Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wine Trials 2011: A review

The theme, ‘Brown Bag Blind Tastings show that tasters prefer low-priced over high-priced wines’ continues in the 2011 edition of Wine Trials… as it likely will in 2012. I find ‘Trials’ in the title to have interesting implications: a judicial system arguing the guilt or innocence of an accused in doing harm to a plaintiff or complainant. 

In this case are you, the wine consumer, the plaintiff? and is the accused the collective critics, commercial corporations and wine columnists presenting their view and influence? Or, alternatively, are the participants in the Trial the higher priced wines and the over 500 low priced wines included in this year’s tasting runoffs? In either case readers reap the results: an exposé of the weaknesses of professional wine industry (Part I) and 175 Wines (Part II), the Winners, Finalists and Bargains from the tastings.

The mantra carries through the first eight chapters and is one that is supported by hundreds of tasting sessions as well as many investigative journals and experiments conducted by third parties. Selections from the over 500 along with higher priced wines are tasted by general and specific demographics in sessions held in many States across the US. These sessions support and reinforce the verdict initially set forth in the 2010 edition. Yes, the collective does not represent the taste of the consuming public: “the more we learn to trust our palates…. The better off we’ll be as drinkers” - and less exposed to recommendations of wines at inflated prices.

Experienced Tasters generally rate higher priced wines higher than less experienced consumers. This begs the question ’Why?’  ‘Taste’ has been found to be a sense far beyond that originally thought. Give this edition a read and see if you’re not convinced. Many factors come into play whether it’s you sitting and sipping or the wine judge in a hall with 5 to 500 compatriots. According to Wine Trials, peripheral elements such as colour, the label, knowing the vintage, vintner, region or vineyard and price have not so subtle influences when wines are judged. The extent to which these elements have an effect is greater if the one doing the evaluation is a professional.

Sometimes preferences coincide. Sometimes tasting results find the same components and express them in similar terms. It’s when they differ that’s under scrutiny. A critic has tuned his/her senses to those elements in a wine, those not hidden by bagged bottles, and is able to segregate and categorize tiers of wines very quickly, and attribute some positives/negatives subconsciously. Whether numbers are assigned or verbal descriptions are tabled the trained palate backed by studies of wine history, lineage and geographies is a convincing judge. A simple example: you and I taste a wine and say it smells and tastes like ’barnyard’. But ‘barnyard’ to the trained palate can be quite acceptable.  If, for instance, the Blind Tasting is announced as covering wines of Languedoc and the region around Carcassonne a novice would infer nothing. On the other hand, a critic will know the wine styles and terroir of the area and could judge accordingly.

Introduced in this edition of Wine Trials is a new investigative procedure. fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies of brain activity show that there are many other influences, not suspected previously, that contribute to forming judgments. This work is ongoing.

To illustrate let me pose examples taken from the music industry: Tina Turner is distinguishable from Toni Braxton as is Justin Beiber from Bruce Springsteen . Each has their fan clubs and each fan has a library of

MP3s, Concert ticket stubs and videos giving a thumbs up for their idol. Stripping away the bio, the concert colour and enthusiasm is not likely to sway the fan’s listening preference. The fan has ‘history‘. However a newbie will hesitate, he will listen, he will form an appreciation, a like or dislike. Given a sampling of each entertainer he will, if independent, develop a set of criteria then form his own likes/dislikes.

Equating this to wines… price, label style or virtual/live interviews and travels through wine country form positions and pattern brain receptors. The wine critic has ‘history‘. (Note that I DID NOT SAY 'baggage'). 
Be a newbie: hesitate, listen, form your own appreciation, a like or dislike. Then given a tasting, be independent, develop a set of criteria and judge for yourself. For straight talk listen to your own palate. 

Hope this has value in some way.
Cheers, Ww

PS. Of the 175 wines there is 1 of 7 Best of the Wine Trials Winners and 6 of 17 Best of the Wine Trials Finalists on LCBO shelves. On average the bottle price is $2 above the US price.

PPS.  Click here for last November's brief review of Wine Trials 2010 .

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