Implications For All Involved
A variety of academic studies seem to have determined quite convincingly that the non-wine expert and even the non-wine interested don’t like the same kind of wines that the "experts" and those who have had wine training tend to like.
The corollary to this is that the ratings of wine experts and wine critics seem may have little value for those who are not trained in wine.
The most recent confirmation of this comes from a Working Paper published at the website of the American Association of Wine Economists entitled, "Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better. Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings."
The basic findings of this working paper are that the average person prefers less expensive wines, while the experienced wine drinker (called an "expert" in the paper) tend to prefer wines that are more expensive. The study included blind tastings by more than 6000 individuals.
At the end of the working paper, the following questions are posed: "is the difference between the ratings of experts and non-experts due to an acquired taste? Or is it due to an innate ability, which is correlated with self selection into wine training?"
Both excellent questions.
I think the implications of this and similar studies with similar findings is immense, yet I’m not sure I’ve even come close to wrapping my mind around their meaning. Last week I played with the notion that there can be no such thing as objective quality in wine and that any criteria for quality set down by experts or non experts alike is merely an assertion of preference and not anything that can be called objective, if not mere tradition that is capable of, and has, changed over time.
But there is something else to be considered here. Is it possible that a large percentage of those that eventually find themselves to be either experts on wine of taken by wine in general are also much more likely to be a part of that 25% of the population that are called "supertasters"? This has to be considered. Recently Dan Berger, in an article at Appellation America, took a much closer look at the "genetics" behind wine preference. I sense that what Dan might be on to and what the researchers behind this newest study are confirming, might just need to meet up in the middle.
Something else to consider given these findings is the real world role of the wine critic. Given these studies, is it over the top to suggest that articles in daily newspapers and general readership magazines that review wines would be better off not reviewing wines at all, but rather providing more general interest or business-related wine stories?
Finally, this. Among those of us who are interested in wine, we rarely, very rarely, drink a wine knowing little about its provenance, including the producer, the appellation and the price. And whether we say so or not, I believe we place a strong correlation on price and quality. This leads me to conclude that if we see very similar styles of wines being produced at the higher price categories, we may be in danger of cementing in place that style of wine as the style that is equated with "quality". The implications of this possibility are important to consider.