Should critics taste blind?

El mundo vino, a Madrid newspaper, where Victor de la Serna (who posts here) is a journalist, recently ran this article…I think it is a bad google translation, but you should get the gist of it…

For those unfamiliar, there was huge uproar in German wine circles over one of their publications requesting a “donation” from wineries to submit samples for review. On the panel are some producers. Naturally, this debate sparked more Robert Parker controversy, as Terry Theise, German wine importer, has claimed that tasting blind is unimportant and claims that Robert Parker has said as much, despite Parker’s policies, as stated in the Wine Advocate for the past 25 years…" onclick=";return false;

Yes, they should be tasted blind in a controlled and structured environment. I’ll also add that I would like to see no persons in the zip code that are ITB in any capacity in regard to the wine being tasted.

There should be some varying levels of tasting methodolgy, with blind tasting being used largely to reconfirm positions and views on certain wines. As a sole methodolgy, I think it falls short in some regards.

No, they should taste wines in the same context in which their readers will be tasting the wines.

With distributors and winemakers in the room?


I also think they should pay for bottles directly off the shelf for final ratings. Nothing supplied by the winery directly because of the possibility of a “Parker Cuvee”.

This is somewhat difficult for highly allocated wines that are mailing list driven, but measures need to be taken to ensure that what the customer is getting…the critic is tasting and accurately rating.

As important as tasting blind can be, I think that tasting over the course of several days [to follow the oxidation curve] might be even more important.

These 30-second snapshots of a wine, taken within the context of a 100+ bottle mega-tasting, are essentially useless.

Not only is the critic’s palate completely shot at the end of the first half hour or so, but his temporal experience with the wine is so brief that his predictions for the evolution of the wine tend to be kinda silly after about six months [and from the very outset as regards performance on Day Two].

I read somewhere that Stuart Piggott once declared that he would no longer publish a review of a wine until he had had the opportunity to drink an entire bottle of it [and study its evolution] - and while I don’t know whether he stuck to that pledge, in general, it’s the sort of study of the wine that you need to make for your review to have any long-term merit.

PS: Parker - to his credit - does invest this kind of effort into reviewing the 1st & 2nd Growths in Bordeaux. The problem is that he never put the same sweat equity into his Australian and Spanish reports.

PPS: Speaking of Spain - another significant problem is the cherry-picking of the bottle samples that are [or were] presented to Parker, and then, after the big scores are published, the placement of subsequent orders for the wine which are filled at the winery with inferior juice bottled under the same label.

If the juice the critic reviews is not the same as the juice the importer ships under that label, then obviously the review is simply worthless.

PPPS: I was reading recently where Parker had told Rovani that “to keep your chops up” you had to taste every day of the year - that if you even took off Christmas Day or New Year’s then you would start to lose your edge.

But I honestly don’t know how you can keep up that kind of tasting schedule and not lose your palate rather quickly.

[And probably put yourself at significantly increased risk of developing cancers of the mouth and the throat.]

Personally, I don’t think the method is as important as being truthful with your readers as to the method used. If you taste blind, say so. If you taste knowing the identity of the wine, say so.

Just don’t say one thing and do another.

And another thing that really bugs me is this nonsense about a wine being scored “within the context of its peer group”.

Recently I dropped by a tasting of some wines with big scores from Parker [or probably Jay Miller], and got to thinking - okay, I understand the score from the point of view of its peer group, but the problem is that the entire peer group is CRAP.

Parker says he tastes Bordeaux like this, according to hisbook in 2003…In 2005 vintage, he tasted 500 different Chateaus…so can we assume that he will be purchasing all of his 2007 Bordeaux as well?

"With regard to vintages of Bordeaux in bottle, I prefer to taste these wines in what is called a “blind tasting.” A blind tasting can be either “single blind” or “double blind.” This does not mean one is actually blindfolded and served the wines, but rather that in a single-blind tasting, the taster knows the wines are from Bordeaux, but does not know the identities of the chateaux or the vintages. In a double-blind tasting, the taster knows nothing other than that several wines from anywhere in the world, in any order, from any vintage, are about to be served.

For bottled Bordeaux, I purchase wines at retail, and usually conduct all my tastings under single-blind conditions-- I do not know the identity of the wine, but since I prefer to taste in peer groups, I always taste wines from the same vintage. Additionally, I never mix Bordeaux with non-Bordeaux wines, simply because whether it be California or Australia Cabernet Sauvignons, the wines are distinctly different, and while comparative tastings of Bordeaux versus California may be fun and make interesting reading, the results are never very reliable or especially meaningful to the wine consumer who desires the most accurate information. Remember that whether one employs a 100-point rating system or a 20-point rating system, the objectives and aims of professional wine evaluations are the same-- to assess the quality of the wine vis-a-vis its peers and to determine its relative value and importance in the international commercial world of wine.

The visits to the chateaux, the barrel samples, the young wine, all that is done non-blind and is critical to understanding the wine, the vintage, and the region. But the consumer is going to buy the wine in the bottle and this method seems to be the fairest and most objective way to get to a score for the same wine the consumer is going to have - i.e. a bottled and ready-for-market wine."

One other thing about wine reviews - a point that the Skadden-Arps chick made a while back, with which I find that I now agree: Reviews really ought to concentrate on sensations of texture rather than on sensations of taste.

But, unfortunately, almost all professional critics are firmly ensconced in the taste paradigm, and I am coming to find that taste-driven notes don’t give me any insight whatsoever into the experience of actually drinking the wine [or, in many cases, attempting to drink the wine, only to discover that the sensation of having it in my mouth is so offensive that I can’t swallow it - independent of whether or not the flavor profile of the wine was described correctly by the critic].

More disclosure about how the peer groups are constituted would be nice (assuming that blind tasting is what is occurring, which does not seem to be the case).

Ideally, they should do both, blind and then revisit the wines non-blind. That is probably not practical. I really don’t care how they do it. What I care about is that I can consistently use their reviews to my advantage. If I can, I read them and might even pay for that info. If not, then its not worth my time. i base my opinions more on track record (scoreboard) and not procedural methodology.

Nope, insofar as I’m not paying for their opinion, I absolutely don’t care.

As Andre Simon once said, “Five seconds with a label is worth a lifetime of experience” Though I agree with Wilfred as long as the context in which the wines are tasted is disclosed which permits the reader to make his on judgements/conclusions.

Well, sorta. Texture is probably more important more often than taste is, but a good review should concentrate on whatever is worth remarking on. Sometimes the taste is worth remarking on, sometimes it’s not.

I have always been in favor of blind tasting (but the judge would know vintage, varietal, and region). It would eliminate winery reputation from skewing the judge’s opinion.

However, Keith makes a great point that, although fairly obvious, has never crossed my mind.

Also, if the judge is extremely familair with the winery’s history, he might know if a vintage is typical, unsual, off, etc. Although, that could be commented on after the unveiling of the label.

I still think I would trust blind tastings as being slightly more accurate, but I am not completely opposed to the contrary.

Consumers can be rather testy. I remember a thread on ebob about the new content in the latest issue that involved a lot of bashing of David Schildknecht for being unable to get a large amount of the 07 Burg reviews (save Mosel?) out by now. He stated that he takes a methodical approach to tasting/evaluation that is more time consumptive.

Now people want their TNs for buying decisions, but they don’t have time for the tasters to sit down with bottles and evaluate in bottle rather than via sample. There’s only so much a human can do.

I completely agree with Nathan’s sentiments about bottle evolution and tracking.

I continue to posit that the best way for one to make informed buying decisions is to taste blind, attend vertical/horizontal tastings, find what insights from critics align with your views and trust your pallate. It’s fairly simple once you get the hang out of it. Who knows, your palate might be so unbelievably crappy that winebuying is going to be a lot cheaper for you! Win win! [winner.gif]

Ideally, yes, I think blind is best. I don’t care who your are label preferences can crawl in the back of your head pretty easily. Further, tasting some wines before lunch or dinner at the winery or at a restaurant, or going back to your room at their place or other such circumstance can also get in one’s head.

If the wines are tasted non-blind but in a group or relative equals (same varietal or blend, price point, etc…) then it should be noted. It would be nice to say that all critics pay for all of their own wine they taste but I can’t believe that is true.

For me personally, I don’t care. I almost always taste before I buy and I don’t rely on any specific critic for any wine buying decisions; though Burghound is close.

Blind is the only way that any person, IMHO, to give a guaranteed un-biased opinion. I don’t think that they should evaluate wines thus recommending or not recommending a wine, based on how we drink it (unblind) because they likely aren’t simply drinking the wine; they are tasting, with notes for evaluation. Most of the time I don’t even take notes unless there is something very special or very bad about the wine.


I rather prefer the Allen Meadows method. I know he tastes many of his wines throughout the day to track progression. It’s rarely if ever blind but at least he gives it a fair shake.