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Palate Calibration Exercise 2002

by Tom Cannavan

last year, participants in wine-pages' UK Wine Forum became involved in a discussion about how our different experiences, preferences and prejudices might colour our reactions to the same wine. If this was true, then even if the someone else raved about the wine, how could we be sure that we would also like it, unless our palates were calibrated against each other? And so the idea of a Palate Calibration Exercise (PCE) was born. 36 Forum participants bought a bottle of exactly the same wine, tasted it, and wrote notes and awarded the wine a score using a standardised system.

Read the report on last years event

mini PCE, October 2002

The second PCE was born when I advised the Forum of a great special offer on a pair of wines from Australia, the St Hallett Chardonnay 2001 and Shiraz 2001, each of which was being sold by Tesco at half-price; down to £2.99 ($4.50US/€4.50) from £5.99. So many members of the Forum made a beeline for Tesco that we decided to make these wines the subject of a "mini PCE".

This was a bit of fun, and the "rules" were not so strict. We did not impose a scoring system, nor ask participants to report on the wines in a standardised way. Instead, people were asked simply to give their impressions and award a score out of 20. In total, 17 people took part, tasting one, or both wines. These charts show scores awarded to each wine, out of 20:

Chardonnay (nine responses)


Shiraz (twelve responses)


Chardonnay
Lowest score given 12.0
Highest score given 17.0
Average score 14.11
       Shiraz
Lowest score given 10.0
Highest score given 18.0
Average score 14.0

Descriptors in common:

Chardonnay (nine responses)
Tropical = 4
Citrus = 4
Butterscotch/Caramel/Vanilla = 4
Melon = 3
Balanced = 3
Apple = 2
Waxy = 1
Spice = 1
Butter = 1
Tart/acidic/unbalanced = 3
Confected = 1
Hollow = 1
     Shiraz (twelve responses)
Blackcurrant/black fruits = 7
Raspberry/red fruits = 4
Chocolate = 3
Spice = 3
Vanilla/oak = 2
Pepper = 2
Leather = 2
Mint = 1
Liquorice = 1
acidic/sharp = 6
Soft tannin = 5
Harsh tannin = 2
Confected/Jammy = 3

conclusions

After the individual scores were in, certain factors emerged that might help explain why there were such big differences of opinion on these wines. Factor number one was that some people judged these as £3 wines - "Tremendous value that would also be tempting to buy at full price", "Extremely good value at £3" - whilst others judged them on their full price - "I think there are many better wines at £6", "I would have been disappointed to pay £6 for this". I suspect that the scores given might have been notched up or down in several cases had we all been judging these at the same retail price.

The second factor that came to light rather threw the whole picture into confusion! Some people found their bottles stoppered with a natural cork, whilst other bottles had synthetic stoppers. This suggests that the wines we were drinking were certainly bottled at two different times (at least), and possibly even in different wineries. St Hallett is now part of a large Australian brewing group who have boosted production massively. This non-regional wine is likely to be made in several batches, each from different components, and it looks like at least two of these batches were involved here.

Still, it is interesting that if we look at the average score of 14 for the Shiraz, then eight of the twelve tasters scored the wine between 13.5 and 15, a very small differential. There were only two real "extremes": one score of 10 and one of 18. With the Chardonnay, it is a similar pattern: the average score of 14.11 saw a cluster of five (out of nine) within a point of the average.

Despite the spanner in the works of the value for money confusion and the two different batches of wines, this was another fascinating exercise in understanding personal tastes and preferences!

© 2002 Tom Cannavan. All rights reserved. No part of this article site may be reproduced, stored or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of Tom Cannavan.