Wine Talk

Snooth User: Jason Benjamin M

Just HOW Subjective is Wine Preference?

Posted by Jason Benjamin M, Jul 2, 2011.

When I first took up wine as a true hobby a few years back, I assumed that what makes a wine enjoyable was about 50/50... Half of the credit goes to the consumer, each of whom has a unique set of habits, preferences, and neural networking. The other half goes to the vintner, who carefully selects his crop, critcally oversees the winemaking process, and delivers a high-quality product that can be ubiquitously enjoyed around the world.

But as I started to keep fervent notes on the wines I was drinking (thank you Microsoft Excel), I started to notice one dominant trend... In short: THERE WERE NO TRENDS.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I have personally given higher ratings to Italian reds and California Cabernets (among others), but I think we can all agree that regional and varietal preferences can be completely attributed to personal preference. I'd never be so callous as to declare Merlots and Australian reds as somehow objectively inferior because I'm not a big fan of them...

Instead, I'm talking about the two extrinsic factors that allegedly determine how enjoyable a wine is:

1. Price per bottle. Using simple logic, a $25 dollar wine must be twice as good as a $12 wine, right?

2. Wine opinions from poncey sources such as wine magazines (Wine Spectator), world-renown experts (Robert Parker), and local pundits (wine shop staff and personal friends).

Indeed, my precious Excel spreadsheet includes the price of each bottle I try, as well as the source of inspiration for buying the wine, including the occasions when I choose a a wine completely on instinct ("Oooh, that label is pretty!").

Again, despite all these wonderful sources of wine information, no trends have emerged. I have loved $6 wines, hated $30 wines, and vice versa. I have loved wines given by friends, and hated wines lauded by Wine Spectator. I even bought the ever-popular Wine Trials book (, and have used it to discover new wines from outstanding to downright undrinkable.

Furthermore, my own instincts are apparently just as good (and bad) at picking out a wine as Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. One of my personal favorites (a $10 Nero D'Avola), as well as a truly terrible wine experience (an $8 Merlot/Cabernet from Californa), have both stemmed from my own random crapshoots at the local wine store.

I'm starting to think that wine preference is not really 50/50. By my experience, It's 100/0 in favor of the consumer. But that doesn't discourage me one bit. If anything, it sets the stage for a never-ending quest: finding the perfect wine for me. Which of course, will be different than the perfect wine for you.

After all, who cares what Robert Parker thinks? As long as you're happy at the very moment the wine touches your lips, the vintner has succeeded.

Please do respond with your thoughts on the subjectivity of wine preference.

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Reply by GregT, Jul 2, 2011.

I don't get the question.  How subjective is my preference?  How subjective can it be? 

"Preference" is inherently subjective.  Can't be anything else.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 2, 2011.

GregT: No, no, as long as my preferences are in a spreadsheet--I mean, don't you put all of your friends' names and numbers and how often you call them so you can rank them?-- it stops being subjective. 

I shouldn't make light of spreadsheets.  I can't even keep notes in a book left by the bottle rack--I just have to try to remember what those wines tasted like.  Some stand out in my mind, luckily.'68 BV, '90 RM reserve, but also a lot of inexpensive '90 Napa cab... I dunno, must be something about them.

Actually, finding the perfect wine for me is pretty easy.  To paraphrase Rick Blaine, when it comes to wine, I'm a true democrat.  Now, being able to pick wines that my friends will like when they come over, that's proven a bit more elusive.  It means paying attention to what they did the last time they ate and drank at my place.  Which is really hard to do without a spreadsheet.

Reply by GregT, Jul 3, 2011.

Fox - I like spreadsheets too.  I use them all day long. Even for wine issues. Gotta say tho, no way in hell am I going to record the preferences of my friends! I don't like ANYBODY that much! (I assume you were facetious.)  

The original post boils down to "Regardless of price, I like some wines more or less than some other people do." Not much to say about that.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 3, 2011.

And yet I expended so many words.

Okay, CT is basically a spread sheet, and I use it.  I like having a convenient list of my wine so that I know what I am looking for when I crawl through the basement door. And I like having recommended drink-by dates and the ability to sort so that I can avoid buying things I have too much of or are going to peak all at the same time.

In general, I think people overutilize spreadsheets.  The "tables" function in most word processors is completely adequate to lots of things, as long as they don't require formulas.  And for sorting, printing tables, and lots of other stuff, what you really want is a database program.  (We used one in my last trial to organize the discovery--way better than a spreadsheet, and not at all hard to learn or use.)

I think keeping track--in your head, of course--of your friends' preferences is just being a good host.  And, given my tolerant tastes in wine, a little more demanding than making myself happy.  Maybe I'm a frustrated sommelier at heart, but nailing the perfect wine for someone else makes me feel good. Of my top ten wine experiences, I bet more than half were either somebody pouring me something that opened my eyes, or having a friend's face light up and hear them say, "Wow, that was good.  Where did you get it?"

Reply by GregT, Jul 3, 2011.

We need to talk about Word tables vs spreadsheets one day!  I'm trying to get my staff away from those damned tables.  Just embed the spreadsheet.

As far as friends preferences, I guess I just kind of know who's likely to like what.  And since I can't remember a time when we only had one or two bottles, we usually settle on something.  If someone really doesn't like something we just ask what they'd like and open that. My wife won't drink anything white for example, so we know we need a red.  We went out the other night and people had Burgundies and old N. Rhones so I brought along a Gemstone because I knew she'd like that. It was pretty good too!

Reply by Jason Benjamin M, Jul 3, 2011.

Snooth tells you to keep your subject lines short and sweet, so I'm terribly sorry if I deviously misled anyone to believe that the meaning of my forum heading was "Just how subjective is MY wine preference?"

That, indeed, would be a fully redundant rhetorical question.

But I think the text of my post makes it pretty clear that the full thought is "Just how subjective are the wine drinking world's wine preferences despite efforts to OBJECTIFY the matter, such as 100-point scale wine ratings, inflated bottle prices, etc."

Whereas I used to think it was partially guided by individuals, and partially by expert winemakers who create flavors that almost all can enjoy, my recent experience (though admittedly anecdotal and not scientific), is starting to change my thoughts on the matter...

I thought that a wine drinking community would have the intellectual capacity able to infer these things.

Reply by JonDerry, Jul 3, 2011.


An established wine drinking community, just like any other, doesn't take too well to a seemingly arrogant new shooter.  If you'd like to continue posting here and have meaningful interactions, I should recommend to expect dissenting views on anything and everything, and just take it in stride.

You seem to be on your way to discovering the importance of finding QPR (quality/ price ratio) in the wines you drink. Ratings tend to have little to do with QPR, though they can often have a negative impact. It comes down to your taste and how it evolves.

Pricing isn't a linear equation at all. You can find 90 point wines at almost any price range, though 95 points under $60 is very difficult, and anything close to a "perfect" wine will be a challenge to find at $100 or below.

Reply by GregT, Jul 3, 2011.

Good points Jon.

And might I add - Jason, the explanation doesn't really help.  I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, that's for sure. But are you suggesting that you thought because someone says a wine is 95 points, the "wine world" would agree and you're surprised that it doesn't?

Is that true of anything?  Movies, books, food, clothes? All of which have critics who rate them. At one time Pauline Kael was important, at another Siskel and Ebert were, but people still had their own opinions on movies.

Why not wine?  LVMH uses exactly the same marketing techniques to sell handbags that they use to sell their wine.   

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 3, 2011.

Wait, LVMH sells handbags?  You mean those ones with the stupid initials? No wonder I hate their Imperial/White Start, whatever... ;-)

Okay, back to the best part of the thread:  Spreadsheets vs. tables.  If you already have the spreadsheet, embed it, of course.  Spreadsheets are meant to calculate things, and are good at that.  If you are just making a list of stuff, who needs it?  You can also embed stuff from acess...

Oh, man, I just realized how much I am not enyoying this thread:  I am talking about data processing instead of wine!  Drudgery should never trump sybaritic pleasure.

I'm wondering how something can be less than "fully redundant." I guess in the data processing world, you can have partially redundant systems.  But a statement is redundant or its not. But then again, I lack the capacity to infer what the "wine drinking world" means.

If you are wondering whether there is a question about preferences vs. objectively good wine, I think there's a really good thread on WineBerserkers on the subject. Mostly, the guy who said there's objectively better wine got shouted down. And that particular topic has been pontificated in other threads here as well.  GregT has said (I paraphrase) "the best wine is the one you like."  If you are wondering if one can make anything like a consensus of wine writings, well, that's a question worth talking about, but then say so.  And if you are wondering whether the tastes of the masses reflect the tastes of critics, or vice versa, then ask that question.

I don't think that people who question the intellectual capacity of their readers should have thin skins themselves. Anyone who describes his notes as "fervent" and his Excel spreadsheets as "precious" kind of asks for a little poking.

Also, the idea that wine's quality is linear with price:  Hardly logical. Ever hear of the law of diminishing returns?  Can anyone really claim that a Maybach is objectively 10 times as good as a Volvo?  By what metric?

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 4, 2011.

Just to add to the discussion

I use spreadsheets to record what I have in my cellar, mainly for insurance reasons.

GregT - I agree with you on embedding files into word documents, but that is day job debate

Jason on  your points

Wine preference is a complex subject and is driven by a combination of factors, including consumers preferences and trends, market hype, clever winery and or regional marketing, socalled experts etc etc

Point scales have been debated at considerable length on both Snooth forums and many other media and it is true to say that the only consensus, is that there is no consensus.

Even when you read Robert Parker Jnr's explanations on point scores, he acknowledges it is no more than an expression of his personal taste using a numeric scale and that the difference between a 92 point wine and a 93 point wine is that he liked the 93 point wine slightly better.

Price as it always is, is no more than a reflection of supply and demand and I won't give an economics 101 dissertation on that here

Influencing the QPR - this is again a complex combination of many factors, including history, reputation of wine/winery/winemaker/vineyards/region, marketing, economics, wine writer reviews, etc etc. 

I would also add that I will restrict my comments to QPR as it relates to consumption and not investment

To me the QPR is based on comparative pricing for similar product and to me I look at it on the basis does the more expensive wine provide me with a persuasive reason to pay a premium for it over the cheaper product.  AN example in an Australian context could be shiraz.  We produce shiraz from many different regions, cool climate v warm climate, French Oak v American Oak, fruit dominance v oak dominance, high alcohol v low alcohol, single vineyard v single region v multi region, plus others.  We have shiraz which is great for early drinking, some that ages 10-20+ years.  We have wines with history of producing consistently good/great wines year in year out.  Lots of influences to think about and SHiraz ranges from $5 a bottle to $700+ for some cult wines

I have to admit I am influenced by ratings, marketing and reputation, but I hope that this influence only is to guide me into confirming my own views, assist me and push me in looking for new experiences.

I am also influenced by the views of the Snooth community, particularly around trying wines that I have little experience with.

So what does this mean?, do I need a spreadsheet to calculate it?,.......

Can I justify high prices for a Bordeaux 1st Growth over a 2nd[or lower] growth at a much lesser price.  Lafite is currently about a multiple of 5-6 over Leoville Las Cases.  I can't find any logical basis for justifying that multiple, but if I earned $1m+ a year I suspect I would buy the odd bottle of Lafite, just to see whether its worth the experience.  Currently my personal budget does not allow for Lafite and maybe 1 bottle of Leoville a year and thats based on a contribution form some fellow wine drinkers.

As you can see from my ramblings it is an extraodinarily difficult task to determine a QPR, so therefore it will IMHO always be a very subjective quest.


Reply by GregT, Jul 4, 2011.

So now we've embedded a side thread regarding spreadsheets into this one.  Very nicely done too, I must say. 

My main problem with tables is that spreadsheets are really easy to sort and calculate with, whereas tables are kind of clumsy when it comes to that. AND the fact that most people use about 10% of the functionality of Word and most word processors and don't know how to set things up using templates, style sheets, etc., so their tables are always problems.

I still don't think I'd be able to find space for a column regarding the preferences of friends tho . . .


Anyhow, I think you guys made it clear that the wine drinking world is a big place so you can't really make many generalizations about it. To test the limits of my tolerance, the other day I even tried a wine that was not made from grapes.  I was drinking a Nebbiolo one day and remembered I had this one, so next day I opened it.  Not bad actually.  Nose was a bit like cherry pie but it also had some earthiness, palate super tart red cherries but with an underlying sweetness and then a long tart finish.  That sweetness wasn't something I am used to, like the Two Hands wine I had last night, it had a different quality somehow and I can't really explain it. Would have been pretty good with roast chicken actually, or duck. 

It was a no-vintage sour cherry wine from Michigan.  I'd give it 84-85 points but I had to question myself and wondered if that was because it was made from cherries and not grapes, like a proper wine. As to what another critic would give it, I have no idea.  I had to overcome an almost visceral reaction and many people might not even put it in their mouths.  Maybe we can say that objectively, most people in the wine world agree that if you're talking about wine, you're talking about wine from grapes, but maybe even that might be assuming too much.  Anyhow, there's another thread that's probably more on point - the poster had asked about ratings and I don't want to repeat everything I wrote there.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 4, 2011.

Funny you mention non-grape wine.  I started a thread on the Tour de France before I realized that the early stages are not exactly in the wine areas.  (They are crossing the Loire right now as I watch, but clear down at the mouth!)  And I got to thinking about Calvados. A brandy, really, but we do have this tendency to think it's wine only if it has grapes. 

SH said many things I should have put more nicely.

Last comment by me on tables v. spreadsheets:  If you are doing calculating, absolutely spreadsheets. Recent versions of Word have made the sorting capability much better, but it's neither a spreadsheet nor a substitute for a database. Now, back to wine...

Reply by dmcker, Jul 4, 2011.

Foxall, two things...

First, if you're talking in the wine context and about Normandy, why not talk about cidre rather than calvados? The decent-or-better stuff there knocks into a cocked hat any fermented cider I've had in North America. Absolutely wonderful at lunch with savory crepes...

Second, in an earlier lengthy post on the previous page you touched on a wide range of subjects, but one direction was potentially most interesting of anything I've seen here in recent weeks. Is there such a thing as objective, 'absolute' beauty or quality or...? Hell, the original shapers of our thinking processes back in Greece a while back thought there was. What is the Golden Rectangle in the wine world? I sway between wondering about that, and a somewhat-weak inclination to acquiesce to the relativists.

Gotta run to work now, but thought I'd toss that petard (hey, I'm feeling French today for some reason) into the fray, maybe it was the '53 Calvados last night....

Reply by GregT, Jul 4, 2011.

d - they gave us the golden rectangle, but then more recently they also gave us retsina and the discombobulation of the EU, so clearly their best days are behind. . .

Funny you guys mention apples.  Many summers ago there was this apple wine that we were drinking while playing softball. Then we drank some more of it and the sun was hot and we weren't really hitting that well, so we drank some more and more and more. I learned a valuable lesson that day.

For several years after I didn't touch any alcohol whatsoever.  Even today, the idea of apples and alcohol makes me ill.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 4, 2011.

No AppleJack in Brooklyn?

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 5, 2011.

Apples and Moi have a strange relationship, I love eating them but am rather indifferent to apple juice and cider.  Not sure why but I have never got into either.

I will drink most fruit juices in preference to apple juice and most alcoholic beverages in preference to cider.

Enough on spreadsheets

If something is absolute is that based an assessment relative everything in its class

I am a relativist because there is always room for improvement

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 5, 2011.

To be honest, I'm not really that big on Calvados or ciders.  In my high school years in New England (soph and junior), I remember buying a lot of fresh cider from the local apple farms.  Within days, it would expel lots of CO2 when you opened it, and have that tongue-pricking sensation... I'm sure the ABV was pretty low, but no question it was fermenting quickly.  So what could you do?  Had to drink a couple 8 oz. glasses every morning so it wouldn't go to waste. Homeroom was more pleasant in the fall for that reason. After that, my experience with apple-based alohol has been limited to a sip of my wife's cider on the rare occasions when she orders it instead of microbrew at our local pizza/microbrew palace.

Realism vs. constructivism... well, my undergrad years were about 26-30 years ago, but I think I still have Kuhn, van Frasssen, Putnam, and the rest on some bookshelf somewhere. When it comes to wine, I'm an empiricist, and when it comes to wine prices, a skeptic.  How's that for sidestepping it?  

I remember a quote from the doorway to the old Maxfield's Bar at the Palace in San Francisco:  "There's philosophy in a jug of punch."  Apparently from an 1862 book, called, "How to Mix Drinks," that claims the source is a drama (unnamed) and a character named Father Tom. (From "Father Tom and The Pope," maybe?)  That'll do for my epistemology.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 5, 2011.

Fox, there's a world of difference (far broader gap than the English Channel) between cidre from Normandy and English-style cider on tap. I greatly enjoy the former and can't really even drink the latter....

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 5, 2011.

dmcker: Well, there's something new to try, when I get through all the Cot from Cahors, Cab Franc from the Loire (really, a little bit from Chinon is not enough to tell me anything like the whole story), and all the other things that you recommend.  Not to mention the things that have intrigued me independently.   ;-)

It's really a wonder with all the good libations to try that we ever get to go back to anything we like.  It's a full time job, and, unless you're GdP or Parker or some other writer or a wine shop owner, it gets in the way of your other full time job.

Reply by Jason Benjamin M, Jul 5, 2011.


Glad this thread largely took a turn for the positive...

@ GregT and anyone else who's interested: Well, yeah Greg, I am a little surprised that I've found no correlation at all between enjoyment and prices/ratings (though I will admit faulty logic to assume a linear relationship between price and enjoyment). I never said that I expected a complete lack of anomaly, but yes, I did figure that most of the higher rated/higher priced wines would make it to my favorites list.

Why am I a little surprised? First of all, I've only been into wine for a few years now, which is by no means a lifetime. I'm sure there's a lot more for me to learn. In the meantime, I still need a lot of guidance when purchasing wine to put me at ease... This is why I have often turned to the professional raters and local experts.

My second reason is purely sentimental, but I still think makes sense. In short, isn't wine one of the world's great luxuries? I thought perhaps, because wine at least claims to attract a more sophsiticated cosumer, that it would be less given to its share of, for lack of a better word, bullshit.

Taking into account my own experiences, as well as many of the great responses on this thread, I am starting to see that the wine market is unfortunately just as susceptible to its share of bullshit. Furthermore, the trust I have developed in my sources of information may be completely undeserved.

 So I guess the lesson here is to be an extremely discerning wine consumer at all costs, and not take every rating, pricetag, and personal opinion for granted.

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