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Wine Publications: What We Think...
Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator: Every week you see a lot of magazine scores and reviews quoted in our Newsletter but I have never really talked about the publication's editorial content. The question I am asked most often is which publication's scores do I trust the most. And, there is no easy answer to that question, since each magazine seems to occupy a special niche for us. A few weeks ago I wrote about Robert Parker's publication, The Wine Advocate. This week we will take on the other giant in the world of wine reviews, The Wine Spectator.

Wine Spectator: 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, wine maker 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 know 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 2012.

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 web site and archive that contains over 250,000 wine reviews which is available by subscription for $49.95 a year or in combination with the magazine for $75.

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. While you can pretty much guarantee that 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 $20 let alone have anything good to say about it. Harvey Steiman, who covers Washington, Oregon and and Australia, wields a more balanced pen. Harvey can award the $395 Penfold's Grange a deserved 98 point score, but he is not above giving 90 points to a $12 bottle of Columbia Crest Chardonnay 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 thousand of wine choices when we can only taste through a fraction of the wines available to us before purchasing them.