How happy is the felicitous life of a wine writer! To paraphrase the iconic rock band Dire Straits, it\u2019s money for nothing and your wines for free. But, the reality is that the wines aren\u2019t free. They\u2019re samples to be opened, tasted under blind conditions and then disposed. Often wistfully so.\r\n\r\nThe truth is that wine writers are also wine consumers. We purchase the wines we want to share, cellar and drink. And like any consumer, we want value. We want to strike gold with every bottle.\r\n\r\nNow, value wines are not always cheap, and cheap wines are not always good values. But you can avoid a lot of ordinary vino if you follow a few guidelines.\r\n\r\nBeware of generic phrases like \u201cBarrel Select,\u201d or \u201cWinemaker\u2019s Selection.\u201d While the wine may indeed be a special selection, more often, the winery is simply talking up juice that it didn\u2019t pour down the drain. To get to the bottom of the wine\u2019s breeding, ask why and how the \u201cselection\u201d was made. Same is true for \u201creserve\u201d bottles, a label that is largely unregulated for New World wines and essentially meaningless unless supported by details.\r\n\r\nHow many bottles or cases were produced? Check the back label. Production of a few hundred cases or a low number of bottles indicates that the wine is truly limited, which means there\u2019s a better chance that it\u2019s indeed a cut above the regular bottling.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGold medals? They\u2019re a dime a dozen. Unless you know how the judging is conducted, or if this competition or organization has a reputation for finding excellent wines, such awards are no guarantee of quality. Too many medals can actually be a warning sign. Top wineries rarely enter such competitions. Those that do often pay a fee. Entrants know that these competitions typically seek to award as many medals as possible\u2014bronze, silver, gold, double gold, platinum, best in category, best in show and on they go.\r\n\r\nWhat about scores? Scores can be helpful, which we certainly hope is the case for our own Wine Enthusiast ratings and reviews. But you have to pay close attention and trust your source. You want to see a proven track record, credentialed reviewers and well-defined methodologies. Consider if a reviewer\u2019s recommendations often line up with your own tastes. There\u2019s little value in scores derived from crowd-sourced notes, blogs or, worse yet, wine sellers themselves. And beware of sneaky marketers or retailers\u2014always make sure that a promoted score and/or review are for the exact same wine and vintage you purchase.\r\n\r\nLastly, to be a socially conscious consumer, be sure to check back labels for other information. Regulated credentials, like certifications from Ecocert, Demeter, SIP, LIVE and Salmon-Safe, indicate that extra care was taken in the vineyard.\r\n\r\nLook for accurate, vintage-specific technical information, not just vague notes about using \u201cthe best\u201d grapes or someone\u2019s \u201cpassion for winemaking.\u201d Forget made-up stories about happy campers and little black dresses. You want details about vineyard sources, grape blends and fermentation practices.\r\n\r\nI\u2019d love to hear about what gems you find. Use the hashtag #WEtaste and share your vinous discoveries with me and all other thirsty consumers out there.\r\nThree Smart Buys from Oregon\r\nThese wine recommendations were updated October 1, 2019.\r\n\r\nElk Cove 2018 Estate Pinot Blanc (Willamette Valley); $19, 92 points. Intense in juicy, succulent fruit, this opens with lovely botanical aromas and flavors of ripe lime, grapefruit and fresh apple. The flavors are layered and deep, lifted by refreshing minerality. Editors' Choice.\r\n\r\nEvening Land 2016 Seven Springs Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills); $35, 92 points. Svelte and smoky, this is a sexy bottle of Pinot Noir. The fruit is supple and seamless, with plums, marionberries, figs and chocolate. Aged for one year in 25% new French oak, it's firm and rippled with touches of olive and mushroom. This exceptional value is simply a riot of flavor. Editors' Choice.\r\n\r\nThe Eyrie Vineyards 2017 Pinot Gris (Dundee Hills); $21, 92 points. From the winery that introduced Pinot Gris to America, this is a full-bodied, fleshy and beautifully fruited wine, which delivers the same level of richness and complexity as many top-tier Chardonnays. Robust apple, white peach and green melon flavors are dappled with white pepper, or perhaps daikon radish. The finish seems to carry on indefinitely. Editors' Choice.