By now, you’re probably bored of the numerous “Best of 2019” recaps. No matter the genre, there’s a list: Best movies, best novels, biggest stories. It’s enough to make me reach for a glass of something ordinary, just to drown the feeling of having missed out on so much.
So while this article is going to include a few highlights from the past year, I’m going to focus more on the year to come. After all, it is the season for resolutions. How many have you broken already?
As a regular contributor, I’m responsible for reviewing the wines of Southern France (Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence and the Rhône Valley), Australia and New Zealand. That’s a lot of wines. So many that sometimes it’s hard to find time to taste wines from outside of those regions. But I think in order to do a good job reviewing those wines, it’s also necessary to have a decent understanding of wines from other parts of the world.
How can I realistically assess an Australian Nebbiolo or Sangiovese unless I’m familiar with Italian versions? Or a New Zealand Pinot Noir without tasting some from Burgundy, California, or Oregon? Readers want to know how the wines I review measure up—not just within their regions, but globally. This leads me to Resolution #1: Taste more broadly.
Not only will this help me put the wines I review in better context, it should provide some highlight-reel moments. This year, five of the most memorable wines I tried came from outside the regions I cover: 1920 Blandys Bual Madeira, 1988 Haut-Brion, 1994 Taylor Port, 2000 Gaja Barbaresco and 2006 Castello di Ama L’Apparita.
Within the confines of my “beats,” I published reviews of 4,127 wines this year, and probably tasted another couple of hundred that I didn’t waste time writing up. Plus several hundred I haven’t written up yet, and a looming backlog of samples that has taken over my home office. And did I mention that I’ve entirely neglected important wine-producing regions ostensibly in my purview, like Corsica?
So that leads me to Resolution #2: Review more selectively. Given the limitations on my time relative to the sheer number of wines produced in my regions, I’m going to have to say “No” more often. It might be to a producer who hasn’t measured up in the past, or to an unknown importer, or to a producer who wants to monopolize my time by showing me dozens of wines in a single sitting. Or it might be in the context of a big tasting, after which I only write detailed notes on wines I strongly recommend, and simply list the others as “Also tasted.”
The challenge to doing this is finding the proper balance between reviewing wines from producers with long track records of excellence, and discovering new or up-and-coming producers. Every year, when I conduct my appellation-by-appellation blind tastings in the Rhône Valley, I select some of the top performers to visit individually and highlight the following year. Without this process, I might not have visited several estates that made waves in my reports this year, yet this means that some producers either get bumped off the list, my visits are shortened, or my trips become longer. A first-world problem, to be sure, but one that’s difficult to resolve.
Closely related to Resolution #2, I’ve found that it sometimes can take several months before I publish my reviews. In the case of certain wines, at certain times of the year, that can mean the reviews are not in consumers’ hands as quickly as might be optimal. What good are reviews of Provence rosés if they’re not delivered until after summer? (Thankfully, I avoided that this year.)
Resolution #3: Publish reviews of wines within eight weeks of tasting. If I find myself with a larger backlog, that will be an indication that I’m probably not being selective enough, and I’ll be ruthless in thinning the herd. This should help consumers get the information they need in time to acquire the top wines.
Before moving on to my final resolution, here’s a quick list of my year’s top-scoring wines from bottle for the trophy hunters out there (all 100 points):
Resolution #4: Be an advocate for wine consumers in a way that goes beyond wine recommendations. We tried to make a start on this with my article on the Adelaide Hills bushfires and how consumers could help the affected region, but this might also include such topics as spotlighting restaurants that pay special attention to wine selection and service, and helping promote the responsible consumption of wine in everyday life. If you have further ideas on what I or The Wine Advocate can contribute, please let me know via the comments section on my bio page here.