All too often consumers depend on scores given by The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator or The Wine Enthusiast for choosing which wines they purchase. How often do these consumers know if their palates match those of the reviewers? How often do high scores and even higher prices create an unconscious (or even conscious) bias in the consumers' evaluation of wine? Many people, including myself, often fall to the peer pressure of thinking a wine that is more expensive or from a more highly-regarded region is better than the wine they actually like best. Critics often argue that this bias is removed when tasting wines blind. In some ways this is true. But the palate of Robert Parker is quite different from that of John Doe. Wine critics are experts at tasting the potential of what wines may achieve in 20 years time. They too have excellent memories and can pick out certain wines in tastings that they know ought to receive high scores solely based on their geography and price point. Well, how do "regular" wine consumers compare to the experts? Which wines do normal people prefer?
To investigate this question, I assembled 13 friends, family and colleagues to taste two flights of wine. Each flight consisted of a few local Colorado Wines and two top international wines. I joined in on the tasting, but offered minimal input and did not score or formally review the wines. The first flight consisted of two Colorado Rieslings plus one from Germany and one from Australia. The second flight consisted of three Colorado Cabernet Francs, one from Italy and a Cabernet Franc-dominated blend from Bordeaux. Participants were each asked to taste, compare, discuss and rank individual preferences for each flight. Each person was asked to rank the wines (1-4 for Riesling and 1-5 for Cabernet Franc) and the rankings were summed. The wine with the lowest total score (highest average ranking) was determined the best in category.
In the Riesling flight, the tasters clearly preferred a little sweetness in their Rieslings. This is not surprising as most everyday drinkers of Riesling expect to find some residual sugar. The results for the Riesling flight are as follows:
1. Loosen Bros., Dr. L Riesling 2008, Mosel, Germany
2. Boulder Creek Winery, Gen Y Rielsing 2009, Grand Valley, Colorado
3. Settembre Cellars, Riesling 2009, Grand Valley, Colorado
4. Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia
The participants identified the balance of the sweetness and acidity as positives and the marked acidity and petrol characteristics as negatives. In a what many wine enthusiasts would consider a surprise, the Grosset, one of Australia's finest Rieslings, came in last and was only deemed the favorite Riesling by one taster.
On to the Cabernet Francs, the "judges" had their choice of four 100% Cabernet Francs and one 58% Cabernet Franc/42% Merlot blend. As a varietal that most participants were not used to drinking, the earthy flavors were new to a few drinkers. The results for the Cabernet Franc flight are as follow:
1. Creekside Cellars, 2007 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado
2. Canyon Wind Cellars, 2007 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado
3. Dithyramb Winery, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado
4. Château Angélus, 2003, Saint-Émilion Premier grand cru classé B, France
5. Blason, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Friuli Isonzo DOC, Italy
In an exceptional surprise, the Colorado offerings took the top three places and beat out one of the top Right Bank Bordeaux from a very good year! Perhaps the Angélus and the Grosset need a few more years before their potential is met. But the average consumer is not going to buy a bottle and let it sit for 10 years before drinking. With the wines that are on the shelf and ready to drink right now, Colorado holds its own with some of the best wines and wine regions in the world. Let this be a lesson to the casual wine drinker; price and region may not be as important as you thought. Follow your palate and you might be pleasantly surprised at where you end up! You are the expert on what you like. Drink what you like and give Colorado Wine a try!
For what it is worth, my own favorites of the night were Boulder Creek's Gen Y (followed by the Polish Hill) and the Château Angélus (followed closely by the Creekside Cellars and Canyon Wind Cellars).