Jane Garvey is the Official wine reviewer for the Atlanta Wine School. Since October 2005, Jane has been providing wine reviews that are second-to-none in our business. What makes Jane’s reviews unique? In addition to her monthly selection of wines by theme, her food pairing suggestions for each wine are an invaluable accompaniment to the actual wine write-up.
THIS PAGE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. We intend for this “Wine Finder” page to be a searchable area for finding wines by color, style, price or region.
Receive my review each month via the Atlanta Wine School eNewsletter
About Jane’s Monthly Dozen©
Jane Garvey’s wine reviews have been published on a weekly basis since 1992. In 2005 she began providing this service exclusively for the Atlanta Wine School, an organization that utilizes her speaking & teaching talents as well. Both the school and Jane decided a “higher quality” of wine selection could be employed by changing the review schedule from six wines weekly to twelve wines monthly. Hence January 2007 saw the inception of the Monthly Dozen©.
What Makes this Review Unique?
In an ocean of wine reviews, Jane Garvey not only scores/rates the wines which are published, but she ensures a wine that does NOT attain the score of 85 is left out of the review. Why? Who has time to read about mediocre wines–no one is going to buy a wine scoring less than 85 anyway.
Moreover, the reviews provide detailed tasting notes, wholesale supplier (for ease of ordering), retail price, and suggested food pairings. Wine reviews simply don’t address the culinary opportunities in general–Jane’s column nails them.
How are the Wines Scored/Rated? Or What Jane Really Thinks of Wine Scores and How She Uses Them!
Rating wines–indeed rating anything from films to books–is a process fraught with turmoil. Many readers will disagree with the system one devises. I’ve used everything from letter grades to stars to popped corks in rating wines, and I find the business of ratings dissatisfying and wish I didn’t have to do it.
While I recognize that it makes assessing information quicker, it can also lead to lazy readership. For instance, I once did an article on sweet wines, which I feel don’t get the understanding they deserve. It’s an intellectual pose, in my view, to discredit all sweet wines, when, in fact, the issues of balance with acidity and other components is just as important as with dry wines. But as sweet wines work wonders with spicy and Asian fare, I did this article and rated wines using a letter score. I then had an e-mail from a couple who had gone out and bought the wines, tasted one, and wrote me in disapproval: “But they’re SWEET.”
Obviously, they had not read the column; only the ratings. So I told them that if they really disliked the wines, they could exchange them for something else, but that before doing so they should get some Asian food or Mexican food, and try one again. This they dutifully did, and wrote back to say they were STUNNED at the pairing, and couldn’t believe how good it was. They kept the wines.
Sometimes it pays to read the entire wine column. Not just the ratings.
Or then there’s the story about the fellow up in D.C. who ordered a bunch of 90 and above rated wines, and when they arrived, called his retailer in dismay to protest: But they’re all WHITE!!!!! Obviously, he, too, had not read the prose; just the ratings.
That’s just ONE reason why I dislike ratings. Another is my quarrel with some raters’ process. I simply don’t think one can rate several hundred wines at a sitting. Even the deities would have trouble with this assignment, never mind a mere mortal.
Then, there’s the issue of which bottle rated when? Wine is a living thing. Like other living things, it evolves. And like other living things, wine can hit a “dumb phase.” Anybody who’s been around an adolescent more than a few days knows about the “dumb phase” us human beings can get into. Wine is no different. Australian Semillons are a classic example of this, often lying dormant for as much as five years, before emerging with all motors running and sporting a vibrant neon-backed lemon jello color. So when, along the wine’s life, was it rated? During a “dumb phase?” Obviously, then, the score is not likely to be very high.
I recall a Merlot that, when first opened for an Easter dinner, appeared to be DOA. “Wait a minute,” I counseled. “Let’s give it a second.” In a mere 20 minutes, the wine was a-bloom with flavors. The reviewer who’s got to get through several hundred wines in a day’s work might well miss its true character, as in 20 minutes, he or she is on to several more wines.
Think that’s only about reds? Well, it’s not.
Colleagues gathered to evaluate Champagnes for a tasting panel all found that, as they were concluding their work, the wines had both warmed up and opened up. But those evaluations could not be changed as they had been turned in, and nearly everyone agreed they might have been higher had they waited awhile.
Other matters than can skew a rater’s evaluation include glass quality, glass volume & shape (think Riedel), a presence of dish washing liquid, or just plain stinky glasses.
So what do I, as a reviewer, operating most of the time solo, and not tasting blind do?
1. I taste no more than two or three wines at a time. Three max.
2. I taste each wine individually, and before tasting each with any food.
3. I look for flaws that would let a wine out of the running altogether, and if the wine passes muster at that point, I start to take notes on what aromas and flavors I see. These can change over the course of the evaluation, as the wine opens.
4. I look for characters that are out of balance. For example: Is the acidity too high? (That can be offset with rich foods, but will lower the score.). Or too low? Is the oak out of hand? (I especially dislike oak-governed wines, or those that show obvious and excessive American oak with too much coconut, caramel and vanilla.) Is the varietal expression correct to type? Is the wine seamless or disjointed? (It might come together over the course of the evaluation, or not–and a not will lower the score.) What happens in mid palate? How does it finish? What is the sense of alcohol?
5. I taste wines in either Riedel or Spiegelau stemware, and I try to select a glass that will favor the wine type. If there is no specific glass, I’ll use the Riedel Zinfandel glass, which often is used in competitions when one glass type must serve all purposes. Too many times, I’ve seen shape of glass radically affect how a wine tastes.
6. Next, if the wine has passed the first taste muster, comes its ability to pair with food. I will have several dishes reflecting a variety of seasonings, flavors, textures and, often, temperatures to pair with each wine. How does the wine affect the food and vice versa? In an ideal moment, the wine and the food will both taste better in each other’s presence. I may make other estimates of food pairings based on what I see in the dishes I have assembled, but most of the time, what you read worked in my palate, or it’s not there.
7. Finally, I often taste wines the next day, having corked them and placed them in the refrigerator or on ice. (I use neither gas nor any other preservation method, and don’t recommend them.) I then taste the wines, especially reds, the next day before finalizing my rating, to see how much they have evolved. My epiphany in this department came while tasting a D’Arenberg “Darry’s Original,’ a Grenache/Syrah blend from Australia. I had opened the bottle at my brother’s house to go with some barbecue. We both felt the wine was indifferent, and I corked it to set it aside–un-refrigerated in that case. Two whole days later, I had acquired some lamb rogan josh, and decided to re-taste the wine with the dish. OHMYWORD!!!! What had seemed utterly characterless had acquired spice and depth of flavor that were unimaginable just two days earlier.
8. Does price factor into the equation? Yes, it does, but keeping in mind the quantities produced. Wines that status-seeking consumers chase because their names appear on exclusive lists aren’t reviewed here, but wines that may be scarce or hard to find sometimes are if they are worth the search. You’ll see terms like “great value,” and they may occur on wines that are priced in the $20s or $30s, if at the end of the day, it seems appropriate relative to other wines in the genre.
With all that said, the ratings for each wine reflect the following:
Classic, outstanding wines that one can’t envision being improved in any way, shape or form.
Exceptional wines that surprise and delight at every sip, that exceptionally express the varietal character of the grapes from which they were made.
Very good wines that are soundly made prove very worthy with food, and offer a measure of excitement.
Good wines, soundly made, varietally correct, that do well with food and offer solid pleasure and a good price/quality ratio.