Should critics taste blind?

I’m more interested in having the taster be open and honest and don’t really care if the tasting was blind or not. But if it wasn’t, tell me whether or not you have a “horse in the race.”

There is just such a difference between the sip-spit-note tasting and actually drinking wine. Too often, I’m disappointed with a bottle after purchasing from a sip and spit note – whether from a professional critic’s note or my own. That kind of note can tell you that it was too hot, but not that it blew off after a couple of hours or rocked on day two. And that kind of note from a pro critic doesn’t tell me that you sat around with your winemaker friend or that he/she happened to buy your dinner and supply the wines, etc. Plus after so many sips and spits in a sitting, you’ve got to have some fatigue.

I’d rather the wine critic drink the wine and describe the wine for me (nose, mouthfeel and flavors). And I would like the critic to do that in the same way I would. That is, buy the bottle off the shelf or mailer, drink the bottle (over a couple of days or share it with friends) and note all of those sensations and how they evolve or devolve. Tell me, What flavors did you get? Was it too hot? Too tannic? Did you pop and pour? Decant? Did it go well with the meal?, Did you drink it over a couple of nights? How did it change in the glass? Over the two nights? etc.

I know there’s bottle variation and the experiences aren’t going to be exactly the same, but that is about as close as you can get and as useful as your notes can get for me, anyway. That’s what is going to help me identify a wine that I might want to purchase or not purchase,or drink or hold, as the case may be. Tell me how you purchased and tasted the wine, so I know how much stock to put in your note. This is one reason I like this site and Cellar Tracker. Amid the internet opinion crapshoot, you can really find these kinds of notes from people you come to trust over time.

I am in total agreement that tasting blind followed by a non-blind revisit and comtemplation would be ideal. I would like to see scores for both the blind and non-blind tastings, and a discussion if they are different. May or may not be impractical. Also agree that, in the final analysis, I only care if I can use a reviewer’s notes to buy wine I have not tasted. As far as drinking windows, I find that the reviewers basically parrot widely assumed drinking windows and are often totally wrong. I find Cellartracker to be a useful supplement to critical reviews because

  1. I am an average Joe
  2. I buy wine off the shelf-- I only occasionally have an importer hand-selecting bottles or cuvees for me to drink, all the while patting the sweat off my brow.
  3. These wines are being consumed in “real world” situations-- with food, not with 100 other wines to slog through.

Absolutely taste blind. Too many preconceived notions possible if not tasted blind which can affect the expectation of what teh wine should be or will be like.


I tend to taste both blind and non-blind, depending on the subject matter and where I am tasting. Obviously, reviewing the new vintage in Burgundy requires hours in the cellars tasting out of barrel with the growers in a non-blind setting, whereas doing a retrospective of the 1970 Bordeaux vintage I would end up tasting single blind. But in the context of reviewing a new vintage in Burgundy, I just cannot see any advantage in assembling samples and tackling the wines blind- the samples do not always necessarily hold up well from the time that they were drawn, one does not know the context of when and how they were put together, there is not always an ideal environment on the road to taste (or store the samples before one tastes them for that matter), … etc. I would much rather be in the cellars, where I can ask questions about the evolution of the wine- i.e. know when or if the sulfur had just been adjusted in the barrel, when the racking took place, what is the percentage of new wood planned for the cuvee (and which barrel am I tasting out of)… etc. The potential pitfalls of being shown the best barrel of a given wine seems to be the same as if you asked for samples to be prepared- and at least in the cellars you can ask to taste the same wine from a different barrel if you have any questions.

But I do love tasting double blind and belong to a couple of wine tasting groups where we do this on a monthly basis, as it is great to keep the palate honest- with the mistakes often quite hilarious. But I think it is conceivable to taste through a lineup of wines while looking at the labels and still remain accurate in evaluating the quality of the wine, and I am not a stickler these days for tasting one way or the other. As others have pointed out, what is really useful is following the wines over some period of time to see how they evolve with air. What is difficult is tasting a new release from a producer who you have liked in the past and not being smitten with the quality of the current release, and then having to write about your disappointment. It often hurts peoples’ feelings or directly affects their livelihood, and one has to stay focused on the obligation to one’s readers to be honest and as accurate as your abilities allow, so that they are at least forewarned about the wine in question. One of the most popular features I run in my newsletter is my occasional piece called “Road Kill” which singles out pricey, egregiously made wines that have been garnered unconditional praise elsewhere. While I understand the feature’s popularity amongst readers, it is always a difficult article to write, because there are not a whole lot of producers out there that want to open their door to you the next time if you blast a wine from a previous vintage- particularly when the vast majority of the critical press has spoken of the wine in reverential terms. In the end one feels a duty to let readers know how poorly made the wine really is, in the hopes that they are aware of the potentially expensive pitfall in cellaring it. In the end that consideration has to outweigh the closed doors at the winery the next time around and the sniping that comes from other critics’ posse whose palates can often seem as suspect as their civility.

Yes. It is humanly impossible to not be at least a small amount impacted by expectations you have about a wine from it’s label.


All valid points for wines from known regions or producers with track record. Which would be your approach for wines, regions or grapes with no track record? Do you feel that blind tasting would be more useful in those cases instead of non blind?


Well: those who know GJE tastings know that I am a fervent defender of blind tastings. All arguments were fully developped inside some articles in The World of Fine Wine, especially with great comments by Michel Bettane.

To resume :

Pro blind : the label factor is totally out : no influence what so ever by the prestige of the name. It is obvious that, even the greatest critics are more cautious in scoring a Petrus than a Branas Grand Poujeaux. Every one understand that, I assume.

Against blind : in tasting blind, you miss completly 2 major points :

  • the factor “time” : when you taste a young Lafite, you know that the experience teach to all of us that this wine has specific development in time that MUST be taken in account when you comment the wine.
  • the factor “culture” : when you taste a wine from DRC, it is quite different than an other “pinot noir” since there, you have an history factor which may be necessary for a complete comment.

Now, everything is a question of balance : are the weak points of “blind tastings” inferior in weight to the weak points of “open tastings” ?

Some elements of answers :

1 : some top critics are well known enough to stay in a strong independance spirit. If those taste blind or not, it may be considered as a minor point since they usually do not depend - for their income - of Producers. They know their “readers” are not stupid enough to not understand what may be a kind of dependance of the labels. We have many examples of that with MM Parker, Meadows, Bettane, Robinson.
2 : but the vast majority of wine journalists are not at this level, and if they score badly a Petrus or a La Tâche, they will probably think they have done, this day, a bad tasting and so, usually, they correct their mistake before printing.
3 : my onw point of view is that those who ask in favor of open tastings are those who have not enough faith in their own quality os tasters and argue that the "historical or culture factors must be taken in account. It is a clever way to ask the possibility to add some points to a wine simply because it is a famous one. This is what I am strongly against : why do they request this possibility of additional points for a Lafite or a Musigny while they will just do not care to have such behavior for a Sociando-Mallet or a Dominode of Pavelot ?
4 : after 13 years of GJE sessions, I can tell you that the very best tasters like Kevin Shin, Bettane, Perrin, Burtschy, and all the hard core of GJE Group are able - not always, but more than we may think - to find in a blind tastings the potential and the class of a wine, even when it is a young one.

So, yes, IMO, the future of the critics will be blind but with the strong necessity to taste again and again, with time, in order to follow up the development of the wine. OK, OK : it is not easy. Tis is the reason I think the future of the critics will be a specialization in one region, like Allan Meadows for Burgundy. No one will take the seat of a Robert Parker and even himself now, was obliged to hire some “assistants” to comment the expandable wine regions of this planet.

I go even a little further : myself, I give less and less importance on specific scores on wine. I vastly prefer the best critics to explain to me the style of a producer than his wines, since, obviously, this producer will usually try the best he can make in every specific vintage. So, to be more explicit : I vastly prefer a long comment about the style of Arnaud Mortet, Frédéric Mugnier, DRC, Thunevin, Rayas than a score given in circumstances that will be never be mine since tastings are usually not done at table… where the wine belongs;
But that is another story…

Great balanced post Francois. You have expressed the pros and cons well. For me, I love tasting blind. It is both a challenge and a learning experience.

“my own point of view is that those who ask in favor of open tastings are those who have not enough faith in their own quality os tasters and argue that the “historical or culture factors must be taken into account.” It is a clever way to ask the possibility to add some points to a wine simply because it is a famous one. This is what I am strongly against : why do they request this possibility of additional points for a Lafite or a Musigny while they will just do not care to have such behavior for a Sociando-Mallet or a Dominode of Pavelot ?”

Cher Francois,

Your points are very well-considered, and I apologize for the lenght of this post, but you have hit on some very interesting concepts. I would certainly agree with you that certain wines and regions are best tasted blind, if the possibility exists to taste the wines in that context. For example, A mature vintage of claret makes total sense to taste blind, as would the case for example of a tasting of 1991 Vosne-Romanee premier crus or 1990 Baroli and Barbaresco. With these wines one can presumably control the conditions of the room, cuisine, stemware and aeration time for the wines to allow them to show at their best, and tasting blind in such circumstances is certainly preferable and without a doubt will produce the most consistently correct assessments of the wines.

But when tasting young vintages on the road in places such as Burgundy or Germany, I think the benefits of tasting at the domaine with the vigneron outweighs the complications of knowing the identity of the wines themselves. Knowing the identity of the wine is not the overriding issue here, but rather tasting the wines “sur place” with the opportunity to share meaningful discussion with the vigneron about each wine (if need be) that is the more important variable in the equation. Take for example a visit to taste the new vintage with an estate in Germany such as Egon Muller- by allowing the wines to be selected and served in order by Herr Muller, one has the opportunity to understand the differences between three different bottlings of Spatlese from the Scharzhofberger, as Herr Muller will have selected to serve them in a particular order. One may be from older vines, one from a section of the vineyard which is not quite as well-situated and did not succeed quite as well in this particular vintage, and one could have been hit with a bit of botrytis and is hence a bigger, richer and more forward style of Spatlese. If samples are simply collected and tasted blind, all the wines have is an identifying AP number to distinguish them one from the other, but this does not tell us anything meaningful about the differences between the wines.

In theory, one could be able to distinguish between these nuances simply based on the style of the wine in the glass, but in reality, most often the wine with the bit of botrytis may come across as the finest of the the three, simply because the botrytis will amplify several characteristics in the young wine. One can easily imagine a blind flight of Spatlesen where the wines are simply shuffled and the botrytis wine ends up going early in the flight, therefore making the non-botrytized Spatlesen seem thin and modest in expression by comparison. I think that some of the aberrations of praise for over the top, high alcohol and dramatically oaky wines in some corners of the world of wine are directly a result of blind tastings where the wines are tasted out of context in large lineups- where so often the biggest and most forceful wine usually garners the most attention and the higher scores.

A perfect example of this phenomenon could be made if one were to taste a couple of diametrically opposed wines from the fine 1971 vintage in Bordeaux- perhaps Petrus and Lafite would be good counterpoints to each other. The opulent, pure and voluptuous Petrus served blind alongside the Lafite will make the Lafite seem thin, acidic and feeble in the mid-palate. But the Lafite on its own (the last time I tasted it I was served the wine double blind from magnum, by the way, and hence not swayed by the label or the wine’s reputation elsewhere) is a lovely, ethereal and wonderfully complex wine of impressive intensity of flavor and haunting perfume, despite its really fairly modest concentration. We have both participated in enough blind tastings where if both wines were served together, the vast, vast majority of tasters would dismiss the Lafite out of hand as thin, simply because of the juxtaposition of the Petrus alongside of it. And this would be the result of a prejudice that has nothing to do with labels, but rather the prejudice for power and opulence in a blind tasting setting.

In my experience (and I taste double blind a lot), human nature seems to gravitate towards contrast and comparison when presented with a lineup of wines in a blind tasting- one of the reasons I always prefer flights of only two wines when tasting in such circumstances, as larger flights tend to polarize tasters with the finest wine or two in the flight taking the most attention, and often other very worthy wines sliding into a more anonymous middle simply because of the contrast with the more extroverted and profound wines served alongside. Your experience may well differ from mine, but I have been tasting blind since my formative days in the wine trade, and it is the very rare blind taster who does not gravitate towards the bigger and more powerful wines in such contexts. While perhaps this is both understandable and useful in certain regions- a blind tasting of young Hermitage for example- I am not sure of its utility in a blind tasting of young reds from the Loire Valley- where a young wine made from Pinot d’Aunis will be washed out in color, autumnal and really quite modest in its expression of fresh fruit vis a vis its other aromatic and flavor components. In a lineup that might include a wine from the same vintage from Clos Rougeard in Saumur-Champigny, very few tasters would have the skill sets required to recognize the inherent qualities in both wines and be able to distinguish inherent stylistic differences from perceived notions of quality.

So I think that each type of tasting has its place and provides very real advantages depending on what is being tasted and where. As in so many other aspects of life, one has to guard against orthodoxy that may tend to ossify technique and compromise results by championing the method first and foremost. But please do not take my extended reflections to mean that I have anything against blind tasting, as I very much enjoy doing so when given the opportunity, and really have no concerns about “getting a wine wrong” based on how it happens to show when served blind. I am just as unlikely to add more points once the label is revealed as I am to take them away when the identity of the wine is known- tasted blind the wine is just the wine, and no correction of score is warranted or acceptable in my opinion. But we have to remember that tasted either revealed or blind, wine is a living and moving object that changes from day to day, just as we do as tasters. In the end, we should all try and keep in mind that tasting and judging wines is simply a snapshot of that wine on a particular day in its evolutionary cycle, and though we try our best based on our accumulated experience and judgement, in the end it is simply an attempt to quantify the unquantifiable.

Even at his home, while watching the All Star game, Jay Miller still has no idea what he tastes…blind or not blind…" onclick=";return false;

Does anyone believe that he actually opened any bottle of wine. Robert Kenney sent him the btl 10 months ago. He claims to have tasted it on Tuesday night…only he posts NO TASTING NOTE (shocking) and gets the vintage wrong.

Robert Kenney, desperate to cover up the cover up, tells Jay Miller what Jay Miller tasted…classic!

I am not for blind tastings, per se, I am for fair reporting. Clearly this was not fair reporting. He scores a wine 96 points, and now just panned it with no TN, calling it undrinkable?

John :

Deep thanks for these detailed considerations that I fully understand, especially your smart comments about what we do when we are guests of Egon Müller who then organize the tasting in a specific order.

I like particularly the way you describe the “problem” between a Petrus and a Lafite. But here, I doubt that a top taster will failed in the trap since we may think that a “lover” of finesse will definitively give his preference to the Lafite.

In fact, all your comments fully apply to who I will call a “senior taster”, someone with an unique experience and a deep knowledge. But for the vast majority of journalists in wine, it may be an other matter.

If you allow me, I did keep in my data base your comments for a potential copy on my blog if we discuss again this subject.

Thanks again : great forum here !

John and Francois,

Thank you for such a great discussion…it is great to see differing viewpoints!

Times Two

In my experience that’s not usually true. Having a fatter wine next to a leaner wine will change the way you perceive both wines and what might seem finessed on its own will just seem vacant once a bigger wine has recalibrated your palate and raised the threshold necessary for something to make an impact. Also, finesse is a virtue that’s best appreciated cumulatively. It is not always something you appreciate on the first or third sip but something that gradually promotes contentment over a longer period of time.

Keith : to be tested, for sure !

Last night I tasted 13 2005 CDPS blind, I will report notes tomorrow, but blind only revealed one true disappointment for me. If you are tasting in the context of the wines, I see no big deal to go blind.

At EWS 2 years ago, there was a blind 1995/1996 Bordeaux tasting with Robert Parker, featuring 7 Chateaus (5 Firsts, Leoville Las Cases, and I think Pichon Lalande). Parker got one wine correct out of 14 wines. It is tough but very telling.

Wow, Daniel, these Google translators are really bad! That’s a peculiar version of what we have published. Here’s a real translation of the last paragraph, after a brief summary of events in the Miller/Squires and the Gault-Millau ruckus:

“With such motives, a full-fledged campaign in favor of blind tastings has been launched [on the internet]. This is not what Parker, Miller, Squires or the Gault-Millau tasters practice. But the defenders of open-labeled tastings have also counterattacked - for instance, the respected importer, Terry Theise, who points out that, in order to judge a wine’s aging curve, seeing the label is useful, because that way we will know the way each winery works. Blind tastings, says Theise, favor wines that are more accessible when young, and may place great wines with huge aging potential at a disadvantage. This is also the criticism sometimes levelled at elmundovino’s blind tastings. But weighing the advantages of one form of tasting and the other, elmundovino’s tasters still prefer blind tastings, which favor objectivity.”

Thanks Victor, your translation was the link, not the very brief summary that I gave.

… and again, about Mr Theise point of view : yes, he is more than correct, BUT if it is applied by a real independant AND intelligent (in wine culture) mind. We all know that this may be the case only 1/100. I do not speak about him as individual or about Kevin Shin for an other example since their life task is not communication about wines. We are speaking here about journalists : quite an other story.

So, yes, blind tasting has limits that we all know. But open tastings damages, due to label influences are worse. At least, IMO.