June 15, 2012

AND NONE OF IT TASTES AS GOOD AS A GLASS OF MILK:

DOES ALL WINE TASTE THE SAME? (Jonah Lehrer, 6/14/12, The New Yorker)


What can we learn from these tests? First, that tasting wine is really hard, even for experts. Because the sensory differences between different bottles of rotten grape juice are so slight--and the differences get even more muddled after a few sips--there is often wide disagreement about which wines are best. For instance, both the winning red and white wines in the Princeton tasting were ranked by at least one of the judges as the worst.

The perceptual ambiguity of wine helps explain why contextual influences--say, the look of a label, or the price tag on the bottle--can profoundly influence expert judgment. This was nicely demonstrated in a mischievous 2001 experiment led by Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux. In the first test, Brochet invited fifty-seven wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn't stop the experts from describing the "red" wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its "jamminess," while another enjoyed its "crushed red fruit."

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle bore the label of a fancy grand cru, the other of an ordinary vin de table. Although they were being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the bottles nearly opposite descriptions. The grand cru was summarized as being "agreeable," "woody," "complex," "balanced," and "rounded," while the most popular adjectives for the vin de table included "weak," "short," "light," "flat," and "faulty."

The results are even more distressing for non-experts. In recent decades, the wine world has become an increasingly quantitative place, as dependent on scores and statistics as Billy Beane. But these ratings suggest a false sense of precision, as if it were possible to reliably identify the difference between an eighty-nine-point Merlot from Jersey and a ninety-one-point blend from Bordeaux--or even a greater spread. And so we linger amid the wine racks, paralyzed by the alcoholic arithmetic. How much are we willing to pay for a few extra points?

These calculations are almost certainly a waste of time.


You can spend a lot of money on being pretentious.

Posted by at June 15, 2012 5:27 AM
  

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