Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Felix Salmon on Wine

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Felix Salmon has a bunch of great posts on the ups and downs of blind wine tasting on his Reuters blog. A few excerpts below, emphasis mine throughout.

From "The Negative Correlation Between Wine Price and Quality," 2008.14.26:

Eric Asimov thinks that wine is like film or literature: the good might not be popular, and the popular might not be good. Which may or may not be true – but no one tries to charge higher prices for better films or better books. He does however make another good point: that the real finds in the wine world aren’t the expensive famous wines or even the cheap famous wines but rather the tiny artisanal wines which have a personality and uniqueness which defies pricing. If you find a wine you really love, then it’s likely to be worth spending money on. But if you find a wine which everybody loves (Dom Perignon is the example in the book), then it’s almost certainly overpriced.

From "Tasting Wine Blind," 2009.09.12:

In any case, the various different factors which go into the enjoyment of a wine are so multitudinous that when you try to eradicate them all in order to allow different wines to compete on a level playing field, you at the same time eradicate much of what makes a wine so enjoyable in the first place. You might love your spouse’s [insert body part here], but it would be pointless and invidious for someone to test that love by presenting you with a series of carefully anonymized body parts and asking you which one you liked the most.


What is blind tasting good for? Well, for one thing it’s very good at showing how important knowledge of price, as opposed to price itself, is as a contributing factor to a wine’s perceived quality. If you know that a wine you’re drinking is expensive, you’ll probably like it much more. If you’re deceived into thinking that a wine is expensive (if someone poured Yellowtail into a Lafite bottle, say) you’ll like that much more, too. And if someone poured Lafite into a colorful screw-top bottle, you’d like it less.
When I say, then, that in wine there’s no correlation between price and quality, what I mean is that there’s no correlation between price and quality except for in the 99% of cases where in fact the correlation is very strong — the cases when you know, more or less, how expensive the wine you’re drinking is.
I’m trying to train myself out of that ingrained mindset, by drinking quite a lot of cheap wine and buying large quantities of the good stuff. And there really is a lot of good cheap wine out there. But I know that I do still have the same prejudices as everybody else, no matter how much I write about negative price-quality correlations. If I open a cheap bottle and I don’t think much of it at first, I’ll assume it’s not very good. On the other hand, if I open an expensive bottle and I don’t think much of it at first, I’ll let it breathe, I’ll revisit it later, I’ll try to see if I can discern some subtlety and sophistication which might not have been immediately apparent. And if I look hard enough, I’ll probably find it.

Also of note: In 2010, Salmon wrote a great post on how he structures his at-home wine tasting events. I've been wanting to host something similar for a while, and will definitely be taking his format notes into consideration.