I’ve previously published essays on my ambivalent relationship with wine, such as “Holding down wine costs,” “Wine snobbery,” “Wine, whining and me: liked or worshipped, war stories and facts” and “Ordering the cheapest wine on the menu” that have as a common theme my skepticism that most people, including the experts, know what they’re talking about. (You can Google or Search for them by title if so desired).
Now, wouldn’tcha know, that most conservative of all American newspapers, at least on its Editorial and Op-Ed pages, the Wall Street Journal, comes out with an article entitled “A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion: They pour, sip and, with passion and snobbery, glorify or doom wines. But studies say the wine-rating system is badly flawed. How the experts fare against a coin toss” and talk about reinforcing my stereotypes, its author, Leonard Mlodinow, does a fine job.
The title and subtitle give away the plot, denouement and ending and the fact that the author is a Professor of “Randomness” at Caltech tells you its spin as well. I love his finding out that some Languedoc in 1973 was marked “Salable as Beaujolais to Americans.” This being the time of Beaujolais Nouveau, I should give a brief nod to the wine we love to hate, saving longer diatribes for another day.
Because I want to move back to Professor Mlodinow’s article. He notes that another wine-obsessed Prof, from Humboldt, one Robert Hodgson, and others have found that:
- despite tasters’ claims of spotting 6 or 8 scents or flavors, homo sapiens cannot “identify more than three or four”
- raters give widely different descriptors to the same wine,
- experts agree on characteristics (tannins, sweetness, fruitiness) 25% of the time,
- color additives change raters’ opinions of what they’re drinking,
- the same expert drinking samples from the same bottle judged each sip differently,
- medals are “spread around at random,”
- flips of the coin are just as accurate, and
- while most wine experts dispute these findings as “hogwash,” vintners, editors and even Robert Parker, are not surprised.
So, back to the Salon des Vignerons Independents at the Porte de Versailles last weekend. I intended to go and as I always do, visit my favorite vintners Catherine and Pierre Breton as well as Rolet Pere et Fils, then drift around, regretting that I didn’t eat the great looking paella or cassoulet.
Years ago, J. Russell Lynes, a word-ly writer and editor at Harpers (and coiner of the highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow definitions) also teased out snobbism to its ultimate antipode – the anti-snob snob, a zone I’ll happily admit inhabiting.
Where we ate before my intended trip:
79, rue St Dominique in the 7th, (Metro: Invalides)
Weekday lunch costs 20 € lunch, a la carte costing 40-50 €