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Wrath of the Grapes
Bacchanalia
A Critical Survey of Major Wine Review Publications

California Grapevine

Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine

Wine Advocate (Robert Parker)

Wine & Spirits

Wine News

Wine Spectator

Faced with the ocean of new-release wines arriving in the market every month, the consumer who wants some guidance in making selections has a few resources available to help sort out the allegedly good from the allegedly ought-to-be-avoided bottlings. One resource is an educational wine tasting group, such as the Vintners Club, which meets weekly, where a group of wines -- say 12 Chardonnays -- can be personally evaluated in a blind tasting format. Similarly, although without the structure and organization of the Vintners Club, the consumer can visit a wine tasting bar to evaluate wines on a personal, though not blind (and thus not completely unbiased) basis. Another option is the small, private tasting group of wine loving friends and acquaintances, which can provide blind tasting opportunities on an occasional or regular basis.

Another resource are the individual wine merchant newsletters, which, although geared to entice the consumer to buy the wines offered, will nevertheless provide some helpful commentary and, usually, a fair number of tasting notes in each issue. The thing to remember here is that the wines described are rarely tasted against each other comparatively to arrive at some kind of ranking order. Instead, each wine is evaluated on its own and the tasting notes are usually only brief snippets of description. And, merchant newsletters always focus on the positive, never warning a consumer about a flawed wine that may happen to be in inventory.

However, even if one devotes a considerable amount of time to participating in personal tasting opportunities and perusing merchants' newsletters, only a tiny fraction of newly released wines can be evaluated or discovered. Consequently, the wine consumer should consider utilizing publications that offer evaluations of many wines at a time. Since newspapers, even those in major metropolitan areas near wine-growing regions, nowadays offer less and less wine coverage, the specialty wine review magazines and newsletters are the consumer's best bet for keeping pace with large numbers of new releases. Gathered together for this critical survey are seven major wine review publications, selected on the basis of their regularity of publication, length of time in existence, extent of circulation and quality of coverage. Two types are represented -- publications devoted almost exclusively to reviewing and rating wines by tasting notes (California Grapevine, Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate) and publications that regularly offer wine reviews and ratings, along with articles and feature stories on wine and other topics (the Underground Wine Journal, The Wine News, Wine & Spirits Magazine and Wine Spectator). The best informed wine consumer will subscribe to at least one of each type of publication, as diversity of opinion makes wine a much more interesting topic.

The publications available only by subscription may provide a sample copy on request for evaluation, or may offer a money-back guarantee of satisfaction. If you're interested, contact the publication directly by mail or telephone using the information provided here. The publications offered both by subscription and for sale where magazines are sold may be examined at the point of sale.

Just a word about the 100-point rating scale used by some of the publications. While subject to considerable criticism (Hugh Johnson, one of the world's foremost wine authorities, calls the 100-point system the "least appropriate or reliable system" because its apparent greater accuracy is almost certainly spurious, or at least not subject to any kind of scientific check), this scale is the most widely used rating system in the United States. It's important to note, however, that only the top half (from 50 to 100 points) is used for scoring purposes -- no wine to my knowledge has been publicly rated a 28 or a 36. Thus, under this system, a wine earns at least 49 points just for being wine. It might more accurately be called the "upper 50-point system" or the 50-100 point scale.

This survey deals exclusively with the hard copy publication. Other services provided by some of these publications, such as Internet connections, on-line editions, digital editions provided to subscribers via e-mail, interim recorded tasting results updates via charge-per-minute 900-number telephone service, and the like, may be properly evaluated once you get to know the publication through its hard copy.

Here are the publications, presented in alphabetical order:

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California Grapevine

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First published 1973

Total circulation 3,000 +/- (99% paid)

Paid subscriptions 2,970

Publication frequency Bimonthly; 6 issues per year

Publisher/Editor Nicholas A. Ponomareff

Subscription cost $32/year. (Available only by subscription)

Office address P.O. Box 22152, San Diego, CA 92192

Office Telephone (619) 457-4818/FAX (619) 457-3676)

Average No. of pages 24 per issue, including front and back covers (non-glare paper)

Average No. wines reported 160 per issue

Scope of wine reporting CA, OR, WA, occasionally other states (e.g., VA); USA only.

Tasting procedure Wines are tasted by a panel in individual flights consisting of 6 to 12 wines each; double-blind tasting format. The wines comparatively tasted in a particular flight or grouping are ranked against each other, so there may be several separate panel tasting rankings of a particular varietal reported in a single issue. Wines are scored on a 20-point scale, with the group average determining the wine's ranking within the flight.

Rating system Points (20-point scale, with the equivalent 100 point scale rating also given for publication. The editor/publisher's adaptation of the 20-point scale uses a six-point range of the scale -- 13 through 18 points -- with half-point increments providing eleven possible ratings). The system is explained as follows: 17-18 points (equivalent to 90-100 points) for an outstanding wine; 16-16.5 points (equivalent to 80-89 points) for a good to very good wine; 15-15.5 points (equivalent to 70-79 points) for an average to good wine; 14-14.5 points (equivalent to 60-69 points) for a below average wine; 13-13.5 points (equivalent to 50-59 points) for a poor wine.

Comment The editor states that "While a score given on a 100-point scale may infer [sic] a high degree of precision in evaluating a wine, the threshold for repeatability generally falls within one or two points for even the best palate. One or two points difference between wines should not be considered significant."

Contents of wine description Combination of commentary & rating points, arranged as follows: Wine number; name and vintage of wine; appellation and vineyard, where applicable; California retail bottle price; description of color; appraisal of nose (descriptors, intensity, flaws, if any); palate feel (fullness, texture, smoothness, coarseness, tannin level, tartness, etc.); appraisal of flavors (descriptors, intensity, depth, flaws, if any); overall quality assessment (superior, above average, standard, below average); drinkability assessment (sometimes); succinct statement or observation beyond tasting note (sometimes); level of recommendation (very highly recommended, highly recommended, recommended, recommended with reservations, no recommendation indicated); additional information as to producer (usually for second labels), where applicable; alcohol content percentage; technical data (total acidity (TA) and pH, and in some cases information concerning barrel fermentation and extent of malolactic fermentation); case production; release date; varietal composition of the wine; group average score, number of first, second and third-place votes, plus editor/publisher's individual score and relative ranking, all in parentheses. Note: A "True Ranking" based on a statistical analysis of the results appears at the end of each set of tasting notes. Wines that do not differ significantly from one another are grouped together in brackets. Example: [1, 2] [3, 4, 5] [6, 7, 8] [9] [10, 11, 12].

Readability of text Excellent, clear and concise.

Other text Summary discussion concerning the wines reported appears on the inside front cover under the heading "ABOUT THIS ISSUE." See also Notable features, below.

Structure of issue Focus on several varietals broken down by vintage year (may include seven or more per issue) set out in separate tasting notes sections that are listed in the contents-of-issue box on the first page, along with their starting page number; commentary by wine writer Dan Berger (see Notable features, below); book reviews (see Notable features, below); interim report on the year's wine competition results (see Notable features, below); Grapevine recommendations column (see Notable features, below).

Notable features Commentary column by wine writer Dan Berger, presenting lengthy, thought-provoking pieces by one of the country's most knowledgeable wine authorities. Book review section entitled "In the Wine Library" by Bob Foster, in which new wine texts are thoroughly examined and critiqued. Wine competition results beginning usually with the second issue of the year, in which the top medal-winning wines from the major wine competitions are set out in a grid format and tracked on a continuing basis throughout the year. Each issue updates the results, adding wines, as appropriate, culminating in the final report at the end of the competition season, usually in issue No. 5. "Grapevine Recommendations" column, a summary of what the editor/publisher considers to be the best premium California wines available at the time of publication based on their previous review in the Grapevine. This column grows larger with each issue. Issue and volume number are listed with each wine, as well as the price, to facilitate locating the original review. This is a very useful tool for the consumer. In the final issue for the year, the column focuses on what the editor/publisher considers to be the very best wines tasted that year. True ranking display appearing in brackets at the end of each set of tasting notes. This has been mentioned above, but deserves to be mentioned also as a notable feature of the publication, inasmuch as it is unique to the California Grapevine. Statistical analysis is used to group together in brackets wines in the flight that do not differ significantly from one another. See the example set out above in the "Contents of wine description" section.

Index system Each issue contains an index of wines review in the issue; a comprehensive annual index of all wines reviewed in issues 1 through 6 of a particular volume is presented in issue No. 6.

Advertising None.

Punched for 3-hole binder Yes.

Impact of publication Limited use of ratings by retailers in point-of-sale shelf displays and in newsletters, and by wineries in press releases and promotional literature (newsletters, tasting room displays, etc.). I suspect this is so because the tasting notes provide as much sensory information as necessary to fully inform the reader about the aromas, flavors and overall quality of each wine, and are not written with the advertiser or PR department in mind. Moderately influential commercially, but very highly regarded by those consumers who subscribe.

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Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine 

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First published 1974.

Total circulation 7,000 +/- according to the publisher.

Paid subscriptions 7,000 +/- according to the publisher.

Publication frequency Monthly.

Publishers/Editors Charles Olken; Stephen Eliot, Assoc. Editor.

Subscription cost $50/year; $81/two years; $132/three years. Available only by subscription.

Office address 651 Tarryton Isle, P.O. Box V, Alameda, CA 94501-0265

Office telephone (510) 865-3150.

E-mail cgcw@aol.com

Average No. of pages 16 per issue (non-glare paper).

Average No. wines reported 150 per issue.

Scope of wine reporting CA, OR, WA, occasionally other states (e.g., VA); some Bordeaux coverage.

Tasting procedure Up to 16 wines on one occasion are tasted by a panel in two flights of 8 in a blind tasting format. Several tastings over the course of weeks may be required to cover the varietal for publication. Wines that rate poorly (inverted glass), 3-puff, 2-puff and some one-puff wines are brought back for retasting on another occasion, with tasting notes adjusted accordingly and final ratings determined on retasting.

Rating system Symbols, explained as follows:

Quality: 3 puffs (***) for an exceptional wine that is worth a special search; 2 puffs (**) for a highly distinctive wine that is likely to be memorable; 1 puff (*) for a fine example of a type or style of wine without notable flaws. Note that the publication calls these symbols "stars," but virtually everyone in the trade refers to them as "puffs."

Availability: 3-bottle symbol denoting a wine generally available in most market areas; 1-bottle symbol denoting a limited production and/or limited geographic distribution; "sorry sign" symbol denoting very limited availability.

Drinkability: Tilted glass denoting a wine drinkable now and unlikely to improve with further aging; tilted glass imposed on a horizontal bottle denoting a wine drinkable now that will improve with further bottle aging; horizontal bottle denoting a wine to be cellared for likely improvement with bottle aging.

Characteristics and suggested use with food: Various symbols indicating, for example, whether a wine is "soft and fruity" and "quaffable by itself or with light foods;" or a "crisp white" that's dry with medium acidity and compatible with "fish or delicate flavored foods;" or a "full and balanced dry white" that will accompany "rich seafood and fowl dishes;" or a "medium red" that's "balanced," with "good depth" and "medium tannin," suggested for beef and lamb dishes; or a "robust red" with "full tannin" and "intense flavors," best paired with "highly spiced meat dishes;" or a "sweet dessert wine." Comment: The editors state that "Symbols are used to complement our descriptions of each wine. They provide additional information with minimal text. The most complete picture of a wine can be gained only by reading both the text and the symbols."

Contents of wine description Combination of commentary and symbols, as follows Puff(s), if any; name and vintage of wine; appellation and vineyard, where applicable; varietal make-up of the wine (sometimes); appraisal of nose (descriptors, intensity, flaws, if any); appraisal of flavors (descriptors, intensity, depth, flaws, if any); palate feel (texture, smoothness, coarseness, tannin level, tartness, etc.); overall impression; GOOD VALUE designation, where applicable; symbols indicating availability, drinkability and characteristics/food compatibility, or, instead of these symbols, an inverted glass where the text has panned the wine; California full retail bottle price.

Readability of text Good, although there are occasional lapses into purple prose. Other text Short, sometimes moderately informative, commentary introducing each varietal review section and accompanying focus features, such as the "Collectors' Corner" tastings of cellar-aged wines and Europe versus California tastings; little or no in-depth text discussion. Every so often, statistics concerning vineyard varietal acreage or harvest tonnage will be presented.

Structure of issue The front-page display box specifies the varietal categories for the issue's wine reviews -- one principal varietal and one or two others -- along with any focus coverage (e.g., vertical tasting of the principal varietal from a particular winery) and any varietal index presented, with the starting page number for each section. The "Collectors' Corner" feature appears in the middle (centerfold) of the issue. An issue wine index with puffs noted, and the "Best Buys in the Market" feature appear on the back page.

Notable features Each issue contains a very useful section called "Best Buys in the Market," in which highly rated wines from previous issues are listed by variety and are succinctly described, along with their puff symbols. Some issues contain the "Collectors' Corner" feature dealing with tastings of cellar-aged wines, which provides information on the current drinkability of wines from past vintages. When the "Collectors' Corner" feature doesn't appear, there will be some special focus coverage, often a vertical tasting of the issue's principal varietal from a particular winery.

Index system Each issue contains an index covering wines reviewed in the issue. Indexes of major varietals reviewed over the course of about a year appear as separate varietal indexes in individual issues (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon Index, Chardonnay Index, etc.) and are noted in the front-page display box. Each wine is listed by name, appellation and vintage, along with any quality symbols (puff(s) or inverted glass) and the month and year of the issue in which the review first appeared. There is no comprehensive annual index of all wines reviewed that year or in that volume.

Advertising None.

Punched for 3-hole binder Yes.

Impact of publication Widespread use of puff ratings by retailers in point-of-sale shelf displays and in newsletters, and by wineries in press releases and promotional literature (newsletters, tasting room displays, etc.). Quite influential.

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The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker)

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First published 1978.

Total circulation N/A.

Paid subscriptions 40,000 +/- (including approx. 7,000 in Canada and 36 other foreign countries), according to Parker. Available only bysubscription. Beginning in 1998, a French edition was published, which currently has approximately 1,800 subscribers.

Publication frequency Bimonthly; 6 issues per year.

Publisher/Editor The Wine Advocate, Inc./Robert M. Parker, Jr.

Subscription cost Domestic: $40/year; $75/two years. Canada: $60/year; $115/two years. Overseas (airmail): $85/year; $155/two years.

Office address P.O. Box 311, Monkton, MD 21111

Office telephone (410) 329-6477/FAX (410) 357-4504.

Average No. of pages 56 per issue (non-glare paper).

Average No. wines reported 400-500 per issue.

Scope of wine reporting International.

Tasting procedure Single-palate evaluation. According to Robert Parker, "When possible, all of my tastings are done in peer-group, single-blind conditions (meaning that the same types of wine are tasted against each other and the producers' names are not known). The ratings reflect an independent, critical look at the wines. Neither price nor the reputation of the producer/grower affect the rating in any manner." Parker spends three months a year tasting in vineyards, with the other 9 months devoted solely to tasting and writing. Parker prefers to taste from an entire bottle of wine at proper temperature using professional tasting glasses (les impitoyables -- "the merciless ones"). Wines from obviously badly corked or defective bottles are retasted from new bottles. Parker typically tastes about 200 wines a week at his home office. About fifty red wines are tasted before lunch, since Parker feels that red wines are more complex than whites and are more difficult to evaluate. Whites are analyzed in the afternoon. He tackles perhaps 500 wines a day when he travels to the vineyards. The tasting notes and content are solely Parker's responsibility, except for articles and tasting notes attributed to his assistant, Pierre-Antoine Rovani.

Rating system Points (100 point scale), explained as follows: 96-100 denotes extraordinary (a wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classicwine of its variety; worth a special effort to find, purchase andconsume); 90-95 is outstanding (a wine of exceptional complexity and character; terrific); 80-89 means barely above average to very good (a wine displaying various degrees of finesse andflavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws); 70-79 is average (a wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made; straightforward and innocuous); 60-69 is below average (a wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excess acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor or possibly dirty aromas or flavors); 50-59 denotes unacceptable.

Comment According to Parker, "Scoring wines is simply taking a professional's opinion and applying some sort of numerical system to it on a consistent basis. Scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike. The score given for a specific wine reflects the quality of the wine at its best. Scores, however, do not reveal the important facts about a wine. The written commentary that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information regarding the wine's style and personality, its relative quality level vis-a-vis its peers, and its value and aging potential than any score could ever indicate."

Contents of wine description Combination of rating points and commentary, as follows: Vintage, name of producer, name or type of wine, price, designation as red or white (sometimes, usually with imported wines) and rating score, all on one line -- one or more such identification lines will appear above the commentary discussing all of the identified wines, with the name of each particular wine set off in boldface. Commentary generally includes some background on the producer, winery or personality behind the wine(s) and/or some overall impression of recent production and, sometimes, an exclamation of praise; and as to each wine, observations concerning nose, flavors, finish, best time to begin drinking or ageability potential, etc. Finally, the name of the producer, winery or importer is given, along with a telephone number.

Readability of text Good to very good, although there are occasional lapses into purple prose during bursts of enthusiasm.

Other text Occasional, short pieces on whatever wine-related topic strikes the author's fancy, usually winemaking techniques, but also marketing trends, wine lingo, dining experiences, etc.

Structure of issue Usually, at least three, sometimes six or more, groupings of tasting notes (e.g., 1997 Red Bordeaux: First Impressions; 1996 White Burgundy: Part II; 1996 California Zinfandel; recommended new releases from specific regions, special vertical tastings, etc.) are presented, set out in separate review sections that are listed in the in-this-issue box on the front page without their starting page number; other tasting notes sections not noted at the front; maturity charts and vintage guides (sometimes).

Notable features Best wines of the year are listed by vintage, name of wine and rating in the last issue of the year, but without reference to the specific volume, issue and page where the review appeared. The special vertical tasting sections are particularly valuable for the collector. Parker has entree to many of these tastings because of his status, and the information provided on the producer, plus the tasting notes themselves, add immeasurably to the collector's appreciation of any of the wines that might be in his or her cellar.

Index system A "Pocket Buying Guide and Index" is issued as a supplement to the last issue of the year, listing by vintage, name of wine, appellation, rating, volume and page the very good, best buys and outstanding wines reviewed in the Wine Advocate during the preceding 12 months.

Advertising None.

Punched for 3-hole binder Yes.

Impact of publication Overwhelming use of ratings by retailers in point-of-sale shelf displays and in newsletters, and by wineries in press releases and promotional literature (newsletters, tasting room displays, etc.). Robert Parker has been called the most important and powerful wine writer in America, if not the world. Extremely influential.

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Wine & Spirits Magazine

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First published 1981

Total circulation 75,000 +/-.

Paid subscriptions 22,000 +/- (29% of total); single-copy sales 50,000 +/- (67% of total); 3,000 +/- unpaid distribution.

Publication frequency 8 issues per year, including two special issues (see below).

Publisher/Editor Joshua Greene.

Subscription cost Domestic: $26/year; Canada: $36/year; Overseas (airmail): $56/year (US funds). $3.95/copy at newsstand ($4.95 in Canada).

Office address East Coast: 2 W. 32nd Street, Suite 601, New York, NY 10001 | West Coast: 818 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

Office telephone New York: (212) 695-4660/FAX (212) 695-2920. | San Francisco: (415) 255-7736/FAX (415) 255-9659.

E-mail winespir@aol.com

Average No. of pages 90 per issue (slick paper).

Average No. wines reported 120 per issue in the regular tasting notes sections (excluding the special "Guide to Understanding Wine" issue). Another 200 wine descriptions (100 "Best Wines" of the year plus 100 "Best Values" of the year) appear in the annual Buying Guide issue. Additional wines may be reported (but not rated in the same manner as in the regular tasting notes sections) in articles beyond the tasting notes sections.

Scope of wine reporting International.

Tasting procedure Panels meet regularly in New York (imported wines) and San Francisco (American wines) to assess in a blind tasting format wines submitted by wineries and purchased by Wine & Spirits. Panel judges are given no information other than type or variety, price range and vintage. Second bottles of panel-recommended wines are then presented in blind tastings to single critics (Joshua Greene for imported wines, Burke Owens for American wines), who rate the wines and prepare the tasting notes. For example, for the 10/98 issue, the East Coast panels tasted 491 wines, 184 of which were recommended and critiqued by Greene; the West Coast panels tasted 374 wines, 155 of which were recommended and critiqued by Owens.

Rating system Points (100-point scale). The meaning of a range of points, say 90 to 100 points, is not explained, as is done by some other review publications, which would explain, for example, that a wine scoring 90 to 100 points is outstanding, or that a wine scoring 70 to 79 points is an average wine.

Contents of wine description Combination of text and rating points, as follows: Name of producer; rating score; vintage, appellation (and vineyard, where applicable) and name of wine; overall appraisal of the wine; case production, usually (more so with the American wines) or comment concerning availability; retail bottle price; name and location of winery or importer.

Readability of text Good to very good; often outstanding in the case of pieces by writer-at-large Rod Smith.

Other text Various departments, including the Editor's Note (opinion and comment from Josh Greene); Letters to the Editor; "Fined & Filtered" (news and comment concerning developments in the wine and spirits scene, including products, gadgets, new books, videos and coming events); "The Fearless Omnivore" (food experiences by columnist Bill St. John); "Vinelands" (focus on wine regions and touring); "Pith & Vinegar" (commentary); articles by regular columnists and senior editors (including Clive Coates, David Lynch and Tara Q. Thomas), writer-at-large Rod Smith, contributing editors (including Tom Maresca, Harriet Lembeck, F. Paul Pacult, Charles Rubenstein and Doris Tobias) and contributing writers (including such freelance talent as Michael Bonadies, Gerald Boyd, Josh Eisen, Ben Giliberti, Richard Paul Hinkle, John Winthrop Haeger, Anita Mizner, Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan) and critic-at-large Robert Finigan. Additionally, in the fall (usually September), a special issue entitled "Wine & Spirits Guide to Understanding Wine" is published, which focuses on a single theme interpreted by the magazine's regular columnists and writers, as well as freelance writers. For example, the Fall 1998 Guide's theme was wine and food pairings involving Spanish tapas, Thai food, Chinese food and Middle East food. A glossary of terms was included, as well as an index to the wines tasted in the issue. Finally, in the winter, the magazine publishes its annual Buying Guide, presenting the 100 best wines of the year, the best buys and the best wineries. Included is a Wine Finder Index listing addresses and telephone numbers of wineries and importers of brands recommended during the year.

Structure of issue A regular issue of the magazine is laid out with its departments and features presented first (see Other text, above), followed by separate wine review/rating sections on American and imported new releases. Each segment is noted in a table of contents, with its starting page.

Notable features Feature-length, in-depth articles by writer-at-large Rod Smith provide thought-provoking, informative reading. Each of the regular editions of the magazine is accompanied by a Wine Shopper's Guide, a separate, heavy-cardstock, pull-out section listing by one or more categories, every wine tasted by the magazine's panels over a 12-month period for each category (e.g., all Chardonnays or all American Merlots or all values under $8 or all California Cabernet, Meritage & Cabernet-Based Blends). Recommended wines are specially marked, along with their score; wines not recommended are also listed; and all listings indicate the date of the issue for which they were evaluated. The Guide to Understanding Wine special issue is, as noted above, extremely informative and useful. Color photography, artwork and layout combine to make the magazine easy on the eyes.

Index system Other than the Wine Shopper's Guide, described above, there is no index.

Advertising Yes. The editorial policy is stated as follows "All tastings are conducted blind. After tasting results are tallied, wineries are offered the opportunity to advertise recommended wines with label reproductions. There is no obligation to advertise, and the tasting results are in no way affected by a winery's decision regarding advertising."

Punched for 3-hole binder No.

Impact of publication Limited use of ratings by retailers in point-of-sale shelf displays and in newsletters, and by wineries in press releases and promotional literature (newsletters, tasting room displays, etc.). Moderately influential.

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The Wine News

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First published 1985

Total circulation 55,000 +/-.

Paid subscriptions 30,250 +/- (55% of total); single-copy sales 24,750 +/- (45% of total).

Publication frequency Bimonthly; 6 issues per year.

Publisher/Editor T.E. Smith, Inc./Tom E. Smith

Subscription cost Domestic: $20/year; $38/two years. $4.00/copy at newsstand ($5.95 in Canada). Foreign: Add $24/year (U.S. funds).

Office address P.O. Box 14-2096 Coral Gables, FL 33114

Office telephone (305) 444-7250/FAX (305) 444-5706.

E-mail WineLine@aol.com

Website www.thewinenews.com

Average No. of pages 80 per issue, including Inside Wine supplement (slick paper).

Average No. wines reported 150 per issue in the "Buyline" section of the "Inside Wine" supplement, which is an integral part of the magazine.

Scope of wine reporting International.

Tasting procedure Panel tastings at the magazine's office in Coral Gables, FL. Wines are tasted double blind using Riedel Ouverture tasting glasses, and each entry is evaluated and scored based on individual merit.

Comment According to The Wine News, "Tasting and interpreting wine is a purely subjective exercise; all scores and accompanying notes, compiled by John Stoker, represent the collective opinions of our panel." Tasters for The Wine News are Tom Smith (editor and publisher), Athena Yannitsas (tasting panel coordinator), David Beaulieu (editor-at-large), Fred Tasker (Miami Herald wine critic), Maurice Adams (specialty food and wine merchant) and John Stoker (wine data consultant).

Rating system Points (100-point scale), explained as follows: 96-100 denotes superb; 90-95 is outstanding; 85-89 means very good; 80-84 is good; 70-79 is acceptable; 0-69 not listed.

Comment According to The Wine News, "Tasting notes reflect the panel's overall impressions; scores are averaged and represent the panel's mean." Only wines that score above 70 points will be reported in the "Buyline" section as recommended.

Contents of wine description Combination of commentary and rating points, as follows: Rating score; name of producer; vintage and varietal or type of wine; appellation (and vineyard, where applicable); succinct description of nose, palate and finish; suggested retail price.

Readability of text Good to very good; often excellent.

Other text "Commentary" department presenting wine-related articles by regular columnists (senior editors Lyn Farmer and Bob Hosman) and guest commentators; articles on wine, food and travel topics by contributing editors (including such freelance talent as Barbara and Edward Beltrami, Gerald D. Boyd, Clive Coates, Jeff Cox, Gerry Dawes, Harvey E. Finkel, M.D., Richard Kinssies, Julie Ann Kodmur, Steve Pitcher and Norm Roby); wine, food and travel articles by guest contributors/freelance writers; "Grapescapes" department featuring one-page wine country photography submitted by freelance photographers. The "Inside Wine" supplement consists of the "Vignettes" department focusing on wine and food personalities, new products, wine auction developments and a calendar of wine and food events; "Firstlook" department containing the cover article; and the "Buyline" department containing the tasting notes.

Structure of issue The magazine is laid out with its regular departments and features presented first (see Other text, above), finishing with the "Grapescapes" photography. The "Inside Wine" supplement is inserted in the middle, and is easily detached from the magazine. A table of contents with starting page numbers is presented for both.

Notable features The Wine News' features and articles are mostly submitted by freelance writers, which results in a wealth of diverse opinion and perspective. "Taster's Choice" and "Best Value" segments, forming the first part of the "Buyline" section of the "Inside Wine" supplement spin off for separate consideration tasting notes and ratings of wines that display outstanding quality, character and potential, and wines of exceptional quality that sell at a moderate price, respectively. Extensive color photography, artwork and layout combine to make both the main magazine and the "Inside Wine" supplement easy on the eyes and often a joy to behold.

Index system None.

Advertising Yes. The Wine News states that "all labels which appear in the Buyline are editorial artwork and should not be construed as paid advertising positions."

Punched for 3-hole binder No.

Impact of publication Limited use of ratings by retailers in point-of-sale shelf displays and in newsletters, and by wineries in press releases and promotional literature (newsletters, tasting room displays, etc.). Moderately influential.

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Wine Spectator

First published 1976

Total circulation 207,290 +/-.

Paid subscriptions 171,636 +/- (82.8% of total); single-copy sales 35,653 +/- (17.2%of total).

Publication frequency 18 issues per year; published semi-monthly on the 15th and last day of each month except monthly in January, February, March, April, July and August.

Publisher/Editor M. Shanken Communications, Inc./Marvin R. Shanken.

Subscription cost Domestic: $40/year; $75/two years. $2.95/copy at newsstand. Canada: $53.50/year (U.S. funds). $3.95/copy at newsstand. Overseas (airmail): $125/year (U.S. funds).

Office address East Coast: 387 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10016 | West Coast: 601 Van Ness, Suite 2032 San Francisco, CA 94102

Office telephone East Coast (212) 684-4224/FAX (212) 684-5424 | West Coast (415) 673-2040/FAX (415) 673-0103

Subscription telephone (800) 752-7799.

E-mail winespec@mshanken.com

Website www.winespectator.com

Average No. of pages 160 per issue (slick paper).

Average No. wines reported 300-500 per issue in the Buying Guide section.

Scope of wine reporting International.

Tasting procedure Panels meet at Wine Spectator offices in New York, San Francisco and London to assess wines submitted by wineries and purchased by the magazine. Tastings are blind bottles are bagged and coded, capsules are removed and corks are substituted to ensure that the wines remain anonymous. Panel judges are told only the general type of wine (varietal or region) and vintage. Price is not disclosed. Tastings conducted in Europe are usually done at the source -- Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, Tuscany, etc. -- where fresh, well-stored samples are readily available. Wine Spectator organizes these tastings at independent sites (not at estates or offices of wine companies) under conditions tightly controlled by Wine Spectator staff. All wines that taste corky, that show other major flaws or that score below 70 points are blind tasted again from new bottles. Numerous wines that score highly are retasted blind to confirm the results. Reported tastings that are not blind are noted as such. When wines are rated from barrel samples, that fact is also disclosed.

Comment According to Wine Spectator, "Ratings are based on potential quality on how good the wines will be when they are at their peaks. For ageable wines, we suggest a year or range of years to start drinking the wine." Tasters for Wine Spectator in New York are Jim Gordon, Thomas Matthews and Kim Marcus; the San Francisco panel consists of Harvey Steiman, Jim Laube and Jeff Morgan. James Suckling and Per-Henrik Mansson conduct blind tastings on location in Europe.

Rating system Points (100-point scale), explained as follows: 95-100 denotes classic (a great wine); 90-94 is outstanding (a wine of superior character and style); 80-89 means good to very good (a wine with special qualities); 70-79 is average (a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws); 60-69 is below average (drinkable, but not recommended); 50-59 denotes poor (undrinkable and not recommended).

Contents of wine description Combination of commentary and rating points, as follows: Rating score; name of producer; varietal or type of wine; appellation (and vineyard, where applicable); vintage; suggested retail price; succinct description of nose and palate; additional comment (sometimes); year or range of years to start drinking the wine (for ageable wines); case production (sometimes).

Readability of text Good to very good; often excellent.

Other text Editor's note introducing the major topics of the issue; "Upfront" department presenting short articles concerning developments in wine, food, restaurants and chefs, new products, etc., including "Grapevine," which presents short items on these categories submitted by staff writers and freelancers; "Collecting" department covering auction developments and personalities; Auction Calendar; Letters to the Editor; What's New on Wine Spectator On-Line; Last Call (one-page-long vignettes); column pieces by senior editors Jim Laube, James Suckling, Per-Henrik Mansson and Thomas Matthews, and columnist Matt Kramer; departments (through Letters; see above); cover story and feature articles on wine, vines and grapes, wine-growing regions, personalities and lifestyles, travel, cooking and restaurants/dining, entertaining, etc.; "Tasting Report" feature which focuses on the wines of a particular growing area viewed from an annual basis; classified advertising; What's New on Wine Spectator On-Line department; Last Call.

Structure of issue The magazine is laid out with its regular departments and features presented first (see Other text, above), followed by the "Buying Guide" with ratings of new releases and, finally, the What's New on Wine Spectator On-Line and Last Call departments. Each segment is noted in a table of contents, with its starting page.

Notable features The "Tasting Report" feature, which focuses on the wines of a particular growing area viewed from an annual basis, provides an in-depth look at the region and its wines from a particular vintage. Includes wine rating set-outs in which the wines are listed alphabetically, to be repeated in the "Buying Guide," where the wines are listed by rating score (highest to lowest), along with their descriptions. Additional set-outs sometimes appear focusing on the top-scoring wines and best values. A vintage rating chart for the growing area is also featured, in which the current and previous vintages are given rating scores, along with a succinct description of the particular vintage and the consensus on that vintage's current drinkability (not yet ready, hold, drink, drink or hold). Thirty or more of these annual reports will appear over a year's time. A detachable "Wine Spectator Shopping List" on cardstock is a convenient tool when seeking out recommended wines. On one side are listed the best wines reviewed in the particular issue. On the other side are listed the "Best in Market" wines, selected from among the best wines of their type reviewed in previous issues.

Index system None in the magazine itself. A separate annual publication entitled "The Wine Spectator's Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine" is a compendium of all wines reviewed by Wine Spectator over the past decade, arranged both by country, type and producer and by producer. Some descriptions are included, but in every case reference is made to the date of the issue in which the review first appeared.

Advertising Yes.

Punched for 3-hole binder No.

Impact of publication Overwhelming use of ratings by retailers in point-of-sale shelf displays and in newsletters, and by wineries in press releases and promotional literature (newsletters, tasting room displays, etc.). Certainly the world's most widely read wine magazine. Extremely influential.

© by Steve Pitcher


[Editor's Note: Steve Pitcher is a free-lance wine writer. His work can often be found in The Wine News and various places online, including This article, written in 1999, first appeared on the Sally's Place web site with links from PfW. The author has given us permission to post it here.]
 
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