Friday, January 16, 2009

Reviews & Rankings


Here's how we taste and review the wines we cover on this site:  As you'd expect, it starts with a corkscrew...

Reviewing:
As a matter of course in our tastings we give most wines time (especially for younger wines of a certain caliber) to breathe. We taste on opening and then at hourly intervals for the first 2-3 hours. We look for signs of evolution over the course of those initial tastings and then - after it's had a chance to settle down - we taste again.

It's at this point that we look for three things:
  • First, for general drinkability as a stand-alone beverage.  We ask if the wine is enjoyable as is or if it would be better with food for counterbalance.
  • Second, we taste from a technical standpoint - breaking the wines down into their components- flavor, fruit, body, acids, sugars, tannins, mouth-feel, viscosity, varietal characteristics, appellation characteristics, and so on...  We ask if the wine is an accurate expression of the grape and the place where it came from.  Sometimes we also try to determine if the wine will be better after aging, because, well, it's not always fair to judge a wine before its time.  And we try to describe its more prominent qualities. 
  • And finally, we taste with food.  We ask if the wine holds up to food well.  But we don't hold it to any silly rules like only white wine with fish or only Cabernet with steak.
Most of the time we talk about it, but only briefly.  Gut reaction is important and we don't want to over-think it.  It's just a beverage after all. 

We take notes because we care. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we keep an open mind to the notion that we could just be plain wrong.  You know what they say about opinions, right?  We're sure ours are no different.

Ranking:
We are a competitive culture. We measure our work. We measure others' work. We compare. We compete. With each other and ourselves. It's how we roll as a people. And there's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes we take it a little too far.


Numerical rankings tend to draw a line in the sand. Especially where subjectivity is involved. And this is a site about wine. Wine is about pleasure. And pleasure is very subjective.  But we cannot seem to get away from our inate desire to numerically compare everything from stock portfolio performance, to the frequency of our babies' poopy diapers, to the number of our hairs in the drain trap. Yes, even with wine.

So, we give in.

Today's ranking system is a compromise. Based on a 5 star scale, it provides relative rankings representing our opinion of the wines. The rankings include commentary about what we liked and didn't like about the wine, so you can still expect our unvarnished take.

Acknowledging that this compromise is somewhat at odds with our unapologetic tendencies, this gives readers a sense of what we recommend they try and what not to take a risk on while (hopefully) reducing the likelihood of comparing our rankings to other critics' rankings.

At the end of the day, we believe that readers want a binary recommendation. Should I buy this wine or should I not? Stars, rankings, and commentary notwithstanding, our reviews start and end with answering that question.