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Policies, Procedures, Standards

EssentailNorthwestWines.com tasting policies and procedures.

My tasting policies.

As a wine writer and critic, it is important that I make clear my philosophies of tasting, reviewing, reporting, and writing. Within the wine writing community there is continual concern over issues of fairness, independence, objectivity, and judgement. There is no formal wine writer’s code of ethics—different writers and critics hold different standards and accept different degrees of approval and/or controversy. I think the important point for readers is to have access to a writer’s “statement of standards,” and then to decide for themselves what credibility to assign to the writer.

This page is my own statement of standards. Open the toggle bars below for more explanation, and/or click here to access a single-page summary of my tasting policies, procedures, and standards.

Using ENW Report Cards

Essential Northwest Wine Report Cards are the vehicle for delivering my wine reviews. Reviewing a wine—evaluating its characteristics and communicating that assessment—is inherently personal. My purpose in writing wine reviews is to convey as accurately and expressively as I can, how I experience a particular wine. You will, by definition, experience the same wine differently.

Since there are far more Northwest wines available than any of us can regularly drink, it is helpful to look for guidance in making a wine buying decision. My wine reviews are intended to be such guidance. Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, so you can’t evaluate a wine by the look of its label. My reviews give you one indication of what a wine’s character is, from my point of view.

ENW Report Cards, then, can provide a kind of advance look at a wine you may be curious about, but didn’t want to spend the $45 to try. Over time, a wine reviewer can become a benchmark against which you can evaluate the similarity between your palate and the palate of the reviewer in order to find wines best suited for you. If you find that you also like the wines I review most positively, then you can use me as a positive guide to finding wines you’ll love. If, however, you discover that the wines I like least are the ones you favor most, then use me as a reverse buying guide—avoid the wines I like most, and go for those I like least!

Source of Reviewed Wines

The majority of wines tasted for these reviews were provided by the producing winery or their agents. I regularly solicit samples from Northwest wineries for potential review at EssentialNorthwestWines.com. I most certainly could not afford to purchase all the wines I review myself! These wines are provided to me at no cost, and purely at the discretion of individual wineries. There is no obligation on my part to review a submitted wine. I do also purchase wines for inclusion in EssentialNorthwestWines.com as I see fit in order to achieve a broader selection, or to include specific wines not submitted. Whether a winery submits wines or not has no influence whatsoever on my review or grade. Library wines are sourced from my cellar or through donations from a variety of sources.

Tasting Procedures

Generally, all wines are tasted blind. I do not know the producer, only the vintage and variety, or style (if a blend). This is not strictly the case at all times. There is controversy about the value of blind tasting (where the taster is not influenced by knowing the producer) versus tasting when you know the producer (where the taster can take into account context of grape source, and winemaking style). In some instances wines reviewed in EssentialNorthwestWines.com will have been tasted knowing the producer. In all cases, wines are tasted exclusively by me with every effort to be as objective as possible, without the input of other tasters, and only at my home office. When possible, wines are tasted over a 24-hour period to see how they hold up. I do not publish graded reviews of barrel samples or wines tasted during winery visits.

ENW Report Card Grading System

I am not fond of wine scoring. I consider it disingenuous to claim that the difference between an 88-point wine and an 89-point wine (for instance) can be consistently evaluated across all wine styles at all times by independent tasters. I evaluate wines within a broader band of differentiation than a “point.” If the market demands some manner of wine scoring (and I believe it does) in order to aid wine buying decisions and provide a means of comparison, then I want a system that doesn’t imply the chimerical precision of a 100-point rating.

Every wine scoring system is imprecise (despite claims to the contrary) and has flaws, including mine. But if you’re going to have a system, then you have to put your stake in the ground somewhere. Here’s where I’m putting mine: For EssentialNorthwestWines.com I am adapting the system I used with my Oregon Wine Report from 1998 to 2006. It is a simple system that we all understand: a report card grade.

A+ (Perfection) Is there such a wine? An A+ wine is one whose special character shines in all aspects, making it a transcendent tasting experience, the memory of which will linger for years.

A (Great) A rare and memorable wine that delivers an ineffably distinguished character: complexity, refinement, power, elegance, purity—the first wine that comes to mind when someone asks “What’s the best wine you’ve had this year?”

A- (Excellent) A distinctive wine whose aromas, fruitiness, and flavor accents are complex, yet harmonious, with admirable depth, force, and length that make for a richly satisfying tasting experience that cries out for more sipping—or an immediate trip back to the wine shop before it is sold out.

B+ (Fine) A notable wine with a distinct character and pleasurable qualities that stand out on the nose and palate. It will have a sense of energy to the flavors, evenness of integration and balance in its elements, and noticeable length and varietal purity (if it is a varietal wine).

B (Very Good) When there’s no question about the quality and desirability of a wine in your mouth, when you find noticeable appeal in one or two elements of the wine (it could be polish, depth, complexity, texture, length, or . . .?), then you have a B level wine.

B- (Good) A wine that stimulates an enhanced level of desire or curiosity, one whose flavors and character are noticeably positive, varietally correct, and which incite you to take another sip—soon.

C+ (Above Average) A wine that minimally displays appropriate fruit flavors and acceptable balance among its various elements. It should also possess one pleasing element that raises it a notch above the average—something that causes a slight eyebrow raise, or the desire to take another sip.

C (Acceptable) An ordinary wine that displays no obvious faults, but also nothing notable to recommend it, beyond the commonplace experience of an undistinguished glass of vino. Not a bad wine, just a ho-hum wine.

C- (Questionable) A wine with an issue. Though the wine may not have an overt fault, it does have at least one undesirable note that makes you question its soundness. For example, off aromas, excessive tannin, un-fruity or unpleasant flavors.

Site Intentions

Inform, enthuse, incite are the three goals of EssentialNorthwestWines.com

A key objective of this website is to offer you a well of information into which the you can dip your ladle of curiosity and drink your fill of Northwest wine information.

. . . Okay, I worked a bit too hard on that last sentence (must be one too many glasses of Walla Walla Valley syrah) . . .

Basically, what I’m trying to do here is offer you a resource to learn about the wines and wine countries of the Pacific Northwest, and ultimately to share your experiences with other Northwest wine-curious folks.

I’ve been writing about Northwest wines for 15 years and I’ve still only peeled back one or two layers of what there is to know about this fascinating region. I thoroughly believe that the more information you have about a subject, the deeper your appreciation for it becomes and the better equipped you are to make decisions about it—in this case wine buying and wine touring decisions.

Informing you about all facets of Northwest wine is the first intention of this site.

Sharing enthusiasm for Northwest wines is a second intention. Wine should be fun, and discovering new wine regions and fresh wines should be exciting. If I wasn’t personally enthusiastic about the wines of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Idaho, I wouldn’t be spending my time writing about them.

By explaining just what it is about this region, its terroirs, its people, and its wines that I find fascinating—and by offering you my opinions, perspectives, and wine reviews—I hope that my enthusiasm will rub off on you. (If you’re worried that my keenness compromises my objectivity—that I’m too much of a cheerleader—then please read about my philosophy).

Finally, I’d like the knowledge and enthusiasm you gain here to incite your curiosity and action. I want this site to stimulate your interest to delve deeper into Northwest wines and continually learn new things about them. I want this site to inspire you to go out and discover new Northwest wines, wineries, and wine countries—and even prompt you to visit the varied terroirs of the Pacific Northwest and its wine countries.