The Costs of Blind Tasting

Handling nearly 20,000 wines a year requires serious investment in infrastructure and personnel
Mar 11, 2013

Recently, my colleague Harvey Steiman tackled many of the issues, pro and con, of blind vs. non-blind tasting. One aspect I'd like to address is one that's rarely discussed: the cost of staffing and staging blind tastings.

Over the course of more than 20 years, Wine Spectator has developed a methodology for our blind tastings, one designed to keep them independent, consistent and fair to the wines. When you factor in the costs of handling nearly 20,000 wines each year, that methodology costs serious money.

First is the infrastructure. We have constructed dedicated tasting rooms in both our New York and Napa offices. We have also built cellars to store the wines we receive for tasting and keep them in optimum condition. When we taste off-site, as is the case in Bordeaux, for example, we rent space.

More important is the personnel. Wine Spectator has about 10 full-time employees working in our two tasting departments. They play an essential role in ensuring that we taste all the wines in impeccable conditions.

First, they source the wines. Most of the wines we review are submitted by producers or importers/distributors; others are purchased. This requires a great deal of communication and management. Then come the tasks of bagging, coding and organizing the tastings. Finally, and hardly insignificant, comes cleaning up and discarding the bottles.

It's far easier and less expensive for a reviewer to taste scores of wines at an industry-sponsored event such as Premiere Napa Valley than it is to set up a blind tasting of hundreds of wines. But of course the reviewer loses control at a large group tasting—of the wines presented, of the way they are organized, and of the time he or she is able to devote to assessing them. Avoiding distractions and interruptions at such events is impossible.

However, at least the industry-sponsored tastings could be blind. It would be easy for vintner groups to have the wines presented blind (delivered in bags by wineries or bagged up the organization). I'm not sure how many wineries—or reviewers—would be comfortable with that, though. It's too easy to always be right when you're staring at the wine, or standing next to and listening to the winemaker while jotting notes or scores.

In my belief, it is in the industry's best interests to have its wines critiqued by independent reviewers, and blind is the fairest and most objective way to do this. That's why we go to the lengths we do to set up our tastings.

Blind Tasting

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