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EPICUREAN TASTING ROOM is the wine section of Epicurean-Traveler.com, featuring reviews, commentary and feature articles concerning our favorite subject.
How many times have you found yourself staring at a winelist, dumbstruck by the prices and feeling like a fool? It's no wonder wine is intimidating to most people. As the host, it's the only "food" you have to order for the whole table. Your guests are relying on your expertise. Your reputation is on the line. When that bottle is popped, you're either going to look like a sophisticate or a bumpkin. We've all been there at one time or another. Worst of all, when it's at a restaurant, it's costing you a small fortune - two to three times retail! Many people will play it safe by ordering one of the most expensive bottles. In fact, I know a restaurateur who lowered the markup on wine, only to have wine sales decline. Why? Perceived value. If it's expensive it must be good. The fact of the matter is that every week our panel finds inexpensive wines that out perform their more expensive counterparts. That's real value.
This is where the wine critic can provide an invaluable service. A good wine critic can save you a bundle. And while a knowledgable critic can add to your understanding of wine, you may be surprised to learn that a good critic doesn't even have to know much about his or her subject to be effective. All that is required of a critic is that he or she be consistent. I know one wine writer (who will remain anonymous) whose tastes are admirably consistent - anything he likes, I know I'll dislike. And that's not a criticism. A wine critic, after all, is no different than a movie critic. You'll find a few with whom you agree more than others. These are the critics you should trust and whose recommendations you can rely on.
The Epicurean Tasting Panel has been a model of consistency since it's inception in 1996. Throughout the year we rate new releases, ferreting out the best quality, as well as the best bargains of the new releases. You will not find any truly negative reviews - there are so many good wines to recommend we don't waste our time, or yours, with negative reviews. [Read about what the ratings really mean]
As I said before, you have to find a critic who agrees with your personal tastes. Nobody can tell you that your tastes are wrong. Only you can know what your tastebuds tell you, good, bad, or indifferent. Now, hopefully you'll find that our tastes coincide.
are we, and how do we taste?
I won't fool you, though - the ratings and the notes are solely my responsibility. I'm the resident "expert" - more about my qualifications later. Typically I taste the wines blind, spitting and making notes. Then I invite the panel in and listen to their comments and preferences as they taste (they don't spit), taking a second look at the wines myself. It gives me a good grounding in what the average consumer is looking for in a wine.
There's also another good reason to taste with a panel. I was a founding member of the Bon Appetit Magazine Tasting Panel, a group of 8 wine professionals who tasted 40 wines every Wednesday morning for a decade. Tasting with the same panel for a long period of time allows you to rely on each member's strengths. Each panelist has a different threshold tolerance for certain faults in a wine. I'm particularly sensitive to corked wines, ethyl acetate, and bretanomyces, but I'm relatively insensitive to high levels of sulphur dioxide and moderate levels of volatile acidity. So it's important to listen to the complaints of fellow panelists.
should you trust my judgement?
not just tasting notes!
You'll also be in for a visual treat, as well. I'm in love with photo illustration. My photographs have graced the covers of wine books, more than three dozen magazines and countless interior pages, and I must say that I prefer the look of photographs on my laptop more than on the printed page. The colors jump out; the photos seem almost three-dimensional.
I want to pass on to you my passion for wine. It's more than just a beverage - it's a fascinating, multi-disciplinary subject, integrating history, biography, viticulture, botany, geography, geology, micro-meteorology, chemistry, sensuality and human endeavor. It's part science, part art, and it engages the senses. It's also just plain fun!
How much will all of this cost you? Not one red cent! Nada. Zip. (Although you might mention me in your will).
Now, if you'd like to see what I'm talking about, scroll to the top of the page and click over to my wine blog, wine picks for the month, or return to the homepage to access links to articles on wine under the WINE column. Note that articles on wine touring are found under the TRAVEL column.