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Competitions, Wine guides, Critics, Magazines....who should we listen to?

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Competitions, Wine guides, Wine Critics, Wine Magazines.........they are all “references” but they can all (in some form or other) stand accused of biased judgement and advice. Nonetheless, many of us (all?) refer to them as something of a Map to guide ourselves in our purchasing decisions.

In a perfect world, we should only make buying decision based upon our own taste buds. However, for most people, there simply isn't the opportunity to individually learn, taste and select.

So, we use some of the above "tools" to help us filter through the endless global choices down to a more manageable quantity.

My questions to the board are:

• Which of the above represent greater or lesser reference?
• How should we use them in a critical and effective manner?
• What other means are there for a “Consumer” to find his way though the maze to quality, value, new and exciting wines?

P.S. Even this cherished board is, inevitably, full of opinionated advice...help!?! Who can I turn to??

PPS: Who do we believe ....or like all things in life, should be we simply take a critical and analytical view of everything others tell us?

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  1. Use critiques as a relative point of reference, not as an absolute point of reference.

    Meaning that if after reading X and tasting the same wines, you find that X rates and likes wine in such way that does not fit your own taste, you can use that information to know that if X like a wine in some way, you might not like it (too strong, too light, ... ) and from there you can make your own system of rating based on that information.

    And it works the other way around, you will find Y that constenly give out reviews and informations about wines that you also like; and you can bias your own reference point against Y.

    I think that at some point, we need to take chances and need to have our own point of reference and accept that if X recommands a wine that you don't like (or does not feel it rewards a high rating) it's ok and life go on...

    Also remember that X at some point get into a "mold" and are stuck into it and cannot get out easily.

    1. #1 - freinds whith whom you've shared many wines and whose palates you know and who know your palate.

      #2 - reviewers whose palates you trust and whose reviews you are familiar with. For me, this is (in descending order) David Schildkniched, Antonio Galloni (tie), Stephen Tanzer (tie), the publication "Gambero Rosso" (tie)

      #3 - reviews of people your friends know and put some trust in, these could be publications or other people. For me, Decanter and Allen Medows fall into this caegory.

      2 Replies
      1. re: whiner

        You both make valid points about looking to outlets who reflect (or inspire) your own inclinations.

        Are we then to assume that all these professionals (who make a living from) writing about wine are quite impartial and may not be “influenced”?

        Are we then discrediting any and all Competitions? What do you think of Decanter’s recent World Wine Awards? Would those “medals” influence your buying decisions?

        1. re: whiner

          I think a relationship with a locally run wine store is great for getting some help and I keep up wtth the folks over at www.Bex.com

        2. A trusted and educated wine merchant can play a key role.

          I'm sure a number of us have someone or somewhere we buy from where we would buy a bottle on their advice. I have one quite local to me, who not only uses my filter (what I'm looking for, price, what I liked in the past), but who also uses their own which likely more refined than my own. A good merchant is a very valuable tool for those of us learning about wine, though they sometimes have their own bias.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nanette

            When we visit New York, our daughter's friend and merchant at Bedford Wine shop has always given us superb advice for price and quality. At home(work) I usually shop online for under $20/90pt and buy a couple of bottles to see which ones I like best before buying a case or split case. I enjoy reading the Wine Spectator, but most of their tastes are in the more expensive offerings. But hay, there is something for everyones taste and budget. The challange is in the search.

          2. Find the best wine stores and explore yourself.

            1. Marc,

              My answer to your 3 questions plus your 2 PS:

              Do as the Italians do.
              You try it, you like it or you don't.
              Otherwise, gamble at your own risk.

              1. I use cellartracker for reviews and keeping track of all my vino. I actually enjoy reading the tasting notes and scoring from all the cellartracker users. I find that they are more accurate than many of the "pros".

                Before buying any on-line offers I always look up the wine in CT. Gives me average pricing and ratings.

                2 Replies
                1. re: duck833

                  I'm on Cellartracker! too, but it has it's pitfalls. The main one for me is when all those guys with their cellars stuffed with Silver Oak and Opus One try to evaluate wines of styles that do not use much oak or use more finesse.
                  The trick is finding people whose palate match yours. It's like wine critics. There's a guy whose palate is unbelievably like mine on Rhones. I find when I don't like a wine everybody else seems to like it turns out he didn't like it either. And when I find a great wine that no one else seems to like, he likes it to. It's actually kind of eerie some times.
                  There's a few others who shop the K&L close outs like I do and it's nice to see their notes on the wines to see if there's anything I should buy.

                  1. re: SteveTimko

                    Steve, if you don't mind, whose taste on CT do you find mirrors yours in the Rhone varietals? I'd like to compare to see how my own match up. TIA



                2. Cellar Tracker can be a good tool as long as people write notes and post a score. You do need to filter out the guy who writes six notes about the same wine and says 94, 93, 94, etc.

                  A great way to figure it out on your own are larger events that pour good juice. As long as you follow the tasting process and have some talent you will figure out what you like.

                  The competitions are the worst advice you can get on wine as the judges are very rarely qualified and Jay Miller is a close second. Maybe the most uneducated palate in the world at his level.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: redmeatfan

                    >>The competitions are the worst advice you can get on wine as the judges are very rarely qualified and Jay Miller is a close second. Maybe the most uneducated palate in the world at his level.<<

                    Every word of this is true.

                    1. re: redmeatfan

                      Just ran into one of the regular judges at the California State Fair competition and he's pretty knowledgeable. The spouse of a local Chowhound is a Nevada state fair judge and both of them are knowledgeable as well. I think your statement might be a little too broad.

                    2. Listen to your own palate. Taste, and disregard the points, the corks and all other detritus.

                      If you find a reviewer, whose recs. match yours, keep testing them to see if they still like the wines that you like.

                      Good luck,


                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        "The spouse of a local Chowhound is a Nevada state fair judge and both of them are knowledgeable as well. I think your statement might be a little too broad."


                        What is their website and I would like to view their reviews. If you have not set up a site to review with a rubric to qualify what is good and bad then I find it hard for one to be a judge. At the Minnesota wine fest (not that anyone cares) the judges are not qualified and have no website or experience in blind or non blind evaluations of wine.

                        1. re: redmeatfan

                          So, surveying the week-end’s posts, I would say that Chowhounders give some credit to Guides and selective kudos to chosen Critics and Cellar Tracker.

                          Competitions are considered to have too many factors negatively affecting the reliability of their results.

                          Qualified tasting events where one can let one’s own palate decide seem a valued option.

                          Any other suggestions?

                          1. re: Aosta

                            I'd urge one to befriend a good salesperson at a local wine shop, and talk, talk, talk. Tell them when they "hit a homerun," and when they "hit a foul."

                            Next, I'd urge them to do many totally mixed cases. While personally tasting these, look at reviews, and pay attention to the reviewers who "got it right," and also to the ones who "missed it big time."

                            When one has a true baseline, by which to judge a reviewer, they can then use their works.

                            Awards, and medals should carry less weight. I've judged several events, and it CAN be an odd experience. Some are different, than others, but too many have an "agenda." So very much depends on the specific event, and then on the judges for that event.

                            All events that i have judged have been "fair," in that I was never urged to vote one way, or another. I doubt that any other judges were either. Still, there can be great diversity on the panel. This is not always bad, but there were some, where I questioned why/how some folk got there.

                            At the end of the day, it's really about what YOU enjoy, regardless of what a noted critic says, or how many medals some wine got. It is about what YOU enjoy.



                          2. re: redmeatfan

                            "If you have not set up a site to review with a rubric to qualify what is good and bad then I find it hard for one to be a judge."
                            That makes this huge assumption that "what is good" can be quantifiable in some way, like measuring a sprinter with a stop watch, a shot putter with a tape measure or a water filtration system by the number of impurities.
                            On June 5, I tasted a 1989 Pichon Lalande. Everyone else at the table waxed rhapsodic about the glories of the wine. Here's my tasting note:
                            1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (6/5/2009)
                            On the nose, I got wet cardboard and sweaty sock. So it seems my snake-mongoose relationship with Bordeaux varietals will continue. But on the palate, I got flavors I liked. Didn't set off any bells and whistles, but it was pleasant. Cedar, plum, maybe a little bit of leather and earthy. Nice finish The wine was silky and seemed highly structured. Glenn brought it and had pulled the cork before to let it breathe, but I don't know how much air it got before dinner. Glenn felt the wine is drinking at its best now. Imported by Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines
                            None of us was correct or incorrect in our appraisal of the wine. Either because of genetics or how our taste buds were used and/or abused, we tasted the wine differently. I have an acquaintance in San Francisco who loves riesling with what most people would find to be lip searing acidity. I, on the other hand, am especially sensitive to acid so what other people find mildly flabby is right in the zone for me. We can taste the same riesling and give totally contradictory evaluations.
                            I could go on but I think I've made my point. There is no one correct palate to judge a wine. You have to align your palate with someone similar to yours.
                            The judge to which I refer has passed the first part of her master sommelier
                            certification, by the way. Her husband, the Chowhound, was recently named grand champion at a blind wine tasting competition in California.

                            1. re: SteveTimko

                              "What is their website and I would like to view their reviews. If you have not set up a site to review with a rubric to qualify what is good and bad then I find it hard for one to be a judge."

                              I'm not sure I understand how having a website has anything to do with making a person qualified for anything. Does a website automatically give legitimacy to an individual? I don't believe Steve Timko has his own website and he's very wine savvy. Steve has mentioned his friend Glenn, who was in the wine business for years. No website there but he knows as much about wine as anyone I've met, and would certainly be qualified to judge just about any competition.

                              The most knowledgable people in the wine business may not have similar tastes to your own. I've worked with someone who owns a wine store and we don't always agree on wines we like, however, when I've told him what I'm looking for in a chard, or a cab, etc. he inevitably steers me to a wine I enjoy. I've rarely found someone like that in any wine shop.

                              1. re: SteveTimko


                                This mirrors a tasting that I attended some years ago. There were about 30 sommeliers in the room. We tasted four wines. Both were from the same winery and two were whites, while the other two were Cabs. In each case, one was with about 5 years of cellar time on it, while the other, in each varietal, was the then current release.

                                For the white (Chardonnay), I enjoyed the younger, and was the only one to say so. For the Cab, I was the only one, who liked the older one.

                                In the first case, everyone talked about the honeyed notes. They were there, but the wonderful fruit was just too great to pass on, for me. [Note: I love FR Chards with plenty of years on them, so I'm not adverse to older Chards.] With the Cab, I loved the nuances that had developed with the older one, while everyone else went on about the "potential" for the young. Yes, that was probably part of that wine's charm, but when we tasted, it had not delivered - yet. The older example had.

                                Now, imagine me against 30 sommeliers, and having to defend my choices. I did so, though do not think that I changed any minds. It was just 30:1 on both counts. I still stick to my notes and comments. They were how I evaluated each of these four wines. Was I correct and the other 30 wrong? No. I was correct for my palate, and they were for theirs. They may have been weighing other factors, like how a particular wine might age in their employer's cellar, or how it might play to their clients. I was evaluating each on how they presented themselves to me that day. That was all that I could go on. Was I wrong? I don't think so, though I was in the definite minority.



                              2. re: redmeatfan

                                Oops, I think that you replied to me, when you meant Steve Timko. Now, I did declare "wine-thrity" a couple of hours ago, and spent some time confused, until I opened up a few other threads. I could not recall making any of those statements.

                                But hey, you make some good and valid points. Pardon my confusion.



                            2. After many years of trying to figure this out I've concluded that, as many have posted, reviewers MUST be taken in the context of their source, and can only be of value to you if you can somehow calibrate your own likes and dislikes to theirs. This takes time and work, but it can help.

                              What seems to work best is learning enough of the 'vocabulary' of wine tasting to be able to tell a wine merchant what you like. Then you can judge by what they recommend over time. People question all that stuff about gym socks, strawberries and minerals.......... but, if you can master it enough to 'speak the language', it can really help. My greatest compliment, when I had my wine shop, was for a customer to say that I rarely steered them wrong.

                              You also have to understand that different people have different levels of palate sensitivity, experience, and desire to get it right. So........... those are three more things that needs to be calibrated with your 'teacher'.

                              But it's so much fun to learn.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Midlife

                                I agree completely. The difficult part is the calibration, but it can be done.

                                Back in the '60s, there was a movie reviewer for Playboy (quite a voice back then), and I soon learned that almost any motion picture that he loved, would not play well with me. The same for most that he panned - I'd likely enjoy them. I went from hating him, to actually using his reviews, to point me to the good films. Now, I did continue to check him out, from time to time, but found that our tastes were diametrically opposed. As I was a film student back then, I got to view most of the releases, though I did have to write papers on each. His tastes just ran 100% counter to mine. I find similar with some wine critics. What they love, I wonder "wha???", and the wines that they hate, I lay down a case.