One of the questions I’m often asked by folks is, do I only drink the wines I rate highly? (And they typically mean 90 points or better, if not 95-plus, when they ask this question.)
The answer often surprises them: No, I don’t. While obviously it would be nice to drink all the wines I’ve rated highly, the simple fact is I can’t afford them all. And there are plenty of wines that rate in the very good range (85 to 89 points) that I’m more than happy to drink.
In addition, I also don’t limit myself to wines that only I’ve rated—I still drink plenty of wines from regions that my colleagues cover, and I like comparing my impressions to theirs.
And, as part of the ultimate test in keeping an open mind, I also drink wines from the regions that I cover that I haven’t rated.
"Huh?" you ask?
No, I'm not keeping a few gems as secrets for just me. While all the editors here at Wine Spectator try to be as comprehensive as possible, it is impossible to taste each and every single wine from the regions we cover—the sheer volume of wine is too large. Besides, it wouldn't be useful for you. Not every wine merits a formal review, so based on a winery's track record, we may choose not to review a particular wine. We also filter out those that aren’t available in the U.S. market—it doesn't make much sense to you the readers for us to write about them (though, as always, there are exceptions).
And then there are the wines that don’t get submitted for review. This can happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes wineries elect not to send their wines in, others simply aren't aware we accept review samples. We do spend thousands of dollars every year to buy non-submitted wines that we think are important to review. But we can't track down everything. If you don't see a producer's wines reviewed here, it's not due to some secret ax grinding on our part; it's simply up to them to participate.
But as wine writers, we’re still responsible for trying to keep tabs on as many producers as we can, even if it is "unofficially." With that credo in the back of my head, I checked on two producers while dining out this past weekend, one from the Finger Lakes and one from the Rhône.
Nancy and I were a bit turkeyed-out by Saturday night, so we stopped in at Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville, N.Y. The owners, Marcus and Jamie Guiliano (he’s the chef, she runs the front of the house), emphasize sustainable, organic growing practices in the ingredients they use. The food is eclectic, fresh and supergood. In addition, they’re wine crazy, with a scattershot but fun-loving approach to the grape that results in a 250-selection wine list that has everything from Albariños to Zind-Humbrecht. If you like good food and wine, you should give Aroma Thyme a try.
To start, I chose the 2006 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Finger Lakes Dry. Wiemer is one of the Finger Lakes’ most important producers, with a commitment to vinifera varieties that goes back over a generation. Their vine nursery provides vine material for many vineyards in the region and their wines are top notch. Alas, in recent vintages they have chosen not to send their wines in for my tastings, so I can’t include them in my official coverage of the region. But that doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to them. The 2006 Riesling is pure and concentrated, with a depth of fruit and minerality that’s uncommon for the region in general. In a region that is still searching for a consistent, outstanding level of quality, Wiemer is right there knocking on the door. If you like Riesling, you should give it a try.
We followed that up with a half-bottle of the 2006 Roger Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes. This domaine has quietly been producing top-notch Châteauneuf-du-Pape for several years now, but for whatever reason, the domaine’s wines have never made their way into my tastings. Once again though, it’s still my job to keep track of it, and the '06 is sleek and racy, with a gorgeous beam of raspberry and dark cherry fruit laced with mouthwatering minerality. If you like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, you should try it.
My official wine reviews that are published both in the magazine and online, along with the tasting reports, are always (and only) generated from the results of my ongoing blind tastings here in the New York office. My door is always open to any producer who wants to submit their wines.
But my job doesn’t stop when I leave the office. There are always opportunities to try new wines, and to keep tabs on those wines that don't come through the tasting room on a regular basis. While I can’t review them officially unless they do, I won’t cut off my nose to spite my face—and sell you short in the process—by ignoring them altogether. If their wines are good, I’ll try and let you know one way or another. Being lucky enough to have this fantastic job, that's the least I can do.