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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I recently visited Rioja in Spain and visited several wineries and restaurants. A highlight was Benjamin Romeo’s Contador 2008. A young wine, but great in my opinion. You have not rated it yet, but it has been rated 98 points elsewhere. When I looked into earlier vintages, I was surprised that Wine Spectator’s scores were consistently 90 points or lower, while other publications are consistently 96 points or higher. The most extreme example was the Contador 2005, which was rated 100 points elsewhere, while it only got 85 points in Wine Spectator. How is it possible that professional tasters have such different opinions?
—Terje D., Norway
I can’t speak for how other publications rate their wines, but at Wine Spectator, all of our reviews are done in blind tastings (except on rare occasions, which are mentioned in the tasting notes). This means that who the producer is or how much a wine costs does not come into play when a reviewer scores a wine. Reviewers are given some information to help taste in context: they know the grapes, vintages and appellations. But outside of that, it’s a paper bag the taster is looking at, not the label.
If you don’t taste blind, other factors can come into play when assessing a wine—the price, the winery’s reputation, or your expectations of how the wine will do based on how it’s done in years past. There are many ways to review wine, and everyone has to pick their own methodology. But it’s certainly easier to always give the expensive wine with the stellar track record a high score every year if you don’t taste a wine blind.
It’s not unusual that different reviewers tasting different bottles of wine on different days in different formats might have different responses to the wines. Hopefully you’ll find our take on wines—and the focus we have on just what is in the bottle—useful in your wine exploration.
Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews, our lead taster of the wines of Spain, had this to say about Contador: “My experience with Contador is that it represents one of the more extreme examples of the style of Rioja known as ‘viños de alta expresión.’ These tend to show very ripe fruit, lots of toasty oak and higher levels of alcohol than are characteristic of what might be called ‘traditional’ Riojas. While I appreciate wines in both styles, I tend to find that Contador goes too far for balance and typicity. In fact, I tend to prefer the second label, La Cueva del Contador, since it usually presents a lighter, leaner character. I hope that my tasting notes will help you find the style you prefer, even if you disagree with my scores.”
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