“There are lies, damn lies – and statistics“, said Winston Churchill. Or at least I thought it was Churchill, until some brief but ultimately rather valuable research dissuaded me of this erroneous belief. As it turns out there are several far more likely sources for this quote, the first being Mark Twain, as this statement appears in his posthumously published Autobiography in 1924. Although further research reveals that Twain himself ascribed the quotation to Benjamin Disraeli, perhaps pointing us to the original source, although it seems that Twain got it wrong; there is no record of this phrase in any of Disraeli’s speeches or writings. As it turns out, it may be that we should be attributing this most famous of quotations to the less well-known economist and politician Lord Courtney, who threw it out in a speech in New York, in 1895.
All of which goes to show that you should be careful taking what you read at face value…especially if it concerns statistics, of course.
We should bear this in mind when reviewing France’s weather during the course of 2010. A quick glance at the summary of the year, produced by France’s state-funded meteorological service Météo-France, shows that temperatures during 2010 were below average. For those who have read my recently published Bordeaux 2010 report – which documented an unseasonably cool July and August – this is perhaps not much of a surprise. Nevertheless the average temperature for 2010 is very different to the preceding years, considerably below rather than above average (as illustrated in this chart on the right), and it seems to suggest that the inhabitants of l’hexagone might have endured a rather wintry 2010. And yet I already know that this vintage has yielded many very promising wines, both from Bordeaux, as assessed during the primeur tastings in and around Bordeaux in April 2011, and from the Loire, as assessed during tastings in Angers in January 2011. So does this apparent paradox, that a vintage marked by cooler below average temperatures can yield potentially great wines (in at least two regions), mean that (a) cooler and less favourable weather has no effect on ripening of the fruit, the prevalence of vine diseases and the quality of the wines, or could it possibly be that (b) the statistic is misleading. Or, of course, could it be both?
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