Are Wine Ratings Essentially Coin Tosses?

In his first study, each year, for four years, Mr. Hodgson served actual panels of California State Fair Wine Competition judges—some 70 judges each year—about 100 wines over a two-day period. He employed the same blind tasting process as the actual competition. In Mr. Hodgson’s study, however, every wine was presented to each judge three different times, each time drawn from the same bottle.

The results astonished Mr. Hodgson. The judges’ wine ratings typically varied by ±4 points on a standard ratings scale running from 80 to 100. A wine rated 91 on one tasting would often be rated an 87 or 95 on the next. Some of the judges did much worse, and only about one in 10 regularly rated the same wine within a range of ±2 points.

The article was published in the January issue of the Journal of Wine Economics.  The Wall Street Journal has a fun writeup.  The same researcher showed that the distribution of medal winners in a sample of wine competitions matched what you would get if the medal was awarded by a fair lottery.

Ha! I love that (1) this blog post is written by a game theorist who does mechanism design (Jeff Ely at Northwestern), (ii) it is about wine, and (iii) there is such a thing as the Journal of Wine Economics!

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