American Cabernet Sauvignon
Tasted: 304 I Reviewed: 96
2001 Bordeaux
Tasted: 188 I Reviewed: 84
Champagne
Tasted: 157 I Reviewed: 66
American Sparkling
Tasted: 61 I Reviewed: 12
Germany
Tasted: 211 I Reviewed: 99
Piedmont
Tasted: 202 I Reviewed: 88
American New Releases
Tasted: 338 I Reviewed: 66
Imported New Releases
Tasted: 291 I Reviewed: 81
Total
Tasted: 1,752 I Reviewed: 592

Here's an issue packed with vintage character. There's the ripeness and deep vineyard expression of 2003 Mosel riesling, which our critic Tara Q. Thomas loved (p. 98). And there's the sweetly ripe, international style of modern nebbiolo in 2000 Barolo, which appeals to me significantly less than the structured '99s and '01s (p. 106).

In Bordeaux, 2000 is great because so many producers made good wine - it's a matter of consistency rather than clarity of vineyard expression. If you're willing to be choosy, pick some of the top wines from Bordeaux's 2001 vintage (p. 85) instead, particularly from the Right Bank, where Pomerol produced some stunning wines. Some 2001s are simply better than 2000s, and cost less, because there's a hype vacuum after 2000. (Two of the most glaring examples are Pétrus and Vieux Château Certain. When we went to press the 2000 Pétrus was $1,750 at Sherry-Lehmann in New York, with the '01 close to one-third the price, at $650; Christian Moueix states emphatically that the 2001 is better. 2000 VCC was on auction on the web for $200 a bottle, while the 2001 was available at K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco for $89.99; Alexandre Thienpont believes the 2001 is one of the greatest VCCs in memory.)

The pattern in California is different, with more consistency in 2001 cabernet than in 2000. Many of the '01s have a clarity to their fruit flavor, picking up on 2001's smaller, more concentrated fruit to tie that flavor to the part of Napa Valley that produced them. And, as we found last year, Washington's '00 and '01 Columbia Valley cabernets continue to give their Napa Valley cousins a run for their money (p. 76). Consistency is also the word on 2001 in Spain, with great reds from across the country in that vintage (p. 116).

Champagne's 1996 vintage is the one to buy if there's any left this holiday season (p. 90). The structure of the vintage that will keep the wines fresh for years is just beginning to relent, and they are showing beautifully. Wines from '98 are beginning to appear in the market, and while still young, show promise as well. The best houses and growers often make exceptional wines in lesser years, which is one reason we present our Champagne tasting by house. The same can be said for California, where a few top producers consistently show well in our tastings, no matter what the vintage.

As always, we conduct all of our tastings blind, with panels of friends in the business of buying wine whose tastes we respect - thanks to Shelley Lindgren of A16, Paul Roberts of French Laundry, Daniel Johnnes of Montrachet and the Myriad Restaurant Group, and Vanessa Trevino Boyd of Megu. They were just a few of the sommeliers and retail buyers who helped sort through 1,752 wines for this issue. They chose the wines to recommend, and passed them along to the staff critic for that particular region. Our critics' individual ratings and perspectives appear in the pages that follow, along with a complete description of our two-step, blind tasting process (p. 77).