A recent article in the Guardian by David Derbyshire, Wine-tasting: it’s junk science 23 June 2013, has caused a bit of a stir in the wine community. It looks at the work of Robert Hodgson, a California winemaker who was so baffled about the inconsistent results his wines achieved in various wine shows from year to year, that for the past six years he’s been conducting experiments with the California State Fair wine competition to find out whether professional judges are any better than you and me at judging wine.

Six years on, the results of his research make for pretty sobering reading. A few highlights from Hodgson’s summary of his work:

“Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.”

“Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win.”

“I think there are individual expert tasters with exceptional abilities sitting alone who have a good sense, but when you sit 100 wines in front of them the task is beyond human ability.”

Before you dismiss the value of wine critics, remember that wine is without doubt the most complex drink in the world. The Guardian cites the work of Dr Bryce Rankine, an Australian wine scientist who identified 27 distinct organic acids in wine, 23 varieties of alcohol in addition to common ethanol, more than 80 esters and aldehydes, 16 sugars, plus a long list of assorted vitamins, minerals and harmless traces of lead and arsenic from the soil!

This cocktail of ingredients creates at least 400 aroma compounds that work on their own and with others to create an incredible complexity of aromas and flavours. And as experienced wine drinkers know, these aromas and flavours are volatile – the temperature that wine is … Read the rest