jamie goode's wine blog: Tasting versus drinking, and confidence in ratings

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tasting versus drinking, and confidence in ratings

As a 'professional' (yeah!), I make many of my tasting based on a relatively quick sniff, slurp and spit. I'm comfortable with this, because I do it a lot, and I have a reasonable amount of experience.

But as with any data point, it's important to know the confidence you can place in the rating. How much variability might there be in judgements made on different occasions? Could a 91 on one day be a 90 or 92 on another? Or is the variance larger?

The advantage of drinking, rather than tasting, is that there is less variance in the rating. After I've consumed a reasonable portion of a bottle, I'm happy that I've 'got' the wine in a way that I'm not quite as sure about from a quick taste. It's not that I'm unhappy with my judgments based on tasting; rather, that I'm more certain when I've drunk a wine.

It's good to be honest about these issues, and not try to promulgate some notion of taster infallability.


At 4:04 AM, Blogger ned said...

"to promulgate some notion of taster infallability."

Speak for yourself! ;)

Seriously, isn't that the notion that earns pros their pay? More or less?

At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite - yet another post that reads like an excerpt from a thesis, rather than a punchy blog entry.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Wine on the Way said...

It's like going to Paris and saying you've seen France! Not the case. Enjoy the experience of wine "tasting"!

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Michael Pollard said...

I think if you are just writing down a score then the variation between scoring any wine tasted blind multiple times over a few weeks or months (bottle variation aside) should not be all that great. Part of the reason is that the vast majority of wines are of sufficient standard that their scores usually fall within a very narrow range if the 100 point scale is used (most of the scores I give fall within a range of 85-93). The last 11 wines scored on your blog Jamie have been between 87-93. It becomes more difficult to reproduce scoring if you are giving points to individual aspects such as color, smell and taste, and summing that. But the real difficulty is reproducing the major facets of a tasting note. And it can all go down the drain if you compare scores for color, smell and taste and the tasting note for a wine by itself versus what you score and write for it when it is in a group of other wines.

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous princeofwine said...

I know endless discussions have taken place about Robert Parker's 100 point system. In practicality despite it scoring a wine 50 just for showing up it has evolved into a 20 point system sitting on a totem pole of 80 points. When was the last time you saw a pro such as Parker scoring a wine below 80? And if so, it is very infrequent. The system was invented by Parker 30 years ago when the wine world was a very different place with much larger quality variations (one example: hygiene).
I use the 100 point system for my own blog / evaluation because it has become the accepted 'language' for most wine drinkers in the USA (beginners and connoisseur and in between). The above 20 points give you very little room to maneuver where you would have to have a real good reason to score a wine above 95 or below 85, so now we are really talking about a 10 point system! I am also fully aware of all the other mostly European systems which use 5 stars, 10 or 20 points (they have their merits and issues too but that is a different discussion).
When you taste/spit a wine first and you score it say 90 points and then drink it later in a social occasion, you might rethink the initial score it if it exhibits different qualities. However, you are really limited by the amount of point adjustment you can use whether higher or lower (if you scored it initially 90 and then decided to change the score up or down I would think you would not re score it more than 2 points higher or lower unless you were so off base to begin with when tasting it originally due to things such as palate fatigue but most pros would not admit to that!).
In my alternative reality wine world I would want the same 100 point scoring system be really a 50 point system where 50 is the lowest score similar to a classroom F. (Currently 80 is practically a 50).
This will give us a lot more latitude in scoring wines to reflect all the variations inherent in wine such as vintage, terroir, varietal characters, regions and wine growing and making practices. So you would see a majority of wines scoring in the 65-85 range (again similar to a classroom C- to B+) and so on. There would be very few 90 plus point wines let alone 95 points. But if you mix up the alternative reality with this reality we would have a very confused public (and many angry letters from winemakers whose 90 point wine has suddenly become a less glamorous sounding 75 points) and therefore that is why I am resigned to living in this straitjacket of the 100 point "system".

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We could all get fired up over scoring, I use at as a guide NOT THE GOSPEL!, I have tasted many, many wines rated 90 and above. Mostly agreeing with the critic, but not always. Tasting and drinking are two different lives. Consumers, look towards the wine media for help....are the helping or are they pitchmen? merlotman

At 8:07 PM, Blogger Michael Pollard said...

I never miss an opportunity to make sure that folks know that the 100 point system was NOT invented by Parker 30 years ago. Using 100 points to score wine was actually being used 25 years before Parker came on the scene in 1978. Parker adopted 100 points because it was easily understood by him and his readers from their days of having school exams etc marked out of 100.

Its probably also worth noting that most wine rating guides (certainly Parker and Wine Spectator) rarely publish scores below 80-85 points. The scores that are published are for recommended wines. Its hard to get an idea of the true range of scores for someone like Parker. I have asked on the Subscriber's Corner of eBob what percentage of wines are recommended (i.e. >80-85) particularly for Australian wines and the answer I have received is "about 30%". That means that he may score 70% of wines beow the 85 points. There was a time, in his early days, when Parker would publish low scores and he has given wines 50 points. It would be nice to return to those days of true wine advocacy but in the one case where I have seen a blogger post a 50 point score he has threatened with a law suit.


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