EDITOR'S NOTE—Essentially Delicious

In political parlance, the term radical is often associated with extremism, whether on the left or the right. In linguistics, particularly the study of Chinese pictograms, a radical is the essential part of the picture, the essence or history of the word. When we set about trying to describe authenticity in wine, we often find it tied to what might be considered extreme farming techniques, viticulture that is sensitive to the life surrounding a particular vineyard. Sometimes, these extreme techniques are regarded as radical—specifically, biodynamics. Sometimes, they are associated with traditionalism, or natural winemaking.
     Of the 10,200 wines we tasted this year, we want to bring to your attention those that are authentic, radical in the sense of being the essence of a place. Our rating system is not, by any means, a rejection of hedonism (anyone associated with wine has to have at least a few hedonist genes), but we do not promote hedonism for its own sake. We believe wine is food and, like food, should offer pleasure, sustenance and, at its best, the kind of comforting memory that comes when we taste something authentic. The wines with the balance, precision and focus to do that are often farmed with care and made with minimal intervention. When we set out to describe what sets our Top 100 Wineries apart, or what we mean by best in our 100 Best Wines of the Year, we often end up describing the place the vines grow and the way they are tended (whether dry farmed, organically or biodynamically farmed—though none of these factors provide a flavor to the wine, they may help connect the flavors of a wine to a place).
     When we taste blind, we can do little more than imagine what is authentic, later comparing our impressions to the reality of how the wine was grown and made. More often than not, if we can imagine foods the wine would match during that blind tasting process, that helps us recognize authenticity. We don’t set out to find esoteric matches, though we are intrigued when we find wines that are clearly part of a local culture, made with the intention of being served with the foods local to their region, wines that bring us back to that place.
     We believe that authenticity is what determines value in a wine. I buy a jar of wild blueberry jam at the store for $4; when I buy a bottle of fine wine, I want something more than delicious jam warmed by alcohol. I want something that connects me to a place, that could not be made without that connection, made with such a strong connection that its character can live and develop in bottle for years. You’ll find a lot of these radical wines in this issue, even among our 100 Best Buys of the Year, some of which have the ability to do just that for a lot less than the market would bear. That’s the real value in this issue: The wine market is skewed and imperfect. We hope to skew it in your favor.