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.

2 Responses to “Who’s conning whom?”

  1. winophite says:

    I know this is kind of a delayed comment but it’s been a busy week! As a novice, not professional, my thoughts on tastings are two fold. On one hand the pros, and the other, the casual drinker.
    In the beginning,(where I’m at and will be for a long time still) a single blind is best. Knowing the grape so as to learn and associate the specific tastes attributed to the varietal. Then later, a double blind, done for fun, to see if I’m actually getting a grip on identifying the grape.
    Those folks who do this professionally probably need to know the info on the label since they are making recomendations to us novices on what they “subjectively” call good or great and what one can expect. If however several professionals want some fun or to try to one-up each other they should do doubles, with an odd ball or two thrown in to see who gets stumped!
    I know wine is BIG business, but if ypou ask me the real purpose is for pleasure of the imbiber. WP

  2. Thomas says:

    The operative word is “subjective.”

    I don’t have as much confidence in critics as you do. In fact, it matters nothing to me what someone else thinks of a wine. On the other hand, it matters greatly to me whether or not a wine is faulty.

    Knowing the label, or knowing almost anything about a wine, before you judge it is bound to allow faulty wines slip through the cracks, because knowing anything about the wine removes the possibility for objectivity, which psychologically sets us up to let things get by.

    More precisely, by knowing the label and the producer’s track record, what makes the critic’s promise of the wine’s aging potential any less a con job than a blind taster making the same claim? Seems the blind taster takes a risk while the critic goes on past and present information.

    The whole problem with these discussions is in that operative word, “subjectively.” There’s a school of thinking that holds wine ratings are scientific and objective. I don’t attend classes in that school… 😉