Keith Grainger : Wine Quality: Tasting and Selection, Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 163, ISBN 978-1-4051-1366-1

Reviewed by Richard E. Quandt

This modest-sized volume contains a great deal of useful information about the factors that influence the quality of wines as well as the conditions under which grapes are grown and wines are produced. Handsome photographs, some in color, are interspersed with the text and some useful tables of statistical information are provided in a number of chapters, illustrating, for example, the average price of grapes (in South Africa), the cost per liter of various oak products, basic permitted yields in Bordeaux, and so on.

The initial six chapters deal with tasting as such, with the determinants of wine quality, such as appearance, nose, palate, and with various methods for scoring or rating wines. A separate chapter is devoted to faults in wine such as 2,4,6 trichloroanisole (which causes the phenomenon known as "corking"), Brettanomyces, and other contaminants of wine. Other chapters discuss tasting competitions as potential assessments of quality, the impact of climate and soil (terroir), the various ways of treating wine, such as the effects of oak barrels or other oak additives, and it is particularly useful that, wherever relevant, the author refers to the relevant European Union regulations concerning wine. Most every reader will find something interesting to learn from this volume.

What I find unsatisfactory in the book is that certain important topics are either altogether omitted or handled very cursorily. The first of these is the important issue of tasting. The author spends many pages on how quality can be assessed, and recognizes that different judges may come to diametrically different conclusions about particular wines. He even describes how "Jancis Robinson MW described the wine [Ch. Pavie 2003] as ´ridiculous wine, more reminiscent of a late-harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux' and scored it 12/20" while "Robert Parker described it as ´a wine of sublime richness, minerality, delineation and nobleness´ and scored it 98/100."(pp. 85-6) This obviously raises the question of how different judges' evaluations can be aggregated, which is not at all easy, if at all possible (and I think in many cases it is not), if wines are given a cardinal grade (because my 98 is not the same as your 98). It is in this context that the author could have noted that in comparing wines the best we can do is rank them (i.e., label them ´best´, ´second-best´, etc., in which case the rank sums may serve as a "social ranking" of the wines. See, for example, Richard E. Quandt, "Measurement and Inference in Wine Tasting," Journal of Wine Economics, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 2006, pp. 7-32.

The second major omission is that very little attention is paid to American wines. The distinction between Old World and New World wines is ubiquitous in the book, but under New World wines the author predominantly means Australian, South African and Latin American wines; the word "Napa" does appear in the Index, but more detail is forthcoming on the region around Perth (Australia) than any American wine.

The third major omission is a total lack of awareness of the pathbreaking work of Ashenfelter, etal. on the relationship between weather and wine quality. (See, for example, Orley Ashenfelter, David Ashmore, Robert Lalande, "Bordeaux Wine Vintage Quality and the Weather"). It is almost as if professional wine writers and experts in the wine trade were determined to remain unaware that other disciplines, specifically formal statistical methods can actually make contributions to our understanding of some aspects of wine growing and tasting.

My final complaint is that there appears to be no mention of the secondary market in wines, i.e., auctions. In the U. S. alone, there are numerous auction houses that conduct physical as well as on-line auctions; just to name a few, we have Christie's, Zachy's, Morells, The Chicago Wine Company,, Bonhams and Butterfields, and so on. Millions of dollars of wine are traded every year and it would have been interesting to see an analysis of this phenomenon.

In spite of my criticisms, there is much in this volume that is useful and will be new and interesting for many readers and I recommend it to all.

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