Joe Pinsker in the Atlantic shows he not only knows nothing about wine; he is also logically challenged.
Pinsker argues that because most people, even experts, cannot reliably tell which region a wine comes from without looking at the label there is no real difference between cheap wine and expensive wine.
First, some facts about wine. Most wines, the vast majority, do not have flavor characteristics that clearly show the region in which the grapes were grown. Although soil, climate, and other geographical factors do influence the flavor of wine, the distinct flavor signature of a particular region can be overwhelmed by what happens in the winery. Most wines are in fact blends from different regions or sub-regions and many different vineyards this wiping out any distinct characteristics imparted by a particular plot of land. Only with small-production wines in which the winemaker has taken great care to preserve the distinct flavors of a relatively small geographical area will it be possible to identify the region via blind tasting. There are such wines and they are expensive. What you pay for is distinctiveness. You won’t find them in a supermarket.
But this has nothing to do with wine quality. Some blended wines using grapes from diverse locations can be very good wines. Some wines from small vineyards may not be so good.
The logical mistake is that the fact that wine experts are not very good at determining region from a blind tasting has nothing to do with whether they can determine quality differences—these are distinct judgments that focus on different aspects of the wine. Difficulties in blind tasting tell us little about the validity of assessments of quality.
What Pinsker seems to be concerned with is the price the consumer pays for wines that come from regions with a reputation—such as Napa. No doubt there is such a “reputation premium” and some wines from Napa are over-priced. But again this tells us nothing about whether there are real quality differentials between wines. You can make good wines from Napa grapes and bad wines as well. Just as you can make good wines using Jersey grapes and bad wines as well.
The real story here is that wine grapes are resilient, can grow well in many different regions, and so, increasingly, we will see quality wines made in many parts of the world, including New Jersey, that in the past were not known as wine regions.
But again that tells us nothing about whether wine quality is real and worth paying for or not.
What never ceases to amaze me is why reporters are so confused by this issue of wine expertise.