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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Wine Spectator's tasters sometimes taste wines from barrel and then give them a preliminary score range. Then they blind taste the wines shortly after they're bottled, when an official score is given to the wine. If wine is always evolving in the bottle as it ages, do the tasters ever go back and update their tasting notes and scores a few more years or decades down the line?
—Denis, Lake Worth, Fla.
The vast majority of our reviews are blind tastings of new releases of finished wines. Of the 14,000 wines we review annually, there are usually only a couple hundred each year that are barrel tastings or cellar notes. We reserve those for categories like Bordeaux, where the wine is often presold as futures, and we think our readers want to know how a particular vintage is shaping up.
It’s pretty clear to figure out which ratings are barrel tastings. When you look in our database, where a score normally would be, you’ll see “BT,” which stands for “barrel tasting.” At the end of the tasting note, you’ll see a score range, because we feel a four-point spread is a better way to evaluate an unfinished wine.
Unless a review specifically notes that the tasting is non-blind, that means the wine was reviewed blind. Yep, that means our tasting department takes the time to hide the identity of the producers before the wines are tasted, so that every château gets a fair shot. Is it a lot of work? Absolutely. Is it worth it? You bet.
When we review a wine in barrel, we typically go back and review it again after it’s been released. Those wines go through the same blind-tasting protocol, and then a final score is assigned, as well as a drink recommendation.
And yes, sometimes we go back to see how wines are evolving, in retrospective tastings. These are also typically blind tastings (unless otherwise noted). Most recently, our tasters have reviewed top wines from the 2005, 2003 and 2001 vintages of Bordeaux, the 2008 vintage or Oregon Pinot Noir, the 2007 vintage of California Cabernet, and 1997 Vintage Port.
We take our blind-tasting protocol very seriously and use it whenever possible, because we believe it is the fairest way to assess wine.
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