Bringing people back from death’s door is Catena’s moonlight gig – she is on shift from 6pm to 2am six to eight times a month. By day, she is the managing director of Catena Zapata, the flagship brand of a family-owned company that sells bottles worth over $140m a year, making it Argentina’s second-biggest wine exporter. The firm was founded in 1902 by her great-grandfather Nicola Catena, and she assumed the reins from her father Nicolás in 2009. She spends four months a year in Argentina overseeing the winery’s operations, and two more as the olive-skinned, pony-tailed “face of Argentine wine”, promoting her products at tastings and dinners across the globe. She manages her staff of 120 via Skype and WhatsApp. ... Catena insists she sees her role as that of a detective, not an inventor. And she has modelled the CIW not after the development arm of a pharmaceutical firm, synthesising precious new compounds from scratch, but rather the upstream division of an oil company, searching for natural treasures the Earth has hidden away. ... how can destroying wine help Catena Zapata make its tipples taste better rather than worse? The answer is that the CIW is using baking as a kind of stress test: all wines subjected to this treatment will suffer, but some will suffer more and others less.
As long as the public delights in seeing pompous winemakers and critics humbled, journalists will keep writing Schadenfreude-laden stories about the latest “Gotcha!” study. But these articles generally confuse absence of evidence with evidence of absence: they presume that if a handful of researchers did not find that one group of connoisseurs possessed statistically significant tasting ability, any claim to wine expertise must be a hoax. The truly interesting question is the opposite one: whether it’s possible for a critic to look smart rather than silly. ... Unfortunately, designing an experiment that gives tasters a chance to succeed requires the scientist to understand wine. They need to give the drinkers plenty of time on a small number of wines, in an odourless room with appropriate stemware; to taste the bottles and ensure they are not flawed; to choose wines that are representative of a well-known style; and to serve them at the age where they best strut their stuff. In other words, what you would need is the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match.