The Fraud of Wine Tasting

This may sound like an odd thing for a foodie to admit, but wine tasting is pretty much a scam. Study after study has shown that in blind tastings, even a sommelier with the most discriminating tastes has a difficult time telling a $5 bottle of wine from a $500 bottle of wine. And now there’s this:

Each panel of four judges would be presented with their usual “flight” of samples to sniff, sip and slurp. But some wines would be presented to the panel three times, poured from the same bottle each time. The results would be compiled and analysed to see whether wine testing really is scientific.

The first experiment took place in 2005. The last was in Sacramento earlier this month. Hodgson’s findings have stunned the wine industry. Over the years he has shown again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine.

“The results are disturbing,” says Hodgson from the Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County, described by its owner as a rural paradise. “Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.

“Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win.”

These judges are not amateurs either. They read like a who’s who of the American wine industry from winemakers, sommeliers, critics and buyers to wine consultants and academics.

This should come as no surprise. Robin Goldstein’s book The Wine Trials: 100 Everyday Wines Under 5 that Beat $50 to 50 Wines in Brown-Bag Blind Tastings presented a mountain of evidence of this problem years ago. If the tasters know the identity of the wine, they will rate wines that are viewed as more exclusive or are more expensive much higher than they will cheaper, less exclusive ones. If you make the testing blind, the results will be entirely different. The obvious message: Drink what you like and forget about the vintage.

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