Sommeliers and wine experts are known for their impeccable skills when it comes to tasting and recognising different types of wine. From one sip they may be able to tell you where the wine is from, the grapes that have been used to create it, and an assortment of the complex aromas and flavours present within it. It may be surprising to hear, therefore, that there have been a number of occasions in which expert tasters have got it very wrong, with a number of studies set up to prove that maybe they don’t always know their wine! The results of these findings raise questions about ‘experts’ ability to accurately describe, rank and award wines.
Study 1: The California State Fair
The longest-running wine competition in North America is held each year at the California State Fair. Over the years, some inconsistent results have cropped up, with bottles winning gold medals in one contest to being completely slated in another. Curious about the wine judging process, small winery owner Robert Hodgson decided to run an experiment over a number of years.
Starting in 2005, with the backing of the state fair, the experiment saw the expert judging panel, a collection of sommeliers, critics, winemakers, academics and buyers, sampling wine in their usual manner. The only difference was that some of the wines presented to them were the same wine, in the same bottle, poured out for them three times! The results from the experiment show that over four years, the vast majority of the judges’ scores varied by an average of 4 points, with only 10% of judges providing a consistent score for the same wine. A wine judged as 90 one minute, would be rated 86 minutes later by the same judge, before being given the high score of 94 on the third serving.
Study 2: The Colour of Odours
A 2001 study by wine academics at the University of Bordeaux also uncovered some alarming findings about wine experts’ abilities to accurately describe wine. A panel of 54 wine tasters were gathered for this experiment, which saw white wine presented and smelled before red dye was added and re-presented to the panel. The wine’s red colour was enough to mislead the judges into describing the odour of the wine as red, even though it was actually a white wine!
Study 3: Label Change
Another 2001 study saw experts presented with one type of wine, except the label was changed on each bottle. The labels clearly signified that one ‘bottle’ was far pricier than the other. When describing each bottle, each of which contained the same wine, the words used to describe it changed depending on whether the label identified it as a cheap wine or an expensive wine. The supposedly up-market bottles were called ‘complex’ and ‘balanced’, whereas the same wine in a bottle with a cheaper label was described as ‘flat’ and ‘weak’.
Study 4: France vs New Jersey
Nine expert wine judges from around the world were presented with Bordeaux wine and wine from New Jersey in a blind taste test in 2012. The most expensive French wine was $650, whereas the average price for the New Jersey wines was only $32.
While the French wine ultimately took home the prize, an evaluation of the results revealed that, statistically, there was no perceivable difference between the wines, with the Bordeaux and New Jersey wines neck-and-neck in most categories. Three out of the four top white wines were from New Jersey, while the best red from NJ was ranked in third, which is impressive considering they cost only 5% of what the Bordeaux did.
When hearing these results the judges were surprised, and one French taster even requested to have her scorecard back, as she was unhappy with the fact that she had scored an American wine in first and second place!
With a cheaper American wine being described as ‘indistinguishable’ from what is considered to be the best of the best when it comes to wine, it goes to show that maybe some experts are a little biased when it comes to a wine’s origins!
From undetected fakes to inconsistent taste testing, there have been many other occasions where experts have got their wines wrong. While sommeliers and experts should be trusted to get you a great tasting glass of wine, such studies as these have certainly raised some questions amongst top wine producers, buyers and awards as to the extent to which these experts opinions can be believed!
If you’ve recently tasted some wine that you love (regardless of the expert opinion!) and would like to buy a few bottles of it, make sure your home or business is kitted out with the perfect wine storage solution to keep them in their best condition. From bespoke wine cellar design to smaller wine racks for your kitchen, Tanglewood Wines has something suitable for every wine lover.