Monday, February 20, 2012

A Framework for the Assessment of Wine Quality: Defining the Space

In my most recent post I wrote about balance as a measure of wine quality and promised to detail its constituent components in follow-up posts.  As I was mulling over my approach to fulfilling this promise, it occured to me that I had not provided a context for the quality discussion.  I will correct that oversight in this blog post by developing a wine-quality framework and will discuss the wine balance components in subsequent posts.

Before we begin depiction of the wine-quality framework, I will explore some definitions of the quality concept.  ISO, the Geneva-based, international standards-setting organization, famed for development of the ISO series of quality standards, avers that "The quality of something can be determined by comparing a set of inherent characteristics with a set of requirements.  If those inherent characteristics meet all requirements, high to excellent quality is achieved."  If the requirements are not met, ISO stipulates that the product or service provided is of low or poor quality.

According to, the formal definition of quality in the U.S. is "the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.  A product or service that is free of deficiencies."

The two definitions are congruent in that they both address quality levels (high and low quality in the case of ISO and quality/no quality in the case of the U.S.) but they appear to differ in the degree of rigor associated with requirements-identification.  ISO refers to a set of requirements while the U.S. standard refers to stated needs, which gives the impression of customer-driven requirements.  But the U.S. standard further refers to implied needs inferring, in my opinion, that by buying a product or service, a customer is admitting to a set of needs, regardless of whether those needs are formally stated or not.

According to Clodfelter and Fowler (Do Consumers' Perceptions of Product Quality Differ from Objective Measures of Product Quality?), "Quality is a multi-dimensional construct that cannot be equated with or measured by a single cue or attribute." In assessing quality, customers call on objective (accurate and current information on relevant measurable and verifiable standards) or subjective (their judgement about a product's/service excellence) knowledge.  Individuals with objective knowledge will respond to intrinsic -- cannot be changed without changing the nature of the product or service -- cues while the consumer with subjective knowledge will respond to extrinsic -- related to, but outside of, the offered product or service. In the wine world we can think of minimum alcohol level as an intrinsic cue and price as an extrinsic cue.

With quality defined in the foregoing, we should be pivoting to an identification of the elements of wine quality.  But it is not that easy.  The first level of difficulty is encountered when seeking a consensus on the elements that should be included in a wine quality framework; or whether quality should be broadly discussed at all.  The great French oenologist Emile Peynaud, for example, felt that quality was such a personal thing that it only existed in relation to an individual.  In the cases where components of quality are identified, no qualitative or quantitative values are associated with the components.  And, finally, no attempt is made to differentiate between the relative contribution of each component to the overall quality measure.

I will examine a number of wine quality schemas and propose a comprehensive framework in my next post.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando