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Apr 12, 2014 11:19 AM

Eating a Stradivarius?

This article about the fact that:

“The current study shows that first-rate soloists tend to prefer new instruments and are unable to distinguish old from new at better than chance levels”

...leads me to the premise of this post...that those who extol the virtues of anything from the very expensive wine they drink to the over the top descriptions of the most sublime sushi they consumed, in which the perfect knife work and the finest (rarest) fish selected by the master sushi genius of the moment absolutely craps all over every other sushi in the world may just be our own built in bias at work.

Now for sushi we might have to do something about "norming" out the rice component for temperature and flavoring, but as to the actual fish, I am now surmising that those who think of themselves as "sushi cognoscenti" or "mavens of Mackerel" are just fooling themselves.

I've always thought this with wine for the most part. Several studies have been published in which experts were routinely fooled about the actual (low) price of the wine they were tasting when "highfalutin" labels were substituted.

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  1. Blind tastings can be very revealing and keeps it honest

    Do it often with bourbon and cigars.

    1. I heard that piece on NPR and had the same thought as you.

      1. Nah, you are just projecting. I don't know good wine from bad wine, but I certainly can tell good sushi from bad. And even amazing sushi from the merely outstanding.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Uncle Yabai

          "...but I certainly can tell good sushi from bad."

          That certainty, just as the certainty with which wine experts have said about their ability to tell expensive wine from cheaper plonk, may not represent reality.

          Or the certainty that professional violinists have had that they could tell the difference between newly made instruments and those made by a master craftsman hundreds of years ago which they "thought" they preferred may be based on nothing more than bias.

          And when you don't have the visual clues to feed that bias you end up not being able to discern the difference which you had always assumed was there and clear to you.

          1. re: Servorg

            Just because you can't tell good sushi from bad doesn't mean others can't. I could probably do this with the lights out and blindfolded.

            I can't tell good wine from lesser wine although it isn't hard to spot the very good from the undrinkable.

              1. re: Servorg

                Thank you for that. You seem to be afflicted by exactly this problem in your inability to comprehend that some people can indeed tell bad sushi from good (or bad wine from good wine, or whatever), and sticking to that view as if it was gospel.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  I believe that's the "I'm rubber you're glue" argument, is it not?

                  And bad and good probably aren't actually the terminology that fits this discussion. More so this is about those who think that they can tell the absolute best "sushi" or "wine" or "violin" from their average counterparts (based on price and production by "master" chefs or carvers or vintners vs the ones who aren't so "exalted") are most likely fooling themselves.

                  1. re: Servorg

                    Well, "absolute best" is a pretty opaque descriptor, when it comes to sushi or wine. At some point, it is all about splitting hairs. I don't know much about wine, but I do know about sushi, and there is nothing more ridiculous than using something like the Michelin guide to "pre-rank" where to eat and then applying your own confirmation bias to the experience.

                    Having three stars or whatever doesn't make these sushi places the "absolute best", but it does attract the kind of weak-minded star-fecker that likes to confirm his or her own brilliant choices no matter what.

                    Are these places good in general? Certainly, and they are usually some of the best. But the guide doesn't include all of the best ones. As a matter of fact, there a number of sushi places in Tokyo that I go to that I don't even write about in CH. They have no stars because they operate under the radar. Are they better than the starred places? Sometimes and for some things (and viceversa).

        2. It does seem to be a study on violins that is more about a preference rather than being able to say which is the old one.

          Clearly there was a preference for a newer model (not cheap though I think it was an $18,000 one), and my assumption is that they selected the one they liked best as the old one because they were conditioned to expect that (approx 50% chose correctly) - I think one violinist says that was the mantra at music school.

          Does that go for food. Absolutely. You may prefer young fresh wine, or old mature wine. but it doesn't mean you can't tell them apart. You just need to understand the characteristics.

          I always find it interesting when I hear reports about these blind tests because you can tell the old from the new and old ones are so much better.

          But its true that its tricky to tell an expensive new wine from a cheap one. The reason a lot of wines are expensive is that they age so well and develop enormous complexity. An expensive, but new Cabernet Sauvignon will have the structure and tannins to age, but when new won't taste great. Whilst a cheaper one will be more fruit driven with less harsh tannins and so will not age and the fruit will fade leading to a flat tasting wine (of course some cheaper wines do age well, but its more of a lottery - I have some great ten year old $12 bottles).

          I am not an expert on sushi but can say the good stuff is really good. I think its one of those foods were everyone thinks sushi is just sushi until they taste really good sushi. When you do you know it - its one of those eureka moments - and it falls into place. My eureka sushi moment was in a back street bar not a fine dining place.

          1. Interesting. I wonder how it would go if they heard each other play and judge that since it's more accurate for violin use. Way back when I played, my teacher had me try out new equipment both by my playing and my hearing him play. It would be like asking a sushi chef which knife was preferred vs asking diners which sushi they prefer.

            2 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              I find it very interesting to read and learn about how much cues, visual and other types (and the expectations that come with them) color our perceptions. Bias seems to be turning out to be a more and more important phenomena when it comes to enjoyment (and, hell, if you throw in the placebo effect - wellness) by the human species.

              1. re: Servorg

                Enjoyment of food does include the taste as much as the texture, the smell and the look. So all these elements are important.

                But it is interesting to see how pre-conceived bias comes into play and thus a placebo type effect. If a steak looks luscious and juicy compared to a duller and slightly dryer version does it taste better or is it only perception.

                And if a wine has lost it fresh bright colour and has "browned" a bit with age do we assume its a better wine than a younger one because an old wine is meant to be better.