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wine test nobody ever passed

epabella Aug 30, 2010 11:15 PM

the bbc show E NUMBERS recently documented white wine dyed red has deceived an entire room full of wine club members. use grape skin extract dye and have your friends describe the colored wine, see if anyone figures out it's not a red.

  1. SteveTimko Aug 31, 2010 07:11 AM

    A common test at the UC Davis wine school is to have people drink wine out of glasses painted black. They give people full-bodied whites and light reds and people can't guess the color of the wine.

    5 Replies
    1. re: SteveTimko
      Midlife Aug 31, 2010 04:43 PM

      What does this suggest with regard to people who can tell you varietal, region, vintage from a blind taste. I've heard of these tests before and I can only think the results are for the 'average' taster. If not, something's really off in the world of wine.

      1. re: Midlife
        ZenSojourner Aug 31, 2010 04:44 PM

        Yup. Something's really off in the wine world.

        Remember when a $3 bottle of wine won a bunch of awards? LOL!

        1. re: ZenSojourner
          Midlife Aug 31, 2010 06:03 PM

          Well............ there HAS been some suggestion that the particular bottle used to win the award wasn't exactly filled with the same wine you could actually by for $3.......... or $2 (depending on where you live). There was most certainly something off about that!

          1. re: ZenSojourner
            zin1953 Sep 1, 2010 07:16 AM

            I do not want to be sued for libel. But -- considering I was there -- let's just say that Midlife is correct in his suggestion.

          2. re: Midlife
            zin1953 Sep 1, 2010 07:22 AM

            Read my reply to the OP.

        2. Bill Hunt Aug 31, 2010 06:04 PM

          A little "trick" that I have used, and had used on me, is to do a lineup of wines, where one was duplicated. No mention is made that they are all different. Obviously, this becomes closer to a "control," if the duplicate pour is from the same bottle, as bottle variation can make a big difference. Fun to observe, but it can be a tad humiliating, if one is the taster.

          At a breakout session, not that many years ago, we tasted about 12 wines - all different varietals. Few were left seated, after about the first 3 wines. The instructor had chosen a PN, that tasted like a Syrah, a Zin that tasted like a lighter Merlot, and on it went.

          One taster got all 12 correct, but I wonder if it was the director's wife... ? The rest of the room of about 50 just hung their heads in shame. I went out at about the third wine, but was definitely not alone.

          To me, some of these are just fun parlor games - fun, but not enough to base a career on.


          18 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt
            SteveTimko Aug 31, 2010 09:33 PM

            It's an often-practiced trick to put the same wine in two different bottles with the price tags conspicuously displayed. Almost everyone picks the wine with the higher price tag as the better wine.

            1. re: SteveTimko
              ZenSojourner Aug 31, 2010 09:54 PM

              Which is why I don't get why some people insist on paying $50 a bottle (or even more) for something they're just going to piss out a few hours later.

              There's truly execrable wine out there, no doubt. I've noticed that some places are starting to carry cheap lines of wine to compete with the $3 wines you can get at Aldi and Trader Joe, but so far they're all pretty bad. I can at least tolerate the stuff from Aldi/Trader Joe's, it's usually not actually horrible. Actually never that I can recall. I wouldn't call it really good but it's ok.

              1. re: ZenSojourner
                Midlife Aug 31, 2010 11:32 PM

                >>>>'Which is why I don't get why some people insist on paying $50 a bottle (or even more) for something they're just going to piss out a few hours later.'

                I don't do it much these days but I have really enjoyed many wines in the $50+ range over the years. It's one of those things that is something people may do if they have the palate to appreciate the difference and can afford it.

                I don't see it any differently than the difference between people who drive Toyota Corollas and those who drive Porsches. If a car is a means of transportation only for you, then you'll likely find the Corolla to be all you need, but if you are an automobile aficionado, and can afford it, the Porsche is something you treat yourself to.

                You can also pay $149 for a stereo for your home or $100K for a custom system of the highest quality. If you can really tell the difference (and can afford it) you know why you make the more expensive choice.

                None of this is suggesting, however, that for every person who makes the higher priced choice because "they can" there aren't an equal number who make it because they want "other people to know they can". Other than hoping these people also contribute a fair share to worthwhile causes as well, I'm not making any judgments.

                1. re: Midlife
                  haggisdragon Sep 1, 2010 07:29 AM

                  the devil's advocate in me wants to say that you can't piss out a Porsche or a $100K stereo. That being said I enjoy drinking expensive wine and I like a high class piss once in while.

                  1. re: haggisdragon
                    ZenSojourner Sep 1, 2010 07:45 AM


                    1. re: haggisdragon
                      Bill Hunt Sep 3, 2010 09:06 PM

                      Prior to the evacuation of the liquid component, if you cannot derive pleasure from the wines, then do not drink them. Perhaps water would be a more appropriate beverage.

                      Same with fine food. Why bother? Most of it will pass through the system in the morning.

                      If one derives no pleasure, then find something else.


                  2. re: ZenSojourner
                    Bill Hunt Sep 3, 2010 09:03 PM

                    What I do not understand is why anyone would pay any price for a wine that is "not actually horrible." Actually, there are not likely to be many people, who would pay me to drink such wine. Life is too short.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                      ZenSojourner Sep 3, 2010 09:21 PM

                      Because we don't have the money for an $8 or $10 bottle of wine. And there are a LOT of people who will drink "such wine", that's why it's become popular enough that other retailers are starting to look for cheaper wines.

                      I'll be dinged if I'd pay more for it than that ($8/$10). Even when I was making 6 figures, I didn't waste it on wines that were virtually identical to stuff that cost a fraction of the cost.

                      As for "not actually horrible", I actually find the $3 wines at Trader Joe's and Aldi's to be quite acceptable. Is it GREAT wine? Not usually. But it's never actually bad (unlike some $3 and $4 bottles of wine I've bought from other places).

                      I'm happy with OK wine. I'd like something a little more expensive on occasion, but only a little more expensive, and only occasionally.

                      You don't have to be. I really really do not understand why you would drop $50 on a bottle of wine (if you would), but if you want to, feel free. I'll stick with the other stuff. That just leaves more of what I like for me, and more of what you like for you.

                      Right? Right. LOL!

                      1. re: ZenSojourner
                        Bill Hunt Sep 3, 2010 09:24 PM

                        That is your choice. I choose to not make it. If I cannot have wine that pleases me, I will just not drink wine. Simple as that. Give me the "good stuff," or pass the water.


                        1. re: Bill Hunt
                          ZenSojourner Sep 3, 2010 09:28 PM

                          Well ok stuff "pleases" me.

                          1. re: ZenSojourner
                            Midlife Sep 3, 2010 11:22 PM

                            That's great. What I don't get is how you can conclude that someone else's palate is the same as yours. Do you really feel that your palate's conclusion that "some wines that were virtually identical to stuff that cost a fraction of the cost" is the same conclusion that every one else comes to?? It's one thing to say that YOU find them to be "virtually identical" and quite another to suggest that someone else is wasting their money because YOU find them so.

                            1. re: Midlife
                              ZenSojourner Sep 3, 2010 11:58 PM

                              Don't think I suggested any such thing. However, the results of several taste tests posted here suggest that it seems to be the case for many people.

                              I don't much care one way or the other. I figure it's more of what I like that's left for me, if other people don't like the same.

                              1. re: ZenSojourner
                                SteveTimko Sep 4, 2010 09:22 AM

                                I had a Burgundy last night that I guarantee will not be matched by a $10 or $20 bottle of wine. It was pretty freaking good. But I've had enough wine I can tell what it is.
                                Ironically, the people who brought it were pretty much "meh" about it. They liked it, but as a grand cru they've enjoyed so much before, they were expecting to see truth in Burgundy. And it wasn't profound.
                                So a lot of times it's all relative.

                                1. re: ZenSojourner
                                  Midlife Sep 4, 2010 12:08 PM

                                  Well............ it kinda sounded like you were saying that. Sorry if I misunderstood. I'd never disagree that the majority of people are not really going to be able to taste the difference enough to equal the price spread....... but I also know many who definitely can and do. When I sold my wine shop I sortof had to retrain my palate to the reality of my "new economy".

                                  "Which is why I don't get why some people insist on paying $50 a bottle (or even more) for something they're just going to piss out a few hours later."

                                  "Even when I was making 6 figures, I didn't WASTE it on wines that were virtually identical to stuff that cost a fraction of the cost."


                      2. re: ZenSojourner
                        zin1953 Sep 5, 2010 07:30 PM

                        I've been avoiding responding to this post until I could do so without rancor . . . .

                        >>> Which is why I don't get why some people insist on paying $50 a bottle (or even more) for something they're just going to piss out a few hours later. <<<
                        Why go eat a great meal if you're just going to $#!+ later??? For the VERY same reason: it tastes good. (OK, this presumes that the person buying the wine is NOT buying the wine for the label, but actually buying the wine for what's inside.) Some wines cost more to make than others; some wines are more limited than others. And yes, some wines are just overpriced. If you don't want to spend $50 on a bottle of wine, don't. It's that simple.

                        >>> There's truly execrable wine out there, no doubt. <<<
                        That's true REGARDLESS of price, although there is probably a minimum price point, all things being equal -- in order words, comparing "MSRP" pricing, rather than "close outs."

                        >>> I've noticed that some places are starting to carry cheap lines of wine to compete with the $3 wines you can get at Aldi and Trader Joe, but so far they're all pretty bad. I can at least tolerate the stuff from Aldi/Trader Joe's, it's usually not actually horrible. Actually never that I can recall. I wouldn't call it really good but it's ok. <<<
                        "Not actually horrible" is a wine that I would pass on. So, too, a wine that is merely OK. I'd rather have water, iced tea, diet soda . . . .

                        1. re: zin1953
                          ZenSojourner Sep 5, 2010 08:57 PM

                          Water, iced tea, diet soda - none of those are wine.

                          I'd like to sit on the porch and have a glass of wine once in awhile. My budget doesn't stretch to the $8 to $10 wines I prefer. So I buy the OK wines, which I am not laying any claim to greatness for. OK is good enough for me, regardless of the development of my "palate" or lack thereof.

                          I wouldn't spend big bucks on a meal I'm going to just crap out later, either. It isn't worth it. I didn't do that even when I had the money. It's a stupid waste, and I'm allowed to make that decision - for me.

                          If you have the $$$ to "pass" on "OK wines", fine, go ahead. Frankly I'm only flying slightly under my radar. But I rather doubt that most people can actually taste the difference between those expensive wines the way they think they can. If you're one of the minority who can, good for you! There's been plenty of evidence for the lack of ability on the part of most people to actually "discern" one wine from another cited here, and I've seen it before myself.

                          If it doesn't apply to you then don't take it to heart.

                          1. re: ZenSojourner
                            zin1953 Sep 6, 2010 12:12 AM

                            One doesn't *need* to spend $50 on a bottle of wine to get "great." I regularly buy wines that I find great in the $10-12, $10-15 range; sometimes even less. I simply see "OK" as a bigger waste of money (even at $3/btl) than "very good" or "great" at $10-15. I'd rather pass on 3-4 bottles of "OK" to get a "great."

                            >>> But I rather doubt that most people can actually taste the difference between those expensive wines the way they think they can. <<<

                            Price does not distinguish quality. Indeed, price is often irrelevant. I believe you have chosen the wrong focus.

                            As for food, if it's a great (and memorable) meal -- and something I can't cook at home -- it's worth it . . . TO ME.

                      3. re: SteveTimko
                        zin1953 Sep 1, 2010 07:21 AM

                        We once did a blind tasting of 1979 (or was it 1982?) Bordeaux, shortly after their release. All wines were served double-blind: Person #1 entered the kitchen alone -- foils were completely removed from the neck, and the wines wrapped in brown-paper bags and uncorked. Then, Person #1 left the kitchen, and Person #2 entered with a Sharpie to mark the bags "A" through "L". Neither Person 1 nor Person 2 knew what wine was in what bag.

                        That said, everyone knew we were drinking your Bordeaux, and most people had a rough idea of the wines overall -- certainly the specific wine they brought to the tasting. By coincidence, two bottles were exactly the same -- Château Pichon-Lalande. It came in 2nd out of 12, and 12th out of 12 . . .

                    2. z
                      zin1953 Sep 1, 2010 07:15 AM

                      What this describes is a common phenomenon, and *exactly* what Steve Timko was getting at (albeit slightly skewed).

                      COLOR has no impact upon quality, aroma, or flavor of a wine, yet people "pre-judge" wines all the time -- either by label ("oooh, this if going to be good!"), or by the alcohol content on the label ("oh, 15.2% -- this Zin is going to be BIG!"), or by the color ("oh, this Pinot is light red -- it's going to be light-bodied and delicate").

                      NONE of those things are true ***in and of themselves*** . . . any label can make great/bad wines; I've had plenty of "big" wines that were 12.5-13.5% alcohol by volume, and plenty of medium-bodied (even light-bodied) wines the labels of which indicated they were 15, 16, even 17% alcohol. And yes, color doesn't tell you $#!+ . . . .

                      But it's very easy for people to make PRESUMPTIONS about a wine with color. ThIs is why UC Davis (and others) experiment(ed) with "black" glasses -- to eliminate one source of preconceptions that might influence tasters.

                      Back in 1980, I was once handed a glass of wine by a winemaker that was bright red and crystal clear (think Beaujolais). It had some really interesting fruit aromas, really nice flavors, but for the life of me, I couldn't place it. It was at once completely familiar and a total mystery. By 1980, I'd already been in the wine trade for over a decade, and my mind was racing through every red wine grape I knew that produces light-bodied, fruity wines . . . ZILCH! I was drawing a blank . . . .

                      When I finally gave up, the winemaker told me that at the end of the bottling run, there was a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and some White Riesling left over, too little for the bottling machine to utilize (i.e.: it was let behind). So he took the left-overs -- in about a 3:2 ratio. -- blended them together and hand-bottled 5 bottles of this wine.

                      There is NO surprise that people could not identify a white wine that was colored (or should I say "coloured"?) red.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: zin1953
                        Midlife Sep 1, 2010 10:29 AM


                        I agree it's no surprise, but does it really diminish the ability of an 'expert' to distinguish between a white varietal and a red? In your story it just seemed to make the process more complicated.

                        1. re: zin1953
                          Bill Hunt Sep 3, 2010 09:12 PM


                          Your descriptions remind me of an interesting Gigondas from many vintages back. When I first laid eyes upon it, I though, "hey, nice Rosé." The nose gave a bit away, but it was not until one had in on the palate, that they would have realized that this, light salmon-colored wine, had all the characteristics of an inky black Grenache, or maybe even a Syrah from up north. Amazing, and the color did not bely the body, in any way.


                        2. lavaca Sep 1, 2010 11:15 AM

                          I don't feel like these blind tests are as enlightening as they're often made out to be. How often does anyone drink white wine at room temperature? Or chilled red wine, for that matter? Temperature definitely matters here, as does the wines used for the deception (it seems that it would be easier to pull off with European wine than with California or Australian wine). I don't mean to say that the results are necessarily false, just that it's far too easy to engineer an experiment to produce the desired results.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: lavaca
                            epabella Sep 4, 2010 07:05 AM

                            lavaca, maybe you can suggest a procedure for better testing? do you suppose the participants would've done better if the wine was served at "the right temperature"?

                            "don't feel like these blind tests are as enlightening as they're often made out to be"

                            what kind of enlightenment would you expect? take for granted there's only one color - i'm fairly certain coffee buffs would be more proficient identifying geographical source and level of roasting in a blind test.

                            "it's far too easy to engineer an experiment to produce the desired results"

                            perhaps this is especially true for wine or cola drinks (i remember pepsi and coke tests). more impressive is sir cliff richards (singer/vineyard owner/wine buff) telling gordon ramsay in a two-bottle blind test:

                            "i'll tell you whether i like it or not. i can only tell you which i prefer, i can't tell whether it's a fine wine or not 'cause fine wine can be crap"

                            1. re: epabella
                              lavaca Sep 15, 2010 03:29 PM

                              My problem isn't with blind taste tests in general, just that so much meaning is ascribed to this particular comparison (not only here, but everywhere else it's brought up) despite the fact that the specific goal is to deceive the participants. Let me know when somebody actually tries to sell white wine with a tagline along the lines of "just like red but it won't stain your shirt when you spill it". The expensive failure of Crystal Pepsi ought to serve as a strong warning.

                              Incidentally, the way professional coffee tasters taste coffee is even further removed from how people drink coffee on a daily basis as wine-tasting is from how people drink wine on a daily basis. Keep this in mind next time you read the tasting notes on a bag of fancy coffee.

                              1. re: lavaca
                                Midlife Sep 15, 2010 03:40 PM

                                I don't wish to sound argumentative here but your statement "despite the fact that the specific goal is to deceive the participants" assumes something I've never known to be the case about the vast majority of blind wine tastings. Most blind tastings are intended to learn something about the perceptive abilities, experience,and/or palate sensitivity of the participants; sometimes (as here) they're meant to determine whether the color of the wine influences those perceptions and abilities. Why do you think someone is out to "deceive" in blind tastings?

                                Just because there may be an "I bet they CAN'T tell the difference" pitted against an "I bet they CAN" doesn't mean that deception is the goal.

                                1. re: Midlife
                                  lavaca Sep 15, 2010 03:45 PM

                                  You misread my post. The specific goal of the test in the original post is to confuse people as to whether they are drinking red or white wine. That's why I distinguished between blind tests in general and the particular test in question.

                                  1. re: lavaca
                                    Midlife Sep 15, 2010 04:04 PM

                                    I see your point but I wouldn't necessarily take the OP's word "deceived" to mean that deception was the goal. You seem to be familiar with this specific test being brought up elsewhere, so do you know this for a fact? I'm not familiar with the BBC show mentioned, so that may be the central indicator here.

                                    1. re: Midlife
                                      lavaca Sep 15, 2010 05:43 PM

                                      I haven't seen the show, but Google tells me that they used Pinot Grigio, and that the point was clearly to fool the drinkers into thinking they were drinking something else (using Pinot Grigio seems like cheating given its genetic similarity to Pinot Noir, but whatever). The problem is that these studies are almost always brought up to say "huh huh, wine snobs are dumb" rather than the more accurate "look at how much we can alter perception with just a few drops of food coloring".

                                      An interesting semi-debunking, written as a response to an earlier hullabaloo, is here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002...

                                      The author's conclusion is that one sip isn't enough to form a useful opinion, and that it definitely depends on whether or not the test is organized by someone specifically trying to fool people taking it.

                                      1. re: lavaca
                                        maria lorraine Sep 15, 2010 11:14 PM

                                        Anyone with a fair nose and palate can tell the difference between the fruit flavors of white wine and the fruit flavors of red wine, e.g., lemon and lime do not taste like cherry and blueberry.

                                        While someone may be a "wine club member" (a group of which took the BBC test), that does not imply any ability to discern the aromas and flavors of wine. It merely means this person has joined a purchasing club. With enough suggestion, someone lacking the ability to identify fruit flavors could easily be fooled.

                                        The fact that Pinot Grigio shares certain genetic characteristics with PN has no bearing on this taste test. The genetic sequences that determine inherent aromas and flavors are very, very different in the two different grapes.

                          2. SteveTimko Sep 16, 2010 08:42 AM

                            More fuel for ZenSoujourner's fire:
                            A $30 bottle of wine bests wines that cost hundreds of dollars in a blind tasting.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: SteveTimko
                              lavaca Sep 16, 2010 09:34 AM

                              This isn't very surprising. The economics of wine production are such that the ratio of price to quality is logarithmic, not linear.

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