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Debunking Critics' Wine Words: Can Amateurs Distinguish the Smell of Asphalt from the Taste of Cherries?*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2012

Roman L. Weil
Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, 5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, email:


I report my tests of the hypothesis that wine consumers cannot match critics' descriptions of wines with the wines themselves. My results suggest that testers' ability to match the descriptions with the wines is no better than random. I report on more than two hundred observations of wine drinkers who engaged in the following experiment. The drinker faces 3 glasses of wine, two of which contain identical wines and the third contains a different wine. I record whether the drinker can distinguish wines—whether he can tell the singleton from the doubleton and, if the drinker can distinguish, which wine he prefers. I present the testers with descriptions of the two wines written by the same wine critic/reviewer. I find that 51 percent of the testers who can distinguish the wines correctly match the description of the wine with the wine itself. The percentage matching does not significantly differ from the expected-if-random half. I have recorded the sex of the testers and I can find that men can distinguish the wines better than random, but women cannot. The differences are so small, even though significant, however, that the Exact F test detects no significant difference between the ability of men and women in these experiments. The results span tests of wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, Spain, Germany, and Australia; the tests use only still wines, all less than ten years old. (JEL Classification: C93, D12)

I dedicate this paper to Adrienne Lehrer, whose 1983 book, Wine and Conversation, with a different experimental design, anticipated these results.

Copyright © American Association of Wine Economists 2007

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