Once again cool stuff comes via the inestimable economist blogs, this time it is word of a study from the Journal of Wine Economics. Who knew such a journal even existed? Anyway, the study was examining the consistency of wine judges. Previous studies looked at consistency across groups of judges; this looks at consistency of individual judges.
Judges at wine competitions were given some of the wines multiple times. The authors then looked at the consistency with which the judges rated the wine. The result? That some judges were very consistent and others were not – there are good and bad judges.
But the cool bit of the study was that they confirmed this over years! The authors thought that some judges might be really good and always consistent, while others were clueless. Instead, they found that when judging the same wine over many years, there was a wide variation in the score – all the judges were clueless! What does this say about our sense of aesthetics??
So it turns out that there are bad wines, good wines, and really good wines. But once you get to the really good – or maybe even just the good – wines, a large chunk of your evaluation comes from personal preference and opinion. Wines that win a gold medal one year could just as well win a silver, bronze, or no medal at all a year later, based on a single judge.
A much less scientific but much more amusing experiment is described at an old Freakonomics blog post. Unsurpisingly, a lot of people get added utility from the perceived improvement in quality of expensive wine. But if price and quality aren’t matched, then may I suggest just finding a type of wine you like, sitting back, and taking a little time to learn how to bullshit wine tastings.