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What a surprise


Florida Jim
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In the book, “The Accidental Connoisseur,” Robert Parker is quoted (at page 129) as saying, “ . . . I do believe that quality in wine, much like quality in cuisine, art or music, can be quantified.”

Somewhat surprising, I thought.

While setting aside for later the known fact that grading and numerical point systems are commercially successful in selling wine in today’s market, how do you feel about the essence of that statement – that is, that quality is quantifiable?

For myself, I’m aware we all use comparisons to attempt to communicate to each other the varying perceptions we have of any particular wine’s quality. However, I find it illogical to maintain that the concepts of “good quality” or “bad quality” can be reduced to a letter or numerical grade. Some extremes with Parker’s chosen examples:

What differences generate a 96 point Picasso but a 94 point Rembrandt?

How does one compare a B- macaroni and cheese to a B+ pheasant under glass?

Does Beethoven’s fifth deserve three stars?

Whenever we deal in subjective perceptions, any system of ranking is infinitely vague from the start. Likewise written words in tasting notes are still ambiguous and subject to nearly endless interpretation. So I am not saying that grading systems (or tasting notes) are useless. Communication of such concepts is admittedly, difficult.

But a man who broke down wine tasting in remarkable detail, Professor Peynaud, concluded that: “The quality of a wine is the totality of its properties, that is to say the properties which render it acceptable or desirable.” The words “acceptable or desirable” beg the question; to whom? Every answer will be unique to the person answering.

According to Parker, there are an awful lot of wines that he recommends that we should all find acceptable and desirable. But I do not share his preferences and quality is all about preference.

Neither do I share his belief that quality is quantifiable.

Moreover, when he says it is, I suspect that he is only trying to promote the commercial viability of such a system; support that is self-serving, at best.

And that is not surprising.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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In the book, “The Accidental Connoisseur,” Robert Parker is quoted (at page 129) as saying, “ . . . I do believe that quality in wine, much like quality in cuisine, art or music, can be quantified.”

Somewhat surprising, I thought.

While setting aside for later the known fact that grading and numerical point systems are commercially successful in selling wine in today’s market, how do you feel about the essence of that statement – that is, that quality is quantifiable?

For myself, I’m aware we all use comparisons to attempt to communicate to each other the varying perceptions we have of any particular wine’s quality. However, I find it illogical to maintain that the concepts of “good quality” or “bad quality” can be reduced to a letter or numerical grade.  Some extremes with Parker’s chosen examples:

What differences generate a 96 point Picasso but a 94 point Rembrandt?

How does one compare a B- macaroni and cheese to a B+ pheasant under glass?

Does Beethoven’s fifth deserve three stars?

Whenever we deal in subjective perceptions, any system of ranking is infinitely vague from the start. Likewise written words in tasting notes are still ambiguous and subject to nearly endless interpretation. So I am not saying that grading systems (or tasting notes) are useless. Communication of such concepts is admittedly, difficult.

But a man who broke down wine tasting in remarkable detail, Professor Peynaud, concluded that: “The quality of a wine is the totality of its properties, that is to say the properties which render it acceptable or desirable.” The words “acceptable or desirable” beg the question; to whom? Every answer will be unique to the person answering.

According to Parker, there are an awful lot of wines that he recommends that we should all find acceptable and desirable. But I do not share his preferences and quality is all about preference.

Neither do I share his belief that quality is quantifiable.

Moreover, when he says it is, I suspect that he is only trying to promote the commercial viability of such a system; support that is self-serving, at best.

And that is not surprising.

Best, Jim

I've always thought Parker was full of shit. But at least he's consistently full of shit in the same way. And he's consistent with himself, a quality I find maddeningly absent in many reviewers/raters/scorers/quantifiers of whatever the subjective subject at hand might be - wine, restaurants, travel, etc. Consumer Reports is an example of a rating system that has real value because they are rating objective criteria like repair records, cost, features, etc. And I won't even go into the rant about how big advertising dollars in The Wine Spectator seem to translate directly into higher scores from Mr. Parker. That would take too long... :rolleyes:

The only way that ANY of this nonsense is of value is if you know that your palate is similar to that of the "score giver". If you've agreed in the past that the wines Mr. Parker consistently scores in the 90's are the best ones you've tried, then yes, his ratings system has value to you. If you don't like what he likes, then you take all his ratings with either a spoonful of salt, or ignore them completely.

Another metric that disturbs me is the direct price-value assumptions that some folks try to make about wine. Is a $100 bottle TEN TIMES better than a $10 bottle? Of course not. How do you explain the equation when the less expensive bottle is better? That's where you have to create your own personal Price Value Quotient. How good is the wine vs. what you paid for it? What utility did you get from the wine? Is it good "grab-and-go" wine to just have sitting around the house to take to a BYOB restaurant on short notice? Is it a versatile product? Is it only appropriate for certain occasions? Does it work by itself or only with food? Does that matter to you? All valid points for one's own personal PVQ.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I won't even go into the rant about how big advertising dollars in The Wine Spectator seem to translate directly into higher scores from Mr. Parker.

This one I really don't get- spending ad dollars at WS gets one better rankings in WA? Wow.

(going offtopic of Jim's original post)I personally don't subscribe to or put much weight on the opinions of WS. But I do think it's a bit unfair the constant implication that their scores are bought. The only analysis I ever saw of this was a statistician on one of the boards (I think WCWN) who did an analysis of WS ads vs. scores. He could find no correlation. He did find, if I remember correctly, that there was a small (but possibly significant) correlation between being selected for highlighting and ad dollars (in other words, if Corporation X and Corporation Y each had a $11 Cab scoring 87, the one who advertised more might be more likely to show up as a Best Buy). I think they're more incompetent than corrupt.

(back on-topic) I think it's ridiculous to reduce wine to a number. As ridiculous as reducing art or music. I saw a great exhibit of a local artist's landscape oils the other day. Am I supposed to say " well, it's a 86, I prefer El Greco's A View of Toledo, a clear 97". I can quantify "Sweeney Todd" vs. "The Marriage of Figaro"? I saw both last week, loved each. I'll guarantee you on a sunny day's picnic I'll prefer a good Tavel or Riesling Kabinett to a 99-pt Aussie fruitbomb.

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The only way that ANY of this nonsense is of value is if you know that your palate is similar to that of the "score giver".

If you know . . .

Katie,

I think its more insidious than that.

If you like the 99 Ogier, Cote-Rotie and Parker (or whomever) likes that wine, does it necessarily follow that you will not like the 99 Texier Cote-Rotie because Parker didn't? Or even more challenging; if the Ogier got 93 but the Texier got 89, does that make one more likely to be your preference?

While I understand that, after years of comparing Parker 90 and ups with your tastings of those exact wines, you can have some confidence in selecting wines he scores 90 and up that you have not tried, I still think the whole scheme fails to take into account changes in your or his palate through the years (or any other variable over time that one can dream up).

Of course this also leaves open the issue of how many times one has to compare notes and tastes to find any level of confidence, let alone knowing that you'll like his 90 pointers.

And, of course, this is only my response when the subject is wine. You don't want to hear it when the subject is art or music or food.

"Quality can be quantified;" I have some very primal, emotional and perhaps irrational response to that statement. Maybe it's my problem (for that very reason) but I truly hate (in this instance, used correctly) even the thought that such rubbish could be true. It smacks of inhumanity . . .

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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Here is a vote that all of your threads can be merged, Florida Jim, so you can hold court properly. Eventually, of course, you could publish your poetry just from gleaning the single, glorious thread.

Signed,

Your biggest flan

Dear Biggest Flan,

What is a web geisha?

Best, Jim

Edited by Florida Jim (log)

www.CowanCellars.com

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Jim;

I'm a novice on wine compared to you or Katie, and because of that, I rely heavily on what I read, mostly in the Washington Post Food Section. I don't always agree with evaluations there or elsewhere, and when I don't, I try to take notice of what I think are the differences between what I think and what the reviewer thinks. So much for my non-qualifications. Now, you say that "quality cannot be quantified". If we're talking about cardinal quantification, I couldn't agree more. But what about ordinal quantification (just order ranking) within a well defined group? In this weeks Post wine column, Ben Giliberti was reviewing high dollar Cabs fron Napa, most in the $100 range, give or take a few bucks, and said the following:

"Worthy 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($24; Best Buy) No the price is not a misprint. [goes on to describe Worthy as not quite Axios 2001 level, but close].... Had I been served this wine blind, I'd have pegged it at no less than $60."

So here we have presumably a pretty damn good Cab at roughly a quarter the cost of most of the others in the review. This I would argue is a type or ordinal rank, maybe along the lines of "not superb, but pretty damned good". And frankly that sort of ranking makes sense to me. I'd buy and drink a $24 Cab in a flash, but it takes a pretty special occasion to separate me from $100 for one bottle of wine. Would you also argue that that sort of ranking is impossible within a well defined group as well?

THW

Edited for stupid spelling mistake.

Edited by hwilson41 (log)

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne." John Maynard Keynes

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Here is a vote that all of your threads can be merged, Florida Jim, so you can hold court properly. Eventually, of course, you could publish your poetry just from gleaning the single, glorious thread.

Signed,

Your biggest flan

Dear Biggest Flan,

What is a web geisha?

Best, Jim

"Geisha" means "art person."

Go see my website. I create "visual haiku" online.

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Ratings and rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, however, I find it more useful to consider ratings from individuals than from publications. An individual who remains consistent in his or her palate (e.g. Parker) is useful whether or not one likes the wines he likes. Parker is not just about numbers. If one reads his critiques one gets a fairly good description of the wine, much like what one gets from Florida Jim. A number is only a number until it is backed up by the description. If one is not a fan of a 99 point "hedonistic fruit bomb", then one can also avoid other hedonistic fruit bombs 99 points or otherwise. ratings are nothing more than guides. The problem isn't the rater or the ratings themselves, it is that people take them as gospel, that is they cannot disagree with the "expert". Parker is just as useful with his less stellar ratings as with the big numbers. Find the style you like and learn how to equate it with Parker or some other person who can describe wine characteristics consistently and you have a useful tool.

The biggest problem with the WS as I see it, is a total lack of consistency because the write-ups and scores come from a stable of tasters. It is therefore difficult to establish a consistent base for comparison.

To answer the original question, I don't think quality in wine can be defined in a totally objective quantifiable way for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the impact of a particular wine at a particular time depends on too many variables, including environmental factors (temp., barometric pressure, humidity, surrounding beauty, food or lack thereof, etc.), personal factors (taster's mood, satiety, sobriety, tired palate, etc.) and historical factors (e.g. storage condition, transport, care, decanting, etc.). Nevertheless, I do see value in the rudimentary approaches to quantification with descriptive qualities.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Hi Jim,

Great discussion fodder.

My reply -- Not just no, hell no. I would even go way out there and state that a rating on a 100-point scale is not a quantifier. It's only a quantifier if that same wine gets the same rating time and time again by more than one rater. This is where quantifying comes in -- that there exists some standard upon which we all agree. As much as some people might think it to be so, those are not Arpy's scores.

What an irresponsbile statement. And what in the world does he mean "like cuisine, art, or music"? The only quantifies in the latter two are price and sales, which aren't always commensurate with quality. If that were the case Britney Spears is producing some of the highest quality music and Thomas Kinkade is the best artist.

Pshaw.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I'm with you Jim.

I also think that if you are going to score out of 100 then the most that any wine should ever get is 99. The only thing that you can ever get 100 out of 100 is math.

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Would you also argue that that sort of ranking is impossible within a well defined group as well?

THW,

I repeat the following statement because you may have missed its point:

"Whenever we deal in subjective perceptions, any system of ranking is infinitely vague from the start. Likewise written words in tasting notes are still ambiguous and subject to nearly endless interpretation. So I am not saying that grading systems (or tasting notes) are useless. Communication of such concepts is admittedly, difficult.

But a man who broke down wine tasting in remarkable detail, Professor Peynaud, concluded that: “The quality of a wine is the totality of its properties, that is to say the properties which render it acceptable or desirable.” The words “acceptable or desirable” beg the question; to whom? Every answer will be unique to the person answering."

If Ben is reliable for you, then some communication is accomplished (but see my answer to Katie regarding such individual comparisons). Again, I am not saying any rating system is useless.

But neither does any system rise to the level of quanifying all quality. We all shamble around trying to get our subjective thoughts and feelings across; that we do so ineptly is a matter of the subject matter, our personal slant, the limitations of language (or numbers) and any number of external factors.

What I think Parker does not understand is that it's supposed to be that way!

No one is the arbiter of my taste, certainly not him. No one tells me what is good and what is bad. No one tells me what I should and shouldn't enjoy.

And it is almost frigtening when someone tries, even when it comes to wine. That he sees it as a part of the grand scheme of things, ie., that quality is quantifiable, denies the humanity inherent in preference and taste and choice.

So my point is not that his or any system is useless, but that the motivation and philosophy that leads him (or anyone) to make such a statement should be scrutinized . . . closely.

Brad says the statement is irresponsible and I agree. But I think it much worse than that.

But then, I am just one guy who isn't making a living writing about or ranking wine . . . or cuisine or art or music . . .

Best, Jim

Edited by Florida Jim (log)

www.CowanCellars.com

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Introduction: a brand-new participant that is very, very interested in this specific topic and wine in general.

My specific interest lies in a venture that I'm planning: a way to somehow rank or rate wines with the goal of using those ranking and ratings to generate recommendations.

Allow me to say that I fully understand the problems associated with my goal and that ranking and rating wines is extremely subjective -- but the same can be said about other areas where recommendations are offered: books, movies, etc.

What I hope to do is to use the computer to do some interesting statistical analysis that can result in a meaningful recommendation.

The premise goes something like this: A group of individuals have tasted a variety of different wines and have recorded their ratings (at this point, the rating system doesn't matter but it may when exploring this concept further). The computer can easily take these ratings and break the large group into smaller groups -- composed of individuals who share the same subjective opinions about some subset of the wines. For analysis purposes, they do not have to have exactly the same ratings, but the computer attempts to locate the largest group of individuals who have very similar ratings of some sub-set of wines.

(This task, while straight-forward, is computationally complex and requires some sophisticated programming to achieve the goals. It is commonly known as "collaborative filtering" and has been applied to a number of different areas including movies and music.)

Let's assume that you are looking for a recommendation for a pinot noir. The system I envision would allow you to "ask" your subgroup for their recommendations. (All of this would be automated and based on the data within the recommendation system.)

In other words, the system would determine a group that best fit/match the preferences and ratings you've entered into the system and would look at that group's ratings of pinots and give you an automated recommendation.

The premise here is that if you share the same/similar tastes in the wines you've rated in common, there is a high probability that you will be satisfied with the wine that is known to the group but new to you. (The emphasis is on "probability," as there are, as we know, no guarantees.)

This introductory post is getting too long and I hope it is not too far from the starting subject about measuring quality. My goal is not to "measure" quality but to come up with ways to quantify subjective experiences and share them in meaningful ways with others.

Your thoughts?

Ward Bell

Obsidian Communications

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Ward,

As mentioned, no system is useless. Measuring the degree of usefulness of your, or any, system will certainly be a long term project.

But it occurs to me that your model is designed for commercial purposes (my guess is, that you would not be offerring this service for free) hence, it should be as viable as the market would allow. Surely you will research your target market.

As for my personal thoughts, well, let me just say that I am likely not your best candidate for constructive opinion. Call me Luddite, but I will not be availing myself of any system (yours included) to help me decide my preferences.

I'll use my senses.

Best, Jim

Edited by Florida Jim (log)

www.CowanCellars.com

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I have seen some information in the recent past where someone took Parker, Tanzer and Wine Spectator and then compared their rankings (points) across 1 year of reviewed wines. My memory is that on 85% of the individual wines the numerical ratings were statistically the same. When Meadows (burghound) was added to the mix his ratings were always lower.

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Jim,

Thanks for your feedback!

Designed for commercial purposes? Not exactly. I'm looking for ways that folks can share recommendations with other folks. But, facilitating that process has costs and those costs have to be covered. Perhaps through sponsorships; perhaps with an advertising model (similar to the one that offsets the costs of this forum?). I've not worked out all the details on that end.

What I'm more interested in at this time is how those recommendations are made. Certainly, the most common way is through the shop owner or staff. If we have established a relationship with them, we can ask them for recommendations. Problem is: they are not alway available and we sometimes wonder if they are just steering us to the more expensive bottle (most don't).

We can see from the responses here that many have problems with Parker's system or any of the major magazines (not to mention the fact that many of the wines discussed are not available in many of the markets).

So the scenario that I'm trying to address is that overwhealming feeling that some feel when that are told that they should pick up a pinot noir and are faced with 20 different labels at different price points and no clue as to which one to try. A specific recommendation from an objective source would go a long way, I think.

In the coming days, I think I will start a new topic to look at different rating and ranking approaches to see which ones might give users meaningful information.

Ward Bell

Obsidian Communications

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My specific interest lies in a venture that I'm planning: a way to somehow rank or rate wines with the goal of using those ranking and ratings to generate recommendations.

Your thoughts?

I'm not sure you'd see the return on investment you'd put forth. Part of my response is serious and part is cynical.

1. For the people who chase ratings and the opinions of others, I don't beleive most try to calibrate their palate to the source of those ratings and opinions at all. I think they just want a wine that a supposedly respected person or publication liked. Your system, if I understand it correctly, would require a consumer to calibrate to (choose) a sub-group.

2. I don't think many people even know their own tastes or preferences that well, let alone the ones of others. Okay, that's real cynical, but I've seen so many people not trust their own palate that there must be some credence to my point somewhere. So when they taste a highly rated wine they don't like, there is much struggle to resolve the dissonance. They won't just let the dissonance be there.

But the good news in all of this is that there are always people who wish to be told what to eat, drink, believe, like, etc. So a market probably exists.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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So the scenario that I'm trying to address is that overwhealming feeling that some feel when that are told that they should pick up a pinot noir and are faced with 20 different labels at different price points and no clue as to which one to try.  A specific recommendation from an objective source would go a long way, I think.

Ward,

Having had that very feeling from time to time, I do understand. And as you say. some information, no matter how hard to interpret, would make a good starting point.

But (and I herewith apologize to those of you who have heard this once too often), this hobby isn't supposed to be easy. You don't become an experienced wine taster in three semesters and frankly, short cuts don't make for expanded experience.

So my position is that, when faced with twenty pinots at different price points one should consider several things:

First, the next time a store holds a tasting of pinots, I should be there,

Second, which does my retailer recommend and why (and which does he not recommend and why),

Third, maybe I'll just get two of the more inexpensive ones to compare.

Obviously, if you have already been to a pinot tasting, you would have a clue. If the retailer has learned something about your preferences and isn't constantly trying to sell-you-up, that opinion may be of value, at least for comparison purposes. And then of course, nothing beats trying them yourself.

If a person interested in wine wants easy, they should just try a few wines until they get a couple they like and then stick with them. 'Nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to really learn about wine, then get ready for a lifetime project. Experience is going to take a long, long time. You are going to taste your share of crap along the way (and then you will forever know what crap is) and you will get innumerable chances to try something new (I have never been in any store where I have tried every wine in their inventory). Every once and awhile, you are going to taste something remarkable (and then you'll know what remarkable is).

Just take your time and don't worry about the next big thing, or whether someone knows more, or why you wouldn't know a good pinot if it walked up and introduced itself. You will learn, both the good ones and the bad ones; and the single most important thing you'll learn is that the very best pinot in the whole world, is the one you like the most.

Best, Jim

Edited by Florida Jim (log)

www.CowanCellars.com

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