the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

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mark rudner
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the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#1 Post by mark rudner » January 10th, 2019, 5:18 pm

i have to think that every time i see notes from a multi-wine tasting, it is almost always the oldest wine that steals the show.
20 wines with treasures from the 80's and 90's and some truly astronomically professionally rated wines (drc, rousseau, insert whatever)
and yet some unheard of wine from the 1920's bests them all, and by a wide margin.
so i ask, is it the surprise that a wine that should long be dead actually still breathes, or are these wines really giving oscar worthy performances related to the others in the tasting?
if it's been asked a thousand times before, i missed it, and apologies [cheers.gif]

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#2 Post by Anton D » January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm

If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#3 Post by Kirk.Grant » January 10th, 2019, 5:43 pm

Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
Several years ago I served a '66 & '82 Bordeaux blind side by side...the '66 mopped the floor with the '82. It was younger, fresher, and just more complex.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#4 Post by Cris Whetstone » January 10th, 2019, 6:02 pm

I thought this stopped when Rodenstock stopped doing events.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#5 Post by Wes Barton » January 10th, 2019, 6:55 pm

I've had modest older wines at their peak show better than maturing wines that will ultimately show better when they reach their peak. Not too big a surprise. I also see people down-rate those same wines, contrary to their own preferences, because they want to like those younger, greater wines more. And, plenty of well drinking mature wines get rated in the 90-91 zone, despite modest tertiary dimensions, due to preference or familiarity. At least in my circles, where plenty of mature wines are opened, past their peak, but still good wines tend to rate in the mid to high 80s.

Unheard of old bottles that don't show well tend to be quickly forgotten. They may not even get widely tried. The ones that show well are remembered. People bias their memories that way. Novelty can be a factor, too, when people aren't used to older wines.

Why are these bottles "unheard of"? Wines that old are often from producers that went out of business long ago for various reasons.....or, just changed in quality. So, maybe they were well known in the distant past. Maybe a small producer that never got wide acclaim, yet still marked high quality. Maybe an exceptional vintage from an otherwise so-so producer. Perhaps the collector(s) who aged the wine so long knew something...
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#6 Post by John Morris » January 10th, 2019, 8:25 pm

Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
+1 +1 +1

And there's an enormously subjective element. I was served a '61 Ch. Talbot a month ago, blindly. It was remarkably fresh but didn't show any distinct Medoc character. Others loved it even before it was unveiled. Me, not so much.

As Anton said, most of the notes on these events were taken in non-blind settings. And typically the very old wines were served well into a long evening of wine. Draw your own conclusions.

Yes, old wines can be great, and distinctive. But very often they aren't.

To me that should have been the tipoff with Rodenstock and Rudy: there was never a bad bottle at their drinkathons. All their ancient bottles were astoundingly vibrant. Just doesn't happen like that (even allowing for the fact that they might have opened and set aside off bottles).

It it's too good to be true, it probably is.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#7 Post by Arv R » January 10th, 2019, 9:22 pm

I read the book about Broadbent / TJ Haut Brions / Rodenstock and apparently one condition of those events was that participants could NOT use dump buckets / spittoons. It was under the guise of 'these wines are too great to waste' but since Rodenstock was secretly selling sampled wines he didn't want them to be tasted unimpaired.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#8 Post by Walt Hoehler » January 11th, 2019, 7:56 am

Part of it is the 'Instagram effect'. People mostly write up things that are positive (just as they post their 'best' pix on Instagram). If an older wine bombed, many times it is simply left out as DOA.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#9 Post by C Chen » January 11th, 2019, 9:36 am

John Morris wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 8:25 pm
Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
+1 +1 +1

And there's an enormously subjective element. I was served a '61 Ch. Talbot a month ago, blindly. It was remarkably fresh but didn't show any distinct Medoc character. Others loved it even before it was unveiled. Me, not so much.

As Anton said, most of the notes on these events were taken in non-blind settings. And typically the very old wines were served well into a long evening of wine. Draw your own conclusions.

Yes, old wines can be great, and distinctive. But very often they aren't.

To me that should have been the tipoff with Rodenstock and Rudy: there was never a bad bottle at their drinkathons. All their ancient bottles were astoundingly vibrant. Just doesn't happen like that (even allowing for the fact that they might have opened and set aside off bottles).

It it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Agree with Anton and John. That's why I think the Audouze dinners are fun reads, but not as divine as one might think.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#10 Post by Robert Sand » January 11th, 2019, 9:43 am

A perfectly mature wine usually wins over a wine of the same quality but too young.
Simple. Maturity is a fine thing.

However, if one rates the objective quality only any rating should depend on this quality, and not on age or maturity.
However this is not always the case.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#11 Post by Marcus Goodfellow » January 11th, 2019, 10:34 am

John Morris wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 8:25 pm
Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
+1 +1 +1

And there's an enormously subjective element. I was served a '61 Ch. Talbot a month ago, blindly. It was remarkably fresh but didn't show any distinct Medoc character. Others loved it even before it was unveiled. Me, not so much.

As Anton said, most of the notes on these events were taken in non-blind settings. And typically the very old wines were served well into a long evening of wine. Draw your own conclusions.

Yes, old wines can be great, and distinctive. But very often they aren't.

It it's too good to be true, it probably is.
I love both of your posts in general, and I agree that this happens sometimes.

But sometimes the old bottle is just great, even if you can see the label. Sometimes not, there are plenty of not-great old bottles too. But I think the percentages are often swayed by the fact that most wines people cellar for a number of years are from houses, regions, and vineyards that have built a track record of aging well enough to risk holding onto the wines for an extended period. They definitely get a boost from social signaling as well, but I think often the wine doesn’t need the boost.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#12 Post by Claus Jeppesen » January 11th, 2019, 1:06 pm

Old, is that before Carter or before Nixon?
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#13 Post by Dan Kravitz » January 11th, 2019, 5:48 pm

Just one piece of anecdotal evidence: I posted a while ago on a 1961 Nervi Gattinara. It was very good wine, but far from the wine of the evening. It wasn't done blind, but it wasn't a wine geek evening. Five bottles for six people (which is actually a lot). Just friends. I had it 3rd best out of 5 wines. No stealing of show, but a real pleasure and two of the people, who aren't regular wine drinkers, were properly amazed that something 57 years old could be that enjoyable.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#14 Post by mark rudner » January 16th, 2019, 8:44 am

Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
i think this the response that most resonates with me, thanks

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#15 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » January 16th, 2019, 9:10 am

Claus Jeppesen wrote:
January 11th, 2019, 1:06 pm
Old, is that before Carter or before Nixon?
If Francois Audouze is involved in the tasting, it's before Marie Antoinette.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#16 Post by Mike Grammer » January 16th, 2019, 10:27 am

I'm going to channel my inner Craig Gleason here. If there's an elephant in the room...make sure you're not the one wearing tusks. :)

I do think there is a predisposition to want to like the older/oldest wine because we know/think it's rarer and thus a privilege to be in the same room with it. I try not to let that affect me too much when doing a tasting, but it may. That said, when Francois served my dad and I a 1929 Corton Clos du Roi, it remains one of the most memorable wine experiences of my entire life. That then-83 year old wine held up as the wine of the entire trip, and that included a week in Burgundy and a heck of a lot of fine wine there and elsewhere. And still....that's my own mileage. This could be the ultimate YMMV. As a counter, at a communal 50th b-day tasting in Atlanta last October, we had about a dozen 1968 wines and even the best of them wasn't close to a top wine on the overall night when other stuff came out to play.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#17 Post by Howard Cooper » January 16th, 2019, 10:48 am

Most wines don't age forever or even that long. Most really old wines are dead or barely have a pulse. The few that are alive and kicking had to be great to begin with in order to live that long. Thus, if you are tasting an old wine and it is alive, almost by definition it is going to be a great wine.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#18 Post by Tim McCracken » January 16th, 2019, 10:58 am

Having tasted many older wines, I have a slightly different theory. Younger wines haven't developed many of the secondary or tertiary characteristics in their lifecycle. You taste the young wines, and your palate adapts to the power and the primary flavors of the wine. When you taste an older wine in this company, you are better able to really grasp the refinement and the complexity of the wine. Obviously this is not true of all older wines, but certainly those which were kept to age are more likely to have the aging potential and therefore the lifespan to create this experience.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#19 Post by Kelly Walker » January 16th, 2019, 11:26 am

Had a 1964 Jean Gros Richebourg last night that was really outstanding along side 2011 Ann Gros and 2010 DRC Richebourg. In hung in with the younger wines but in it's own old way.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#20 Post by Billbell » January 16th, 2019, 12:20 pm

Interesting topic and replies. A couple of thoughts here...

I went a little overboard on old Barolo and Rioja back when there were still relative bargains to be had so I have some experience with both. I've found that the hit rate on individual bottles can be very low but when you get a good bottle they can be brilliant. This variability increases as a function of age. When I bring a really old bottle, I will generally open it ahead of time and make sure the wine is at least drinkable so I'm not wasting everyone's time. If the wine is completely oxidized or spoiled it is apparent immediately and I will open another bottle. With old Barolo I will often give the wine a half day or more to slow ox, during which the wine often improves dramatically. Rioja doesn't seem to benefit as much from and can often decline with too much air so I'll open it an hour or so before leaving. At any rate, the percentage of good bottles I bring is higher than what you'd experience opening bottles at random.

The second thought has to do with the nature of tasting itself and all of the inherent biases. Are you tasting what's there or what you want to be there? That's a tough knot to untangle and complete objectivity is never attainable even in a blinded context if you're drinking wine you brought. There is also a component of novelty...if you've never experienced certain tertiary flavors and you have a high level of openness, that could positively impact your perception. I've found that my appreciation for tertiary characteristics in old Rioja has diminished now that I've tasted a bunch of them.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#21 Post by Marc Frontario » January 16th, 2019, 3:05 pm

I've been there...hanging with the 1st team all american wine enthusiasts...the one's with the deeeep cellars, cracking their old gems...a bit smug...they sit...sniff...swirl and wax poetically in awe of what they are tasting [scratch.gif] ....me?...I'm looking for its coffin...D.O.A
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#22 Post by Herwig Janssen » January 17th, 2019, 3:45 am

When you drink really old wine , you are tasting history and because of that , you will be much more inclined to forgive the flaws .

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#23 Post by Joe W i n o g r a d » January 17th, 2019, 8:01 am

Rating at a tasting is as much about “quality of the experience” as it is about “quality of the wine.”

The rarity and uniqueness of an experience can easily overwhelm any objective assessment of the wine.

The wine I open every Tuesday may be an objectively better wine than the rare old bottle I will only taste once in my life. But the experience of the rare bottle can make this irrelevant.

I don’t see anything wrong with this.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#24 Post by Marshall H » January 17th, 2019, 10:22 am

Joe W i n o g r a d wrote:
January 17th, 2019, 8:01 am
Rating at a tasting is as much about “quality of the experience” as it is about “quality of the wine.”

The rarity and uniqueness of an experience can easily overwhelm any objective assessment of the wine.

The wine I open every Tuesday may be an objectively better wine than the rare old bottle I will only taste once in my life. But the experience of the rare bottle can make this irrelevant.

I don’t see anything wrong with this.
Great post Joe. Tough to separate the wine from the experience. [cheers.gif]
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#25 Post by Jeff Leve » January 17th, 2019, 10:28 am

Just curious, but what do folks think an old wine is? How old are we talking?

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#26 Post by Claus Jeppesen » January 17th, 2019, 11:34 am

And if you normally serve wines 20-40 years old, would a young wine be the Elephant
(To Leve: Old wine = 20 years plus)
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#27 Post by Mike Grammer » January 17th, 2019, 12:53 pm

Yes, Jeff's question is more than fair, makes me think actually, because an "old" German Riesling or Barolo may have a different year attached for me than an "old" Aussie Shiraz or CaliCab, e.g.

Or Port, of course...

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#28 Post by Mark Mason » January 17th, 2019, 2:11 pm

I think Jeff’s question is one of the variables in this discussion. Many of us have a different definition of old. To me, it’s pre 1979.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#29 Post by GregT » January 17th, 2019, 2:47 pm

No idea why this is an elephant in the room. In any case, I would think that a wine over 20 years can start to be classified as old. Most wines won't make that mark and those that do will generally be showing some notes of maturity. Of course some wines can age far, far longer and be good. In blind tastings I've mistaken some wines as being 20-30 years younger than they actually were. Not young in the sense of just released but more like guessing something from the 1990s that was really from the 1960s.

And then there is the question as to what point on the aging curve you like. That's not the same as "do you like old wines" but more like how old. One friend of mine gets accused of being a necrophiliac but a lot of his wines are really good beyond the curiosity factor.

And it's not only because they're aged - it's because they really are just delicious. Some wines I've had going back to the 1920s have been interesting, but mostly on an intellectual level. But I haven't had that many of them. I've had plenty of wines from the 50s however, that have been flat out wonderful, and that was at 60 years in.

Of course, then you get some like a few we've had this past week that were only from 1990s and were DOA. And as others have said, that's often the case.

It really depends a lot on the specific wine and a lot on what you tend to like. I like them before they've reached the point where they're no longer evolving, just fading. Some people like them farther along that curve. And some like them way before those times. None of the preferences are correct, they're all valid.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#30 Post by Jeff Leve » January 18th, 2019, 10:34 am

In blind tastings, my experience has been that most of the time, unless the older bottle is spectacular, I find younger, more vibrant, richer wines come out on top.

For me, old wine means 35 years of age or older. Old is not the same as mature, as 35 years for almost every wine is well past its drink through date IMO. Very few wines are better at 35 than they were at 25 or even 15 years of age.

Of course, this varies on a wine by wine, and vintage by vintage basis. For example, 10 years of age is too old for many, if not most wines. And it's far too young for the best, (age-worthy) wines.

I have noticed that as I age, "Old" has become older. Years ago, I would have thought 20 years was old. Today, that is no longer the case. I imagine based on various what is the oldest wine tasted threads on this board, that more than 15-20 years of age is old for the majority of posters on this board.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#31 Post by Herwig Janssen » January 18th, 2019, 11:42 am

Let's take Bordeaux for example : for my taste , 2000 is still young , 1990 is mature , 1961 is old but not too old . Even 1982 is not " old " in my book , even if it is 37 years old . Agree to call it mature .
The best wines I ever had in my life were old wines . Yquem 1945 , La Chapelle 1961 , Lafite 59 , Petrus 1950 , ... these wines have so much complexity and are still fresh , it's the real deal .
The most spectacular bottles I drank were 19th century wines , not because they are as good as the ones above but because they are still good .
What Jeff says in his last sentence is something I also notice : my definition of old changes . When I was 20 years old , I thought somebody who was 30 was old... Now that I am getting close to 60 , I don't think that is old any more... 80 is old .

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#32 Post by K John Joseph » January 18th, 2019, 12:04 pm

Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
I don't even think this is true. I've been at way too many blind tastings where a wine that is simply very different is chosen as the favorite. Not necessarily because it is a qualitatively superior wine, but because the wine stood out from the others. Even if not for a great reason. For instance, if you drink a dozen Napa cabs on the lush side, a strongly structured and slightly more acidic wine will be an outlier that will grab attention. The similarities of the other wines blur their qualitative distinction. The result is folks keep going back to that one thing. I've seen the inverse many times as well. The qualitative analysis is just lost in favor of a clear differentiation of the blind wines.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#33 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » January 18th, 2019, 12:17 pm

K John Joseph wrote:
January 18th, 2019, 12:04 pm
Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
I don't even think this is true. I've been at way too many blind tastings where a wine that is simply very different is chosen as the favorite. Not necessarily because it is a qualitatively superior wine, but because the wine stood out from the others. Even if not for a great reason. For instance, if you drink a dozen Napa cabs on the lush side, a strongly structured and slightly more acidic wine will be an outlier that will grab attention. The similarities of the other wines blur their qualitative distinction. The result is folks keep going back to that one thing. I've seen the inverse many times as well. The qualitative analysis is just lost in favor of a clear differentiation of the blind wines.
I agree there.

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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#34 Post by GregT » January 18th, 2019, 12:55 pm

Yes but it kind of depends on who is in the tasting no? In other words, people who don't do it for a living but like wine vs people who do it all day long. It's somewhat akin to the argument that big fruity wines grab attention and "win" blind tastings or come out best when tasting many wines at one sitting. That's just not true at all in my experience but I can see how someone who doesn't taste multiple wines in close sequence might find that to be the case.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#35 Post by Cris Whetstone » January 18th, 2019, 8:05 pm

K John Joseph wrote:
January 18th, 2019, 12:04 pm
Anton D wrote:
January 10th, 2019, 5:27 pm
If it's blind tasting, it's real. If not, it's social signalling.
I don't even think this is true. I've been at way too many blind tastings where a wine that is simply very different is chosen as the favorite. Not necessarily because it is a qualitatively superior wine, but because the wine stood out from the others. Even if not for a great reason. For instance, if you drink a dozen Napa cabs on the lush side, a strongly structured and slightly more acidic wine will be an outlier that will grab attention. The similarities of the other wines blur their qualitative distinction. The result is folks keep going back to that one thing. I've seen the inverse many times as well. The qualitative analysis is just lost in favor of a clear differentiation of the blind wines.
I think Anton is on the money.

And to agree with what Greg has said, I've been to dozens of blind and non-blind dinners/tastings. I don't think I've ever seen a scenario as you describe where an acid driven wine outshined a crowd of "lush" wines. Cuz I've been to lots of tastings where it was lots of lush wines. I would often be the one telling people to pay attention to this other more interesting wine to no avail.

What you have to remember is that if it's a group of people bringing bigger wines, then they are likely people who gravitate towards those. So unless we are talking about a bunch of mid to low end, fruit forward Napa Cabs and someone sneaks in a great vintage of some near top Burgundy, I cannot really see how your scenario is going to happen. No one sneaking a Foillard into into a Paso Zin tasting is going to win best wine unless it's some AFWE doing some tasting tourism.
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#36 Post by K John Joseph » January 22nd, 2019, 7:58 am

Cris Whetstone wrote:
January 18th, 2019, 8:05 pm
K John Joseph wrote:
January 18th, 2019, 12:04 pm


I don't even think this is true. I've been at way too many blind tastings where a wine that is simply very different is chosen as the favorite. Not necessarily because it is a qualitatively superior wine, but because the wine stood out from the others. Even if not for a great reason. For instance, if you drink a dozen Napa cabs on the lush side, a strongly structured and slightly more acidic wine will be an outlier that will grab attention. The similarities of the other wines blur their qualitative distinction. The result is folks keep going back to that one thing. I've seen the inverse many times as well. The qualitative analysis is just lost in favor of a clear differentiation of the blind wines.


What you have to remember is that if it's a group of people bringing bigger wines, then they are likely people who gravitate towards those. So unless we are talking about a bunch of mid to low end, fruit forward Napa Cabs and someone sneaks in a great vintage of some near top Burgundy, I cannot really see how your scenario is going to happen. No one sneaking a Foillard into into a Paso Zin tasting is going to win best wine unless it's some AFWE doing some tasting tourism.
How about I sourced all the wines, or there were mixed palates with a single theme. But obviously you've experienced different results. Non-blind certainly changes the game and social signaling undoubtedly comes into play. Hell, how many wines "open up" magically after the reveal in blind tastings and "change over time" to a top wine of the night?
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GregT
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#37 Post by GregT » January 22nd, 2019, 8:41 am

"How about I sourced all the wines, or there were mixed palates with a single theme."

This is exactly how we tasted for many years, mostly all people in the business and there were very few occasions where an outlier would "win" just because it was different. The thing about those tastings is that there was no discussion of the wine at all until everyone had tasted and scored every wine and those notes had been collected. So it's not like there was any social signaling.
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Cris Whetstone
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Re: the elephant in the room...old wine at a tasting

#38 Post by Cris Whetstone » January 22nd, 2019, 11:57 am

K John Joseph wrote:
January 22nd, 2019, 7:58 am
Cris Whetstone wrote:
January 18th, 2019, 8:05 pm
K John Joseph wrote:
January 18th, 2019, 12:04 pm


I don't even think this is true. I've been at way too many blind tastings where a wine that is simply very different is chosen as the favorite. Not necessarily because it is a qualitatively superior wine, but because the wine stood out from the others. Even if not for a great reason. For instance, if you drink a dozen Napa cabs on the lush side, a strongly structured and slightly more acidic wine will be an outlier that will grab attention. The similarities of the other wines blur their qualitative distinction. The result is folks keep going back to that one thing. I've seen the inverse many times as well. The qualitative analysis is just lost in favor of a clear differentiation of the blind wines.


What you have to remember is that if it's a group of people bringing bigger wines, then they are likely people who gravitate towards those. So unless we are talking about a bunch of mid to low end, fruit forward Napa Cabs and someone sneaks in a great vintage of some near top Burgundy, I cannot really see how your scenario is going to happen. No one sneaking a Foillard into into a Paso Zin tasting is going to win best wine unless it's some AFWE doing some tasting tourism.
How about I sourced all the wines, or there were mixed palates with a single theme. But obviously you've experienced different results. Non-blind certainly changes the game and social signaling undoubtedly comes into play. Hell, how many wines "open up" magically after the reveal in blind tastings and "change over time" to a top wine of the night?
For blind tastings, yes. Stories change rather quickly. Many people are uncomfortable tasting blind for these reasons. Many vaunted and hallowed wines have been ruined for me by blind tastings. I like it that way. Many people hate it.

But in general no matter whether it's single sourced wines or a 'pot luck' it's difficult to find instances where an outlier in terms of style wins a tasting. It CAN happen but it's unlikely it will. In the instances it does I'm betting there is something to the structure of the tasting like palates of a feather tasting wines outside of their normal likes. Or a high end ringer in a group of lesser wines.
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"Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true." - Francis Bacon

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