Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wine Judgments . . . Who Cares?

Since two movies are being released about the famous Judgment of Paris (Bottle Shock, and another based on George Taber's Book) there's a resurgence of interest in the impact this event had as well as heated discussions about the incursions of the mainstream media and Hollywood into the serious, academic and purportedly independent world of wine. When Sideways came out same thing happened: much hullabaloo and prices for most Pinot Noirs went up.

The scientific validity of that competition in Paris is generally considered statistically irrelevant. Like most blind tastings and competitions there's too many factors involved to render any sort of accurate conclusions. The wiki article on the whole event sums this up nicely. But of course the public perception and the imagery of the tasting did matter. California wines were on par (some said better) with their French counterparts. This ushered in a whole new perspective among casual wine drinkers around the world and while the effects were probably as much negative as positive it was, and is of lasting importance.

For me, Bordeaux is as much a British wine as it is French (and these days it's a truly international affair) so I don't think that line-up even mattered in principle. The Chardonnay war was a little more interesting, but I think the effects of the '76 tasting on Chardonnay around the world was largely an unfortunate one. The question of American vs. European wine is of course interesting to me. I've already pontificated too much on it though, but you can check out an interesting little discussion I was involved in at the Wine Camp recently.

As far as the movies go I think they should be judged as movies, not wine history pieces. And all those that devote long posts and discussions to all the inaccuracies and wine fallacies in these movies should proudly take their place beside the Tolkien fans that did the same when those movies came out. That being said I'm a bit skeptical about a film that portrays a British man (Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier) as being uncomfortable and tepid around fried food. And after aging for a few years I still give Sideways a solid 89pts.


Mike Drapkin said...

I agree the upcoming movie about The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 should not be dissected by wine geeks. But, It will certainly inspire discussion about the importance or irrelevance of blind tasting and evaluating wine out of its proper context. Do you know when the movie is scheduled for release?

Beau Rapier said...

Bottle Shock is already out, I think. The other movie is still in production and possibly stalled by lawsuits from the former. Neither is paying me for promo work, so I'll probably leave it there.

Unfortunately I think the first movie romanticizes everything including blind tastings. And as far as the resulting discussions in cyberspace or print or maybe even in real life I think the lines are already drawn. But who knows? Maybe we'll convince a couple folks of the apostasy of blind tastings, competitions and scores. Cheers Mike.

saltpepperlime said...

I think blind tastings are important. They put things into perspective. Not necesarily commercially, but about what your are really tasting. Its not about guessing the wine or the vintage, its about having reasons for your choices. I taste blind as much as I can because I feel like it teaches me a lot.

Beau Rapier said...

I'm not really opposed to tasting blind for the sake of education. It sounds like you're talking about double blind tasting--where you don't know anything about the wine you're tasting. This can be helpful in training your nose and palate to isolate different components and label them correctly. Although this is a valuable tool to have I think it often leads to a sense of competition, i.e. who is a "better" taster. That shouldn't matter. And blind tasting is pretty impractical at home.

But my real problem is with blind tastings that line up a bunch of wines and then evaluate and sometimes compare them in the space of a few hours, or less. This seems antithetical to the pleasure of wine. Context is very important and knowing the history of what you are drinking makes it even more enjoyable, at least for me. The purpose of blind tastings (and this is single blind, they usually know which wines are in the line-up just not the exact one they're tasting) does not seem to be educational. Those involved already believe they have the education and can now deliver judgment. Arrogance aside, this sort of exercise has been shown to favor certain types of wines and to be anything but objective. It's whole purpose is commercial. Sell wines, sell your book, sell yourself. It sucks.

saltpepperlime said...

Thanks for your reply. Sounds like we agree.
I'm with you on knowing about the wine you are drinking, history, vintage etc adds to the pleasure of the experience.
And you are absolutely right about blind tasting at home, but my significant other and I take turns blinding eachother on certain wines we pick up on the way home and sometimes in restaurants. I find that it keeps my objective even when I am not tasting blind.

Beau Rapier said...

Sounds like you guys have fun w/ it. That's awesome. Your blog is beautiful btw, I'm jealous.

Saltpepperlime said...

We do :)
Thanks about the blog.

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