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THE JUDGMENT OF PRINCETON

John Tilson • 7/11/12        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

Here is yet another interesting account of how wine “experts” can be caught off guard in blind tastings. This is a blind tasting of French vs. New Jersey wines. Say what? New Jersey? Were it not for the fact that I know wine is now made in every state in the USA, I would have probably said that I did not know that wine was made in New Jersey. The fact of the matter is that I have never tasted a New Jersey wine, nor do I remember anyone ever talking about drinking one. And, I think that this is probably true for most wine drinkers (excluding, of course, the clever folks from Princeton).  Talk about under the radar!  Take a look at the following article and the results of the blind tasting. Even with my total lack of experience with New Jersey wines, I would say the results are very surprising! And, I am sure that, no doubt, the judges were equally surprised! In fact, the article states “…some tasters from the U.S. did not want their wine ratings to be published.”  Given the results, and the apparent embarrassment of some of the tasters,  I also cannot help wondering what the results would have been if the tasting were not done blind?  All of this ties in with my long held belief that first and foremost wine is a matter of personal taste. And, even more specifically, that wine “experts” do not necessarily know more or have superior tasting abilities than many who are not considered “experts” (more on this later).

 

AAWE Wine Economics, The Judgment of Princeton: France vs. New Jersey

At its Annual Conference in Princeton, the American Association of Wine Economists AAWE organized a wine tasting called “The Judgment of Princeton.” It was modeled after the 1976 “Judgment of Paris.” In 1976, British wine merchant Steve Spurrier organized a blind wine tasting with 9 French judges who were associated with the wine industry in various ways (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers). In the first flight the judges rated 10 white wines, 6 from Napa and 4 from Burgundy. In the second flight, the judges rated 10 reds, 6 from Napa and 4 from Bordeaux, France. In both tastings a wine from Napa, a then relatively unknown wine region, was declared the winner. George Taber of TIME magazine, the only attending journalist, reported the results to the world. The results caused considerable surprise in France and the USA, and helped to put Napa wines on the global wine map.

At the Princeton tasting, now led by George Taber, 9 wine judges from France, Belgium and the U.S. tasted French against New Jersey wines. The French wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including names such as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion, priced up to $650/bottle. New Jersey wines for the competition were submitted to an informal panel of judges, who then selected the wines that would compete. These judges were not eligible to taste wines at the final competition. The results were surprising. Although, the winner in each category was a French wine (Beaune Clos des Mouches for the whites and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild for the reds) NJ wines barely differed in their average rank from those of France. Three of the top four whites were from New Jersey. The best NJ red was ranked 3rd place. Prices for the NJ wines are typically one-third to one-twentieth of their French competitors.

A statistical evaluation of the tasting, conducted by Princeton Professor Richard Quandt, which was similar to an earlier analysis of the Judgment of Paris (http://www.liquidasset.com/tasting.html), further shows that the rank order of the wines was mostly insignificant. That is, if the tasting were repeated, the results would most likely be different. From a statistical viewpoint, most wines were therefore indistinguishable. Only the best white and the lowest ranked red were significantly different from the other wines.

There was a third similarity to the Paris tasting. In Paris, after the identity of the wines was revealed, Odette Kahn, editor of “La Revue du Vin de France,” demanded her scorecard back. Apparently, she was not happy with having rated American wines number one and two.

At the Princeton blind tasting, both French judges preferred NJ red wines over their counterparts from Bordeaux. After disclosing the wines’ identity the French judges were surprised but did not complain. In contrast, some tasters from the U.S. did not want their wine ratings to be published.

Click here for comprehensive results and the statistical analysis.

Results Whites

1 Clos des Mouches Drouhin 2009 FRA
2 Unionville Pheasant Hill Single Vineyard 2010 USA
3 Heritage Chardonnay 2010 USA
4 Silver Decoy “Black Feather” 2010 USA
5 Puligny Montrachet Domaine Leflaive 2009 FRA
Tied 6 Bellview Chardonnay 2010 USA
Tied 6 Bâtard Montrachet Marc-Antonin Blain 2009 FRA
8 Amalthea Chardonnay 2008 USA
9 Ventimiglia Chardonnay 2010 USA
10 Meursault-Charmes Jean Latour-Labille2008 FRA

Results Reds

1 Ch. Mouton Rothschild 2004 FRA
2 Ch. Haut Brion 2004 FRA
3 Heritage Estate BDX 2010 USA
4 Ch. Montrose 2004 FRA
5 Tomasello Oak Reserve 2007 USA
6 Ch. Leoville Las Cases 2004 FRA
7 Bellview Lumiere 2010 USA
8 Silver Decoy Cab. Franc 2008 USA
9 Amalthea Europa VI 2008 USA
10 Four JG’s Cab Franc 2008 USA

Wine Judges:

Jean–Marie Cardebat, Professor of Economics, Université de Bordeaux

Tyler Colman, DrVino.com

John Foy, Wine Columnist The Star Ledger; www.thewineodyssey.com

Olivier Gergaud, Professor of Economics, BEM Bordeaux Management School

Robert Hodgson, Fieldbrook Winery, California

Linda Murphy, co-author of American Wine; Decanter

Danièle Meulders, Professor of Economics, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Jamal Rayyis, Gilbert & Gaillard Wine Magazine

Francis Schott, Stage Left Restaurant, New Brunswick; RestaurantGuysRadio.com

Ex officio:

Mark Censits, CoolVines Wine & Spirits

George Taber, Block Island, RI

 

Best wishes,

Karl Storchmann

Economics Department

New York University

19 W 4th St, 6FL

New York, NY 10012

karl.storchmann@nyu.edu

 

Managing Editor, Journal of Wine Economics

www.wine-economics.org

 

The Journal of Wine Economics covers a lot of interesting ground. Here is the introduction from the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) website http://www.wine-economics.org/:                       :

The American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to encouraging and communicating economic research and analyses and exchanging ideas in wine economics. The Association’s principal activities include publishing a refereed semi-annual journal — The Journal of Wine Economics — and staging scholarly conferences that are forums for current wine related economic research.

Members of AAWE are economists from around the world — in academia, business, government, and research. Benefits of Individual Membership include an individual subscription to the Journal of Wine Economics and member rates on conference participation and journal manuscript submission. AAWE also extends Institutional Membership to academic institutions, business firms, and other organizations who share AAWE’s objectives and wish to provide special opportunities for their economists to participate in AAWE’s activities.

The bottom line for me is that what the AAWE does serves to “de-mystify” much of the hype and puffery that revolves around wine. In the future, The Underground will publish and comment on more of the research done by the AAWE.

 

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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4 comments for “THE JUDGMENT OF PRINCETON”

  1. No doubt the New Jersey wines are very good indeed. But I have to wonder how it is that, in the case of the reds, fairly young NJ wines were put up against 8 year old wines from a challenging vintage in Bordeaux.

    Posted by Paul Nielsen | July 12, 2012, 11:10 am
  2. Domaine le Comte de Paramus beats Montrose? How does anyone ever pass the sommelier exam, much less the Master of Wine?

    Mort

    Posted by Mort Maizlish | July 12, 2012, 7:51 pm
  3. Hi Paul,
    No clue. The logic behind the selection of wines for blind tastings is often baffling to me.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | July 18, 2012, 1:11 pm
  4. Hi Mort,
    Beats me. One skill is tasting, the other learning facts. Both are dependent on god given abilities. And, everyone is not created equal!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | July 18, 2012, 1:18 pm

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