Truth in Tasting
By Jeff Morgan, West coast editor
It's a small world, as Luis Felipe Edwards will discover should he read this column. Not long ago, he was pouring samples of a Chilean Chardonnay to curious customers at a well-known New York wine shop. Edwards was representing the wine's American distributor in this not-uncommon promotional venture.
"How did Wine Spectator rate your wine?" asked a woman who was sipping and admiring the Chardonnay. A frown swept across Edwards' face. "Wine Spectator won't review our wines because we don't advertise," came the dry response.
Then it was the woman's turn to frown. She happens to be my mother, and she doesn't take kindly to criticism of her son or her son's employer. When she told me the story, I couldn't help laughing. I hear Edwards' complaint now and then from disgruntled vintners and other wine professionals. They are misinformed, to say the least.
The fact is, Wine Spectator reviews more than 10,000 wines each year (and that number increases every year). Unless otherwise indicated, the reviews are blind, which means that the tasters don't know what producersÕ wines theyÕre tasting. The only requirement for review is that a reasonable commercial quantity of wine be available and that it be made at a bonded winery.
All Edwards has to do is read the magazine. He'll find that many of the wineries rated in each issue don't advertise. It's simply not part of the program.
For some reason, it's difficult for certain individuals to understand that it's just not in Wine Spectator's interest to stack the ratings deck. The fact that our ratings are unbiased is what gives them value.
Just for the record -- and for doubting Thomases -- here's how we taste wine: The bottles are bagged, to hide the labels, and marked with coded reference numbers by the tasting coordinators and their assistants. Each taster knows the varietals, vintages and possibly the appellations of the wines to be tasted. That's it. The winery names are hidden.
Scores and reviews are recorded on computers and later filed by the tasting support staffs in New York, San Francisco or Europe. It's as simple as that. WhatÕs complicated is keeping up with the ever-increasing number of wines produced globally. Single-vineyard designations in California have added to the challenge. For example, one small producer of Pinot Noir recently submitted seven different vineyard-designated wines.
Nonetheless, we try to taste everything submitted to us. We also seek out new, undiscovered wines so that our readers will have the latest information on what to buy. Advertising and other promotional tactics have no bearing on scores and reviews. Period.
Luis Felipe Edwards and others like him may prefer to look for scapegoats and excuses rather than let their wines speak for themselves and be judged in the context of Wine Spectator's blind tastings. When I hear this kind of grousing among otherwise rational wine professionals, I usually dismiss it with a shrug.
But if sales and marketing people like Edwards insist on spreading this kind of nonsense to consumers, it becomes cause for alarm. My mother always taught me that itÕs wrong to tell a lie. And whenever she caught me at it, there was hell to pay. Let this be a lesson to anyone pouring his wines in public: You never know who might be tasting.
This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. This week we hear from West coast editor Jeff Morgan. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives. (And for an archive of James Laube's columns written just for the Web, visit Laube on Wine.)