Wine Experts’ Tasting Notes Can Vary Based on Where They’re From, Study Suggests
When rating a bottle of wine, experts will look at things like the color and translucency. They might even look at the “legs,” watching how the liquid runs down the side of the glass. But according to a recent study, they might also want to look at their own legs — as in where they are literally standing — because where a wine expert is from can alter the way they perceive wine compared to experts from other areas.
The study, led by Bianca Grohmann at Montreal’s Concordia University, looked at 22 wine experts located in two distinct regions of Canada nearly 2,500 miles apart: half were from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and half were from Montreal, Quebec. Each group evaluated the same seven bottles of wine — a merlot, a pinot, a shiraz, and four red blends — over the course of a 60-minute blind tasting, rating them on seven aroma attributes and nine flavor attributes. Interestingly enough, though both groups were trained experts, the findings differed significantly.
“We discovered a ‘two solitudes’-type situation in the results between two panels,” Grohmann explained. “Wine professionals in B.C. lean toward the U.K. education model — a certification called the Wine and Spirit Education Trust [whereas] the Quebec panel of experts came from the French sommeliers tradition and wine journalism. We see these differing education backgrounds and socio-cultural contexts as important influencing factors.”
Specifically, the Montreal contingent detected more acidity, bitterness, oak, spice, green bell pepper, balance, vegetal, and taint or “off” flavors. Overall, they preferred wines with balance, but were also more forgiving when they spotted flaws. Meanwhile, the group from Okanagan favored spicy aromas and rated these wines higher. Another strange finding was that the groups noted strong berry aromas but in completely different wines.
One of the wines that yielded the most differing opinions is one you might be familiar with: a 2015 Apothic Red. “That particular bottle of red is interesting because it’s engineered to convey good balance and taste, rather than being a pure wine from a vineyard,” Grohmann said, noting that the Apothic Red could point to an Old World versus New World disagreement between the experts' two backgrounds.
“This has implications for the general public because consumers shouldn’t think of wine experts as having one voice, but as distinct and influenced by their location and tradition,” she concluded. But hey, you never trusted the experts anyway, right?