Mention the year 1976 to a British person and they will drift to fond memories of summer days filled with blazing sunshine and heat. For anyone who actually lived through those glorious weeks, it is spoken of in a different tone of voice, somehow younger and more vital.

Psychologists have other interpretations as to why that summer – apart from being statistically above the national average temperature – is so well remembered. Among several memory biases, fading affect bias may be one reason. Positivity effect too, occurs in older adults when they look back on their experience.

America was experiencing another type of euphoria in 1976, celebrating 200 years since the Declaration of Independence. Not being subject to aristocrats can lead to happiness in the sense of not being oppressed and Americans had a good time.

In France too, 1976 is a significant, though generally, overlooked year. It isn’t of the same order as 1870, when an army and emperor were defeated at Sedan. That downfall was later inscribed in the phrase, ‘N’en parlez jamais; pensez-y toujours!” a motto of pledged vengeance.

The 1976 event I am talking about is known, ominously, as The Judgement of Paris. Not quite like the Treaty of Westphalia, this judgement was a unanimous decision by eminent French wine critics that the American wines in their review were undrinkable, but they had, in fact, given the highest awards to those American wines and given the French wines the lowest scores. National honor bruised. Expertise tarnished.

This story is not about new world wine winning or so much winning, it expresses, rather, our fallibility, that our judgements are not entirely reliable. We live in an era, we are told, where no one trusts experts anymore, the so-called technocracy. The loss of trust is over several dimensions: the data itself, the statistical evaluations, the media and organizations which convey it, and, ultimately the potential benefits for special interests.

When well trained palates and brains cannot tell the difference between types and styles of wines from other parts of the world it suggests we may have a higher than realistic view of our own abilities. Maybe the Judgement of Paris was a 21-sigma event; maybe it occurs more often, but is not reported, in which case, it is not rare.

Fortunately French wine making did not cease, no vines were uprooted in panic and despair, wine critics learnt some humility, and the knowledge that American wine was very pleasant meant everyone adjusted their world view accordingly.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.



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