A Judgement on Blind Tasting and Wine Scores
Written by Rob Elvy
I was recently chatting with a follow “wino” and he stated emphatically that his decision on what wines to buy was based solely on whether it scored 90 points or more and was under $20. Laughing in response, I had to inform him that $20 or more is the new $15. I also had to note that many of the reviews, whether tasted blindly or not, were not particularly accurate and should be thought of as inconsistent judgement.
With the increased success of the Judgement of Kingston — a blind tasting of wines from Prince Edward County against keen wine appellations from around the world — I thought I would investigate the accuracy of blind and open tastings.
Indeed, in my world of wine, wine scores are used consistently in the marketing of wine, regardless of what price point the bottle is. Wines with high scores or gold medals, etc., are always rewarded with increased consumer interest and sales. So how much faith can consumers put on judged tastings whether done blindly or openly?
According to the vast majority of studies, little faith can be placed on scores, whether blind or not, and the general consensus is that human scores are unpredictable. A single wine from the same vintage can be reviewed and tasted many times in a short period of time – sometimes by the same taster – and receive remarkably different scores.
In one study, it was concluded that price directly affected the amount people enjoyed it. When 58 people blind tasted the same wine yet labelled differently – one grand cru and the other an ordinary table wine – they used positive language to describe the grand cru and negative language to describe the “plonk”.
Even more revealing was a further test of colour and perception. Two glasses of wine – one red and one white – were placed in front of the same panel who were then asked to describe each. Interestingly, the red was described as having fresh red berry fruit and other red wine descriptors, despite the fact that it was poured from the same bottle of white wine. The glass of white had been coloured with a flavourless red dye.
So why do we place such high regard on these scores and competition? I believe it is a combination of time, wine knowledge and feeling comfortable purchasing the unknown.
 Dissertation from French academic Frederic Brochet