Thorough, thoughtful, thought-provoking, educational and, amazingly, democratic.” That’s how Juliette Pope describes the tastings that produce this Annual Buying Guide. The beverage director for NYC’s Gramercy Tavern for the past 18 years, Pope recently took over distribution for the natural wine portfolio of Louis/Dressner. While working as a sommelier, she was one of the many wine professionals on the buying side of the business who have joined our tasting panels.
This magazine was born as a product testing service, conceived by an Australian who patterned the tastings after his country’s national wine shows. By 1987, when we published the first Buying Guide, we had begun to gather wine buyers rather than winemakers for our blind tasting panels, and to look beyond simple technical proficiency in wines to matters of deliciousness and sense of place. We also started to track how consistently producers delivered on those two primary aspects of a wine’s potential to deliver pleasure.
We set out to build a tasting process that cuts through the preferences and biases of individual critics, and the noise of celebrity and marketing, to get to the wine in the glass. The challenges inherent in tasting wine—many of them considered scientifically in Jamie Goode’s I Taste Red, our Book of the Year for 2016—made it clear that everyone, even the most experienced taster, approaches wine from his or her own distinct perspective. Rather than average our panelists’ ratings into a score, our critics work to find consensus around the tasting table, and then use their own perceptions to rate the wines in relation to others from the same region. If you think of it as a form of democracy, it offers tension between an elected congress of experienced tasters and one executive who listens and then acts on their decisions. Our critics filter the panel recommendations through their own affinities and taste memories, hoping to guide you to the wine you would want to buy.
As critics rating wines, tasting on our own might leave us overly prone to personal biases. Tasting in a producer’s cellar might be great for research and building taste memories, but it also brings in powerful influences that have nothing to do with what’s in the glass. Our system is different. We don’t believe it’s perfect, just that it’s the best system to fulfill our goal of turning you on to great wine.
By vetting what’s in the market and tracking producer performance over time, we hope to radically improve your odds of fi nding a wine you’ll enjoy, whether from a name you know well, or a producer completely new to you.
photo by Mike Rush
This story appears in the print issue of Winter 2016.
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