It's inescapable that many of the world's greatest wines are available to us in extremely small quantities. It has always been thus, but today, as more and more wine regions make wines that challenge the classics, the sheer numbers give me pause.
The regions I review for Wine Spectator (Australia, Oregon and Washington) are typical. Many of the very best wines come to us in tiny amounts. It's rare for a top-tier Pinot Noir in Oregon to push beyond 1,000 cases. Most are in the 100 to 500 range. Do the arithmetic. Chance of finding all of them at your local wine shop are essentially zero.
Really, the same is true everywhere, because great wine requires great growing sites, and those, by definition are few. Not many cases exist, or are exported to the U.S., of wines such as a Sandrone Barolo, a Schrader Cabernet or an Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Auslese. Henschke Hill of Grace may be the greatest wine Australia produces, but the U.S. importer brings in exactly 10 cases of it.
We wrestle with this all the time. After all, with more than 2 million readers, I constantly ask myself how much readers care about a wine I just tasted that rates 88 points, costs $50 and only 185 cases exist of it. The answer is, not much. If it's a well-known wine, these reviews end up in our web database, available to subscribers who want to check for it. We simply don't have the space in the magazine to publish them all, and besides, it takes weeks for the tasting to wend its way through the editing cycle.
We can get the information on the web much faster. To get the word out about small-quantity wines that have a bit more going for them, we use the Wine Spectator Insider and Tasting Highlights on winespectator.com. It could be an outstanding rating, a distinctive style or an incipient category that's worth paying attention to. If you're interested, you might have a better chance to get your hands on some.
Until recently, the only way you could find one of these small-volume wines was to be lucky enough to know the right retailer, or have a sommelier offer it to you in a restaurant because he or she picked up on it early. Or be on a mailing list. But the Internet has changed the dynamic. If you live in a state that permits interstate shipping, you can buy many of these wines direct from the winery, or from retailers that sell online. Most of these are brick-and-mortar shops that also offer wines online.
If we don't need to walk into a store or sit down in a restaurant to get most of these wines anymore, has that changed things for you? Are you buying more wines online? How important is it that a wine be available from a brick-and-mortar retailer or on restaurant wine lists for to want to see a review of it?
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — October 31, 2011 1:19pm ET
David W Voss — elkhorn, Wi — October 31, 2011 5:07pm ET
Homer Cox — Warrenton, VA — November 1, 2011 9:31am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — November 1, 2011 9:24pm ET
Mervyn Kowalsky — Raleigh, NC — November 2, 2011 9:04pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — November 2, 2011 9:40pm ET
Michael Henderson — Martinez, CA — November 3, 2011 8:18pm ET
Kenton Campbell — Washington dc — November 3, 2011 9:41pm ET
Eric Rietveld — Boston, MA — November 3, 2011 10:58pm ET
Dave Reuther — Deerfield, Illinois — November 4, 2011 10:32am ET
Homer Cox — Warrenton, VA — November 4, 2011 8:32pm ET
Josh Moser — Sunnyvale, CA — November 8, 2011 9:41pm ET
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