Fishy

Oh dear. Ohdearohdearohdearohdearohdear.

Sometimes someone turns on the Stupid tap and the washer just ruptures and Stupid starts gushing out all over the shop AND YOU CAN’T STOP IT. These last few weeks have been like that, what with Melissa Rogers and her daft ShooTag™, the resurgence of Prophet Pete, and now…

The two largest supermarket chains in Britain, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, have started advising their customers to be aware on which days of the week they choose to taste wine because it will effect the taste. This breathtaking piece of utter folly is so risible that I had to check the date of the Guardian article several times as I was reading to keep reminding myself it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke.

This is the skinny (although I do advise you to read the article to get a sense of the full absurdity):

Tesco and its rival Marks & Spencer, which sell about a third of all wine drunk in Britain, now invite critics to taste their ranges only at times when the biodynamic calendar suggests they will show at their best.

The calendar has been published for the last 47 years by a gardening great-grandmother called Maria Thun, who lives in rural Germany. She categorises days as “fruit”, “flower”, “leaf” or “root”, according to the moon and stars. Fruit and flower are normally best for tasting, and leaf and root worst.

To put it succinctly – two major UK retailers are consulting and recommending wine ‘horoscopes’.

Jo Aherne, winemaker for Marks & Spencer manages to make herself look like a complete twat (and the wine tasting fraternity even more filled with blarney than it already is) by claiming:

Before the tasting, I was really unconvinced, but the difference between the days was so obvious I was completely blown away.

Once again we see the that little crack of Subjectivity in the door of Reason being jimmied open by the great big club foot of Pseudoscience. Nowhere are we offered any evidence that these taste tests were blind tests, let alone the double blind trials that a scientific assessment would demand. These people are just espousing an opinion, and, worse, an opinion based on highly subjective appraisals of something that is to most people an arcane field of expertise. This is a situation busting for pseudoscientific exploitation.*

Tesco’s senior product development manager, Pierpaolo Petrassi, says of the tastings:

It may be a little step beyond what consumers can comprehend.

Oh yeah. You’re so right there Pierpaolo old chap. I’m certainly having trouble comprehending it.

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of this Guardian article, though, is slipped in almost unobtrusively:

The Guardian tested the theory this week and tasted the same wines on Tuesday evening, a leaf day, then again on Thursday evening, a fruit day. Five out of seven bottles showed a marked improvement.

[Checks date for third time. Nope, not April 1]

The Guardian, a world class newspaper, known for its usually sober news and feet-on-the-ground reporting is endorsing this piece of flimsy superstitious mumbo jumbo! Jesus H. Christ – where did I put that shifting spanner! The basement is awash and the stuff is leaking into the hallway!

As the article trails off and the loony wagon heads into the sunset, our keen correspondent throws a small bone to the wolves:

In other quarters, doubts remain. Waitrose’s† wine department has investigated the idea and cannot see a correlation. Many scientists have little time for biodynamic wine, pointing out that the movement’s guru, Rudolf Steiner, claimed to have conceived the concept after consulting telepathically with spirits beyond the realm of the material world. Among his other works are claims that the human race is as old as the Earth and descended from creatures with jelly-like bodies, and a belief that men’s passions seep into the Earth’s interior, where they trigger earthquakes and volcanoes.‡

Uh-huh. And so, Mr Booth, Guardian correspondent, you’re lending credibility to this wine horoscope idea exactly why?

So, after digesting all that, consider the following:

    Comprehensive blind taste tests conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists have revealed that, if the variables are hidden from the testers, then for the majority of people there is no correlation between the cost of a wine and its perceived enjoyment. In other words, if they don’t know what it cost, most people can’t tell what kind of ‘quality’ they’re drinking. On the other hand:

    Other blind tests show that the perceived expense of a wine, if known, positively influences perceived enjoyment. And:

    A European Commission study from 2001 determined that in excess of 50% of those interviewed considered astrology a science. A Harris Poll conducted in 2003 found that 30% of Americans thought that the position of the stars and planets affect people’s lives.

From those three pieces of data, I leave it to you to extrapolate what’s going on here. My suggestion to readers from the UK is that you should, forthwith, buy your wine from Waitrose.

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*Much like the field of high-end domestic audio. And unlike wine-tasting, that is a province I know very well. But as I read all the hi-jinks with this wine stuff, that same peculiar odour – a blend of of fish and bullshit – starts to fill the air. You find this problem anywhere that there is a substantial amount of subjectivity and a stratosphere of opinionated ‘experts’.

†Another, obviously smarter, UK chain.

‡Well, that last bit about the Elder Ones is totally true of course.

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