Wine Experts Frauds?

Jonah Lehrer points to repeated experiments showing that wine “experts” have almost no agreement when conducting blind taste tests, are completely influenced by the labels on a wine bottle, and can’t even distinguish white wines from red!

What these experiments neatly demonstrate is that the taste of a wine, like the taste of everything, is not merely the sum of our inputs, and cannot be solved in a bottom-up fashion. It cannot be deduced by beginning with our simplest sensations and extrapolating upwards. When we taste a wine, we aren’t simply tasting the wine. This is because what we experience is not what we sense. Rather, experience is what happens when our senses are interpreted by our subjective brain, which brings to the moment its entire library of personal memories and idiosyncratic desires. As the philosopher Donald Davidson argued, it is ultimately impossible to distinguish between a subjective contribution to knowledge that comes from our selves (what he calls our “scheme”) and an objective contribution that comes from the outside world (“the content”). Instead, in Davidson’s influential epistemology, the “organizing system and something waiting to be organized” are hopelessly interdependent. Without our subjectivity we could never decipher our sensations, and without our sensations we would have nothing to be subjective about. In other words, we shouldn’t be surprised that different people like different bottles of cheap wine.

Unfortunately, while we will often dislike a very expensive wine and occasionally really enjoy a cheap one, my wife and I tend to be drawn to expensive-ish pinot noirs costing upwards of $30 a bottle. You’d think that if wine tastes were completely random that this wouldn’t happen.

via Radley Balko

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Uncategorized, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    In college we conducted a blind taste test of six bears (including the putative favorites). No one picked their ‘preffered’ beer #1. The rankings were all over the place with one exception. Everyone picked the generic beer (whie can with black lettering) as the bottom pick.

    Bottom line is that a blaind tast test might find you something you like as well as the $30 a bottle, but at a more reasonable cost.

  2. Ugh says:

    In college we conducted a blind taste test of six bears

    We did the same, it came out:



  3. just me says:

    I imagine for most beverages a person can pick out “cheap” easily enough, but the other stuff not so easily.

    Wine in general is something I loath anyway-it tastes like somebody poured a bottle of hairspray into a bottle of fruit juice and put a cork in it.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Let’s hear it for 2 Buck Chuck! (3 Buck Chuck if you live outside California)

  5. Wayne says:

    Many of the wine critics\lovers I have come across know the language and wine labels but know little about wine. They seem to do it more for the snob facture than anything else.

    However there are some that really know their wine. I am not much of a wine drinker. Most wine taste vinegary to me. Although I did have a friend that knew which wines I would like and they did tend to be the more expensive wines but I usually didn’t know that until after I tasted them since he order them. There have been many expensive wines that I didn’t care for.

    This isn’t unusual for many areas including gourmet food, guns, cars, clothing and many others. Some of it has do with style, quality of the goods and how it fits with the individual.

  6. Wayne says:

    As for beer, I found many people can’t tell the difference between some of the more popular brands but some do. I often switch brands or style of beer depending on my particular taste for the night.

    I have known quite of few bartenders that ran the same tap beer into different label taps when they ran out of one type of beer.

  7. On balance there isn’t much difference between a Coors, Bud or whatever other watery lager one can buy at Wal*Mart.