Thursday, August 30, 2012

Poll: Do you believe Wine Spectator bases its ratings solely on blind tasting?

I made a one-off comment earlier this week that stirred up some readers, about whether or not people believe Wine Spectator bases its ratings solely on blind tasting.

So let's find out with a poll. What do people believe? Do you think Wine Spectator bases its ratings solely on blind tasting, or do you believe adjustments are made to the results?

On the Yes side, Wine Spectator conducts blind tastings, lots of them. Plus, the magazine's published statements consistently state that the ratings are based solely on blind tastings.

On the No side, James Suckling, who worked for Wine Spectator at the time, told the director of "Mondovino" with the camera rolling that he ensured 90-point ratings for his landlord in Italy. Suckling doesn't work there anymore. And maybe he was kidding.

This is not a referendum on the quality or usability of Wine Spectator's ratings. People disagree with  critics' tastes; that's not what we're asking here.

The vote is completely anonymous, and is supposed to stay open through 2 p.m. on September 5.




I'll announce the results as soon as I'm able (I'll be in France next week with limited Internet access). Thanks for voting!

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

24 comments:

ColoradoWinePress said...

Blake, "bases its ratings solely on blind tasting" is not exactly what you wrote in your post on Tuesday. You questioned whether WS tastings were in-fact blind. Accusations of score adjustment is a bit different. I disagree with both of your accusations. Either way, I still think you're fishing for Mr. Matthews to comment on your blog. But I commend your ability to drive traffic...

W. Blake Gray said...

Think what you want, and vote as you want. It's a free country!

Fortunately it's also a country in which one doesn't have to be held permanently to the precise wording of one's every expressed thought. If so, we'd never get anyone elected to any office. And I'm not even running for one.

ColoradoWinePress said...

Fair enough. You can pose questions any way you want. If it weren't for you actual politics, you'd make a good Republican... ;)

Waynegrape said...

I worked in the tasting department at WS in NYC for 3+ years and I was in charge of the tastings and the database that was used to record the notes. THe tastings were set up in the database and the taster entered notes and scores ONLY seeing the bottle code. Tastings were not COMPLETELY blind as the tasters were aware of what KIND of wine they were tasting and the vintage. Often we would throw in "ringers" that were wines previously tasted and scored, to see if the scores varied much.
I'll tell you in my time there, at least the tastings conducted in the NYC office, I never saw a score change after the reveal and never saw wines scored out of the bag.
As far as I could see in that time, they were totally legit.

W. Blake Gray said...

Kyle: I tried to pose this question AND write the post about it in the most neutral way I could, so I could get a fair measurement of public opinion, or at least the opinion of readers of this blog.


Wayne: Thanks for sharing.

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...

Why not ask how many people think the world is flat? Despite what some people may think, it doesn't alter the truth.

As others have stated, I've seen the process - and what Thomas Matthews posted the other day, and what's written in the magazine is how it's done. And despite what some people believe, that's the truth.

Questioning the results falls under the "it's a free country" banner, but not twisting facts.

I'm sorry Blake, but blogs like this lessen YOUR credibility.

W. Blake Gray said...

Brian: If 10% of Americans believe the Earth is flat, wouldn't that be worth knowing?

Show me how I've twisted the facts here.

As for my credibility, you're free to cancel your subscription at any time, pal.

Kurt Burris said...

Whether the tasting are in fact blind is not really the issue. The issue is the perceived credibility of the ratings. Bringing a factual misconception like the flat earthers (or birthers) into the debate does not address the central issue.

W. Blake Gray said...

Thanks Kurt, I wish I had stated it that clearly.

Larry Brooks said...

I recall a conversation with Tor Kenwodd several years ago when I asked him what his million dollar plus advertizing budget at WS got for him. I'm pretty certain his response was both candid and accurate when he replied "About 2 points on average."

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...

Kurt: But isn't that what Blake did? He brought a false misconception into the "debate". Hence my comment.

If the real question is to determine if people (in general) think that blind tastings generate the best results - then why introduce the factual misconception that they don't actually taste blind? Those are two, separate issues. One based on personal opinion and one based on fact. And IMHO, one worth debating and one not open to debate.

Mark Buckley said...

I believe there is a perceived belief that not all things are on the up and up. I guess if WS were to let cameras in while they are doing these blind tastings or random cameras show-up and roll they could easily dispell these misconceptions.

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Brian, when you want to ask a poll on whatever you think the real question is, ask it on your own blog. I'm asking the question above.

BTW, did you know that a "poll" and a "debate" are not the same thing? You get a vote; use it. As with so many other things, the fact that you firmly believe something does not mean that others agree with you.

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...

Blake: As a matter of fact I do know the difference between pool and debate. Hence my use of "debate" when referring to Kurt's post - which you praised.

noblewines said...

Hey I just voted twice....

Brian, Blake, Colorado et al, you guys are funny. I feel any discussion, poll, debate about ratings is worthy. Did any of you see this NYTimes article about a different industry's issues with ratings/reviews?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=all

Hope that helps stir the pot and raise the ire of some posters here!! Ye Ha.

Joel DeGonia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

I will often buy a wine that says 90 Pts from whoever and I am astonished that anyone of any wine experience can give the wine that many points. I am a retired middle school teacher and we had an expression often used when more and more students were making the honor roll, "Grade Inflation." The same can be said about wine scores these days.

Man About Wine said...

Blind is not the same as un-biased. If I can identify certain wine styles I give them higher grades. If my "friends" wines happen to be in that style, so what? Daily chatter about reviews does not move us forward unless someone takes some action to improve the way wines are sold.

W. Blake Gray said...

Man: The problem is, in that sense nobody is unbiased. Which is a point I would argue anyway.

Unknown said...

Blake,
I think you're going to enjoy our new video series. It debuts next week, just in time for your poll results.
Lisa Mattson

Larry Brooks said...

Tor has informed me that I have quoted him incorrectly, and given the fallibility of memory he may be correct. He claims that it never entered his head that Beringer's enormous advertizing budget could have an effect on the scores they received. I'm afraid that I'm a bit more cynical, and like many people have trouble with publications that accept advertizing from the people who make the products they rate. The chances of the money influencing the access and the scores themselves are just too high to ignore. It's a bit like politics these days - you pay to play at some level.

DAPZ said...

I don't know if they taste blind or not, but to evaluate wines and accept advertisement from wineries is, in my opinion, a Huge conflict of interests.

W. Blake Gray said...

Dapz: You could say that about almost any critic in almost any field, though. Movie critics, book critics, auto critics: publishing is advertising-supported.

DAPZ said...

Blake: Agreed, although i don't know of any other field where some critics have such a direct impact on the final sales of the product. The biggest asset of a wine critic is, consequently, his or her reputation. This is why I think the poll you're conducting is very pertinent.