Who’s the best judge of wine?  Is it wine authority and author Robert Parker, whose tasting ability reportedly is insured for $1 million?  Perhaps it is writers for the Wine Enthusiast or the Wine Spectator? Or one of the wine experts at the Maisonette or another five star restaurant?

I don’t think it’s any of them.  I’ll explain why — and then reveal who is.

A recent issue of the Wine Spectator compared 20 of the top cabernet sauvignons from California with 20 from the Bordeaux region of France.  Two tasters were involved, an authority on California and another on Bordeaux.  It was a blind tasting — the wines were not identified to the tasters.  They rated the wines on the 100-point scale used by most wine publications.

So what happened when two of the world’s foremost experts tasted the same wines from the same bottles at the same time? They disagreed.

In fact, the two experts disagreed on nearly 90 percent of the 40 wines.  Some differences were minor; others were not.  For example, they disagreed by 5 or more points on 25 percent of the wines.

A 1990 Beringer “Napa Valley Private Reserve” ($50) received an exceptionally high 98 from one expert, but only 89 from the other who wrote that the wine was “a little tiring to taste, even more so to drink!”

A 1985 Chateau Margaux ($136) received a disappointing 82 from one expert, who wrote “may be a bad bottle”, but a 90 from the other, who apparently thought the same bottle was rather good.

The differences didn’t necessarily reflect preferences in regional style, as the California expert awarded a 1990 Chateau Cos-d’Estournel ($55) an outstanding 94, while the Bordeaux expert gave it 86.

I also see large disagreements in the wine reviews we compile to produce composite evaluations for the Wine PocketList.  For example, Hogue’s 1993 Merlot “Columbia Valley” ($15) received a good 88 from Wine Enthusiast but only 80 from Wine & Spirits.  Chateau Souverain’s 1994 Chardonnay “Sonoma County” ($12) received an excellent 91 from Wine Spectator but only 85 from The Wine News.

What’s my point?  To ridicule the tasting abilities of wine experts?  Absolutely not.  My point is that the experts don’t always agree on wine and this suggests that there can be only one true wine expert — You.

What? You say you can’t judge wines?  That Robert Parker and others know a lot more about tasting wine? Of course they do. But why is evaluating wine different from evaluating movies?  Movie critics know a lot more about movies than the rest of us, yet everyone is at ease about disagreeing with them.  Perhaps the problem is that we perceive movies as being evaluated by “critics” while wines are evaluated by “experts”.

But no one has your set of taste buds or your preferences for certain flavors.  So while wine critics can help you find wines you might enjoy, they can’t tell you what you should enjoy.

As with movies, you are the expert.

John Vankat, PhD
The Wine PocketList