Monday, March 10, 2008

Who's conning whom?

There’s a particular type of lawyer who probably views him or herself as a good debater, when in fact, what the lawyer is good at is browbeating, especially when the lawyer hasn’t a good argument to make either for the cause or against the opposition. This is where I would place the comment made by a wine bulletin board moderator when he called blind tasting wine evaluations a “con job.”

To be more precise, he called it the “biggest con job in wine evaluation.” He claims that evaluating wine blind produces “aberrant results,” which of course is the exact reason that blind evaluation is important: it humbles those who think they know and it catapults those who think they don’t. In other words, blind wine evaluation levels the playing field.

Does anyone know a lawyer who likes a level playing field?

There are two types of blind wine analysis. Single blind means that the tasters know one or more of the wine’s classification (grape variety, region, vintage, etc.) but they never get to know the producer until after their analysis; double blind means the tasters are supposed to know nothing about the wine.

The “con job,” in these blind evaluations is that trained tasters should be able to tell a few basic things about the wine, plus its technical faults or attributes. More important, tasters should be free to evaluate the wine on its merits, without the benefit of having information essential to determining something like age-ability, which was the subject of the bulletin board discussion that prompted the con job quote.

I’ve put the link below for you to read the discussion, so I’m not going to go over it here, except to say that when you do set out to read it, be warned that there is a British poster who can’t seem to say anything in ten words when there’s a whole dictionary from which to choose. I have no idea what his point is, since he lost me in his rhetoric.

The specious claim that blind evaluation is an overall con job is joined by the claim that after evaluating a wine on its merits, knowing the producer establishes a more accurate assessment of the wine’s aging potential. I agree. Knowing the producer makes it easy to assess the wine’s aging potential, but what does that have to do with evaluating the wine?

Once you know the producer, must you be a professional to guess how long the wine might live? Talk about promoting a con job!

In my view, a blind evaluation takes the chance that the taster will be wrong; trained tasters have a better shot at being right much of the time but, contrary to what some may think of themselves, because humans are infallible, they won’t always be right, and since taste is affected by all sorts of external things, they won’t be consistent either.

Making claims about a wine when the taster knows all there is to know about it, including the producer, may make the taster seem more accurate and it may even make the taster seem more knowledgeable, but what is its purpose?

The problem with all but one of the posters in that particular discussion is that they don’t seem to understand the role of a wine critic. If there is a con job, it would be in critics claiming that their evaluations focus on the wine--they focus on their subjective opinion of the wine; a little help from knowing the label doesn't hurt!

Then again, why believe me? I could be Svengali disguised as an uninterested blogger evaluating wine critics with objectivity...

Blind or no-blind

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2008. All rights reserved.


  1. jeeze, who ARE these people? and I'm so tired of people using IMHO, because inevitably the people who do that aren't being humble at all.

  2. IMHO, I agree.

    Who are they? They are what I call the sheep-geeks.

  3. I quote: "So many analogies.

    So little relationship to wine.

    However many angels dance on the head of a pin, if anyone is rating highly wines that they don't consider pleasurable at peak, they need a new job; and if the wines are highly rated, by definition they are impressive." His Highness King "Conner"

  4. "...and if the wines are highly rated, by definition they are impressive."

    Lovely. Impressive to whom? The rater is THE arbiter. Yet another reason to abhor critics.