Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion – By Leonard Mlodinow

Found via Simoleon Sense.

They pour, sip and, with passion and snobbery, glorify or doom wines. But studies say the wine-rating system is badly flawed. How the experts fare against a coin toss.

Despite his studies, Mr. Hodgson is betting that, like the French, American consumers won't be easily converted to the idea that wine experts are fallible. His winery's Web site still boasts of his own many dozens of medals.

"Even though ratings of individual wines are meaningless, people think they are useful," Mr. Greene says. He adds, however, that one can look at the average ratings of a spectrum of wines from a certain producer, region or year to identify useful trends.

As a consumer, accepting that one taster's tobacco and leather is another's blueberries and currants, that a 91 and a 96 rating are interchangeable, or that a wine winning a gold medal in one competition is likely thrown in the pooper in others presents a challenge. If you ignore the web of medals and ratings, how do you decide where to spend your money?

One answer would be to do more experimenting, and to be more price-sensitive, refusing to pay for medals and ratings points. Another tack is to continue to rely on the medals and ratings, adopting an approach often attributed to physicist Neils Bohr, who was said to have had a horseshoe hanging over his office door for good luck. When asked how a physicist could believe in such things, he said, "I am told it works even if you don't believe in it." Or you could just shrug and embrace the attitude of Julia Child, who, when asked what was her favorite wine, replied "gin."

As for me, I have always believed in the advice given by famed food critic Waverly Root, who recommended that one simply "Drink wine every day, at lunch and dinner, and the rest will take care of itself."


Related book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Related previous post: Hollywood Success: Luck or Skill? - 2006 Article by Leonard Mlodinow