jamie goode's wine blog: Parker and neuroscience

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parker and neuroscience

Thanks to fellow blogger Tyler Colman for bringing to my attention an interesting post by Jonah Lehrer on his blog The Frontal Cortex. He argues that the sensory limitations of the human brain make a nonsense of a serious belief in the 100 point scale.

He states:
The underlying assumption behind such point scores is that the taste of a wine is merely the sum of our inputs. But that's wrong: we can't quantify a wine by trying to listen to our tongue. This is because what we experience is not what we sense. Rather, experience is what happens when our senses are interpreted by our subjective brain, which brings to the moment its entire library of personal memories and idiosyncratic desires....Before you can taste the wine you have to judge it.

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At 4:31 AM, Anonymous Wed designer said...

I drink lighter Pilsner beer in the spring summer and dark in the fall and winter. My favorite summer beer is Straub thanks for sharing this article I love your site will recommend my friends..

At 7:55 AM, OpenID spiltwine.wordpress.com said...

interesting, maybe we should all switch to happy/sad faces...

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why Robert Parker insists on rating wine out of 100 when he never seens to score anything below 80-85?

At 12:20 PM, Blogger The Wine Mule said...

"...the past experiences of tasting will change the nature of our current experiences."

--Jamie Goode, "The Science of Wine"

In terms of marketing, the difference between an 89 and a 90 is huge. Yet as best I can tell, no critic can adequately explain what that single point means.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all comparative tasting should be blind - how else to be fair?

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Greg said...


I've decided to leave a comment here instead of on the original post as I believe the discussion on your blog is more germane.

There is a vast difference between tasting wine with no extrinsic information (a truly blind tasting) and what RP participated in, as described in the article.

Giving Parker the benefit of the doubt, let's say that he tasted those wines blind the first time. When he tasted them initially, he had no information (again, benefit of the doubt) as to what the wines were.

On the contrary, at this dinner, he already knew the producers. In fact, he not only knew which producers would be there but he had information on the full set of producers. His problem came when he needed to reassign names to wines. As soon as he misidentified on producer, he necessarily had to misidentify another. This type of process of elimination matching of sensations is very hard.

I'm sure RP, along with many people trained in quantitative descriptive analysis can reproducibly taste and rate wines in a framework. Here, the framework was not applicable. I believe, had RP been asked to perform another blind tasting with the same wines, not knowing they were the same wines, he may have had better results.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger vinojones said...

"Yet as best I can tell, no critic can adequately explain what that single point means."

I'm not a critic but it is clear to me what the difference is between 89 and 90. It is that both wines are of equal quality but, given the choice to purchase/drink only one I will prefer the 90 point wine. Perhaps for reasons that can be verbalized or perhaps not- hence the 1 pt difference.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger DermotMW said...

Hi Jamie,

Why does anyone care about scoring systems? Here's the thing - either you are expert enough, or sufficiently over-confident, to make up your own mind about a wine without anyone else's opinion or, like the vast majority of wine buyers, you know something but not enough to feel confident: you look for an "expert's" opinion.
That expert might be a Hugh Johnson, who I think allocates stars, or Robert Parker who allocates a number.
Neither is more valid than the other as each has a lifetime's experience of tasting. Now, I wouldn't agree with either HJ or RP all the time, but so what? If I taste any wine I can assess it well enough.
But those who lack that confidence are not going to worry about whether one wine is 89 and another 90 - they will do as vinojones suggests - given a chance to taste only one, they'll plump for the 90 (higher = better), although some, out of perversity might plump for the 89 (let's give the underdog a chance!).
At the end of the day, there are too many wines, too much confusing (and often unhelpful) information used in marketing wine so anything that helps is good.
I have never understood the strong responses to RP's system as I believe he is entitled to his opinion, both in terms of assessment of quality and means of expressing that.
If you look at the notes on my blog you'll see I never score and they are very personal notes. Some people like them, others don't.
It's a big world so let's live and let live.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Tim Cohen said...

wine ratings are like haircuts - everyone has one with not too many being the same.
maybe we should have a rating system for rating wines!


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