Thursday, June 12, 2014

When Wine Experts Aren’t Always Right

I’m sitting at my table with a dear old friend. We’ve traveled around Italy, France, California. You name it, we’ve been there. If you live long enough, it can happen.

Tonight, though, we’re at home. Or rather, I am. He’s still 250 miles from his bed and his pillow and he has a 10PM appointment with a bunch of young sommeliers to talk about and taste Bordeaux wines. Yes, we’re lifers.

So, I talk to him about something that we witnessed last week in California. Long story short- we were judges at the state fair in California and to warm up our palates, our hosts sent us ( all 73 of us) a glass of something and asked us to identify it. No clue as to where it came from. Nothing.



When I tasted the wine, my first impression was that it was a Pinot Grigio. It was crisp, light, and delicate, with a slight hint of citrus. About 20 or so of the folks in the room guessed it to be a Pinot Gris/ Grigio.

When the wine was revealed to be the Duchman Vermentino from the high plains of Texas, there was a collective gasp in the room. Not from shock as much as surprise that the wine really didn’t identify as a Vermentino. To make matters worse, I enjoy the wine often, as it is on tap in many places I frequent and it’s simple, and easy and pleasing without being dumb.


A long time judge, and a very smart guy (maybe the smartest guy in the room) afterwards contended that someone had mistaken the scions (grape stalks) for Vermentino and in fact they were really Pinot Grigio (or was it Pinot Gris?). Knowing the growers, I sent them an email.

The response:
“Wow, what a contention! The vines are very clearly Vermentino and I trust the winemaker to keep things straight after they leave Bingham Family Vineyards & Farm. More over the wine is as non-pinot like as one might get with distinct herbal themes. The vines were cleared by the Perrins of Tablas Creek so the European end of the deal is as firm as one could hope for, so, what was he thinking?”

Indeed. What was he thinking?  (you can see what he was thinking - HERE)


I say this, not to second guess the esteemed judge (and a real expert). It’s just that even with the highest sense of self-confidence; sometimes any of us can be truly mistaken. Or, as our millennial counterparts would say, “full of shit.”

When one tastes blind, that is what one does. There is no guarantee what one guesses will be right. Ask any master sommelier candidate. It is grueling. It is humbling. It is excruciating. But in the final analysis, the facts are what counts. Not the bravado. Bravado don’t mean jack.


My friend at the table tonight, we were sipping on 2013 rosé wines from the south of France. To be exact, the Domaine Tempier and the Miraval. I asked him what he thought of the two and if he could compare them. He sipped the Tempier, full of spice. An important wine, if a rosé can be important (and yes, they can, especially something like the Tempier). And then he sipped the Miraval. The wines are different. But the Miraval wasn’t a lesser wine. It was just different. Both went exceedingly well with what we were eating. But I could also envision just drinking these wines for the sheer pleasure.

We both came upon similar conclusions about the wine. We exchanged discourse. Was I right? Was he? Does it really matter? What we both came upon, independently (and through a little friendly discussion) was that both wines were great expressions of rosé wine from the 2013 vintage to drink in the summer of 2014. We didn’t even talk about the grapes. Didn’t even come up. Hey, either we’re a couple of Neanderthal hedonists and it doesn’t matter or the wines transcended rational and empirical thinking.


Why am I going into this rabbit hole (here’s where I pull out)? Our self-confident colleague was ready to defend (to the death?) his assertion that a Vermentino from the High Plains of Texas was indeed mistaken and was in fact a Pinot Grigio due to a mistake in the provenance of the scions. But the farmer who sourced the grape stalks and the farmer who planted them said otherwise. The experts be damned. The farmers did the dirty work.No guessing.

My point in all of this is for all of us to take a moment and not let ourselves (including the experts) be lulled into thinking that what they think is right. Especially when someone who knows better, knows better. None of us is truly an infallible expert. Not even our friend in California. So when you taste a wine, let your inner voice be your guide. Do you like it? Is it right for you? Is it right for the moment? How does this fit into your life, in the next 15 minutes? In the next two weeks? Don’t worry about what the experts think. They aren’t that much more accurate (or better) than you. And they don’t have to finish that bottle of wine that is sitting in front of you on the table. That’s for you to figure out. And you, as well as all of us, are very well equipped to deal with that. No matter what the experts say.




written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since when is "full of shit" a millennial phrase? This kid born on the dying embers of the baby boom and dawning of Generation X has been using it since before they were born.

First they appropriate the facial hair of the real millennials (as in 1900), and now they want to appropriate our childhood 1970's casual use of profanity? Let them stick to the ironic wearing of Member's Only Jackets.

KathyD said...

Great post! We all love to be correct in blind tasting, to pontificate on the aspects of the perceived varietal - but, being a gracious 'loser' can be difficult at times... Just ask California Chrome's owner.

Devon said...

Great blind tasting story. I'll use that next time I miss a wine. "The vineyard manager and winemaker must be mistaken..." funny stuff. Let's connect soon for more wine shenanigans. Cheers!

Do Bianchi said...

there's so much ego wrapped up in wine tasting, blind or otherwise. Sadly, too many wine professionals indulge the type of oneupmanship that you describe. We've all seen the best among us unwittingly pour a corked wine to a colleague (happened to me and Tracie P the other night). Instant karma's gonna get you...

Biagio Dovere said...

Just recently I had a similar experience with a customer of mine which had some cases returned by his own customer because the white wine for him was a Sauvignon, which we do not produce.

The few cases where part of a much bigger order, and there is no possibility that mix can occur at bottling in any case. The rest of the people getting the same wine did not complain and found the wine be the same as always.

Being aware of the ego intervention when someone tastes and that tasting is a very subjective matter, I just refunded my customer asking him to not discuss with his customer and to accept the returned cases forwarding my apologize.
Making a verbal comment on a tasting is like to confess your belief. To change your mind you need more than an explanation.

Real Time Analytics