HOME > Chowhound > Wine >


Wine-tasting: it's junk science

Not entirely accurate, but it makes a lot of good points


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The article is fascinating. There are two points in it which I think are worth addressing. First, nowhere in the article does it assert that experts confused "plonk" (really cheap jug wine) with the expensive stuff. In fact, that might be true, but it does not appear that such an experiment was run.

    Instead, the experimenter talked about taking a fairly narrow range of good wine (88 to 94) and getting inconsistent results from the same wine tasters. So the real message of the story is that wine experts are not as good at close discrimination as we (and they) thought they were.

    The article asserts, "A few points may not sound much, but it is enough to swing the contest . . ." but that is all. The article is not saying that experts can't tell the difference between plonk and the good stuff.

    The second point is that if you put less expensive wine in expensive bottles or vice versa, it affects tasters' perception of the wine. But this is not really a new finding and is the reason most wine tasting competitions require that the wine be tasted blind.

    The implication of the article is that anything goes and you might as well buy two buck chuck as Opus 1, but I don't think the article supports that experts (or even the rest of us) have that inability to discriminate.

    1. The fact is that wine tasting is NOT "junk science." The fact is that wine tasting is not science, PERIOD.

      1 Reply
      1. re: zin1953

        Totally agree on your second statement

      2. Not accurate for the most part, especially IRT Hodgson, taste physiology/perception, and the studies cited.

        1. Interesting that the Texas Viognier thread got 50+ replies, but only 3 for this article.

          I'm a scientist, so I'm naturally skeptical of most wine competitions/reviews/scores, and think most of it is BS, but obviously most wine lovers are not.

          12 Replies
          1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

            Flavor perception can be quite close to science in one way. Hear me out.

            Wine-tasting is the perception of a molecule, a flavor or aroma molecule. The molecule is perceived by olfactory neurons and the brain's flavor processing center. A great taster can perceive a multitude of molecules, a great many more than those perceived by most people.

            Where it gets interesting is that this perception of molecules can be confirmed -- so we know the taster is not making it up -- by laboratory analysis, usually chromatography/HPLC.

            The best and most entertaining illustration of this -- perception of flavor molecules -- I know of came from the human tasters involved in the large UC-Davis 2010 Report on the adulteration of olive oil from major brands from both the US and Italy.

            In the first round of tasting, the human experts detected oxidation (negative sensory effects) in some olive oils. Since good olive oil is always fresh olive oil, olive oil tasters are keen to perceive decaying aromas and flavors -- all of which are molecules. C18-1 (oleic acid) is one; fatty acids like DAGs (diacylglycerols), pyros (PPP), and K232, are others.

            But there was a problem. The first round of chromatographic analysis said no, these molecules of decay/oxidation that the tasters thought they perceived weren't there. So the tests were run again, this time on the extremely sensitive German and Australian chromatographic HPLC equipment. Only then were the perceptions of the olive oil experts confirmed. The human tasters were exquisitely sensitive to flavors and aromas in their given field, as good as the best machines in the world.

            As are certain wine tasters. Good physiology helps, but most great wine tasters have learned how to be great tasters, with practice and by learning from other great tasters.

            Where that exquisite sense of sensory perception of wine comes into play strikingly is when a winemaking flaw first presents -- usually at a very low ppm/ppb/ppt. The winemaker perceives the flaw -- in this case truly a molecule/bacterium, then orders a few labs to confirm his/her suspicions. He/She gets a level on that molecule/bacterium, and takes corrective action, hopefully soon enough. But the perception of the molecule at extremely low levels is what keeps the wine on track, keeps it viable, keeps it marketable/$$$.

            All flavor perception comes down to the perception of molecules, and that perception -- with olive oil, with wine -- detected first by humans can be confirmed by laboratory analysis.

            1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

              That one thread got more replies than another isn't at all surprising . . . one (this) is not only something that's been discussed here before, but most "knowledgable" people know -- as I said above -- it's not scientific to begin with; the other was self-promoting and bordering on spam, and that's something many regulars here aren't fond of . . .

              I'm not sure what being a scientist has to do with being "naturally skeptical of most wine competitions/reviews/scores," unless it has to do with being skeptical about ALL things generally. Nor do I understand what is BS about one person's opinion . . . but perhaps that's the subject for another thread.

              Or not.

              1. re: zin1953

                Is the charge of BS leveled at wine-tasters, at its root, based on:
                Since I cannot perceive those flavors, they cannot exist?

                No doubt there are among us those with extremely perceptive sensory skills in their field.

                For example, when my concert violinist friend plays a single note on his violin, I hear one note, but he hears five notes simultaneously within that one note.

                My childhood friend's wife is a parfumier (a "nose") who can detect infinitesimal subtleties in smells that most of cannot perceive. While most folks smell a perfume and perceive one smell, she smells **components** of that smell, sometimes fifteen smells within what most perceive as one single smell.

                The same is true for wine. While a wine might taste like Cabernet, to a wine-taster with good perception skills, there are 20-30 components that make up that overall flavor of Cabernet. Great wine-tasting is not only perception, but identification and articulation of the aromas/flavors.

                What surprises me is that the perception of harmonics and overtones within a single note is common among musicians, but musicians are not accused of BS by those who cannot hear them.

                Nor is the parfumier accused of BS in his/her perceptions of smells and aromas.

                But it seems that BS is hurled at those with skilled palates for food or wine.

                And yet, nearly everyone can get far better at perceiving and articulating the aromas and flavors in wine. You just need someone to show you the ropes. It's a skill that's acquired, like most skills. It's not like one needs to be born with great physiology to become a perceptive taster of food or wine.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  there's been threads talking about how supertasters don't really exist; it's only primadonnas milking their egos (supertasters have been proven to exist scientifically)

                  Other threads talking about whiners who don't like cilantro (yep, that's been proven, too)

                  Wine tasting was bound to end up in the crosshairs eventually.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Thanks. What is known is that some people have Hypergeusia (hypertasting) skills, and that these people have sensitivities to certain types of compounds or families of flavor. People can also have Hypogeusia, or a taste insensitivity, to certain compounds or flavors. Likewise for smells, there's Hyperosmia or Hyposmia.

                    But the word "Supertaster" is never used legitimately -- the prefix is always "hyper-". Supertaster was a word coined as a joke in psychologist Linda Bartoshuk's office to describe her workmates who had lots of taste buds, but her science was pure junk. There was fMRI imaging to show that Bartoshuk's taste bud/supertaster theory was incorrect (she also infamously said "Umami is just marketing"), but she chose to ignore it when she embarked on her PR blitz. Much like the press articles now on Hodgson's junk "studies."

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      I used "supertaster" just because that's the most commonly-used term in the popular press (and it appears regularly on these boards)

                      And yes, there was a discussion here about how umami is just b.s. not too long ago, too.

                      Seems to be so many sour grapes amongst those who can't detect the tartness of the grapes.

                      I don't claim to be a super- or hypertaster....but I liken it to my ability to taste a dish and all but write the recipe, right down to the herbs and spices, and can usually reproduce it with a pretty good degree of accuracy. I wasn't born with that ability...I learned what the characteristics of the herbs are (just like you and Zin learned the characteristics of wines...)

                      I will never forget the day that the lights went on about aromas in wine. We were in the Touraine region, and when I smelled the wine, I had a mental vision of walking through the woods on an autumn day -- the aroma of leaves was palpable, and it changed my impression of wine forever.

                      My perceptions of those aromas aren't science...but the creation of the conditions and chemistry that resulted in those aromas most assuredly IS science.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        << I used "supertaster" just because that's the most commonly-used term in the popular press (and it appears regularly on these boards)>>

                        Yes, I knew that. :-)

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          just clarifying for other readers -- I figured you picked up on it...

                        2. re: sunshine842

                          Forgot to say earlier, sunshine842, that I liked these passages:

                          <<my ability to taste a dish and all but write the recipe, right down to the herbs and spices, and can usually reproduce it with a pretty good degree of accuracy. I wasn't born with that ability...I learned what the characteristics of the herbs are (just like you and Zin learned the characteristics of wines...)>>

                          Yes. And:

                          <<I will never forget the day that the lights went on about aromas in wine. We were in the Touraine region, and when I smelled the wine, I had a mental vision of walking through the woods on an autumn day -- the aroma of leaves was palpable, and it changed my impression of wine forever. >>

                          Nice picture you painted. Evocative. Thanks.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            My wife, and I, love to taste a dish, then dissect that, with the ingredients. Often, we will ask the server for clarification. Often, we get it 100%, but too often, we miss something very important, and feel bad. Still, it's fun for us.


                      2. re: maria lorraine

                        Sort of like ML's musician, I can usually pick apart many aspects of a given wine.

                        I am blessed in that I get invited to do several "barrel tasting' a year, with various winemakers. I often pick up, and articulate on aspects, that even they might have missed.

                        What I cannot do, however, is project how time, barrel-aging, etc., will impact that wine, over the years. I can only comment on what I smell and taste at that moment.

                        Now, I can often link those impressions to something from my past - an aroma, a flavor, and then recall in my mind, when I encountered such. Unfortunately, those recollections are personal, and not universal, so what might take me back in time, may well only register with another with less personal experiences. Not that either is wrong, just different. If a Pinot Noir reminds one taster of the blueberry compote that they had on that morning's pancakes, but I recall a cup of blueberry tea in my my grandmother's kitchen in Meridian, MS in about 1959, that does not make either of us wrong. We just have different memories, and those are triggered differently, but by the same wine.

                        "Supertaster?" I have no idea. A person, who has a great memory for aromas, and tastes, well then I am guilty, as charged.


                  2. Hi, PBBYOB:

                    With the possible exception of the "taster" serving as a living gas chromatograph (and only then as a winemaker's tool, and only *then* if there's something to be done), there's really no science to it. There are scientific *explanations* of how wine is perceived and with what acuity, and there are systems and protocols which are *designed* to make tasting/judging more consistent, uniform, repeatable, exclusionary of non-wine factors, etc. But judging wine is non-scientific.

                    Hodgson applies science to wine tasting, and his results don't sit well with those who are heavily (especially those who are professionally) invested in bestowing points or medals and exploiting markets, or in self-congratulation over their tasting abilities.


                    13 Replies
                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Well, that and the fact that Hodgson's science is faulty . . .

                      Kaleo, I have discussed this at length WITH Hodgson as a member of the Advisory Board to the California State Fair's Commercial Wine Competition -- I was in on the planning of his study, and I told him it was flawed from the start. That didn't stop the Advisory Board as a whole from giving him their blessing to do the research, from giving him access to loads of raw data, and so on and so on, and he STILL f****d it up, just like I thought . . .

                      Not that you directed your last paragraph at me directly, but in the FWIW Dept., Kaleo, I have retired from the wine trade, and as such, have NO direct investment in bestowing points (I don't, and haven't since 1979, IIRC) or medals (not longer being in the trade means. personally, I could care less if Wine X receives a Gold, or Wine Y receives a Silver).

                      1. re: zin1953

                        If you wouldn't mind summarizing your views: in what way[s] is Hodgson's science faulty?

                        (that's a real question, btw, and not intended as rhetorical or baiting)

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Jason has a very thought-out response, and has written lengthily about this before, on Chowhound and elsewhere, as have I. He will weigh in with his usual insight.

                          Rather than repeat all that I've written before, let me just say -- to cut to the chase -- that Hodgson "cooked" the data in the first competitions "study," leaving out massive amounts of data (actually 90% of the data) that would have swayed his conclusions in the opposite direction. Many people, including me, analyzed the huge amount of raw data, and noticed that Hodgson cleverly used only a small portion of it, the portion that would support his theory.

                          In the judges "study," the design of the entire experiment was flawed. The questions were framed to force a result (that suited Hodgson's theory), and as a result the data were dirty, and the test itself was flawed as was its conclusion.

                          The "studies" and their deception appear borne out of Hodgson's disappointment that his own wine didn't win more awards. That disappointment manifested itself in attacks on the competitions and on the judges themselves, with "studies" designed to insinuate incompetence.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            I'm not trying to create a mutual-admireation society, but I think ML has explained it most clearly from a *scientific* point-of-view. She's already explained that . . .

                            / / / / /

                            Hodgson's study of wine competitions was borne out of sour grapes: Hodgson was disappointed his own wine did not win more than one gold medal in all the competitions he entered. This fueled a study based on bad data. Hodgson found little correlation of awards across competitions, which proved judges were inept at evaluating wines.

                            But Hodgson's study was rebuked by those who analyzed the 13+ years of awards given by the major wine competitions in the US. What was revealed (I analyzed the data myself) was that Hodgson used only a small amount of data out of the massive amount of data available, and most telling, used only the data that supported his assertion.

                            Meaning, Hodgson cherry-picked data to "prove" there was not a correlation among medals or judges, when actually there was. What the entirety of data over all the years showed was that there a was a great deal of statistical consistency of medals across competitions, refuting Hodgson's assertion.

                            To put it simply, when one wine was entered in several competitions, if it won a medal in one competition, it nearly always won a medal in another competition also. Hodgson's data was faulty; his conclusion was faulty.

                            / / / / /

                            ML has also posted more, but this gets to the heart of it (IMHO). As well, take a look at what I wrote here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9068...

                            I hope that explains it, but I'm happy to elaborate if need be.

                              1. re: zin1953


                                Hodgson's study was published here:


                                If you have published different results, it would be interesting to see them. If you haven't, you should publish a rebuttal in the same journal, or in another journal, which is how scientific debates occur. Otherwise, all we have are your unsubstantiated allegations. There are many legitimate reasons why one set of data might be used over another, but the devil is in the details (which he hopefully made clear in his paper).

                                I am sure you are convinced that what you say is true. But if we are talking science, it is impossible for the rest of us to be convinced without actually seeing the evidence.

                                Old lab joke: If an experiment was done, and it wasn't recorded (or published), was it actually done?

                                1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                  Everybody needs (IMHO) to take what's written here with how many ever grains of salt they deem appropriate. Some people may think more grains of salt are needed; others less. With that in mind, let me attempt to answer your post. You may or may not like my response, but it's all I got.

                                  You are always entitled to your opinions, and while I may (or may not) disagree, I'll never say your *opinion* is wrong.

                                  I am not a scientist, and have no interest in "publishing results." That isn't going to happen, so if that's the "proof" you seek, I'm sorry to disappoint you, and you can feel free to ignore whatever I say from here on out. I'm just someone who started learning and tasting wine in 1963, entering the wine trade in 1969. I have worked in virtually every facet of the wine trade (production, importation, wholesale, retail, restaurant, marketing, tourism, consultant, and more), as well as serving as a professional wine judge, Chief Judge (i.e.: I organized and ran the competition), and as a wine writer/journalist for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV.

                                  My opinions are my own, based upon my experience, and as always, YMMV. So with that in mind . . .

                                  / / / / /

                                  The point(s) you seem to be missing:

                                  -- the published study was flawed due to selective editing, omitting data that didn't fit the initial supposition, and was built out of personal bias to begin with!

                                  -- wine tasting is not a science.

                                  / / / / /

                                  May I ask you a serious question? Have you ever judged wine professionally before? I'm asking not to be able to say to you, "Well I have," but rather to know if you are familiar with, and have first hand experience as to how it is done.

                                  / / / / /

                                  Each and every year, there are always wines which receive one single Gold Medal at a particular competition and nothing else at any other competition. There are also wines which receive multiple medals at multiple competitions -- what makes the difference? Well, it *could* be that the winery entered their wine in only competition; or it could be that it was entered in (e.g.) eight competitions, but only received one medal . . . even if that medal was Gold.

                                  Which is the better wine: the wine with one Gold Medal, or the wine with eight medals?

                                  / / / / /

                                  As I've already said, I was a part of Hodgon's study, in that I was a judge. I was also in "on the ground floor," when he first proposed his study to the California State Fair's Commercial Wine Competition Advisory Board (hereinafter referred to as "AB") and Fair officials. I have already admitted on this site that I was opposed to his study, as were others in the trade, and that the AB was overruled (not that we have any power to begin with; we are an *advisory* group only). At the meeting of the AB, I told him what his conclusions would be, and it seems I was right. Am I clairvoyant? No, just experienced.

                                  Maria Lorraine has already written extensively on the problems with this study from a scientific point-of-view. (Again, I'm not a scientist.) I have had limited access to the raw data, as it was presented by Hodgson to the AB at our annual meeting(s). In the course of those meetings, a number of people (not just myself) pointed out flaws in the study *and* in his preliminary conclusions. (Yes, you are ONLY going to have my word for it, as I do not possess tape recordings of the discussion; sorry, but none were made, unless Rosemary Woods was hiding in the closet.)

                                  Anything else I can say will a) fail to satisfy you, if you will only accept a published, peer-reviewd rebuttal to Hodgson, and b) merely be repetitive and, thus, a waste of people's time and bandwidth.

                                  All I can say in conclusion is that wine tasting is NOT objective science. It is subjective human perception. And to answer my own question above, if I knew nothing whatsoever about two bottles of wine, other than this one got a Gold Medal at the world's most prestigious competition*, and that one received eight medals of various kinds (heck, even 8 Bronze) at competitions across the country/world, I'd grad the one with eight Bronzes every time . . . .


                            1. re: zin1953

                              Hi, Jason:

                              It sounds like you dissented from whatever the Advisory Board decided. Isn't that the same as saying the AB disagreed with you about the plan? You were right insofar as I directed nothing at you. I respect you greatly, and especially for the easy grace with which you admit wine tasting is not scientific--not only true, but also doesn't detract from anyone or anything.

                              It is easy to see that there can be many different axes to grind when it comes to these things. Perhaps Hodgson is, as maria lorraine claims, merely flailing in disppointment over not winning more medals. But he certainly has more scientific and statistical bona fides than do most other winemakers or judges, so I'm not buying her take that it's all sour grapes.

                              It's also easy to see the hackles raised when an apostate points out a crack in a beloved edifice, or questions the priesthood. This happens all the time in real science, too, where things sometimes get taken personally.

                              Do you have a link to your analysis of Hodgson's work? I'd be interested in reading it.


                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                >>> It sounds like you dissented from whatever the Advisory Board decided. Isn't that the same as saying the AB disagreed with you about the plan? <<<

                                Uh, no.

                                The Advisory Board (AB) is a voluntary group of people who "advise." The powers that be listen to our advice. Then *they* decide to take it or not. The AB is comprised of two groups: the majority are wine professionals drawn from all facets of the trade; *and* there is a handful of Sacramento area business people OUTSIDE the wine business -- think Chamber of Commerce types.

                                In this particular case, the non-wine people on the Board thought that a scientific study would result in additional "credibility" to the Fair and EXTRA tourist dollars to Sacramento. The wine people kept saying, in essence, "it ain't scientific." It is true the Board was split, but it was split along experiential lines: those in the trade who taste and/or judge wines opposed; those not in the trade for.

                                The (not-in-the-trade) Fair officials agreed to do it.

                                >>> Perhaps Hodgson is, as maria lorraine claims, merely flailing in disppointment over not winning more medals. But he certainly has more scientific and statistical bona fides than do most other winemakers or judges, so I'm not buying her take that it's all sour grapes. <<<

                                As I've said previously, both the (now former) Chief Judge of the CSF and Hodgson himself introduced the proposal for the study by saying "Bob is (I am) concerned that his (my) wines don't wine more medals . . . "

                                I'm not sure how the motivation can be any more clear.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Hi, Jason:

                                  Well, frankly, I think allowing the studies HAS upped the credibility of the Fair. And it sounds from what you've just written that the "wine people" could just as easily be said to have pre-judged the issue, as Hodgson is claimed here to have done.

                                  *Sometimes* when a participant in a competition is suspicious about something, there's really something to be suspicious about. I don't know Hodgson or his wines, but I can imagine that he tastes and compares his own and others' wines. Widely disparate scores of the same wines by the same judges *are* suspect. So I applaud efforts to identify the problem(s). IMO, merely being a contestant doesn't disqualify one from raising questions or presenting evidence.

                                  Have you already analyzed Hodgson's June 2013 work referenced by The Guardian? Is it equally faulty, IYO?


                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    The Hodgson "study" in the Guardian article is the State Fair judges debacle Jason/zin1953 is talking about.

                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                      Kaleo, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and no one can disagree with that. Scientific fact is one thing (e.g.: gravity is more than merely a good idea, it's the Law), but scientific theory (e.g.: string theory) can and is debated. I find, however, that it's another thing when someone "cooks the books," so to speak.

                                      I don't want to sound self-serving, but as you wrote above, "I respect you greatly, and especially for the easy grace with which you admit wine tasting is not scientific--not only true, but also doesn't detract from anyone or anything." To a certain extent, Hodgson is attempting to make wine tasting scientific. Everyone in the wine business knows that it isn't. Wine MAKING, yes; wine TASTING, no.

                                      I am sure you are familiar with "T-tests," but simply defined, you have three wine glasses in front of you, two of which have the exact same wine in them, while the third has a similar but different wine (e.g.: three Cabernets, two are the 2017 Cache Phloe Cellars Napa Cab, while the third is the 2017 Jean Deaux Vineyards Sonoma Cab). Object of the exercise: pick the "odd glass out." The average person cannot do it with any greater accuracy than statistical chance.

                                      Winemakers generally schedule blending trials and the like around 10:00 am, when their palates are sharpest. They may come back after lunch to verify the results before ordering the cellar crew to start pumping, but the trials are done in the morning.

                                      Again, everyone in the trade knows that it isn't just a cold that may affect one's taste/palate. What you had for lunch, how much sleep you had the night before, even your mood can affect your palate. Distractions such as noise, extraneous scents (like perfume), even lighting can affect it. (UC Davis did experiments with environment in tasting.)

                                      Everyone in the trade knows that, even if you taste only 10-12 wines (in one flight) in the morning, then go have lunch and taste the same wines (albeit in a different order), your results/rankings may and will (probably) be different.

                                      This is not some "hidden" or "evil" secret that people in the trade keep to themselves. However, it is true -- in fact, for the same reason that the 100-point scale resonates so well with the American public -- that many "lay-people" may not know it. (Bear with me here.)

                                      Wine competitions are NOT track-and-field events or swim meets, and yet they are "scored" like them -- Gold, Silver, Bronze. And there are people (consumers) who *still* express surprise and confusion the first time they realize there is more than one Gold Medal winner.

                                      That doesn't happen in the Olympics 100-meter dash, where Usain Bolt wins more often than not -- and when he doesn't, it makes headlines. Or when Michael Phelps swims, he, too, wins more often than not.

                                      In each case, it doesn't matter where the track or the swimming pool is located -- the environment is the same, the pool is the same (Phelps isn't swimming through water one day, olive oil the next.) But in each of these cases, they are competing against a scientifically known constant: Time. This is why -- all things being equal (i.e.: no artificial, pharmaceutical enhancements) -- Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps win more often than not. They are better, faster, stronger . . . whatever it takes to win that particular event.

                                      But wine is NOT competing against the clock, and the judges are not scientific constants. They are human beings. Their judgements are SUBjective. Their palates are not scientific constants, but are affected by all sorts of various factors, PLUS the set of judges at Fair A and *not* the same as the set of judges evaluating the wines at Competition B.

                                      (And Hodgson expects the same wines to win all the time???)

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        When pursuing grant money, whether from government or non-governmental organizations, there are a few basic rules.

                                        1. Know what your client expects the data to show.

                                        2. First draw the line, then plot the points.

                                        3. Any data points that do not support the line are anomalies.

                                        If you do not follow the above rules, plus many others, you will get a bad reputation in the trade and will not be awarded any further grants.

                                        I consider the appreciation of wine a skill attainable by many, (Sketching) and an art by a very few (Monet). I will never appreciate the difference between an 89 and a 91 rating. But I sure enjoy wine. And am continuing to try new ones. A torrontes varietal from Argentina, 2009, is in order tonight.

                                        But to help out those unsure of themselves, there is now 10 feet of shelf dedicated to ratings of 90 or better under $20. And another shelf greater than $20. Without regard to grape, year, or place of origin. And this in a store that has knowledgeable people. All you have to do is ask for help.

                                        Trying to quantify something as subjective as wine is like trying to say which is better. A DaVinci, a Picasso, or your 4 year olds' first self portrait.

                            2. Interesting that 10% of the judges were an order of magnitude more consistent than the others. That suggests that it would be worthwhile to screen judges based on similar tests.

                              A friend of mine used to judge for the California State Fair, but quit because he thought the tastings weren't designed to get meaningful scores.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Hi, RL: "That suggests that it would be worthwhile to screen judges based on similar tests."

                                Yes, of course. But the other 90% aren't going down without a fight (as I think we've seen a hint of in this thread).


                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  The California State Fair (CSF) DOES test prospective judges. This is why consumers as well as those ITB can judge there. As I've written on these pages before, the CSF Judges' Test consists of three parts:

                                  1) The prospective judge is presented with 12 glasses of wine. Each of the 12 may, or may not, have a flaw deliberately introduced into an otherwise sound commercially-released California wine. A passing score is to correctly identify the flaw (or not) in 11 out of the 12 wines.

                                  2) The prospective judge is presented with 8 glasses of white wine, all the same vintage and varietal (say, 2017 Sauvignon Blanc), presented in a random order. The candidate has 15 minutes to taste, evaluate, and grade the wines (Gold, Silver, Bronze, or No Award). After the time has elapsed the glasses are removed and eight more glasses are presented -- these are the exact same wines, presented in a different (random) order. The candidate has 10 minutes to taste, evaluate, and grade (G, S. B, N/A), and after the 10 minutes the glasses are removed. A third set of the same eight wines are presented; again, the candidate has 10 minutes to taste, evaluate, and grade. To pass, the candidate must give the same grade (G, S. B, N/A) to each wine each of the three times he or she tastes it.

                                  3) The final test is identical to the second, but done with red wines. Again, the candidate must award the same medal to the wine each of the three times he or she tastes it.

                                  / / / / /

                                  Prior to becoming the San Francisco INTERnational Wine Competition, the S.F. National Wine Competition was run by Wilfred Wong -- some here may known him from BevMo. He instituted testing prospective judges as well. The tests here were similar to Test 1, as described above, *and* a series of T-tests, which I also described above in a different post. Here a passing grade was zero errors.

                                  / / / / /

                                  Other competitions may test their prospective judges. Those that *do* will often, though not always, accept the tests already given by a different competition. For example, the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition will accept as a judge someone who passed the Judges' Test of the CSF, and vice-versa.

                                  And, of course, there are competitions that do not test prospective judges . . . the Orange Co. Fair, for instance, does not, presuming that being a "winemaker or winery principal" is sufficient. One presumes that a winemaker should be able to recognize flaws, but as far as I know, being a winery owner means you have beaucoup bucks (not necessarily a palate). Then again, the SF Wine Competition, back when Anthony Dias Blue ran it, not only stopped testing judges, but banned any winemaker from judging (fearing, perhaps, they could recognize their own wines?).


                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    I was curious when I first heard that Hodgson had said there was a problematic lack of consistency in the awards given at wine competitions. Hodgson had analyzed the medals given to wines in competitions over the years, and found no consistency in among them. He then published an article about this.

                                    At the time, I'd never heard of Hodgson; I knew nothing about him. But I wanted to look at the same data he had.

                                    I started by calling around to see who had the medals data from the US competitions. Over the new few weeks, I received reports that, together, were ALL the medal data from ALL the competitions over ALL the years. I then combined all this data into one large data report.

                                    After that, the data were sorted by individual wine. What this looked like on the report was that the details about a wine would be entered on one line, things like the individual wine name, winery, vintage, varietal, AVA and (if available) vineyard designation. Below that, on separate lines, would be each competition the wine was entered into, and an indication whether or not it had medaled. Whenever a wine had won a medal, that data cell was automatically color-coded: Gold, Silver, Bronze. From that, I had not only a numerical and statistical readout, but a visual portrait of medal-winning, too. What was easy to see were the clusters of color-coded cells. When a wine had won a medal in one competition, there were lots of color-coded cells around it, showing the same wine had won medals in other competitions also.

                                    Then, the medal-winning was statistically analyzed. The process took a while, but it showed a remarkable consistency of medal winning when a wine was entered into multiple competitions. This result was different from Hodgson's.

                                    I didn't understand Hodgson's result. I hadn't, until that time, read his article, so when I did, it was obvious to me that he had analyzed only a small number of wines, and that he had used only a few years of competitions data to come to his conclusions.

                                    What was most interesting about Hodgson's analysis were two things:

                                    First, though Hodgson had the data for more years, he used only a handful of years, and those years were OUT-OF-SEQUENCE.

                                    So I got on the phone again, and called the people who sent me the raw data. I asked if they had sent the very same data to Hodgson. They said, Yes, they had sent the same years of data to Hodgson but that for some reason he had used only a few of the years, and they didn't know why. They also said they had sent additional years of data to me, because I'd asked for all the years.

                                    The second oddity was that the number of wines Hodson used for his analysis were a small fraction of what was available. There were hundreds of wines entered into multiple competitions, but Hodgson used only a small number of these.

                                    When I examined the specific wines he had used for analysis, and then compared those wines to the data on ALL the wines, I was surprised to discover that he selected wines that DID NOT show a statistical consistency in award-winning when the BULK of wines DID show a statistical consistency in medal-winning.

                                    I was perplexed by this. Again, I didn't know who Hodgson was, but wasn't he a Humboldt-based scientist or statistician or somebody who would surely know that what he did wasn't exactly on the up-and-up? Wouldn't he, of all people, value ethics and wouldn't let bias get in the way? All these questions ran through my mind.

                                    I wanted to make certain that I had not made an error in my own analysis, so I pored over all the data again. But the data sorted out the same as before. It made me almost sick to my stomach when I fully accepted it, but Hodgson had clearly not played fair. And yet, he was getting all this press coverage about this lack of consistency among wine medals. Up until this point, I didn't have a horse in this race. I didn't care if there was medal consistency or not.

                                    I had more data than Hodgson, and I had used it all. I didn't select only some wines that proved my bias, or only certain non-consecutive years that buttresed my theory -- I used all the data.

                                    After analyzing ALL the data on ALL the wines from ALL
                                    the competitions from ALL the years, I found:

                                    When a wine was entered into multiple competitions, if it won a medal in one competition, it almost always won a medal in other competitions.

                                    Even when I used only the years that Hodgson had used, I still came to the same result:

                                    There WAS statistical consistency.
                                    Hodgson's conclusion was erroneous.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      Hi, ML:

                                      Then you should submit a screened and reviewed study to the contrary. I'm sure Cambridge University Press would take a look at it.

                                      Meanwhile, Professor Hodgson has been busy. I have copies of his PowerPoint presentations at Stellenbosch if you're interested. The latest paper on wine judging itself should be in the next edition of AAWE. Turns out he has like conclusions about judging beer.


                              2. Years ago, after reading tasting notes from Parker and Suckling about the 1988 Mouton whence the former gave it an OK 87pts but Suckling of WS gave the wine a perfect 100pts. I sought of lose faith in opinions by so call judges, reviewers, tasters....etc.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  I remember that clearly but I only lost faith in Suckling! Very nice guy but wholly unreliable as a critic. One must always calibrate one's own palate to the critic's, merchant's, friend's.

                                2. I don't know if wine tasting is science, junk science, art or junk art.

                                  I do know that I will only buy and drink what I enjoy, regardless of what any critic - no matter how respected - says.

                                  28 Replies
                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      <<I do know that I will only buy and drink what I enjoy, regardless of what any critic>>

                                      IMHO, that is what matters, and is, as it should be.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        I think people who put too much credence or reliance on critics are either insecure or ignorant of their own personal taste preferences. Too bad.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          I cannot argue with that statement.

                                          When I rely on a "critic," I want them to give me great, accurate and full descriptions of what they encountered. The "subjective" stuff can be left out, at least for me.

                                          If they move immediately to numbers, or wineglasses, I move one.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            Most of what people want in a dry wine is ... not really there. It's subjective, because you're tasting hallucinations.

                                            Wine is sour, and without salt/sugar, it's hard to actually taste the true flavor.

                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                              I like you, really -- but have you ever actually had a glass of decent wine?

                                              If it's sour, then it's bad wine. Throw it out and start over.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                Everything's good in balance, no? I have an excellent raspberry wine that traipses the line between sweet and sour.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    are you saying bad as in "don't drink it! poison!"
                                                    or bad as in "most people don't like that, but whateva?"
                                                    or bad as in "that's a clear defect, it's not supposed to taste like that"
                                                    (kinda like with coffee, tasting like leather is probably a defect, brought on by improperly selected beans)

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        I think it mostly goes under the heading
                                                        "I don't like it", no?

                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                          I have a relatively high tolerance for volatile acidity, and -- no -- it's NOT "I don't like it." In all my years of wine judging/writing, I've never heard of anyone calling VA anything but a fault. So, too, EA.

                                                          Tartrates are never a fault. All it means is that -- some time after the wine was bottled -- the temperature of the wine was lowered below where it ever was in the winery. No big deal whatsoever, and NEVER a flaw/fault.

                                                          There is a difference between herbal aromas and intense herbaceousness. Think freshly cut grass, green olives, eucalyptus -- or even asparagus, I suppose -- versus the water from a pitcher of dead daisies, the smell of CANNED green beans or asparagus (still *in* the can), and so on . . .

                                                          Over-oaked is a matter of threshold, rather than a decided flaw. One person's over-oaked monster is another's lush, sweet oaked Napa Cab . . .

                                                          And so on . . .

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            If you mean acetic acid, can't you just say acetic acid?
                                                            Sorry, the scientist in me says "not all sours are the same"... and that if I'm saying that the taste of grapes is sour (which it is, like a lot of fruit, and that is enhanced by the whole fermentation process, which reduces sweetness), I'm probably not talking about acetic acid taste.


                                                        2. re: zin1953

                                                          "Sour" means different things to different people. Many wine writers avoid it entirely in favor of unambiguous terms, such as "acetic" and "acidic."

                                                        3. re: Chowrin

                                                          bad as in "there's something wrong with it, it doesn't taste like it's supposed to, and you won't enjoy it if you soldier on"

                                                          Lots of top-shelf, highly-rated wine has notes of leather. It can be a highly-prized facet of good wine.

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            I linked two interesting sources above.
                                                            If you don't already know the chemistry, it's worth a read.

                                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                                              but "sour" isn't the same creature.

                                                              I think most of the planet can agree that "sour" is unpleasant and to be avoided.

                                                              "Tart", "acidic", "crisp" -- all words that describe an acidic tendency that's actually pleasant.

                                                              e.g., Sour Patch Kids vs. Sweet Tarts.

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                Google "pleasantly sour."

                                                                You're arguing semantics, not wine.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  but chowrin is talking about something that is "sour" enough to need to add salt or sugar.

                                                                  *that* is flat-out bad wine, not fit to drink or even to cook with.

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    I add salt to tzatziki. I'd hardly say that is tremendously sour.
                                                                    I also salt raw tomatoes.

                                                                    yes, of course, I could use more complimentary terminology. My apologies, I was attempting to choose clarity as I do not claim a vast understanding of the lingo.

                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                      salt + wine= bad wine.
                                                                      sugar + wine = bad wine.

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    <<You're arguing semantics, not wine.>>

                                                                    I don't think so. There are various contributory acids in wine, and some acids that are indicative of flaws.

                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                      Your experience differ from mine.


                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                        WTF?!?!?!? How many times have you added salt to a glass of wine? Did you actually taste the results?

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Well, I had salsa with wine last night. And I certainly didn't wash my mouth out between sips. It definitely tasted different.
                                                          You might want to blame it on the hot peppers though (those, as well, muck with taste).

                                                          1. re: Chowrin

                                                            Salsa is not salt.

                                                            yes, peppers will alter your ability to taste. They're not salt, either.

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              Any flat beer or slightly fizzy wine is greatly enhanced by some large crystals of salt. Especially on a hot day. If you are paying for bubbles, you might as well go for the gusto!

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  Let us know when the Sleuth data and algorithm are published in a peer-reviewed journal, OK?

                                                  Here's my favorite part: "Just because panelists in wine competitions can’t repeat results doesn’t mean that individual experts are not able to repeatedly identify a wine’s aroma and flavor characteristics and their intensities in blind samples”

                                                  Um, I think it does. Either that, or their conclusion isn't saying much.

                                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                                    Didn't think it that far-reaching either. Agree on the peer-review but Hodgson got through even so.

                                                    Repeating the exact score of a single wine with repeated tastings is impossible in a competition because the wine is re-evaluated against all the other wines each time it is re-tasted. A wine originally scored 88 can easily become an 85 or a 92 depending on what comes before and after.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      Hi, maria: "Repeating the exact score of a single wine with repeated tastings is impossible..."

                                                      Please sit down... I agree with this. Repetition is asking too much of anyone. It's the wideness of the *deviation* that Hodgson has drilled into, IMO with some justification.

                                                      Awarding points--no matter how well-constructed the categories/parameters/scales--basically comes down to a set of value judgments which is unavoidably subjective. Note that I did not say *entirely* subjective.

                                                      It is difficult to say from the Examiner article (which I read as nothing more than a press release from VineSleuth) whether all they're saying is that there are better "batting averages" for skilled tasters on the most objectively-discernible aspects of tasting. If so, we should all yawn, scratch and move on.

                                                      I think it would be a very healthy thing for all wine competitions to adopt a philosophy something like the football maxim of: "On Any Given Sunday...". It's the cloaking of the *entire* process in a mantle of objectivity that gets folks like Hodgson and others to pop off. And rightfully so, IMO. It just wouldn't be especially good for business...


                                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                                        What mantle of objectivity?

                                                        Even highly trained and experienced judges disagree. That's why competitions have panels of judges instead of just one.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Hi, Robert:

                                                          You're kidding, right? Or is there a tiny little asterisk on every medal and point total that has a microfiche note that says:

                                                          "Our judges are mostly pretty good at telling what they like or dislike in wines, but a lot of them disagree (and they all disagree with themselves sometimes), so we have panels of 'em to make our awards seem less arbitrary than it might otherwise appear. This year's Grand Champion placed 17th out of 35 with the same wine last year, but hey, at least we try. Y'all come back next year to find out who our Grand Champion is, y'hear?"

                                                          If, as you suggest, the wine industry and its accolade distribution/marketing system don't *themselves* consider there to be a mantle of objectivity, they have done an ABYSMAL job of conveying that to the wine-buying public. Our friend here, Jason, is one of the few who minces no words about it, AAMOF.


                                                        2. re: kaleokahu

                                                          In all competitions, that I have been a part of, it was:

                                                          Wine X vs Wine Y vs Wine Z. There was NO objective to compare any of those three with Wine O, from elsewhere, though it might have been an ultimate expression of that varietal. It was based on what was in front of us, at that moment.


                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            Hi, Hunt: "There was NO objective to compare any of those three with Wine O, from elsewhere."

                                                            Well of course that's not the *objective*. But tasters carry with them a plethora of memories (sometimes accurate, oftentimes not) and expectations. I submit that there are plenty of comparisons going on outside the universe of X, Y and Z. The taster may think otherwise, but that does not necessarily mean it isn't happening.

                                                            For example, let's say you have judged 3 wines in your life at 99 or 100 points. You undoubtedly recall those tastings as something special. I don't think people can be expected to set those kinds of experiences completely aside. The things remembered can get in the way sometimes.


                                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                                              Those should be both subjective, and in the background, as wines A, B & C are not in the lineup - only wines X, Y & Z.

                                                              Obviously, one must rely on their experiences, and those are often why that person IS a taster in a competition. Still, what is at hand is X, Y & Z, not other wines.

                                                              If one is not judging wines, but doing TN's, then that is something entirely different, and one's tasting experiences should come into play.

                                                              With regards to tasting for a competition, I will disagree, at least partially - though have had some competitions, where NO wines get any award, as they fail on several levels, but that is not all that common, at least in my limited experiences. I know that ML, Jason, you and Robert do many more such tastings, than I have, so am always interested to hear how others do it.



                                                        3. re: maria lorraine

                                                          AND, in a competition, there can be a ton of variables:

                                                          Bottle variation
                                                          Temp of the wine
                                                          Glassware used
                                                          Any toothpaste used within about 4 hours
                                                          Any flavors in the crackers
                                                          Any fruit in the water
                                                          Time of day
                                                          Wines tasted before
                                                          Many other aspects of that tasting

                                                          Probably missed a few dozen others. Humans are humans, and not Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) machines.


                                                        4. re: kaleokahu

                                                          Generally speaking, how something tastes is affected by what you've tasted before it, and your memory and evaluation of it are also affected by what you taste after it. Training yourself to control for those factors when tasting a set of wines is at best quite difficult.

                                                          I think only the most highly skilled tasters (if any) would be able to consistently rank a particular wine at say 17 points out of 20 when tasting it among several sets of similar wines where it respectively ranked first, last, and at various positions in the middle.

                                                          In addition, and I think this is the biggest factor in Hodgson's study, different panels / competitions have different standards for awarding medals. Some seem to grade more or less on a curve, giving golds to the best wines of the group. Other throw out gold medals like beads at Mardi Gras. Others may give no golds or even silvers in a category if the judges didn't think any of the wines were standouts.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                            I had not read down completely, before I posted - basically what you said!


                                                      2. Might as well add my two cents to over 55 replies on this thread:

                                                        1. Not going to re-read the piece, but from memory it referenced "marathon" tastings where judges tasted dozens of wines at a sitting (yes?). I don't have a problem with the basic idea that quantity and quality run inverse in wine-tasting. My palate will fatigue at some point, I'll fail to fully rinse out the previous wine etc. etc...

                                                        2. But in the short run, over any reasonable number of glasses... say up to 20 anyway, it's ridiculous to think that an experienced wine fan can't make intelligent relative judgements as to which wine is more interesting to his/her palate than the others... And for most casual tasters I think 20 is stretching it.... 8 to 10 more like it for neo-drinkers, probably up to 20 for people with a fair amount of consistent tasting experience...

                                                        beyond that I'll believe contrary evidence but there's no doubt I would develop palate fatigue. As I'm typing this I recognize one good reason... to REALLY get a full appreciation of a wine, at least for me I need a fair amount of it, a swish and spit isn't going to get it... after 20, I've had a few :) And this is especially true because I like to re-taste, compare 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 3, 1 vs. 3, etc... and comparing all dimensions including taste, texture, and often the combined flavor with a matching food item...

                                                        In the end I may sample fewer wines this way, but the overall accuracy is much more valuable than if I try to blast through dozens of wines barely sampling any one of them, and not going back for any head-to-head tastings....

                                                        It's just absurd to say that a focused taster can't develop a relative ranking of what he or she likes within a given quantity of samples that makes sense for the methodology that taster uses.

                                                        1. I just came across this excellent example of how highly experienced judges can disagree.

                                                          Robert Parker: "Another off the chart effort … a wine of sublime richness, minerality, delineation, and nobleness. Representing the essence of one of St.-Emilion’s greatest terroirs, the limestone and clay soils were perfect for handling the torrid heat of 2003. Inky/purple to the rim, it offers up provocative aromas of minerals, black and red fruits, balsamic vinegar, licorice, and smoke. It traverses the palate with extraordinary richness as well as remarkable freshness and definition. … A brilliant effort … one of the three greatest offerings of the right bank in 2003." Rating: 96 (i.e. 46 out of 50)

                                                          Jancis Robinson's notes from a blind tasting: "Deep blueish crimson. Completely unappetising overripe aromas. Why? Porty sweet. Oh REALLY! Port is best from the Douro not St Emilion. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux with its unappetising green notes." Rating: 12 out of 20

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            and you have to learn which critics enjoy styles similar to what you enjoy.

                                                            This is a prime example -- I've learned over the years that I generally don't care for wines that Parker rates very highly -- I don't like the really sticky fruit bombs that earn so many of his points, so I actually steer away from wines bearing high Parker ratings. (absolutely nothing bad to say about the guy -- but he likes a very different style of wine than I like -- not a big deal; my best friend likes a very different style of wine than I like, too. To each their own.)

                                                            So on this particular comparison, I'd read the two, realize that Parker really loved it so it's probably not my thing, and then read Robinson's notes, which would reinforce my realization, and leave this one sitting on the shelf, because I probably won't enjoy it.

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              I agree completely.

                                                              Each critic brings their personal biases to the plate. Those might, or might not, be in alignment with yours. One must cherry-pick, to find what THEY like, or do not like.


                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                I came across that in a discussion of Tim Hanna's sweet / sensitive / hyper-sensitive / tolerant palate classification. His theory is that Parker's tolerant and Robinson's sensitive.


                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  I'd steer clear of Hanni in your research on taste/flavor perception. Lots of problems with his data, his methods, his "experts" and so forth. Discussed on Heimoff's blog, if you're interested.

                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    Hanni's classification system is clearly way too simplistic. A system that really explained some of the differences in how people taste wine differently would have probably have to take half a dozen or more axes of sensitivity into account.

                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I also don't really like any tasting where the taster knows exactly which wine(s) he's tasting. There's just too much potential for bias one way or the other. This isn't to say it's intentional bias but for someone with a long-standing love or hate for a particular St.-E vineyard I just don't believe they will be as objective tasting it fully knowing the vineyard as they would if they know only it's a "2003 bordeaux".

                                                                I prefer that the baggage of all prior associations be set aside they their notes reflect only their actual tasting impressions of the unidentified wine in the glass before them.

                                                              3. When someone who's not a wine geek says "excellent raspberry wine that traipses the line between sweet and sour," you know they're not saying it's flawed.

                                                                Keeping that in mind, Chowrin's "Wine is sour, and without salt/sugar, it's hard to actually taste the true flavor" captures something true about what dry wine tastes like to novices. For most people, it's an acquired taste, even though they're used to the same acids and tannins in the context of other foods, where those elements are balanced with sweet, salty, and umami flavors.

                                                                34 Replies
                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  I am probably not jumping in at the right point in this discussion, and this is not really a direct reply to Robert (I agree with his point), but my initial thought about Chowrin's comment was that they meant that wine *by itself* is/can seem sour and you need the sweet or salt flavors of food to bring it into balance.

                                                                  1. re: pamf

                                                                    So do you find wines to enhance the food, or food to accentuate a wine?

                                                                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                      I think food can make or break a wine experience.

                                                                      There are some wines that are not that interesting on their own, but give a much more favorable impression when paired with the *right* food. So here the food enhances the wine.

                                                                      There are some foods that clash with just about any wine (artichokes, salad dressing).

                                                                      There some wines that can work across a wide range of different food (like sparkling wine).

                                                                      I don't think that the wine necessarily enhances the flavor of food (could be proved wrong here), but that during the course of the meal it refreshes the palate and helps to keep the flavors of the food from becoming monotonous.

                                                                      1. re: pamf

                                                                        Sauternes, Roquefort, and honey.

                                                                        One of the most mind-blowing examples of a true marriage.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          Blue cheeses often go very well with dessert wines, but honey is a bad idea. Dessert wines should be significantly sweeter than anything you have with them or they'll taste sour.

                                                                          "Ménage à trois" is French for "one too many."

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            funny -- it was introduced to me by a French guy.

                                                                            Try it. It's amazing. And the sauternes doesn't taste sour. Or acidic. Or acrid.

                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                              Taste varies. I've had honey and other too-sweet things with dessert wines too many times to count. Does not work for me.

                                                                              Gorgonzola and chestnut honey (which has has a strong, funky aroma) is a great combination, one of the few cheese + sweet combinations that really makes sense. But it's normally served with dry red wine.

                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                there are also a lot of wine professionals who recommend the combination.

                                                                                If you don't like it, fine, but that doesn't mean I (or anyone else) am in the wrong for enjoying it.

                                                                                that's not even the *literal* tranlation of ménage à trois...

                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  Sauternes and Roquefort is classic. Adding honey is not. If you like it, that's your business, but my recommendation of never pairing sweet wine with foods that are sweeter than the wine is about as unoriginal as can be.

                                                                                  "All wines taste horribly acid if served with sweet food, unless they are sweeter than the food itself ..."


                                                                                  "Certainly it’s true that serving Sauternes with a sweet dessert is a waste."




                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    Well I tried the "menage" last night and found it wonderful! The salty, intense cheese with a drizzle of honey, and a glass of Royal Tokaji from 5 Puttonyes Aszu. The cheese seemed to form a bridge between honey and wine while emphasizing the sweet in both. Enchanting!

                                                                                    1. re: budnball

                                                                                      5 puttonyos = 12-14.9% residual sugar, which is around twice as sweet as Sauternes. That might well be sweeter than the cheese + honey combination.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        just give it a try the next time you have a Sauternes open. Any quality salty blue cheese works.

                                                                                        1. re: budnball

                                                                                          I've had that many times, learned to scrape off the honey if we're drinking dessert wine long ago.

                                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                Obviously, you had the *wrong* ménage à trois . . .

                                                                              3. re: sunshine842

                                                                                <<Sauternes, Roquefort, and honey.
                                                                                One of the most mind-blowing examples of a true marriage.>>

                                                                                A rather famous French gastronomy professor introduced our class to (really great) Sauternes paired with a piece of fresh French baguette smeared with blue cheese and **apricot preserves.**

                                                                                To this day, it's one of the greatest pairings I've ever tasted.

                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine


                                                                                  One of our best friends always asks me to get out a jar of my homemade jam when I bring out the cheese plate.

                                                                                  And he's a dedicated fan of sweeter wines.

                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    Americans somehow got the idea in recent decades that a cheese plate is incomplete if it isn't accompanied by a bunch of sweet stuff.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      "Americans"?? Pretty broad generalization, and certainly untrue for those cheese plates at home and in restaurants I've seen across the country. The most "sweet" things I've seen on cheese plates are fruit, quince paste, and dark honey.

                                                                                      Re: honey. A tiny needle-thin drizzle of dark honey is the amount of honey I've seen used, and have used myself. That is not enough honey to overtake the sweetness of a wine. Especially if its dark.

                                                                                      And if the cheese with that slight drizzle of honey is on a neutral piece of bread or cracker, that further diminishes the sweetness of the honey.

                                                                                      I'm extremely sensitive to the sweetness of food never overpowering the sweetness of a dessert wine, and I've never encountered an issue using honey or a thin spread of apricot preserves. Use too much and there may be an issue.

                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                        Cheese plates in Europe are almost always just cheese. There are rare exceptions such as membrillo with Manchego.

                                                                                        In America, as a rule I have to tell them to put all the sweet stuff on the side. I've seen people complain on Chowhound about cheese plates without condiments.

                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          we must be eating in very different places in Europe.

                                                                                          Not as much in restaurants, but in people's homes, there's usually some sweet bits on the plate.

                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                            I don't know what people do at home, but at restaurants in France I've never been offered anything but cheese for the cheese course.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              like I said -- we must be eating in vastly different places.

                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                You've been offered honey, jam, or dried fruit with the cheese course in a restaurant in France?

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  Yes, I have. No, I don't remember where, nor did I keep the receipts.

                                                                                                  I realize you are just itching for someone to take it out in the alley for an all-out brawl, but I'm really not interested.

                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          The jam-and-cheese guy is French. By birth, by rearing, and by passport. Lives there, votes in the elections, speaks the language -- real, honest-to-God French.

                                                                                          And the guy who taught me about honey and Roquefort and Sauternes? Yeah, he's French, too.

                                                                                          We get that you don't like honey with wine/cheese.

                                                                                          That doesn't mean that everyone else is deficient in some manner, or even that they're American.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            I'm always astounded that our experiences are so different . . .

                                                                                  2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                    >>> So do you find wines to enhance the food, or food to accentuate a wine? <<<


                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  And, really, what I wanted to note was that dry wines aren't as much about "strong and apparent tastes", so much as light taste hallucinations.
                                                                                  So it's not surprising that people's experience varies (and can to some extent be trained).

                                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                    I really want to ask you to explain that, but I'm actually afraid to . . .

                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                      Good, fresh coffee overwhelms the sense of "taste" (truly, it's more than half smell, but you know that), with oodles of alcohols and other smells. You get hallucinations from that, because the brain can't process everything.

                                                                                      Dry wines are going the opposite route, by deliberately reducing and lightening the grape flavors (hence wines that aren't sour, as they provide a different palate to paint with). What's left is effervescent hallucinations (and since they're relatively simple, folks can be trained in what a particular scent "means").

                                                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                        Can't say that I've ever heard the word "hallucination" used in this context. Not sure it's technically correct, but I kinda like it. :o))

                                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                          I *still* have no clue what the **** you're talking about, but I think that's probably alright.