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Dear Dr. Vinny,

When it comes to wine law and the classifications of wine—the production and sale of wine based on its appellation, e.g., Grand Cru, giving the consumer a presumed quality—how are U.S. wines valued? Other than wine critics, point scores and AVA, how might a consumer pick out a bottle of wine from the store and know that it is “great wine”? Further, could the U.S. ever adopt a different system, and what kind of system would that be?

—Morgan M., Paso Robles, Calif.

Dear Morgan,

Even in countries where there is a wine classification system, while those rankings have a big influence over perception (and price!), just because a wine is at the top of its ranking doesn’t mean it’s a great wine or even a wine that you’d like, though it’s certainly a decent place to start.

In the United States there isn’t an official classification system, nor do I think there ever will be, unless it’s declared in a piece of marketing or advertising. But that’s OK. This is a very democratic wine world, where any wine has a shot at becoming your favorite, no matter how much it costs, where it’s from, and whether it’s someone’s first time making wine or if comes a winery with a long pedigree. And even your very favorite winemaker making a wine from your very favorite vineyard could stumble in a difficult vintage.

This doesn’t have to be an overwhelming thought. I find it exciting that there are so many wines out there for me to discover. Who knows? The best wine I’ve ever tasted might be the one I’m going to open tonight to have with dinner. If I’m feeling extra profound, I could point out that as wine lovers explore what the world has to offer, they are learning as much about themselves as they are about wine.

—Dr. Vinny

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