While wine tasting is ultimately subjective, it is made considerably more so without a rigorous approach to tasting and reviewing. I have therefore put considerable thought into how I taste wines for review, which I will detail here. My goal in doing so is to be as transparent as possible.
My intention when reviewing is to give each wine the same opportunity to show itself as every other wine that I taste. I believe doing so is critical in giving a fair evaluation. For this reason, the following are my procedures.
All wines are sampled blind and in a standardized setting
All wines that I review are sampled blind in a standardized setting.
The former means that in all cases I am unaware of the producer, appellation, vintage, and price when sampling and reviewing wines. I am only aware of variety or style (such as Bordeaux-style blend). Doing so is an attempt to remove biases that such awareness can cause, both positive and negative.
The latter means that I have a consistent tasting location, time, serving temperature, and stemware. Tasting wines in inconsistent locations, temperatures, and stemware will inevitably lead to wildly varying scores for the same wine.
While I regularly taste wines with winemakers both at home and at wineries and take notes when I do, these notes are strictly informational. All scores come from bottles sampled blind, in a standardized setting. Additionally, I do not allow any outside people to be present while I am tasting and reviewing wines under any circumstances.
There is no screening of samples prior to evaluation
Unlike some publications or reviewers, there is no screening process for wines prior to being submitted or reviewed. I am looking at everything that comes through, rather than a subset.
The benefit of this is that it allows me to taste broadly across wines that I cover, providing both myself and consumers with a clearer picture of what is going on in the area. The benefit for wineries is that it eliminates gatekeepers when submitting wines.
When wines are screened, the scores subsequently published by definition represent a subset of the wines submitted. This means, for the consumer, when you don’t see a review for a particular wine, you never know, was it not submitted? Was it submitted and screened out by someone before getting to the reviewer? Could the winery just not get their foot in the door to get someone to even screen the wine? By not screening wines, I eliminate these questions.
I am the sole reviewer for this site
All wines that are submitted for review are subsequently tasted and reviewed by me personally. No one else tastes and reviews wines in my name under any circumstances.
Scores for all wines submitted for review are subsequently published*
If a wine is submitted to me for review, you will subsequently see a score published. I publish all scores as I believe that both positive reviews and less positive ones have benefit.
This is in contrast to some publications where wines are either screened before they are formally reviewed or where certain reviews are not published for varying reasons.
There are two exceptions where reviews are not published. The first is if the wine was rated less than 80 points. I consider these wines to not be commercially acceptable.
The second is if only one bottle of a wine was submitted and it was determined to be contaminated by TCA (cork taint) or another possible bottle-specific wine fault. These two reasons are why there is an asterisk (*) above.
Submitted wines are received by a professional wine storage facility where they are immediately placed under temperature control. Boxes are delivered from this facility to my home typically weekly. Wines are subsequently left in place for a minimum of one week to recover from shipment.
Sets arranged by variety/style
Once wines have recovered from shipment, they are organized by variety/style, such as a Bordeaux-style blend or Cabernet Sauvignon. I do not sort wines by any other factor. When tasting, I am unaware of: producer, vintage, appellation, and price. This is to remove the possibility of bias that this awareness might bring.
Capsules are stripped from the wines, corks are recycled. The wines are then placed in opaque bags prior to evaluation to obscure identifying information.
Serving temperature makes a critical difference in how a wine is perceived. For this reason, all wines are tasted at a consistent temperature: 62-66 degrees Fahrenheit for red wines, 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit for white wines, 50-55 degrees for sparkling wines. Wine temperature and ambient temperature are recorded at the time of tasting.
Small sets and no mass tastings
I keep the number of wines I taste on any given day small, typically from a minimum of eight – the most common number of wines I sample per day – to a maximum of 20, with the latter being rare and only done for white wines. I avoid tasting larger numbers per day as I believe doing so is not fair to the wines, producers, or consumers.
Tasting large numbers of wines per day can lead to a variety of issues, for example tannin accumulation, that can unduly influence a score. Additionally, when tasting large numbers of wines in a single setting, even the most skilled taster who is faithfully spitting all of the wine they are sampling will be influenced by the effects of alcohol.
I have used a breathalyzer to confirm this during previous mass tastings I have participated in, where I have registered above the legal limit after a morning of large-scale tasting (60+ wines in three hours), even though I was spitting all of the wine. This effect is compounded by a morning and an afternoon of mass tasting (often well over 100 wines). These mass tastings are not uncommon at wine competitions and also professional review tastings at some publications.
During mass tastings, a reviewer’s perception for the first wine they taste is obviously vastly different from the 40th or 100th due to the effects of alcohol. I believe this is unfair to all of the wines in question. Tasting in small sets removes the potential effect of substantial alcohol absorption on the subsequent scores that can occur in large scale tastings. It also allows me to spend more time with the wine if I wish.
Wines are popped and poured prior to tasting
I believe it is critical that all wines are sampled in a standardized way, as differences in process can substantially impact resulting scores. For this reason, all bottles that I review are popped, poured, and subsequently sampled.
Significant time spent per wine
When tasting wines for review, I typically spend 5-10 minutes per wine, tasting the wine multiple times and writing a tasting note. These tastings take place over an hour or more.
While I may taste a wine over several days to get a sense of its overall ageworthiness – and I resample all wines on the second day after opening to look for latent cork taint – any notes beyond the first day when the wine was tasted blind and in a standardized setting do not affect the subsequent score. Rather, they might affect the wine’s drinking window or certain special designations listed here.
When tasting wines for review, I am evaluating them for typicity and overall quality. Typicity means, for example, does a Washington Merlot taste like a Washington Merlot? Does an Oregon Pinot Noir taste like an Oregon Pinot Noir?
If it does – or does not – this may subsequently impact the score or text of the review. For example, if a Washington Merlot smells like a very green Cabernet Franc, this would be considered atypical for the variety and would negatively impact the score.
Quality is determined based on a number of factors. These include the pleasantness of the aromas and flavors as well as the overall balance, complexity, depth, intensity, finish, and length.
I also think about what a wine is trying to accomplish and how well it accomplishes it. That is to say, is the wine trying to be a light and lean-style Sauvignon Blanc, or is it trying to be a full-bodied expression of the variety? How well is it pulling off the style it appears to be going after?
Wine quality and personal preference are distinct
I try as best I can to review wines based in their inherent quality, irrespective of my own personal palate preferences. That is to say, I am trying to assess what the quality of the wine is, not whether I might personally like to drink it at home. This differs considerably from how consumers approach wine.
For example, let’s say a Chardonnay is made in a ripe style and fermented in 100% new oak that has an overt, but balanced, influence on the wine. Perhaps I do or do not personally care for that style. Regardless, if the style is well executed, I would rate the wine highly.
For a consumer, if the wine is not in a style that they would personally prefer, they would most likely pass on it and not think highly of it. This is fundamentally different from a critic’s approach.
If you have any questions about how I taste wines for review, please contact me.
Updated September 2022.