I've been intending to do some reviews of books that I've been reading for a while now, but haven't gotten around to it. I finally have decided to dive in, and I'll be starting off with a book that I recently received as a sample from the publisher, The Wine Trials 2011 by Robin Goldstein with Alexis Herschkowitsch, and Tyce Walters.
For those not already familiar with the previous editions of this book, Goldstein has created quite a stir in the wine world. He exposed a ploy to sell advertising in the Wine Spectator that was masked as an "Award for Excellence" for restaurants, incited some spirited debate with Eric Asimov, and talked about RUSH with 1WineDude. As for the book itself, it made claims that a number of wines priced under $15 were routinely preferred to other wines priced over $50, including some very famous brand names. The book describes the large blind tasting that was set up, and gives a guide to a number of the sub-$15 wines that fared the best from the tastings.
The 2011 edition of this book follows the same format as its predecessors, giving an updated list of the expanded tasting (175 wines listed in this edition), and an update on the content of the book. Much of what is said in the book has to do with Goldstein singing the praises of blind tasting, and discussing aspirational wines, the flagship example in the book being Dom Perignon. The list of wines features wines that have production of at least 10,000 cases, meaning that most should be readily available to people in different areas. Each wine must be available for under $15.
I found myself bouncing between agreement and disagreement with the book. In general, I think that the message is accurate. The average wine drinker doesn't need to spend $50 on a bottle of wine to find one that they will enjoy. Even the more experienced drinkers can find wines that they would enjoy in the $15 price range, and I do agree that there can be a psychological effect in play when it comes to perceptions of a wine for which you already know the price. It's hard to argue with the numbers that the book lists when it comes to comparing that bottle of Dom to a bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle, even among "expert" tasters. Where I found myself having the most trouble agreeing was when it came to the subject of exclusive blind tasting for reviews. I would certainly like to see more blind tasting in reviews, and less manipulation of blind tasting scores for the benefit of advertisers, but I found myself getting off the bus when it came to not even knowing the varieties of wines.
I can think of several instances where I tasted a wine, and enjoyed drinking it, but couldn't get past the fact that it didn't share the characteristics that were common to the variety. In those cases I would have said that the wine was a nice wine to drink, but that it wasn't a good Cabernet, Pinot Noir, or whatever the variety in question is. While this might not have a bearing on whether or not the average consumer would enjoy the wine, it is information that I think should be available to the consumer in a review. I'm not saying that I think that this is an argument against blind tasting in reviews, but I think that it is something that needs to be taken into consideration in the review process. Perhaps that would mean that the variety is the only information known to the tasters, or that there is a secondary typicity review after the wine had been tasted, but I think that the typicity is something that should go into the score of the wine.
Aside from that, I was impressed overall with the work that was done for this book. I haven't read previous editions of the book, but I have read elsewhere that they have upped the scientific nature of the study to counter some of the criticisms that some might have had in the past. I did appreciate the fact that the authors addressed one of the questions that popped into my head early on, that of who was doing the tastings. I would be curious to see a more complete breakdown on how the different wines fared among the "expert" tasters and the "non-expert" ones, but I was glad to see that the wines were tasted by both. Goldstein admits that the results did differ somewhat between the two groups, and it would be interesting to know more about the specific results.
In general, I think that this book is a great fit for the average wine drinker, and for any of us who have an interest in finding good wines in a lower price point. I know I was ready to run out to my local shop and pick up some of the wines that were mentioned to try them out myself. As much as the artistry of a fine wine is something that I can appreciate, I also have a great appreciation for good value wines. I think that most consumers are looking for wines that they can keep on hand for that Tuesday night, and this book gives a lot of good recommendations for people to try. It also does a great job of establishing its case for blind tasting, and I think that Goldstein is right when he recommends that people try more blind tasting. It is always fun to see the results of these tastings, and I would recommend organizing a blind tasting event to anyone who likes to put together wine events. You might be surprised at the results.