Why Don’t We Hear about Blind Tasting Success?

blind tasting scoresWhenever wine tasters fall flat on their face the press celebrates by publicizing the fact far and wide claiming it offers proof that wine tasting is nonsense. So why didn’t we hear more about this rigorous empirical study that clearly shows trained wine tasters can successfully identify varietal and region of origin?

Two teams of seven tasters each (including one reserve per side) were presented with 12 wines, six whites and six reds….The group’s overall accuracy was far superior to what could be expected from random chance. Given the thousands of potential country-variety pairs, a monkey throwing darts would have virtually no hope of getting a single one right. But 47% of the Oxbridge tasters′ guesses on grape variety were correct, as were 37% on country of origin.

The competitors′ performances on each individual glass rarely matched these headline averages. Some wines were well-nigh unmistakable: all 14 drinkers identified the Pinot Noir, 12 called the Chardonnay and Gamay right and 11 identified the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Similarly, 13 participants recognised that the Gamay was from France (it is scarcely grown anywhere else), and nine said that the Semillon was Australian (though only four also determined that it was a Semillon)

At the other extreme, no one knew what the Friulano was made from—an unsurprising result, since the grape is little-known internationally. Only one drinker nailed the Rioja (made from Tempranillo) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (a Grenache-based blend), wines from prominent regions that should have been relatively easy to spot.

Similarly, the averages obscured wide differences in performance among individual drinkers….

The failure to identify Tempranillo is surprising but otherwise the results are what you would expect. Blind tasting is challenging but nevertheless employs real expertise.

This study was published earlier this year but it received very little coverage or discussion. I guess successful blind tasting doesn’t flatter the audience that they know more than the experts.

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