Movie and book reviewers have it easy. They sit in the theater, or turn the pages, and report on their reactions. There’s no question about methodology, and each reviewer has the same experience of the work of art they’re evaluating. It’s not quite the same with wine.
As best I can tell, all wine publications have their own approaches to tasting, including what they taste, where they taste, how they taste and which wines they choose to report on.
I’m not about to critique others’ methods, or conclusions, but in my opinion, the big divide among professional wine critics is the matter of blind vs. non-blind tastings.
Wine Spectator has always believed in blind tastings. In practice, that means that tasters review wines in coherent flights, to give context. We know the region, the vintage and the grape variety, if relevant. But we don’t know the producer or the price. (For a more detailed explanation of our methodology, see About Our Tastings.)
We believe this is the fairest, most objective method to evaluate wines. It allows each wine to stand on its own merits, in context with its peers. And it eliminates any bias that might result from knowing the producer or price. Some people may say they aren’t influenced by this information, but many studies have shown that this kind of bias is almost impossible to eliminate. After all, if you know the wine is Château Lafite Rothschild, it’s hard not to believe that it’s excellent. Blind tasting allows us–in fact, it forces us–to react to the wine, not the winery’s reputation.
Blind tasting certainly isn’t the only way to evaluate wine, or enjoy it. When I’m traveling in foreign countries, or I’m eating in a restaurant, and I come across wines I’m not familiar with, there’s little point to blind tasting. Most of the time in those situations I don’t know much about the producer’s reputation and I’m more interested in simply enjoying the wine and learning about it. In situations where you’re trying a wine that’s new, it’s important to know exactly what wine (and grape) you’re drinking. Context matters.
Our editors will review upwards of 15,000 wines this year, and we will make every one of those reviews available to you, high and low scores alike, in the magazine, on the Web, or both. (Unless we determine that we couldn’t get a fair sample; for instance, if all the bottles we could source were corked.) We think you deserve to know what we think about the wines we review.
Blind tastings can render unpredictable results. It’s a lot harder to be consistent if you don’t know, for example, which Burgundian sample is a village wine, and which is a grand cru. Some people wonder how a winery with a stellar reputation can get a lukewarm review. But once you’ve tasted blind, and see how the results sometimes run contrary to a winery’s status, you understand completely. (If a wine does perform surprisingly poorly, or surprisingly well, in a blind tasting, we’ll often retaste it, just to confirm our initial impression.)
In the end, though, what matters is less the methodology, and more whether you find the reviews of a particular critic consistent and reliable. Even the professionals “miss” a wine now and then, the same way the refs miss a call. But we believe that if we can eliminate any possibility of bias, we’re at least giving you a fair and honest assessment of the wines.
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 4, 2007 4:18pm ET
John Wilen — Texas — October 4, 2007 5:33pm ET
Frank L Hugus — Danville, California — October 4, 2007 5:38pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — October 4, 2007 5:53pm ET
Jordan Horoschak — Houston, TX — October 4, 2007 6:41pm ET
Peter Czyryca — October 4, 2007 7:00pm ET
David Lobe — Toronto, — October 4, 2007 7:34pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — October 4, 2007 8:30pm ET
John Miller — Windsor, CA — October 4, 2007 10:59pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — October 5, 2007 10:39am ET
Steve Kirchner — Huntington — October 5, 2007 1:20pm ET
David Sandler — Las Vegas, Nevada — October 5, 2007 1:37pm ET
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m — miramar beach, fl — October 5, 2007 2:58pm ET
Kevin Rogers — Geyserville, CA — October 5, 2007 4:59pm ET
Thomas Matthews — October 5, 2007 5:03pm ET
John Wilen — Texas — October 5, 2007 5:06pm ET
Chulho Chang — Seoul Korea — October 6, 2007 8:08am ET
Johan Sekora — Tokyo, Japan — October 7, 2007 9:49am ET
Jim Gallagher — Jim Gallagher — October 7, 2007 12:21pm ET
Kevin Rogers — Geyserville, CA — October 7, 2007 12:40pm ET
Doug Eaton — Phoenix, AZ — October 7, 2007 4:45pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — October 8, 2007 9:02am ET
Ron Johnson — Clearwater,FL — October 8, 2007 1:08pm ET
David A Zajac — October 8, 2007 1:34pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — October 12, 2007 12:44am ET
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