Expert Wine Reviews May Be Inferior

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Our friend Joe Roberts aka 1WineDude penned a great piece about the inferiority of an expert’s opinion over that of the wisdom of crowds when it comes to wine reviews.

The Dude offered a well-reasoned argument, suggesting, that while it was not without some value, the wine “expert” review is actually “less valuable than the opinion offered by an educated, engaged, passionate, and diverse group of people…”

And he based it on…gasp…science and research!

You can imagine the reaction of the “experts” commenting. Au contraire, Dude, if we relied on the “wisdom of crowds” we would most certainly prefer a “Honey Boo-Boo” or “Dumb and Dumber” style wine over that of say, “Mad Men” or “The Godfather.”

Especially if we chose wines based on reviews from a group of wine drinkers who post notes we can read on-line for free, versus reviews written by the paid expert in a magazine that costs us a $75 subscription.

Joe Roberts aka 1WineDude (left) with Joe Power (HoustonWino) at Sigalas vineyards in Santorini, Greece

Joe Roberts aka 1WineDude (left) with Joe Power (HoustonWino) at Sigalas vineyards in Santorini, Greece

Why the Backlash?

The Dude was tackling the ever-present blog bashing by guys who are often paid to taste wine by the publications who advertise the wines also reviewed in the same issue. Part of the bashing is by guys whose primary motive is self-preservation. If wine consumers stopped relying on the expert, he would cease to be relevant. Wineries would stop sending his magazine wine for him to taste. The winery would stop spending all that money on advertising, and the expert’s employer would be forced to shrink its magazine, lower its subscription costs or even cease to print. The expert would be out of a job, and he might be forced to blog…and well, heaven forbid should he be counted among those people!

I say, “guys” because for the most part, the “experts” are relegated to an “old boys network” where women are few and far between. Which is a bit amusing, since a woman’s senses of taste and smell generally are much more acute than that of a man.

But I digress…

Lost in Translation

It is not that simple.

For one thing, the “experts” skipped right over “an educated, engaged, passionate, and diverse group of people…” and thought “anyone who isn’t in my highly selective club with its own secret language and special decoder ring.”

Read any “expert” wine review and you will see a bunch of jargon and insider language that means nothing to the average consumer. “Petrol on the nose” and a “mouthfeel like quince jam.” And a wine that is “pretty taut for about five years after the vintage date.”

The average consumer reading that might think…

What? it smells like gasoline and makes me feel like I have a mouth full of what I put on my toast at a continental breakfast…? Quince…You mean that stuff they call membrillo in the foreign foods’ aisle?

Sugary, jelly-like gasoline? And it’s “taut.” You mean tight? Like Billie Joe says about Green Day before he flipped out and smashed his guitar on stage? Right before Rehab?

I know, we at Another Wine Blog are sometimes guilty of doing the same thing. Sometimes our friend Wine Dog calls us on it. In our defense, there are only so many ways you can describe an Australian Dry Riesling.

Which Review is More Useful?

Why would a collection of reviews from a group of passionate wine drinkers be superior to that of an individual expert?

It comes down to which is more useful to the consumer.

Wine experts tend to write about wine for the benefit of other experts not for the average consumer. The average consumer who has not just returned from Bordeaux where he was wined and dined and lodged at a lavish Chateau.

Or, whether or not the expert may like to admit, for the benefit of the winery that so generously hosted him in an effort to impress and garner an equally generous review. I don’t mean in quid pro quo fashion; although there is certainly some of that, albeit subconsciously, probably going on.

But for the wine drinker who is about to go out and buy one or more bottles of wine to go with dinner, or to serve at a party, a collection of opinions from other wine drinkers is much more useful.

We’ve started collecting opinions of other wine drinkers at monthly tastings. we call First Fridays. There are all levels of wine lovers at the tastings — wine makers, sommeliers, lawyers, accountants, NASA computer programmers, flight attendants and airline reservationists. People who work in retail and people who serve Overseas. Stay-at-home moms and Stay-at-home dads. Millenials to Baby Boomers and the folks like us in between.

It is interesting to hear differing opinions on the same wine. But it’s helpful to bring us back down to earth. It helps us to remember why we got into wine in the first place.

Wine should be enjoyed by many, rather than judged by just a few.

Cheers to Wine Drinkers Everywhere

Cheers to Wine Drinkers Everywhere

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

  • Bob Henry (wine professional)

    GUYS,

    HAVING BEEN INTRODUCED TO YOUR WEBSITE VIA WINE BUSINESS MONTHLY’S NEAR-DAILY E-MAIL NEWS BLAST, LET ME PROFFER SOME “COMMENTARY.”

    BE FOREWARNED: THIS IS GOING TO BE A L-O-N-G REPLY, SO INDULGE ME.

    CALTECH PROFESSOR LEONARD MLODINOW (WHO CO-AUTHORED TWO BOOKS WITH RENOWNED PHYSICIST STEPHEN HAWKING) HAD THIS TO SAY ABOUT JUDGING SOMEONE’S “EXPERTISE” . . .

    ~~ BOB HENRY

    Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal Online
    (April 30, 2008):

    “Numbers Guy Interview: Leonard Mlodinow”

    [Article link:
    http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/numbers-guy-interview-leonard-mlodinow-329/

    By Carl Bialik
    “The Numbers Guy” Blog

    [ Bob's aside: Leonard Mlodinow’s book titled “The Drunkard’s Walk" has a chapter on the statistics of wine scoring. For read Mlodinow's guest commentary article for the Wall Street Journal titled "A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion [Why Wine Ratings Are Badly Flawed]” use this link:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703683804574533840282653628.html

    Links to statistics professor Robert Hodgson’s studies cited by Mlodinow:

    http://www.letastevin.org/Hodgson%202008%20Examination%20of%20judge%20reliability%20at%20major%20us%20wine%20competition.pdf

    – and –

    http://www.academia-vinhaevinho.com/ckfinder/userfiles/files/us%202009%2006%2030a(2).pdf ]

    WSJ: You argue persuasively that much of what we consider a track record of EXPERTISE is really an accident of luck. Is there any true EXPERTISE, in your opinion? Are there any experts you trust?

    Mr. Mlodinow: I believe there is true EXPERTISE in some endeavors, and not in others. There is obviously no such thing as EXPERTISE in predicting the results of coin tosses, but there is EXPERTISE in predicting the behavior of lasers. I feel that picking stocks or predicting Hollywood hits is more like the former. The process of building a company or making a film is more like the latter.

    But there is a related question: Given that we are discussing an endeavor in which it is possible, how can you tell if someone has EXPERTISE? That is hard, because EXPERTISE plus bad luck can equal a failure, and lack of EXPERTISE plus good luck can equal success. The only way to tell the two apart is to observe the individual over a long time, which in statistics often means 100 or even 1,000 trials. This is obviously often not possible, so I recommend instead that we judge people by a thoughtful analysis of their intelligence, philosophy, work ethic, etc., rather than simply by their results.

    WSJ: Just because a certain human achievement — say, clutch hitting, or successful stock picking — exhibits the normal statistical variation, does that necessarily mean the best performers were just lucky? Or is there something about human intentionality that makes it possible that the best performers really did exhibit extraordinary skill and were deserving of the result?

    Mr. Mlodinow: Intentionality and talent always matter. An extraordinary feat is certainly made more likely by someone’s focus, hard work, etc. But chance also matters. And since there are few situations outside the science laboratory in which the random influences can be eliminated, luck is almost always a part of the statistical variation we observe in people’s feats.

    . . .

    WSJ: Might we need to proceed irrationally in our lives to succeed? In other words, if we really believed that so much of success was the result of luck, wouldn’t a lot of us just give up trying?

    Mr. Mlodinow: Some theorize that this is the evolutionary reason that we like to assume we are in control, even when we clearly aren’t. That may be so, but I don’t mourn the role of luck, I celebrate it. All else equal, it is a lot more fun not knowing how your book will do, or how your life will turn out, than it would be if everything could be determined by a logical calculation. Moreover, the fact that luck matters means you can help yourself by being persistent. A failure doesn’t mean you are unworthy, nor does it preclude success on the next try. As Thomas J. Watson, the highly successful IBM pioneer, said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

    WSJ: How would you respond to Mark Twain’s quip that “People commonly use statistics like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support rather than illumination”?

    Mr. Mlodinow: I think Mark Twain was 110% correct.

  • http://www.1winedude.com 1WineDude

    Thanks! A point I tried – but failed – to make in that article is that the middle ground of crowd reviews AND expert reviews together is probably the best and most reliable way people can use reviews when it comes to wine. But I digress… :)

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Hi Dude!

      I don’t think you failed, I think some of the comments were just knee jerk from folks who weren’t reading ALL the words, just some of them ;)

      • http://www.1winedude.com 1WineDude

        :) C’mon, it’s ALL about selective reading these days!

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

          “C’mon, about reading days!” makes no sense at all! Are you on drugs?

          • http://www.1winedude.com 1WineDude

            :)