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Palate Calibration Exercise 2001

by Tom Cannavan

Wine-pages visitors became involved in a discussion on our Forum about how our different experiences, preferences and prejudices might colour our reactions to the same wine. If this was true, then reading a tasting note from one persons gave only half a picture: even if the tasting note raved about the wine, how could we be sure that we would also like it if our palates weren't calibrated agianst each others?

And so the idea of a Palate Calibration Exercise (PCE) was born. Forum participants were invited to buy a bottle of exactly the same wine. We would then taste the wine and write a very specific tasting note that commented on various qualities of the wine and awarded scores for these. We hoped that the end result would be a taste sketch of our fellow Forum participants that could be used to calibrate our palate against others. As the Forum has many international participants, we also thought it might be interesting to see if national differences were apparant.

Go straight to the tasting notes (there's another link at the bottom of the page)

The process of choosing a wine was not easy and provoked long and detailed discussion. At the end of the day we sacrificed the search for a wine that we thought would be especially 'interesting' or 'exciting', and instead placed a very high priority on a wine that was very easily and widely available, reasonably priced and so could be a good benchmark against which to calibrate our palates.

The wine that was chosen was one of the UK's most popular mass-market brands: Rosemount's Shiraz Cabernet from the 2000 vintage. It's fair to say that this was a wine that rather split the jury even before the PCE took place: some people were quite disparaging that we should base the PCE on any modern, high-technology produced mass-market wine. But all participants were urged to approach the tasting with an open mind and leave aside previous experiences or prejudices. 

Beneath are some summarised statistics from the exercise. Participants were asked to write a note on the wine, but also to mark it out of 20 points, awarding a maximum of 3 points for the appearance, 6 points for the nose, 6 points for the palate and 5 points for an overall conclusion on the wine. They were also asked to say whether they thought the wine was good value for money, whether they would buy it again, and how the wine changed if they drank some along with food.

36 people took part in the PCE. The scores awarded for the wine are as follows, out of 20:


Lowest score given 6.00
Highest score given 18.00
Average score 11.54

The average component scores were:

Appearance out of 3 2.40
Nose out of 6 3.39
Palate out of 6 3.24
Conclusion out of 5 2.51

Moving on to look at national variations, conclusions are a bit more difficult because of the small sample range outside the UK. The chart below shows the countries from which tasters took part, the number of people within that country who took part, and the average score given to the wine by tasters from that country. The table is ranked with highest scoring country at the top.

New Zealand 02 people 14.25
Australia 03 people 13.16
Canada 01 person 13.00
Britain 29 people 11.19
Spain 01 person 10.00

It seems that New World wine drinkers liked this New World wine better than Old World wine drinkers.

Looking at how scores were divided male to female is also very interesting. Five women took part from the total of 36:

Average score males 11.24
Average score females 13.40
Average overall score 11.54

As well as having a significantly higher average score, the two highest scores of the entire PCE were given by women: 18 and 16.

Does this suggest there is such a thing as a man-friendly wine style, or woman-friendly wine style?

Having said that, although the lowest score of 6 was given by a man, of the three second-lowest scores of 7, one was given by a woman.

Additionally, tasters were asked whether they would buy the wine again, whether it represented good value for money, and - if they had it with food - whether the wine improved or not. The data returned is:

YesMaybe/
Average
No
Would you buy again? 041022
Was it value for money? 031320
Did it improve with food? 10--02

Again there was some national variation here, with Australian and New Zealand tasters rating the wine much better value, but this is partly explained by a local price of only 9.00AUSD, a little less than half the UK price of 6.79GBP at current exchange rates.

Preliminary conclusions

As will be seen from the individual tasting notes, many people expressed a slight unease at how low their overall score ended up. Though they marked the wine's compenents as objectively as they could, many felt this was a reasonably good 'average' wine, perhaps deserving a score that was a bit higher than the sum total of their points. This phenomenon is well known in such scoring systems. A 'gut reaction' subjective score out of 20 would be an interesting additional bit of information to capture next time: people would be asked to record such a score before analysing the component parts.

Read the 36 tasting notes from the PCE

This was a truly fascinating experiment and I would like to thank everyone who bought the wine and took part. We will certainly repeat the PCE later in the year with a different wine and hopefully an even broader and bigger range of tasters.

Copyright 2001 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.