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Natalie's Wine Reviews FAQ

What are Natalie's Wine Reviews?
Where do I subscribe to the reviews?
Why should I subscribe to the reviews?
How are the reviews and newsletter different?
How do you review wines?
How do you score wines?
What do the codes mean on your reviews?
Why don't you review the entire Vintages release?
Do you review wines from the Classics Catalogue?
How do I find the wines you recommend where I live?
How do I find the wines you recommend in the LCBO?
When do you post your reviews online for each release?
How do I create my own shopping list?
Which wines should I cellar?
Search Tips: How do I find a wine on your site?
How do I renew my subscription each year?
How do I find a wine from a particular year?
Do you recommend organic wines?
How do I give a gift subscription to a friend?
I forgot my password?
How do I submit a wine for you to review?
Do for you offer a PDA, Blackberry and mobile format?
I have a question that's not answered here.

What are Natalie's Wine Reviews?

Each year, I publish at least 30 sets of wine reviews. This includes all of the Vintages releases and the rest are from the general list. These reviews are available to subscribers for $2.10 a month. To see a sample of these reviews, click here.

Where do I subscribe to the reviews?

To subscribe to the Natalie's Wine Reviews, please click here.

Why should I subscribe to the reviews?

For $2.10 a month (the cost of a cappuccino), you're guaranteed to get the inside track on how to find delicious, reasonably priced wines. And if these reviews help you to avoid buying even one bad bottle a year, your subscription will pay for itself. As a subscriber to the wine reviews, you'll get:

  • My concise and unbiased monthly reviews of wines that are widely available and reasonably priced, many in the $10-$15 range. These will include a good mix of red and white wines, bubblies and dessert wines.

  • If you enjoy more mature wines, I also review pricier bottles that are cellar-worthy.

  • You'll get helpful details such as food matches, prices, alcohol levels and scores.

  • More than 50,000 wines searchable by price, score, tasting note and food pairings.

  • More than 6,000 wines under $15.

Find out what current subscribers say about why they subscribe about Natalie's wine reviews.

How are the reviews and newsletter different?

The Nat Decants Wine Reviews, posted on a password-protected area of my web site for subscribers, will include all of the wines I describe and rate each month. The e-mail newsletter, which is free, has articles, events, recipes and links, but not the reviews (although it will alert you to when the reviews are posted on the site each month). You can sign up for the Wine Reviews anytime, even if you did not do so when you signed up for the newsletter.

How do you review wines?

Every year, I taste thousands of wines and whittle these down to those I believe are worthy of your attention. Often, I only choose one wine for every 10-15 that I taste so I'm doing a lot of filtering for you.

I feel that my tasting notes are more important than the scores. I may rate a pinot noir at 95 out of 100 because it's a fantastic example of its type, but if you don't like silky, medium-bodied wines, then who cares about a high score? You need to check that the style is what you want: full-bodied or light? fruit flavors that you enjoy? oak? acidity? Don't just drink the numbers.

You'll also notice that I'm not into exotic fruit. I haven't smelled jingleberries, have you? Okay, perhaps you have, but I try to keep within the everyday realm of fruit and other aromas so that they're easily understood. The flip side is that you'll notice that some fruit are repeated. But I promise never to compare a wine to a gerbil cage.

Matching wine with food is really important to me because wine is about context: good meals, good friends and good conversation. The drink dates are when I believe that the wine is ready for drinking up to the time after which it will fade. When I quote from the Vintages catalogue in my wine reviews, I put VC before the quote. These notes are then separated with the words "My note" to distinguish my comments.

Each release now has more than 200 wines, and the Vintages catalogue recommends them all because they want you to consider buying all of the wines that they sell. However, as an independent journalist, I taste all of the wines but only recommend a certain number per release. I weed out the poorly made and over-priced wines and give you unbiased recommendations of only the most delicious and reasonably priced wines.

I hope that these reviews lead you to wonderful bottles that are shared with friends who don't keep score. Wine is a mighty subjective thing: Taste and see if you agree.

How do you score wines?

I use a scale of 100 points, although the wines that I'll recommend will all have scores of 80 to 100. Wines scored 80 and above are all worth drinking: it's up to you to decide your own cut-off point and whether a wine at 86 is worth $12, $17 or $25+.

So how much better is a wine scored 86 than one scored 85? That's a tough one to answer since the whole exercise in rating wines isn't scientific. I'm just trying to put a number on a subjective experience mainly because that's what many people want. And I don't blame them: Grades are an easy-to-understand shorthand that recognize how busy we are these days. Fussing over 100-point scales versus 5-star or 20-point scales is just plain silly.

Generally, 80-84 means that I think the wine is good, pleasant, something you'd be happy to bring to a casual get together with friends or to drink on a weeknight. Those scored 85-89 are delicious with some interesting flavors and textures. The range of 90-94 means that the wine gives me pause: It's lovely, rich in character, unique, complex. A wine 95-100 means that it's extraordinary, spectacular, words fail to capture it, your eyes will get that distant look when you remember it.

Natalie's 100-Point Scale

95-100 Brilliant, Exceptional
90-94 Excellent, Superb
85-89 Very Good
80-84 Good (still worth buying and drinking)

Favorite Wines: This isn't necessarily the wine with the highest score, as high scores go to the wines that best typify their region and style. Rather my favorite wines are just that: the ones that appeal to me most personally and to my own taste.

Best Value Wines: Not necessarily the cheapest wine, but the one that maximizes the price-quality ratio. Although I don't always go by strict mathematical ratios on this either, but rather what seems to me to represent tremendous value.

What do the codes mean on your reviews?

The level of sweetness in the wine is represented by the following levels:

XD = Extra Dry
D = Dry
MD = Medium Dry
M = Medium
S = Sweet

The residual sugar in wine (the amount left over after fermentation) may also be expressed numerically, with 0 for a completely dry wine, “1” stands for 1 gram of sugar per liter of wine for a wine with 0.1% residual sugar and ranging up to 25 grams/liter or more for a very sweet wine. Most dry-tasting red and white wines have residual sugar levels of 0, 1 or 2 or expressed alphabetically XD or D.

Product Codes

This is the multi-digit number (i.e. 654768) noted under the sweetness level near the bottom of each wine's detailed description page. Product codes are used LCBO stores and several other chains, but not everywhere. They are different from the UPC code which is scanned at check-out. Often the LCBO will use the same product code for a wine even when the vintages change on the shelf.

Why don't you review the entire Vintages release?

Why not include wines that I would rate under 80? They're not worth your time: Who wants to keep track of all the bad wines when there are thousands of good ones?

Do you review wines from the Classics Catalogue?

I don't get to taste the Classics Catalogue wines as I do those wines in the Vintages and general list sections, so all we both have to go on are the descriptions in the catalogue.

How do I find the wines you recommend where I live?

Most of the wines I recommend are widely available around the world. I wish I had the time (and staff) to track inventories by province, but alas I am human and so I taste and review as many good wines as I can so that there are plenty to choose from. In fact, you won't find closely matched inventories between your local stores and any publication or site. Inventory blues are bemoaned by many wine lovers (and wine writers) ... however, there are ways around it.

Here's a suggestion that will work if you give it a try: Go through my reviews and click on “Add To My List” for wines that suit your taste and budget. I suggest creating a list that has at least 40-50 wines and then your chances of finding at least 5-10 terrific wines are very good. While this may not sound like a high “hit rate,” it still gives you lots of variety and these are guaranteed to be wines that won't disappoint you as compared to randomly choosing wines off the liquor store shelf.

Then all you do is click on your Shopping List. Visit your local liquor store with the best selection. Get to know one knowledgeable staff member who can find the wine in the store, order it for you or suggest wines of similar style.

Those who have a local contact like this, often just e-mail, fax or call with their wine wish list and then pick up their wine purchases when they're ready to go. Shopping is fast and easy. This is how I shop myself.

Another quick way to find these wines is online via the winery's web site that I try to include with each review. E-mail producers to ask if they'll ship their wines directly to you or tell you who your closest agent or retailer is. You can also click on the links to the searchable inventories of the major liquor stores around the world that I've posted here. For a listing of more wine stores, click here.

Many stores also have customer hotlines and can tell you when a wine might be coming into their store or give you the name and contact of the importer who represents the brand.

Another alternative is to order the wines online if you live in an area where direct shipping is legal. Another great way to find which retailers stock a wine is www.wine-searcher.com
and www.winefetch.com. You can visit the winery's own web site to see which retailers or agents represent the wine near you.

How can I buy a Canadian wine when I don't live in Canada?

In the U.S., the retailer The Cuvee specializes in selling and shipping Canadian wines to American customers. To buy Canadian wines that they don't stock or if you live outside the U.S., your best bet is to contact the winery directly for shipping possibilities. There are many restrictions but it could be possible. The winery may have a representative where you live, or at least in your country, which may be easier for shipping. I have a list of Links to Canadian wineries on my web site that you may find helpful.

How do I find the wines you recommend in the LCBO?

The wines I review are all available in the LCBO. To find the wines in a particular LCBO store, call 800-ONT-LCBO. They'll tell you if there's any wine left and which stores have it along with their phone numbers so that you can either drop by to pick it up, or if it's out of your area, call to request a store transfer to an outlet close to you.

The hotline is also a good resource to use when you're looking for a wine that the LCBO doesn't carry because they may be able to tell you the name and phone number of the sales person in Ontario who represents the wine. You may then be able to order a case of the wine directly from the agent.

If you live in Ontario, but not Toronto or Ottawa, you can still get some of the better wines even if your local LCBO doesn't have a large Vintages section. You can request these wines before the release, but you need to do it by Tuesday at 11 am before the release on Saturday. A percentage of stock is set aside for customers outside these metropolitan areas.

I've included the LCBO product numbers that apply broadly across Canada, but perhaps not elsewhere. Keep in mind that as the vintage or year changes on the wine stocked on the shelf, the LCBO product code stays the same. So I could recommend a particular wine from a great year and you may find that wine in the store, but from the next vintage. It could, as a result, be very different from the one I recommended, based on the weather the following year.

How do I find the distributor, importer or winery agent for a wine?

I've developed an extensive list of wine agents here. You can also call the LCBO's helpline at 800-ONT-LCBO or 1-416-365-5900 they should be able to tell you the name and phone number of the importer or sales rep who represents this brand in Ontario. I also have a partial list of wine retailers and distributors in my Links section. You may find it helpful to e-mail or call some of them.

How do I become a distributor, importer and winery agent?

Steven Trenholm teaches an excellent course in Toronto. Even if you don't live in Ontario, you may want to contact him at cstrenholme@sympatico.ca to ask for his suggestions on finding similar courses in other regions.

When do you post your reviews online for each release?

I pre-taste the wines that will be released each month on a Wednesday about a week and half before the first Saturday release, unless there's a change because of holidays etc. Release tastings don't always follow the monthly calendar: for example, February 28 and March 14 may be grouped together rather than the two releases in February and the two in March.

The tasting itself, about 200 wines, takes a full day to do. Then it takes me about two days to compile my notes, find food matches and recipes and post the reviews online. If I'm not traveling or there's no other interference, I usually get the first set up by Friday evening and the next set up by Monday. Sometimes, I'm earlier than this in posting them.

My newsletter with both sets of reviews goes out the next day, Tuesday morning, around 7 am, and you have until that morning at 11 am to pre-order wines you want from the first release if you live in Ontario but but outside Toronto and Ottawa. These wines are delivered to your closest LCBO on the release day (call 800-ONT-LCB0). You're two weeks ahead of the game for the second release which will also be in that newsletter.

To find the latest set of reviews, "Choose Review Date" from the drop-down menu at the top of the Wine Reviews homepage.

Here are the remaining Saturday release dates for 2010. I've grouped together in twos the way they're grouped together when I pre-taste them so that you can estimate when I'll be posting them online according to the info above, unless there's a change in either the release date or when the tasting is held. In brackets, I've indicated the date of my monthly newsletter, which is usually the first Tuesday of the month:

- May 29 and June 12 (May 25)
- June 26 and July 10 (June 22)
- July 24 and August 7 (July 20)
- August 21 and Sept 4 (August 17)
- September 18 and Oct 2 (Sept 14) This one may be get delayed to Sept 16
- October 16 and 30 (October 12)
- November 13 and 27 (November 9)
- December 11 (December 7)

It sometimes takes an extra week or so to find and upload all the individual bottle shots, but I assume you want the shopping lists of reviews as soon as you can get rather than waiting for all the pretty pictures :)

There are also almost 10 general list tastings each year. I'll post those online together with the closest Vintages release tasting that I do and notify you of that in the newsletter.

I've tied my web site's RSS feed to when I post the reviews so that you'll know immediately when I've posted them if you click on the orange RSS button and subscribe to that service.

How do I create my own shopping list?

When you see a wine you like, click on the link that says "Add to my list." If you're looking at the web page dedicated to one wine, then click on the link that says "Add to my shopping list."

You can add as many wines as you like to your shopping list and they can be from different sets of wine reviews. When you're finished creating your list, click on the words "Shopping List" near the top of the page. If you're on the page dedicated to one wine, click on the link that says "View my shopping list."

This takes you to a web page that shows you the wines that you've selected to create your own custom, text-only shopping list. You can copy and paste the text into a document and save it electronically. You can also click on the words "Print Shopping list."

If you want to remove one wine or several wines (or all of them) you can do so by clicking on "Remove" beside the particular wine or "Remove All Wines" at the top of the list.

If you create the shopping list at home on your computer, it will be saved under your account. So if you log in using your mobile device in the liquor store, your shopping list will still be there.

Which wines should I cellar?

How long do wines age? When should I drink this wine? Are vintage charts useful?

The right time to drink wine depends on the region, the climate that year and the wine's longevity. I've suggested maturity dates for the wines I recommend that I think will age well.

I also suggest that you consult a vintage chart online, such as the excellent one from Berry Brothers & Rudd. You can also pick up one of two excellent pocket guides to wine vintages: Hugh Johnson's or Oz Clark's They will tell you whether it was a good year for almost every good bottle on the market and whether the wine needs more age or may be over the hill. Keep in mind that 99% of wines are made are meant to be consumed within a year or two of buying them.

You can also check the articles section of my site for more advice.

Search Tips: How do I find a wine on your site?

Here are some tips for finding wines on my site:

- You can choose one or multiple criteria for your search

- From the drop-down menu called "Top Picks," you can choose the wines I've chosen as either the "Top Value" (generally the lowest priced and under $15) or "Top Rated" (highest scores, generally over 90).

- "Shopping List" is the list that you create by clicking on individual wines and adding them to your own shopping list. You can save this list or print it.

- "Create List" converts the latest set of reviews for a particular date into a text-only shopping list that you can save or print

- Clicking on any of these words just above the list of wines will sort the wines according to that criterion: Price, Score, Winery, Region, Country, Vintage, Maturity

- Click on any of the words above again to reverse the sort, ie from lowest to highest price for the first click on "Price"; then from highest to lowest price for the second click on "Price"

- Choose a date from the Review Date drop-down menu to sort only reviews from that date rather than the entire database of reviews

- If you can't find a particular wine on my site, whether in the recent reviews or in the database, then I haven't reviewed it.

For Paid Subscribers:

- Once you're logged in as a paid subscriber, you don't have to select any particular search criteria: The results will automatically show the wines reviewed most recently.

How do I renew my subscription each year?

About a month before your subscription expires, you'll get an e-mail to this effect. Your subscription will be automatically renewed for you unless you choose to cancel it.

How do I find a wine from a particular year?

Would you please recommend wines for my child's birth year?

I plan to tackle the topic of buying cellar wines made the year your child was born. It requires some serious research to answer properly. It's hard to generalize about wines: not only do vintages and regions vary, but so do wineries and even wines within wineries.

Bordeaux and port age best; there's some debate as to whether the wines of California and Australia and other New World countries can age past ten years.

You can search my wine reviews by using multiple criteria: indicate the year you desire, score, price and region for example.

Do you recommend organic wines?

Yes I recommend organic wines regularly. To find them, use my search engine and type in the word organic in the wine/grape type blank.

Would you please recommend a wine that won't give me a headache?

I haven't researched the causes of headaches and hangovers in-depth. For some people, it's the tannins or histamines in red wine, for others, it's the sulfites in white wines. Experimenting with different styles and regions of wine may help you to identify the ones to which you're most sensitive. This may be something to ask your doctor the next time you have a check-up. You can also click on the search button, which is dedicated to my site. Search for particular wines, regions, grapes or winery names.

Do you review non-alcoholic wines?

I don't evaluate non-alcoholic wines often as they're not widely available. You'll find a few of them among my picks if you use the search engine. You can try searching the web for some evaluations.

How do I give a gift subscription to a friend?

To give a gift subscription of Nat Decants Wine Reviews to a friend, click here.

I forgot my password?

For password help, please click here. Once you login, click on the box that says "Keep me logged in" so that you don't have to remember your password next time.

How do I submit a wine for you to review?

I do accept samples. For details on how to do this, please click here.

Do for you offer a PDA, Blackberry and mobile format?

Yes, I have formatted both the wine reviews and a more compact version of the search engine for PDA, Blackberry, iPhone, cell phone and other handheld mobile devices. You can easily read and search the wine reviews on a smaller screen when you're shopping in the liquor or dining in a restaurant. You can bookmark your login here.

There's also a Mobile Login under the main navigation on Wine Reviews that you can click. Once there, click on the link to keep you permanently logged in so that you don't have to remember your password next time.

I have a question that's not answered here.

Please visit my Frequently Asked Questions to find more answers.




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Natalie MacLean

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Natalie MacLean is editor of Canada's largest wine review web site, publishing hundreds of wine reviews every week for more than 260,700 members.

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