Rating Wines 

I'd be lying if I said I have nothing against the way most wine magazines rate wines, but being in the business, I have to say it's a love-hate relationship when it comes to the 100-point scale. On the one hand, putting a 90-plus rating on a bottle makes for an easy sale. On the other, the whole thing borders on the ludicrous. Having grown up with the same sort of grading system during our school years, I suppose there's a certain comfort and a sense of legitimacy. But what works well for a math test or a multiple-choice history exam doesn't necessarily translate to the world of wine.

It's like trying to grade a work of art. Is a Picasso a 95, while a Monet is an 89? And if you are trying to use the 100-point critique as a buying guide, would you really trust someone whose taste runs toward a paint-splattered Pollock canvas if you prefer Turner seascapes? Wine, like art, is subjective. That doesn't mean that there aren't quantifiable differences, but just because you like a particular wine doesn't make it good. Even portraits of Elvis painted on black velvet have a following.

You can argue that no wine rating is completely valid, but with literally thousands of wine choices, a little guidance can be a good thing. That's where our wine panel comes in, and by keeping things simple, I'd contend our system is an improvement over the 100-point scale. First, our tasting-panel members all have experience in the world of wine, but from very different perspectives. They include restaurateurs, retailers, consumers and distributors. And the individual taste of the panel is also diverse—while we reach a consensus, we seldom agree on the specifics.

We taste blind but we stick to one variety of wine each time, comparing no more than eight wines at a tasting. The big wine mags go through dozens of different wines every day. After tasting so many samples, the big, flashy wines tend to stand out and garner the higher scores. That's great if you love that velvet Elvis—not so good if you prefer something a little more subtle and elegant.

We rank the wines individually from favorite to least-favorite, total the scores, and the top three vote-getters make the cut. Typically, each of these wines garnered at least one first-place vote from one or more panelist, so they can represent diverse styles. Read the descriptions to see if a particular wine fits your taste. Doing it this way limits us to fewer recommendations over the course of a year, but we like to think it gives you a good starting point when you go out to buy a bottle.

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