The Selection Process at Wine of the Month Club

“Paul, I am amazed at the consistency of quality in the wines you send me. Yes, there is an occasional bottle I do not agree with you on, but by and large, you surprise me every time. How do you select your wines?”

– J.L.H.; San Diego

Thanks for the concurrence. I amaze myself sometimes!

It has been rewarding to see the improvement in reorder levels of the featured wines over the 14 years of my doing this. I consider that ratio as my acid test for the selection process I use. And, of course I am always aware of the fact that there will be a wine here and there that will not please one member or another. That is inevitable.

So what do I do?

First, I expose myself to as many wines as I possibly can! I will attend trade tastings of wineries, brokers, wholesalers, importers, trade commissions, as I possibly can include in my calendar. I travel to wine growing regions as much as I can, to do the same “on location”. At our warehouse, I am visited often by representatives from all these entities, with wines for me to taste. All these have added up to about 1,500 to 3,000 wines a year. Mind you, these are not necessarily all the wines available in any one year in the California market (both domestic and import). They are just the ones I can get to!

The typical session can be from 1 wine to 150 wines, and last from 2 minutes to 4 hours. I tend to lose my palate definitely after 150 wines, and sometimes it is tired after 80. And anything over 4 hours is just stupid to attempt. I spit out every wine I put in my mouth, and I use a small piece of plain French bread as a palate clearing agent. At the marathon tastings I end up eating a lot of bread!

Now for the selection process:

There are at least five systems that use a point scale to grade wines. The best known is the 20-point California State Fair scale which I reproduced in the December 1985 issue of this newsletter. The others are a 100-point scale, a 10-point scale, a 5-point scale, and a 2-point scale.

For my first encounter with a wine, or a group of wines, or a host of them, I use the 2 point system. It is simple. 1 point for “no” and 2 points for “yes”… or plain no/yes! I take into consideration the type of wine that it is, how well it shows itself as typical, any special interesting attributes, and its price. I sometimes call this my “Would I ask for more-more-more of this wine?” criterion.

This first screening usually narrows down the wines I have tasted to about 2,096 of the total.

The “yes” wines are reexamined in like groups of price level and type, at subsequent occasions from samples submitted by the various entities. At this point, an elimination process is used, rather than one of the point systems, taking additional attributes into consideration. The numerical point systems do not always work well here, because of the price/value ratio which I always take into consideration. They are most useful in blind tastings, at wine competitions.

Once the wine is selected, a third pass at the wine is made from a fresh bottle to confirm the decision and to write the tasting notes.

And believe me, it is intensive work!

-P.K.

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