I Guess Tasting Blind "When Possible" Actually Means "Never"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I've always thought of The Wine Advocate (wikipedia entry here) as being the wine publication that you graduate to after you've understood everything that Wine Spectator has to say and you've assumed your rightful place in wine geekdom. If you're not familiar, Wine Advocate is a publication started by Robert Parker (wikipedia entry here) that prides itself on the objectivity of its wine ratings based in part on the fact that it does not accept any advertisements.

Recently, I happened upon a new blog entry from Rob Bralow entitled Tasting 1,400 Bottles of Wine. Rob's piece was describing the logistical complexity in setting up a wine tasting for Josh Raynolds from International Wine Cellar, but what stood out to me was how Rob mentioned that Jay Miller from The Wine Advocate:

"likes to taste each individual wine for a single winery before moving on to the next winery. Josh likes to taste by varietal order and then by price"

When I first read this, I was caught off guard (as you can read in the comments section of the entry) because it seemed to me that arranging a blind tasting by price could bias the professional taster's opinion of the wines he was tasting. However, after reading the piece more closely it occurred to me that perhaps the tasting wasn't even conducted blind. I asked Rob to clarify this point and he did. He said that in his expeirence working with him- Jay Miller from The Wine Advocate doesn't taste blind.

I thought this was astounding considering that The Wine Advocate describes their tasting policy as follows:

"When possible all of my tastings are done in peer-group, single-blind conditions". Single-blind means that the taster knows the varietal and appelation (as opposed to double-blind where they don't know anything about the wine at all).

Rob's piece was sure to expose a dark secret, I thought, but after a few Google searches on the subject, I found this entry (from 2007) from wine blogger Dr. Vino. In that entry, Dr. Vino has similar observations as Rob- in short that Jay Miller does not taste blind. This information has been out there for years, and nobody seems to care that The Wine Advocate claims to taste blind yet in practice they do not.

For now, I don't want to talk about the merits of blind tasting. I don't want to talk about about whether publications take money from advertisers. I don't want to talk about the power of suggestion. I don't want to talk about the nuance of the term "when possible". I don't want to talk about palate fatigue, and I don't want to talk about whether mass tastings are useful in determining whether we (as consumers) would like to cozy up with a certain bottle over dinner. I only want to talk about one thing here:

The Wine Advocate says they taste blind and evidently they do not.

That seems misleading to me. In fact, it seems fraudulent. If a publication says they do something a certain way and they don't adhere to that I feel misled. And as a consumer I don't like being mislead. And if I feel misled the odds of me doing business with the publication, especially one that prides itself on objectivity, are very low.

Question of the Day: What do you think of this?


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