Don't reviewers recognize cult wines even when they taste them blind?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

When different publications rate different wines differently, it is often explained by blind tasting. When wine experts taste the cult wines, I would think that they are relatively easily identifiable, at least the region. Doesn’t that mean they will have a perception of which wine they are tasting before they score or formulate notes? Is it then more objective?

—Terje D., Norway

Dear Terje,

At Wine Spectator, we do what is called a single-blind tasting, in which the reviewer knows the varietal, vintage and appellation of each wine, but all the bottles are bagged so that the producers and prices are not revealed. (Here’s more about how we taste.) That’s because we believe the best wines reflect where they’re from and what they’re made of. We also believe that every wine should have an equal chance at a high score, no matter how much it costs or who made it, and that this method is both fair and objective.

So, in the scenario you’ve described, we don’t make our tasters guess what region they’re tasting. A so-called “cult” Napa Cabernet is tasted among its peers in a flight of other Napa Cabernets.

But I understand what you’re asking. Do “cult” wines stand out in a blind tasting? Sometimes they do, just as any other good or distinctive wine can stick out among its peers. But the thing about blind tasting is that the taster isn’t distracted by an expectation of a cult wine tasting better, or wondering if the more expensive wine is going to earn a higher score. The taster just describes and evaluates the wine simply by what’s in the glass. In non-blind tastings, it’s easier to give a wine the kind of score that you expect it would get, and to prefer the more expensive bottling to the less expensive one.

—Dr. Vinny

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