About two weeks ago, now, I was enjoying a bottle of Chardonnay with one of my good friends. After a glass, he asked if I had enjoyed it. I responded saying that I felt I would have liked more balance, as the wine was not quite crisp enough for the amount of vanilla influence and thus, the fruit flavors were a bit flat. My friend smiled and said, “It was a simple yes or no question, wasn’t it?”

The conversation which followed raised an interesting issue. As fbworld’s wine editor, I taste a lot of wine, which it my friend’s words means, I “have an overly sophisticated palate.” Meaning, because I have a greater knowledge about wine than the average person, perhaps my perspective on the quality of a bottle is a bit too complex. For most people, it’s as simple as “I like it” or “I don’t.” There’s no analysis, no real careful consideration. Generally, people simply make a quick judgment. The question is then, if those of us who review wine have a different perspective and manner of evaluating a wine, does it really make sense for us to make recommendations to average wine drinkers?

To put this query to the test, we set up a tasting for about a dozen of our business associates at Marin Joe’s Restaurant. Everyone in attendance tasted through a flight of six wines, all provided by Mercer Winery, out of Washington’s Columbia Valley. I took my usual tasting notes with each bottle, and everyone else was given a short form to fill out. It asked them questions about aromas and flavors, as well as their overall impressions of the wine, which they were to take into account when giving each wine their own score on a scale of 1 to 5 (to keep it simple). Afterwords, I sat down to compare the results and see if I liked the same wines as everyone else.


The Results


Wine #1: Mercer 2008 Pinot Gris

My Description: Melon, orange, and bright citrus on the nose. Melon, orange, sweet lemon, and a touch of stone fruit on the palate. Fairly light, and crisp without being too dry.

My Score: 4.4/5.0

Others Descriptions: grassy, lemony, fruity (x3), floral (x2), light citrus, earthy, sweet nose but crisp palate, too dry, a bit tart, short flavor duration

Others average score: 4.25/5.0


Wine #2: Mercer 2007 Sauvignon Blanc

My Description: Grapefruit, melon, grassy notes, and minerals on the nose. Flavors of grapefruit, melon, lemon, and lime build to a grassy finish. Decent acid, but just a bit flat.

My Score: 4.3/5.0

Others Descriptions: sweet and smooth, apple, crisp and dry, light and fruity (x2), pleasant, slightly musty, nutty, fruit and grasses, tart grapefruit, long finish

Others average score: 4.5/5.0


Wine #3: Mercer 2007 Chardonnay

My Description: The nose offers peach, melon, and bright vanilla. Peach, pear, melon, and vanilla on the palate, with fenel seeds at the finish. Quite round and creamy, but still with a highlight of acid.

My Score: 4.3/5.0

Others Descriptions: vanilla, apple, buttery, nutty, creamy, mainly fruit, spicy, soft and pleasant, well-balanced, nice fruit and good finish, clean mint, no aroma, long finish.

Others average score: 4.2/5.0


Wine #4: Mercer 2007 Riesling

My Description: Pear, pineapple, apricot, and syrupy tangerine on the nose. Pineapple, pear, tangerine, apricot, and sweet spices on the palate. A nice balance, bit sweet but still with good acidity.

My Score: 4.4/5.0

Others Descriptions: apricot, sweet and fruity, quite fruity and floral (x3), slightly sweet and light, cucumber, very sweet and smooth, very drinkable, nice balance

Others average score: 4.6/5.0


Wine #5: Mercer 2007 Merlot

My Description: Rich nose of cherry, plum, and currants, with lush notes of vanilla and chocolate. Plum and currants also on palate, along with rich dark chocolate, cedar, and clove. A smooth wine with enough tannins to give it a nice full-body.

My Score: 4.5/5.0

Others Descriptions: spicy aroma, a little bite on the palate, fruity and smooth, fruity and nutty, floral and earthy, nice nose and long lasting palate, raspberry and blackberry with licorice, well-balanced, lots of fruit – blackberry and plum

Others average score: 4.3/5.0


Wine #6: Mercer 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

My Description: Layered nose of blackberry, cherry, currant, clove and earth. Palate echos the nose exactly but for an extra touch of oak. Solid structure and lingering finish.

My Score: 4.3/5.0

Others Descriptions: spice and fruit, nice balance, good fruit but rough at the finish, bold, heavy, fruity, cherry, earthy, has a bite – not as smooth as last wine, nice fruit and long finish

Others average score: 4.2/5.0


After reviewing the results, I was struck by two things. First, there were some clear discrepancies in the descriptions I gave the wines and those offered by everyone else. I certainly have never found cucumber in a Riesling nor a spicy Chardonnay, but in general the descriptors offered by the dinner guests were not so different from mine. I may have been more detailed, but that’s my job.

I was also struck by how close my scores were with the average scores of everyone else. The largest discrepancy was only two tenths of a point on our scale for dinner or about 4 points on a 100 point scale. It was not a surprise that the Riesling, being the sweetest wine, ended up with the highest marks from the dinner guests. I was a little puzzled that the Merlot received average marks, when I had given it the highest rating, and it was interesting that the Sauvignon Blanc was people’s second favorite wine, when it really had not stood out for me. A few of the guests had agreed with my assessment of the Sauvignon Blanc, but four of them had given it a 5 out of 5. Like every wine, there was a range of scores for it. In some cases, the same wine was scored a 2 by one person and a 5 by another. But averaged out, they were always in the ballpark of my own scores.

So what does this really mean? Well, given the range of scores and descriptions, clearly, each individual’s perceptions of each wine are going to be quite inconsistent. Meaning descriptions don’t matter that much. In terms of scores, weather dealing with marks from a seasoned reviewer or a collection of individuals, it’s good to keep in mind that while the number assigned to the bottle may be an exact one (it’s just simpler that way), it may be best to think of it as a range, representing a few numbers above and a few below.

Personally, this experiment has shown me that while I may be able to provide a more detailed description of a wine, it terms of how much I like it, my opinion is just one of many. However, based on this tasting, my scores seem to fall somewhere in the middle of the range, which, I hope, is a good thing. Still, enjoy wines because you like them, not because myself or another reviewer says you should. It’s much better that way.