an “award winning” wine. Of course it was never mentioned that the award was won at a competition held on the footpath outside a restaurant with passers-by as the judges.

  32. tassilo:

    The same can be said about Vodka. Andrew Tobias once suggested, as investment advice, to buy the most expensive Vodka you can afford and drink it. Alternatively you can also scrounge an empty bottle at a party. Then fill the empty bottle with cheapest Vodka you can find. Serve it to your house guests.

    I have followed his advice for years and I have yet to meet anyone who can tell the difference between Stoli and the cheap stuff I buy, but I’ve collected many appreciative comments over the years.

  33. Jafafa Hots:

    So pretty much like audiophiles and high end cables.

    Product idea! Monster™ Brand wine glasses, with gold plating to minimize polyphenol flutter and increase tannin fidelity.

  34. tbp1:

    One of the fascinating things they write about in the Wine Trials is doing some kind of brain scan to people tasting wines. At different times they were given the same wine twice, but told it was different things: once they were told it was an inexpensive bottle, and on another occasion told the same wine was a very expensive, fine vintage. Interestingly the pleasures centers of most people’s brains actually lit up more when they thought it was more expensive.

  35. boadinum:

    #9 Eigenperson: A friend used to make strawberry wine. While it was vile in almost every respect, it did have the full flavor of strawberries.

  36. whheydt:

    Since several mentions of vodka tasting have come up…

    Years ago, Consumer Reports did an article on distillate liquors. When they got to vodka, they added a control for the tasters. The control was lab grade ethyl alcohol cut with distilled water. The control was rated the best of the vodkas. CR concluded that, when buying vodka, you are paying for ethanol and NOT having any impurities in it.

  37. boadinum:

    #36 whheydt: The Polish national drink, Spiritus, is 190 proof grain (ethyl) alcohol. I defy anyone to taste anything after a shot of that stuff. BTW, it’s probably gluten-free.

  38. steve oberski:

    @Jafafa Hots

    Already been done.

    Eisch Breathable Glass Crystal Stemware

    In order for most wines to be fully enjoyed, they must be in contact with the atmosphere outside their bottle. Breathable Glass™ crystal stemware from Eisch are crafted of lead-free crystal and undergo a unique oxygenization treatment that strongly accelerates the reaction of the wine with atmospheric oxygen.

  39. Jafafa Hots:

    Well if exposure to ocygen is what’s important, what we really need to do is maximise the exposed surface.

    I propose wine be drunk from hereon by pouring it on a clean tabletop and letting it spread and sit for a few moments before lapping it up like a cat.
    Literally like a cat – the flehmen response can only intensify the flavors.

  40. boadinum:

    #25 A. Noyd: Thank you! That’s the best Japanese game show since MXC.

  41. aaronbaker:

    Having realized some time ago that there’s no apparent correlation between price and quality in wines, I went looking for decent cheap stuff. Among other things, I discovered Winking Owl Cabernet at Aldi (not half-bad, and $2.89 a bottle). It’s even gotten at least one pretty generous review:

    http://www.thebradentontimes.com/news/2012/09/21/food_and_dining/three_buck_chuck_vs._winking_owl/

    Just in case anyone’s interested.

  42. Ben P:

    The same can be said about Vodka. Andrew Tobias once suggested, as investment advice, to buy the most expensive Vodka you can afford and drink it. Alternatively you can also scrounge an empty bottle at a party. Then fill the empty bottle with cheapest Vodka you can find. Serve it to your house guests.

    I have followed his advice for years and I have yet to meet anyone who can tell the difference between Stoli and the cheap stuff I buy, but I’ve collected many appreciative comments over the years.

    Having spent six months in Russia, this is absolutely untrue, but with two serious caveats.

    Stoli is considered decent vodka in the US only because of its “Russian” origin. Russky Standard is cheaper and far better and today is becoming more and more available in the US. Inside Russia Stoli is a lower shelf vodka, but not bargain basement.

    And having drunk a lot of vodka, that’s where I draw the distinction in Vodkas.

    The highest quality vodka is pure ethanol and pure water. Served at the proper temperature (ice cold) it should have very little bite and very little aftertaste.

    The *cheap stuff,” (In the US is brands like Quality House, McCOrmick’s etc.) is immidately recognizable as cheap shit. Its poorly distilled and has an awful aftertaste. But, people who are already drunk and taking shots won’t taste it anyway, so you’re right as far as that goes. Likewise with any drinks mixed with large amounts of sugar. You won’t taste the difference.

    There’s a marked improvement from the cheap stuff up to midgrade stuff, Stoli, Smirnoff, Russian Standard, etc.

    Then there’s an very small difference between midgrade to good stuff and the super premium stuff. There’s no need to spend $50 on a liter of grey goose when you can spend $20 on a liter of Russian Standard or any other reasonably good quality vodka, because unless you’re sipping it, you’ll never tell the difference.

  43. Trebuchet:

    Mythbusters did a test some years ago in which they improved cheap vodkas by running it repeatedly through Brita-type water filters. They couldn’t tell the difference even before the filtering but an expert apparently could. The filtering worked pretty well for making the bargain brand equal to the expensive one, but, due to the cost of the filters, didn’t really save any money.

  44. lancifer:

    DId you hear about the results of the moonshine blind taste test?

    Well, it didn’t start out blind… – Dave L

    It aint good ‘shine unless you go blind for a little while, or at least your fingers and toes go numb.

  45. leni:

    I have one word: Franzia.

    Ok, three: Franzia Pink zin.

    It’s fucking delicious and cheap and will last forever in the space pillow.

    That is all.

  46. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :):

    I remember reading several similar tests about beer and the results were pretty solid: you basically can’t pick your favorite basic pilsner beer out of a lineup, and in fact you’re MORE likely to pick the wrong one.

    Did they try it with beer styles that call for some actual flavor?

  47. bumperpuff:

    My favorite was the experiment where “experts” were asked to describe white and red wines. The only difference was the addition of food coloring, but the subjects described them completely differently, and none guessed that the wines were the same.

    In Peace Corps I filtered locally distilled Arake (think low quality moonshine) through some crushed lump charcoal packed into a water bottle. The result was essentially mid range vodka and and it cost about $1.5 per liter :-)

  48. Childermass:

    Penn & Teller on bottled water has a segment which they did a taste test of expensive bottled waters which they filled from the same hose from the restaurant’s outside tap. You are not paying for the product, you are paying for the package and marketing — and for outrageous profit margins.

    I find that water “tastes” better if you put it in a jug and put it into the refrigerator.

  49. beatnikhusker:

    I think maybe we should make a few distinctions here…

    A 5$ bottle of wine off the shelf in the states IS NOT the same thing as a 5$ bottle of wine off the shelf from other parts of the world.

    In my opinion this is because there simply isn’t a “wine drinking culture” in the states.

    5$ bottles of wine in the states are industrially produced to be cheap, “drinkable”, uniform in taste across thousands of bottles/cases, and typically can sit on a grocery store shelf at 70 degrees for… years. Its the same as the difference between cheap industrial farmed/produced grocery store tomatoes and am heirloom beefsteak you buy from the local farmers roadside stand.

  50. John Hinkle:

    My wife is an expert beer taster.

    Me: Try this Stella Artrois.
    Her: Tastes like Budweiser. I don’t like it.
    Me: Must be the hops. Try this Paulaner Weiss.
    Her: Tastes like Budweiser, maybe slightly better. Still don’t like it.
    Me: Honker’s Ale?
    Her: Budweiser, but a little darker.
    Me: Try this XYZ craft IPA.
    Her: Worse than Budweiser.
    Me: Try this La Fin du Monde.
    Her: Now that’s a beer!

  51. marcus:

    leni @ 45 Wife loves their ‘White Grenache’. Whenever we go anywhere for a few days (or an afternoon) she makes sure to bring her “BOW’ (box o’ wine). Don’t leave home without it.!

  52. atheist:

    Consider rackets, that is, industries with no real larger purpose. John Maynard Keynes said that the government could pay people to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up again. It would seem that wine experts have created a racket where they discuss flavors, flatter people’s desire to feel sophisticated, and sell grape booze. And this bullshit works, it has been working for centuries.

    It’s amusing, but before we get too smug about their bullshit economic niche, we should consider much bigger and more pernicious rackets. Take the financial services market, which is a huge and growing sector of US economic activity, accounting for 8.3% of GDP in 2011. It is in fact a huge sector across the entire “Western World”, as well as Asia. While there are some rationalizations for its existence, this sector is mostly a large casino/weapon of mass destruction, that sucks money out of more productive sectors and creates political chaos. If you attempt to do an expose of this gigantic racket, prepare to be rat-fucked by professionals.

    And it leads into larger questions as well. Is there any purpose that leads a certain species of ape to destroy the biosphere of an entire planet because these apes wish to feel that they are “in control”? Is there any reason for tribes of apes to exterminate other tribes because they wish to feel “secure”? When these apes take time to write essays on the internet, is it really any different from dogs who bark and snarl at unseen enemies all night?

  53. Brandon:

    I’m fairly amused by the number of people that are capable of reading on article on how effectively no one can tell the difference between the cheap stuff and the “good” stuff, then declare proudly that it might be like in some cases, but how it’s totally not like that at all in the countries that they visited. The power of our senses to be affected by how we feel about something is strong indeed.

  54. Thorne:

    I really wish they had included some “vodka” made from industrial ethanol and tap water, but perhaps that would be too cruel to those brands that would inevitably be rated lower.

    Many years ago I worked in the QC lab of a pharmaceutical company. At Xmas one the chemists would mix up a batch of Anisette using pharmaceutical grade anise oil and 190 proof ethanol, served in test tubes, of course. Those in the know said it was easily as good as store bought. I never much liked the taste but it sure cleared out the sinuses. And the stomach lining. And pretty much all of the bacteria in the gut.

  55. beatnikhusker:

    Yes, Brandon @53… your so much better than us.

    It’s not about telling the difference between “cheap stuff” and “good stuff” because, Like Ed AND many of the experts in the article said… there is plenty of GOOD inexpensive, (under 15$), wine out there… that inexpensive wine doesn’t come from the “right” places… or it isn’t bottled under the “right” labels… or any other of a hundred reasons… therefore it simply isn’t known/popular/trendy.

    There are 500$ bottles of prestige/bling wine out there just like there are 500$ dollar pairs of “designer” blue jeans… they exist simply because the human ego exists. After a certain point you’re no longer paying for quality/craft… you’re only paying for hype.

    A 100$ bottle of Napa Cab sells at 100$ because everybody and their mother know that Napa makes great Cabs… the “Wine Industry” makes a point of marketing Napa Cabs as some of the best in the world.

    My brother is a huge fan of a 40/45$ red blend… he buys it buy the case… despite me telling him that he is overpaying simply because the winery is located (marginally) in Napa. Every Year on his birthday/holidays I buy him 10/15/20 bottles of red blends that EVERY YEAR he tells me are just as good or better… and yet he still buys the expensive stuff, because he knows his wine snob friends will know what it is when he pours it for them.

    Its an industry, built to sell wine and make profits. The problem I have with the article is that it doesn’t draw any distinctions between which 15/10$ bottles that they are blind tasting against 100$+ bottles. AND when most American here the phrase “cheap wine” or the see a wine prices at less that 15$ they assume its a certine type of wine… they IMMEDIATELY think of Barefoot, or Beringer, or Cupcake, or 2 Buck Chuck… (i gotta finish my thoughts ni a minute)

  56. Ben P:

    I’m fairly amused by the number of people that are capable of reading on article on how effectively no one can tell the difference between the cheap stuff and the “good” stuff, then declare proudly that it might be like in some cases, but how it’s totally not like that at all in the countries that they visited. The power of our senses to be affected by how we feel about something is strong indeed

    Keep in mind the article said that about Wine, and go read specifically what it said.

    The article says that in a blind taste tests, experts were given wines and asked to rate them on a scale from 50-100. Some wines were rated dramatically differently from others, and the same experts rated the same wines differently minutes apart.

    A sperate, earlier test with wines asked 578 non-experts to taste a range of wines rating from L3.78 ($5) a bottle to L30 ($44). Only 53% of amateurs could tell the difference between a bottle of wine cheaper than L5 ($7.00) from one that was over $10 ($14.90)

    The link that someone posted related to beer told a slightly different story. WHen presented in a blind taste test, people are often unable to distinguish between varying types of Pislner beers.

    The link about vodka told still a third story. They judged 25 vodkas on a 1-5 point scale by a number of bartenders and other experts. Blind the list was

    There was a Thee Way Tie for Number ONE:
    ABSOLUTE (Sweden $22) Wheat based
    FINLANDIA (Finland $22) Barley based with fresh spring water
    RUS Bogorodskaya (Russia $22) Grain based, spring water

    2) REYKA (Iceland $28) Wheat based, glacial water filtered through lava rocks

    3) CIROC (France $32) Grape based, five times distilled

    4) FRIS (Denmark $24) Wheat based, spring water, freeze-distilled six times

    5) TWO-WAY TIE
    BELVEDERE ( Poland $35) Gold rye based, artesian well water-four distillations
    EFFEN (Holland $33) Grain based, filtered through peat, not charcoal

    6) PEARL ( Canada $20) Winter wheat based, Canadian Rocky Mountain water

    7) ULTIMAT ( Poland $45) Wheat, rye and potato based, artisan well water, six times distilled

    8) AKVINTA ( Croatia $40) Wheat based, Quintuple distillation (Birch charcoal, marble, silver, platinum), mountain spring water

    9) FOUR-WAY TIE
    GREY GOOSE ( France $30) Winter wheat based, spring water purified through champagne limestone
    ICEBERG (Canada $20) Sweet corn based
    SOBIESKI (Poland $12) Rye based, spring water, 8 times distilled

    10) THREE-WAY TIE
    42 BELOW (New Zealand $22) Wheat based, spring water, four distillations
    JEWEL OF RUSSIA one liter (Russia $38) Wheat and Rye based, Quadruple distilled, 5 dtep filtaration
    WHAITE DIAMOND (Latvia $22) Ryae and Wheat based, 5 times distilled, 14 step mountain crystals filtration

    11) THREE-WAY TIE
    KETTLE ONE (Holland $26) Wheat based
    ORZEL (Poland $46) Grain based, 6 times distilled, quartz filtered
    U’LUVKA (Poland $57) Rye, barley and wheat based, 3 times distilled

    12) TWO-WAY TIE
    LUKSUSOWA (Poland $17) Potato based, artisan well water, distilled 3 times
    STOLICHNAYA (Russia $24) Wheat and Rye based, glacial water, double distillation

    13) VOX (Holland $28) Wheat based, 5 times distilled

    14) CHOPIN (Poland $43) Potato based, distilled 4 times

    You will note that none of the vodkas tasted were of the $10 for half a gallon variety. In fact, almost every vodka on that list would qualify as premium in most US stores. And I think the results are entirely consistent with what I said my own experience to be. That there is a big difference between the truly cheap vodka (with a kerosene aftertaste) and mid-grade vodka but a tiny difference between mid-grade to premium vodkas.

    I

  57. beatnikhusker:

    >>>Its an industry, built to sell wine and make profits. The problem I have with the article is that it doesn’t draw any distinctions between which 15/10$ bottles that they are blind tasting against 100$+ bottles.

    AND when most American here the phrase “cheap wine” OR they see a wine priced at less that 15$ they assume its a certain type of wine… they IMMEDIATELY think of Barefoot, or Beringer, or Cupcake, or 2 Buck Chuck…or whatever else they walk past every week when they stroll past the endcap displays in the grocery.

    BUT, and this is IMPORTANT, an inexpensive 5/10/15$ bottle in France… or Italy… or South Africa… or Argentina simply IS NOT the same thing as a 5/10/15$ bottle in the states. A 10$ table wine from France is still a product of quality and craftsmanship… the conditions under which the grapes are grown, harvested, pressed, fermented, bottled are significantly different then, say…

    grapes grown in the states for making White Zin… where quality of the fruit is a complete non-factor.

    Argentine Bornarda is inexpensively produced specifically to be a family/table wine in Argentina… it’s the second most grown/consumed wine in the country… and yet the varietal is almost unknown/unsalable in the states, because the average wine drinker doesn’t know what the hell Bonarda is.

    I’ve walked to small family owned wineries in Italy where you can fill up your own 2 litre jug of table wine for less than 5$ US, and in almost every instance the wine was fantastic… because it’s made with quality and craftsmanship… made and sold regionally with no intention or marketing it to the world.

    In fact, White Zin is a great example of how the American wine industry works. White Zin, (as we know it today), was a mistake… it was never meant to be made or sold. The winemaker experienced what’s know as “stuck, (stalled?), fermentation” where the yeasts die off before all the sugars are converted… resulting in a sweet/sugary product. The winemaker didn’t want to sell it, but lo and behold… it found a foothold because the American palate preferred the sweetness… and now White Zin sells 4+ million cases a year.

    Now, you’ll never see a 100$ bottle of White Zin… you’ll never see a blind tasting of boxed Sutter Home White Zin vs. Chateau Du Blabity Blah White Zin from France… because White Zin is produced specifically to be cheap, sweet, uniform and sold to US drinkers by the gallon jug/box… it’s essentially the same thing as Coke.

    The basic rule of thumb that I follow is this… when I have 20$ or less to spend on a bottle of wine I’ll spend that 20$ on inexpensive wines from France, Italy, South America, South Africa or Spain… whether I know the winery/label or not. And in almost every single case I’ll be buying a product of superior quality to anything similarly priced from California/Napa or Australia/Barossa.

    Like Ed said, drink what you like. But if you’re foolish enough to think that there isn’t ANY difference between a 5$ bottle of industrially produced Sutter Home and a 15$ bottle of family farmed estate bottled Italian Barbera D’Asti… then you are a lost cause, and I welcome you to your delicious McDonald’s hamburger.

  58. Reginald Selkirk:

    My drink is root beer, and there are large differences in taste available.

  59. tbp1:

    @ Ben P, #56:

    That there is a big difference between the truly cheap vodka (with a kerosene aftertaste) and mid-grade vodka but a tiny difference between mid-grade to premium vodkas.

    Pretty much how I feel about wine and beer, really.

  60. tbp1:

    @57. My wife and I were at a Bastille Day celebration in the town square in a small village near the French border with Spain. There was a sign up advertising wine for 2 euros. Being more used to Paris prices, I thought, great, wine for only 2 euros a glass. I don’t really speak French, but I can say “Deux vins rouges, s’il vous plaît.” The lady at the counter kept asking me a question, which I didn’t understand, so a helpful stranger told me she was asking how many glasses I wanted. It was 2 euros a bottle. And it was fine, perfect with rustic fare the food vendors were selling. Likewise in Argentina we had lovely bottles from the liquor across the street from our hotel for $1 US, and for $3-5 US in restaurants. You are entirely right, the difference between an inexpensive wine in many countries, and mass-produced US cheap wine is enormous.

  61. mouthyb, Vagina McTits:

    BenP: I’m with you. After having had other vodkas, having Russian Standard is incredibly different. For starters, it doesn’t have that awful, mouth-twisting aftertaste and that weirdly syrupy front end. It literally tastes like nothing to me, it’s just heavier in the mouth than water.

    It’s also cheap at the local store (roughly $20 a bottle).

    I can’t necessarily tell brand differences, but I can tell old and young liquors by the aftertaste. For whatever that’s worth.

  62. godlesspanther:

    I would like to see the same test done with audiophiles. Can they tell the difference between the $500 sound system and the $500,000 sound system?

  63. leni:

    John Hinkle:

    Me: Try this La Fin du Monde.
    Her: Now that’s a beer!

    Agreed! That is one of my all time favorite beers. I go cheap on wine but never beer. Not since I found a maggot in a can of Miller Lite anyway. (It stuck to my lip. Yes, I had a Miller Lite soaked maggot on my lip.)

    I love cheap, bagged swill wine, but I will not make that compromise beer.

    marcus @ 51- If I could get that box out of the house without being too obvious about it, I’d probably bring my “BOW” with me everywhere ;)

  64. Ace of Sevens:

    @62. I’m not aware anyone even questions that. The real question is can they tell the difference between different price ranges of amps and wiring. There’s a big difference between the $25 speakers you’ll find in a $500 sound system and the $40,000 speakers you’ll find in a $500,000 system. You know how things sound different coming over a speaker than live? That’s what the money goes to eliminating.

    I would be interested how many people can tell the difference between relatively high-end consumer tower speakers (about $1000 each) and the insane super-expensive ones, though. I’m betting very few.

  65. Ace of Sevens:

    To explain, I should point out that the speakers in a $500 system will be two-way with the larger driver probably 3.5″ or so. The lowest frequency you can reproduce that way will be about 120 Hz. a $500,000 system with be a four-way or possibly five-way with the largest driver in the 12-18″ range and could probably hit 10-20Hz. That alone will be a very noticeable difference, even if you ignore distortion issues.

  66. Thumper; Atheist mate:

    That there is a big difference between the truly cheap vodka (with a kerosene aftertaste) and mid-grade vodka but a tiny difference between mid-grade to premium vodkas.

    I think this is true of every alcohol out there. You can tell the truly cheap shite, but once you get to the mid range it’s personal taste. Even then there are exceptions, though I think it mostly applies to smaller breweries/vinyards/distilleries which make the stuff out of love and don’t put a huge mark up on it. As tbp1 said, you can find some fantastic wines for dirt cheap in France, Spain and Italy for exactly this reason. I well remember the campsite in Spain which sold Rioja made by the owner’s uncle a mile or two up the road from the campsite. You went to the little shop on site with your own bottle and paid 4 Euros a liter. They filled your bottle up out of these huge oak barrels, and it was delicious. My parents wanted to take some (OK, a lot) home with them, but the owner very kindly advised us that it simply would not travel and would be ruined by the time we got home, thus doing himself out of a tidy profit because he was so determined not to rip us off, bless him.

  67. kermit.:

    Professional violinists couldn’t tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a good modern violin (at 1% of the cost). For 200 years, the “lost secret” of how he made his “uniquely good” violin has been sought after. Finally, somebody wondered if there had been a secret. Nope; they’re simply good violins. http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=stradivarius-fails-sound-test-versu-12-01-04

  68. average wine tasting fundraiser « Cloninger Wine Cloninger Wine:

    [...] The Fraud of Wine Tasting » Dispatches from the Culture Wars [...]

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