Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The false consensus effect in wine (diversity is the spice of wine...)

Something bothered me yesterday on another blog. Describing an interesting, critical alternative to the 100-pt system put forth by a group identifying themselves as "In the Pursuit of Balance" (IPOB), W. Blake Gray quoted Raj Parr, wine director for Michael Mina's restaurant empire. Parr is perhaps best known for his stance on not selling pinot noir or chardonnay that have more than 14% alcohol at his RN74 wine bar in San Francisco. Parr is also the co-founder of IPOB. He started IPOB to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay. That in and of itself does not bother me. I actually support that goal.

But Gray quoted Parr saying, "Hopefully one day we won't have a tasting because everyone's going to be thinking the same way ... we do want to talk about how we can get better. Hopefully there will be more awareness that there is something else out there, that it's not just fruits" (emphasis added). I am all for trying to make better wine and having an open dialogue about how to do so. However, the idea that better means everyone thinking the same way bothers me.

I personally don't find boozy pinots and bombastic chardonnays the most appealing wines, but many people do. Who is to say that all new world pinot noir should be a certain style? I realize that IPOB isn't about just low alcohol wines, but a general concept of balance. IPOB defines a wine as balanced "when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed." Yet, the scales of measurement, when it comes to balance, is different from palate to palate.

I like the idea of the IPOB seal of approval for assisting consumers in finding wines of a certain style. Consumers simply cannot taste hundreds of wines to find a style of wine they enjoy. Any method of providing information they can utilize to make purchase decisions is a useful tool. Just as a 98-point score from Parker usually signifies a certain style, the IPOB seal means something. I can support that idea.

But I refuse to believe that better means everyone thinking the same way. I know a winery that produces massive red wines with lots of alcohol and volatile acidity (their whites are also usually oxidized). I'm not a big fan of their wines (for obvious reasons...) and I've mentioned to them that I find them flawed. But many of their customers enjoy that style of wine. They don't change their wines because the owners themselves and their customers like drinking those styles of wine. For them, those wines are balanced. Burgundian-style pinot noir might seem acrid and thin to them. Now please don't think that I am advocating for flawed wine, just that diversity is perhaps the single greatest attribute to the wine world. There truly is a wine for every single palate on the planet. A 16.5% abv pinot noir darkened with Mega Purple has a place in the market place. There is also a place for the IPOB-approved wines. That's what makes wine so special in my eyes.


  1. Amen! In most culures on Earth there are winemakers. The products they make are originally for the region. Now we can buy wines from all over the world and in different styles. Preferences change as a person changes their interests. Plenty of room for different styles. There might even come a time when the US consumer has reached a balance themselves between being apologetic newbies and self made experts. (LOL) From GDFO

  2. Totally agree with you that we don't need to all be on the same page regarding style. We make wine in a region that is redefining itself, and there are "wine judges" that pick a handful of wines made from a variety from the region and declare that set as being the gold standard for typicity. Frankly, that set is made using Mega Purple, and not a true representation of the vineyards. So to force everyone onto the same page would mean anyone trying to express the vineyard is going to be making incorrect wines and therefore lower rated. That would be a big disservice to the market.

  3. And not all wine needs to express the vineyard. Sure, I enjoy wines that do, but there lots of people that don't want those types of wines. And that is ok... Let every winemaker make a wine they feel is best.

  4. Hi Kyle (and hey, Jon!). A copy of my book, Why You Like the Wines You Like" is on its way to you so you can peruse the research that clearly demonstrates that there if not such thing as IPOB from both a perceptive acuity standpoint, let alone the neurological factors, that determine everyone's unique points of view and sense of balance.

  5. Thanks, Tim. That is another good point. Balance means something different to everyone. 16.7% abv with 2.5% RS is balance to many people. It is interesting to me that wines on the IPOB list include both Raj's and Ehren Jordan's (one of the committee members) brands.

  6. Due to genetic factors many people (we call Tolerant Vintoypes) will experience 16% abv as sweet while the person sitting next to them experiences the same wine as hot and burning.

    Which leads to the fact that some people, often the most sensitive tasters, literally experience and orgasm-like euphoria from hot and burning sensations while others do not!

    Having either high or low sensitivity does not correlate to being a 'better' taster or more or less capable. It just means people can have vividly different experiences with the exact same wine or wine with food.