Extrait de la nouvelle:
Every year Robert Hodgson selects the finest wines from his small California winery and puts them into competitions around the state.
And in most years, the results are surprisingly inconsistent: some whites rated as gold medallists in one contest do badly in another. Reds adored by some panels are dismissed by others. Over the decades Hodgson (...) became curious. Judging wines is by its nature subjective, but the awards appeared to be handed out at random.
So drawing on his background in statistics, Hodgson approached the organisers of the California State Fair wine competition, the oldest contest of its kind in North America, and proposed an experiment for their annual June tasting sessions.
(...) Hodgson's findings have stunned the wine industry. Over the years he has shown again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine.
"The results are disturbing," says Hodgson from the Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County, described by its owner as a rural paradise. "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."
These judges are not amateurs either. They read like a who's who of the American wine industry from winemakers, sommeliers, critics and buyers to wine consultants and academics.
(...) Results from the first four years of the experiment, published in the Journal of Wine Economics, showed a typical judge's scores varied by plus or minus four points over the three blind tastings. A wine deemed to be a good 90 would be rated as an acceptable 86 by the same judge minutes later and then an excellent 94.
(...) Hodgson went on to analyse the results of wine competitions across California, and found that their medals were distributed at random.
(...) Hodgson isn't alone in questioning the science of wine-tasting. French academic Frédéric Brochet tested the effect of labels in 2001. He presented the same Bordeaux superior wine to 57 volunteers a week apart and in two different bottles – one for a table wine, the other for a grand cru.
The tasters were fooled.
When tasting a supposedly superior wine, their language was more positive – describing it as complex, balanced, long and woody. When the same wine was presented as plonk, the critics were more likely to use negatives such as weak, light and flat.