Playing Hard to Get

Why do we review wines with limited distribution? Because they're a component of balanced coverage. Because they're there.

I am not a psychic, but I predict that in a few weeks I will get a letter from a reader asking me: Why do you devote so much coverage to wines that I will never be able to obtain?

It's crystal clear from the cover of this issue how I divined this letter of the future. Ann Colgin, Delia Viader and Naoko Dalla Valle are prominent Napa Valley winemakers who produce what are often referred to as "cult" wines. These are bottles that are shipped to people on exclusive mailing lists and snapped up at auction. They rarely make it to store shelves and only onto exclusive restaurant wine lists. There are many examples throughout the world of small-production wines that even intrepid, well-heeled wine enthusiasts have a close-to-zero chance of finding. Rare garagiste Bordeaux and small-parcel Burgundy wines are further examples of bottlings that are more talked about than sampled in this country.

At Wine Enthusiast, we do not hold an elitist view—that is emphatically not what we are about. And though not all cult wines and small-parcel Burgundies are great, many of them do live up to their reputations. They are excellent. The great wines—whether from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, California, wherever—are benchmarks. They offer a level of excellence to which we compare all others. So we must cover them to some degree, and I won't even pretend that it's a hardship.

Think about other magazines' roles, their conversations with their readers: People magazine takes an occasional glance at ordinary folk, but its primary focus is on celebrities. Golf magazines cover courses that most of their readers will never play. Culinary magazines present many recipes few people will actually try. Excuse the tradespeak for a moment, but in the magazine business we call this coverage "aspirational." In our case, it means that we know that our readers get a vicarious thrill, and an educational benefit, from reading about hard-to-obtain and superpremium wines.

But that's not the entire world of wine, which is why we strive to offer a balance. Part of our mission in reviewing wines is to help you decide what to buy, whether it's for investment, for your cellar, or something to drink on Tuesday night with pizza. We like to think that readers compare their own experiences and expectations of wines with ours, and in this give-and-take, there is enjoyment on a sensory, and an intellectual, level.

We would like to hear from you on this subject. Do you feel that Wine Enthusiast provides balanced coverage of the full spectrum of wines—from the imposible-to-obtain to the everyday? And if so, is balance what you're looking for in a wine magazine?

Editor-at-large Jeff Morgan's account of his dinner with these three charming and accomplished women, in addition to notes on their spectacular wines, forms the centerpiece of this Napa-themed issue. But there's much more of interest this month, especially if you're going to spend any time in wine country. When planning a wine country vacation, many of us think in terms of winery visits, golf, tennis and spas. But as Glen Putman reports, there's plenty of gung-ho adventures available in California wine country, from renting a race car to swinging on a flying trapeze.

Australian Shiraz and California Syrah have become so popular in the last several years, that many people forget where some of the best Syrahs in the world are produced, and have been produced for decades: the Northern Rhône. Roger Voss pays the region a timely visit. Also in this issue, we are proud to introduce Oz Clarke, one of the world's greatest writers on wine, as a columnist.

The world of wine is a vast one, and there are great bottles for every budget. We will continue to cover that entire world as best we can, because we share the dream of obtaining 100-point wines and, best of all, enjoying them with friends.

Cheers and viva Italia!

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