Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Blind Tasting

Original post by Richard Foxall, Mar 22, 2012.

This comes up a lot, and dmcker said something interesting about it that sparked some thoughts:

I don't think wine should be rated only double blind

First, I think "double blind" is a bit of a misnomer. It's a term from clinical trials in medical research,  referring to the fact that both the clinician measuring the results and the patient don't know if the patient is receiving the therapeutic agent or a placebo.  A study can have multiple controls and it isn't triple blind.  I suppose not knowing the type of wine, as well as the label, could be "double blind," in a sense.  Then is not knowing the vintage on top of that triple blind?

But that's semantics, and beside the point.  Here's a quote attributed to Kermit Lynch:

“Blind Tasting is to wine drinking what strip poker is to love.”

And here's a nice article about the tasting I've previously posted about that Dr. Vino attended--a perspective on blind tasting that, for purposes of getting many to read it, leads with Parker, but covers the topic fairly.

Here's another article, balanced and somwhat obvious. (I  don't love the analogy to music.  Not to be a horrible curmudgeon, but knowing the story behind "Tears in Heaven" makes me wish Clapton hadn't exploited the story and, if he was going to do it, wrote a better song.  Same for Mariah Carey's "Twister." Oh, but that's Mariah, the Gallo of music.  I would have said Two Buck Chuck, but we have to reserve that for the lip synchers.  And, occasionally, Gallo and Mariah put out something that provides some pleasure.)

I want to point out something:  Lynch says that "blind tasting is to wine drinking"... Not rating.  Kermit Lynch is in the business of selling wine (and Kermit Lynch's place in the wine world, IMO), and not in having it objectively compared to wines of similar price, or different price, or anything else.  He sells the story, and that's been a big part of his business.  A little touch of S. France right there on San Pablo Avenue, right next to Acme and Cafe Fanny.  My, we are enlightened in Berkeley.  ;-)

I do enjoy the stories behind wines, which is why I was happy that Talty won Snooth's Winery of the Year.  The story behind the huge corporations that own all the First Growths and other 100 pointers wouldn't be all that great, though, and that's not the selling point--Parker points are, in great measure. 

And he's not doing so great at the blind tasting, apparently, and seems to have made many exceptions to his policy that "When possible all of my tastings are done in peer-group, single-blind conditions (meaning that the same types of wines are tasted against each other and the producers’ names are not known)."  Of course, if you are tasting less than 25 of the top Bords, you don't have to taste them blind, according to the exceptions! And you know that these are the "peers," so you don't accidentally rate the $25 ringer as high as the $1000 first growth... That policy is already too weak, and it's just Swiss cheese full of exceptions.

I don't drink wines blind very often--I think in just deciding whether I like a wine and want to buy more, opening the bottles one at a time over a couple days is perfect.  Also, going to something like VinItaly, where you are drinking a ton of, say, Morellino, no prices, producers you are unfamiliar with, no prices (many are looking for distributors) and rating those, you don't really need to drink them without knowing who produced what. It's also ridiculous to think you could rate them with any precision when you are tasting a small sample from a bottle opened for who knows how long. But it's practically blind as it is, and you can make some comparative ratings--X was good, Y was really good, Z was so-so.  And doing a non-blind tasting of five of your favorite Brunellos or super Tuscans is fine--you know that you like them and, like GdP, you're prepared to say, "That wasn't as good as I remembered," or "Siepi is better than Percarlo, at least right now." You don't move markets that way--totally different purpose.

But you want to decide if your palate favors Cab-based Bords over Cali Cabs?  You ought to do it blind. 

And you want to say your ratings are somehow objective, that there is such a thing as a 100 point Bordeaux, and you should be taken seriously in suggesting that they are all expensive firsts and seconds?  I think that needs to be done blind. 

Interested in other perspectives...

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Reply by EMark, May 19, 2012.


I have enjoyed your postings, lately, but I have to question your blind tasting of a "a cheap California merlot, a Spanish Reserva rioja, and a Bell Wine Cellars Clone 6 cab."  I do not participate in blind tastings very often, but when I do, we are generally tasting similar wines.  What is the purpose in blind tasting such different styles and types of wines?

On the other hand, your conclusions seem valid and I really don't think I have any argument, there. 

My personal experience is that my opinion (if I can use that word instead of "rating") of a wine changes--fairly rapidly.  Not suprising since, although I have been enjoying wine for many years, I am not a professional and, frankly, neither my sense of smell nor my sense of taste are as sharp as most people's.  I don't "taste" wines so much as I drink them.  "Tasting," like GDP and other professionals do is work, and I do not care to sign up for that.  When we join friends for a "blind tasting," what we are really doing is drinking 5-6 wines fro  m 5-6 glasses with a meal.  Invariably, a wine that shines with the first course fades with a subsequent course, and a new player rises to the occassion.  I know that what we are doing is not as serious as some, but it is (1) a lot of fun and (2) very instructive in its own way.

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