Getting Advice from Wine Critics

Tasting

Question from Sarah: I really like wine but it’s hard for me to pick it out. Sometimes I buy it because I like the label. Should I subscribe to Wine Spectator or something like that to help me choose good bottles? 

Reply: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for writing! I think everyone will admit to selecting a bottle by the label. I certainly have. 

Using a critic’s advice can be helpful if you and the critic have similar tastes. For instance Robert Parker is famous (or notorious, depending upon who you’re talking to) for giving high marks to reds that are heavy, extractive and high in alcohol. Not everyone appreciates that style. 

I think the best thing to do, if you want to subscribe to a wine publication, is “audition” a few of them to see if you have similar tastes. An experienced, knowledgeable critic, has what it takes to recognize whether or not the wine is well made and representative of its type, but it’s really hard for anyone to overcome personal preference. 

Beyond the score you want to look at how he/she describes the wine to help you decide if you might like it. In any case, I don’t recommend buying multiple bottles of wine based upon a critic’s opinion. Try a bottle and see what you think. If you love it you can go back for more. 

One of the best ways to find wine you really like is to develop a relationship with a good retailer who knows his wine and his inventory. Tell him about wines you’ve enjoyed before and he’ll make educated suggestions. Be sure and talk with him about his recommendations once you try them. He’ll ask how you liked the Syrah he suggested last time and you can say “loved it!” or “Too spicy for me.” Or whatever. If you keep this up his suggestions will get better and better. This creates a great foundation for the day you want to branch out and try something new. Knowing your tastes, he can sell you your first bottle of, for instance, Cotes du Rhone and chances are you’ll be happy with your purchase. 
An increasing number of wine shops have tasting bars. You might think about becoming a regular so you can try before you buy.

Try ordering wine by the glass instead of the bottle when you go out to eat so you can try a few wines instead of just one. But, buyer beware – some restaurants really clean up by gouging on their by-the-glass program. Ask how many ounces in a pour. There are about 25 oz. in a bottle. A little quick math will tell you if it’s a good deal or not. 

Of course, it’s no secret that I highly recommend starting or joining a tasting group! If you taste regularly, with your friends, your wish list of favorites will grow and grow. 

Whatever you do, have fun with it – that’s what it’s for! Cheers! 

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