Some of the most frequently asked questions of me are about tasting: How do we conduct tastings? How often do we taste? How many wines do we taste at a time?
You can read a detailed explanation of our tasting procedures in our About our Tastings section, including a detailed description of our blind-tasting format, but in short, I never know what wines I'm reviewing until their final score and tasting note have been input and the bags come off the bottles. Check out our new video for a look behind the scenes.
Most vintners understand our blind-tasting policy, and most submit their wines knowing that's how they'll be reviewed.
They're also curious as to how many wines I taste in a normal sitting, and it's usually 15 to 25.
My schedule varies so much from day to day that fitting in an hour or two to taste a dozen or two wines is ideal—it helps break up my day without consuming an entire morning or afternoon.
I've also scaled back over the years, and it's my belief that, partially because of that, my assessments are better than ever. Not that I'm bragging. It's just that shorter, smaller tastings allow me to pay closer attention to each wine I review. Keeping the number manageable works for both me and the wines.
I was never a fan of the massive tastings that go on at festivals and conferences. Outside of the office, I've done daylong marathon tastings involving more than 100 wines that can extend for a week or more. Ten days of 100 wines is mentally and physically exhausting. Writing individual notes on each of those wines during that time adds yet another layer of fatigue. It can be done, but the margin of error increases with every wine you add to a tasting.
My goal is to taste about 5,000 to 6,000 wines a year, or about 100 to 115 a week. Ninety-five percent of those wines are tasted in formal blind tastings for official review.
Palate fatigue aside, there's another reason that I prefer smaller tasting flights. There's a line of thought that bigger, riper or more expressive wines stand out in large flights of wine. It's not always the truth, but it's a valid critique, and something most critics should be aware of. I can get just as excited about delicate, caressing Pinot Noirs like Williams Selyem, Littorai and Joseph Swan, which I have scored highly despite their bigger peers in blind tastings. The same goes for Napa Cabernets built like Bordeaux first-growths, like Ridge Monte Bello and Heitz Martha's Vineyard.
When it comes to lining up a flight of wines for a blind tasting, I take the less is more approach.
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