Biased notions

Something can be said for the fun of that parlor game when you single out the wine know-it-all and get that person to taste a wine—blind—to try to guess what it is.

It’s fun to serve a wine that is close to a certain other wine that you know this person will have tasted before and so is likely to be fooled this time around.

It’s even more fun when you throw in a $5 cheapie and this knowledgeable fool proclaims it Pavie or Cheval Blanc or some other high achiever.

The above may be fun, but it has nothing to do with blind tasting wine, and I was particularly amused (and somewhat surprised) to discover that there are people out there who consume a lot of wine and spend a lot of money every year on it, but they don’t know the value of a truly blind evaluation and comparison.

Recently, I got into a discussion about the attributes of Finger Lakes Riesling. It was the same old discussion of how Finger Lakes Rieslings don’t hold up against German or Alsatian counterparts, a belief that I am convinced is of questionable merit.

The reason I think that consumers who make the claim that Finger Lakes Rieslings, though good, are not world class, is because I have numerous times sat in on blind evaluation comparisons. Finger Lakes Rieslings easily held their own.

The kind of evaluation I’m talking about is when the tasters know only that the wines are Riesling and that each flight of wines is within a certain stylistic parameter and vintage. We know nothing about their location, winemaker, producer, and price. That’s a blind tasting.

A double blind evaluation means that the taster knows nothing about the wines, not even the grape variety. That method is best used for training purposes, to hone one’s sensory abilities.

The task in a blind tasting is to evaluate each wine on its merits, to see if it lives up to varietal character and to stylistic parameters.

A blind tasting is not when a bunch of geeks bring bottles of their favorite wines and then someone puts them into a brown bag and the tasters don’t know which wine is in which bag. Just knowing that your wine is in the bunch will either expose or shatter your bias. It’s human nature to look in every glass of wine served for the wine you brought. It will confuse the hell out of you. You may find the wine, or you may think you have found it. (Not to mention that bottle shapes can give a lot of information.)

A blind tasting is not when the people selecting the order, opening, and pouring the wine also serve it to the tasters. To remove all bias, even the servers shouldn’t know what they are pouring. That way, they can’t give something away with unconscious body language.

In a well run blind tasting, the wines are poured in a back room or kitchen. The glasses are numbered to correspond with numbers that have been assigned to the tasting sheets. The pourers give the glasses to the servers and they take them to the tasting panels to serve.

Tasters are free to taste in whatever order they want, but they must be sure to correspond the correct glass numbers with the tasting sheet numbers.

The evaluation can be done with scores, verbals, or both. But everyone should conform to a pre-established set of scoring rules.

I and two other fellows proposed to the unbelieving that if they claim that Finger Lakes Rieslings do not belong in world class status with their beloved European products, then they should be willing to compare the wines in a completely blind tasting setting.

One geek said I was a chicken, apparently meaning that I was using the blind tasting as a way to back out of proving my point, which is that Finger Lakes Rieslings are likely to surprise those geeks.

His childish chiding, however, illuminates to me that he hasn’t a clue what the purpose of a blind evaluation is. More important, he seems to think that he has super-human talent, that he can remove all bias by simply willing himself to do so. I’m worldly enough to smell the bullshit in that concept.

I’ve seen too many so-called unbiased wine tastings in my day. The main purpose is to prove an already expressed opinion and to have fun while doing it. That’s a parlor game.

The truly blind tasting method is closer to science, and we all know that science is supposed to search for answers—not validate preconceived notions. Well, maybe all but the biased wine geeks know that.

I’m unsure if the blind evaluation will take place, but I know that I am willing to take the risk. I believe that tasters would find many Finger Lakes Rieslings to be world class wines, especially since they won’t know that they are tasting Finger Lakes Rieslings.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2008. All rights reserved.

4 Responses to “Biased notions”

  1. Ed Draves says:

    I think you did a great job of educating them on true blind tasting and the merits of true blind tasting. Unfortunatly the egos of some “wine lovers” can be a challenge to overcome.

  2. Thomas says:


    You should have seen the email I received from one of those fellows who hasn’t a clue. Based on his invective, and his ego, he is on my list to ignore from now on.

  3. right on, Thomas. A true blind tasting should be educational, revelatory and humbling.

  4. Thomas says:

    “educational, revelatory and humbling.”


    I’m trying to think of a critic or a geek who can accept that truism without qualification 😉