10/30/2013 09:09 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How We Taste and Why

We're often asked how we taste wine at Argovino, especially by people who might want to use our reviews. We're happy to share the details, and we hope that other drinkers might find some insight in the reasoning behind them, too.

Perhaps most importantly, we don't taste blind. We've already explained why not in a longer article, but the main reason is that we're trying to duplicate the customer's experience as much as possible. We think that our reviews are useful when they align consistently with the preferences of consumers, and we don't think blind tasting is required for this to occur.

We do, however, try to create fairly uniform circumstances when we taste wines for the first time. For each flight, we use similar glasses placed on a white surface, so differences in color are apparent. We allow the wines to breathe for a short time, keeping the period constant by opening and tasting in the same order. We use water crackers - always the same brand - to clear the palate between wines.

Whenever possible, we taste wines together with other bottles of the same vintage, region, and composition. This is easy for, say, 2011 Mendoza malbecs; it's a little harder for red and white blends, where the exact composition can vary widely even when the same grapes are used. Even when the blends differ somewhat, we try to taste wine of similar styles together.

We don't use reference bottles the way Wine Spectator does. That is, we don't open a cabernet sauvignon that we've already given 90 points as a benchmark for a new flight of cabernets. To us, using a single wine as a benchmark makes little sense, since wines of a thousand different styles could all receive 90 points. We wouldn't want to compare every new bottle to a wine of just one style.

Virtually every wine we open is tasted more than once. The initial tasting happens under the controlled conditions described above. A second tasting of the wine -- preserved in the bottle with inert gases -- takes place with food. This is a critical step that has led us to revise scores and reviews several times. Most people have wine with food, so tasting wine only on its own misses a central part of the customer's experience.

Though we do refer to aging potential in our reviews, we do not give scores based on how a wine might taste years into the future. We know that some wines are intended to age and will offer a greater level of enjoyment long after we taste them. But a wine with plenty of potential will not always develop as expected, and we're reluctant to recommend a gamble to consumers. Our highest scores go to wines that are exciting to drink now and will likely be as good or better for years to come.

We think it's important to share these details, especially since we use the same 100-point scale as other sources of wine reviews. The scale's main asset is its accessibility; everyone knows what it means, and it makes comparisons between critics easier. But because of the way we taste, our points don't mean exactly the same thing as the points from Robert Parker or Stephen Tanzer.

And of course, the scores are just shorthand -- the tip of the information iceberg. We think the real value of our reviews is in the words, and we hope they provide the kind of information that you, the consumer, can use. Salud!