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Wine Publications: Scoring the Critics
Wine Spectator

Inspired by Lettie Teague's piece in the Wall Street Journal called "Do the Right Wines Win" I decided that my nineteen years of experience working with these publications and websites, not to mention constantly matching our impressions of wines to their scores and reviews, puts me in a pretty good position to create my own guide to the wine review websites and publications.

Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator was founded as a San Diego-based tabloid in 1976, Wine Spectator was purchased by its current publisher and editor Marvin Shanken in 1979 and has since become the leading wine culture lifestyle magazine with a circulation of almost 400,000 copies.

They publish 15 issues per year with editorial content heavily geared toward luxury food, wine and travel. Each issue contains winery, winemaker and wine region profiles from around the world along with extensive wine travel articles and a column by my favorite wine writer, Matt Kramer.

They are also well known for their restaurant awards program that devotes one issue a year that reviews restaurant wine lists on three levels: "Award of Excellence" (entry level), "Best of Award of Excellence" (mid-tier) and Grand Award of Excellence (the highest award). Over 3,700 restaurants received awards in 2017.

Each issue contains an extensive buying guide where they review thousands of wines per year using a 50 to 100 scale and specific editor/tasters for each region they cover. Each December they also publish a list of their picks for the Top 100 wines of the year. The list is so influential and heavily followed that simply being named to that list ensures that the wine chosen will almost immediately sell out. They maintain an extensive website and archive that contains over 375,000 wine reviews which are available by subscription for $59.95 a year. Wine Spectator

How we use Wine Spectator

 

I find Wine Spectator reviews to be very reliable and they tend to be a bit stingier with points than the other publications. The key is to understanding Wine Spectator reviews is getting to know the editors and their tasting staff.

James Laube, their senior editor who covers California, is not someone to look to for finding values. You can pretty much guarantee that a 94 point score on a $150 Napa Cabernet will make a good choice for your cellar. Just don't look to him to lower himself to reviewing much of anything under $35 let alone have anything good to say about it.

Harvey Steiman and Tim Fish who cover Washington, Oregon and some California wines wield a more balanced pen. Both Harvey and Tim can award a $200 bottle a deserved 95 point score, but they are not above giving 90 points to a $12 bottle of Columbia Crest Chardonnay, or in Tim's case 93 points to this year's Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, when it deserves it.

I also find the European coverage provided James Molesworth, Kim Marcus and Bruce Sanderson to be very reliable and even-handed, reviewing a wide price range of wines and delivering plenty of value picks, especially in Spain and Italy. Overall, Wine Spectator is a very reliable source for helping to sort through the thousands of wine choices available to us.