jamie goode's wine blog: 'Blink' and wine tasting

Monday, October 27, 2008

'Blink' and wine tasting

One of the books on the shelves in the house we are staying on is Malcolm Gladwell's blink: the power of thinking without thinking. It's a book I'd heard about, but never read. So I've skimmed through it, and it's interesting - well, sort of.

The thesis is that we humans are often better at making split-second decisions than we are at reaching conclusions with lots of deliberation and research. 'This book is all about those moments when we "know" something without knowing why', it says on the back cover.

Gladwell suggests that there's some background processing going on in our brains, which we are unaware of but which helps us make rapid decisions. I suppose this is similar to the familiar notion of 'intuition'. 'Blink' likely resonates with people because it makes them feel extra clever and reassures them that their instinctive reactions are usually correct.

I think Gladwell's cheif cleverness is in making a solitary interesting idea stretch out far enough to fill a whole book. The reason I wanted to comment on it is because of the application of the 'blink' principle to wine tasting. We can spend a long time dissecting a wine into its components, trying to analyse it and understand it, but sometimes it's the instant impression that is the most useful. Much of the time, even if I struggle to write a good note on a wine, I know immediately what I think of it. It's often the first impression that is the purest and most accurate.

That's not to say, of course, that there aren't some wines that require time and attention to show what they've got.

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At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Will Dyke said...

I read Tipping Point (also by Malcolm Gladwell) shortly after reading Freakonomics. Big mistake. Freakonomics was insightful and amusing, giving insights into why things might happen. Tipping Point again was a long stretched out single point that contradicted some of Freakonomics insights, but without the careful analysis.

I refused to read Blink after Tipping Point. I'm glad that my choice seems justified!

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Ben Smith said...

I read 'Blink' hoping it would teach me more about the process of making snap decisions. But in truth it is just that - one idea stretched over a whole book. There were a couple of interesting case studies in there though as I remember. I agree about wine tasting - I think you actually gather all the information you need about a wine in the first nosing / tasting moments.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Will, is Freakonomics good?

Ben, agree.

At 2:58 AM, Blogger Edward said...


There was also a bit in the book about triangulated tasting eg of food or soft drinks, which I thought was vaguely applicable to wine.

An easy read and distraction, but as you say the art seems to be making a book out of what would be an interesting essay.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Rob Malcolm said...


I disagree and think Blink and The Tipping Point are both excellent reads.

I think there are a lot of one-idea books out there, so I don't think that's a worthy criticism e.g. one could say the Bible is just one idea - there is one, all-powerful God - recounted rather too many times. I think the two ideas being proposed deserve at least the 200 odd pages.

Furthermore the cricism of the style is a bit obvious. They're not going to stand up to "serious" criticism because they're not written in that style. Their intended point surely is to make the idea accessable. In that (in my opinion)they succeed, with rather compelling anecdotes. By contrast I tried reading Black Swans, which I think also has a single good idea, but over-complicates it in making the point.

I accept that the two ideas may end up being rubbish, but it is now up to those who consider themselves serious scientists to prove or disprove them. In the meantime the two hypothesis will continue to resonate with those that have an open mind.

I have based a lot of my business strategy on the two ideas, and they've proven very useful.



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