Wine Reviews: The Essential Guide

Posted by Keith Wallace

As long as there’s been wine, there’s been wine reviews. In Roman times, Pliny the Elder was very adept at identifying the best wines in the empire. A good review from the old guy could change a wine region’s destiny. But unfortunately, two thousand years later, not much has changed.

Top Wine Review Sites

Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Wine Enthusiast

The Wine Enthusiast Magazine, headquartered in New York and published since 1988, has over 800,000 readers worldwide and has a friendly approach to wine. Wine accessories, education, and wine storage units, amongst others, are common subjects in print and online. Lifestyle and food are also comprehensively covered, making this publication an all-rounder.

Published fourteen times a year, with its wine rating system, the magazine reviews a whopping 24,000 wines a year, and reviews are free to browse. Wine Enthusiast is famous for its annual Top 100 lists, and winemakers are happy to fall in any of them.

This is the only major wine site that does not charge for reviews, making it the go-to resource for reviews.

Antonio Galloni’s Vinous


One of the newer wine rating publications, it was founded in 2012. Several of the top wine critics are employed here. That includes Stephen Tanzer, Neal Martin, and Josh Reynolds. An online publication, Vinous is now one of the most respected outlets for wine ratings.

Vinous is the up-and-coming wine review magazine with some of the best writers and content available. Most people in the wine trade see this magazine as the new leader in wine writing.

The publication offers a paid online subscription. Check out the bottom of this article to find out how to read their wine reviews for free.

Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator Wine Reviews

In 1979, publisher and editor Marvin R. Shanken launched one of the most prominent and well-known wine publications. Wine Spectator annually reviews over 15,000 wines from around the world in their fifteen issues. In addition, they review 400 and 1000 wines, focusing region by region. The magazine also has a powerful mobile app that allows registered users to find reviews for thousands of wines, including points awarded.

Wine Spectator’s Grand Tastings, on-the-road wine fairs with no rival, tour the world, offering unique opportunities to taste the best wines and the people behind them.

To view reviews, you will need to pay for an online subscription. Check out the bottom of this article to find out how to read their wine reviews for free.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Robert Parker'S Wine Advocate

There is no more controversial –or famous– wine critic than Robert Parker. First issued in 1978, his Wine Advocate publication reviews over 12,000 wines every year. Robert Parker’s point system has been adopted across the wine trade. It grades wines as extraordinary, outstanding, above average, and below average. Based on the UC Davis Scale, the rating range from  50 (below average) to 100 (extraordinary).

Robert Parker has been controversial more than once, and his preference for over-extracted, overly oaked wines has shifted winemakers’ practices to fall into his grace. The Parkerization of wine seems to have lost importance in the new century –Millennials don’t even know his name– but he will forever be part of wine review history.

The magazine offers a paid online subscription. Check out the bottom of this article to find out how to read their wine reviews for free.

Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages

Jancis Robinson Logo

Jancis Robinson is a wine writer, reviewer, and author. Her work includes some of the essential wine books ever written, including the World Atlas of Wine and Wine Grapes, a compendium of over 1300 grapes and their characteristics. Her website, often called the Purple Pages for the website’s theme, is a source of on-point wine reviews, now adding up to 180,000 tasting notes.

Jancis Robinson’s team comprises a handful of Masters of Wine that cover the most significant wine regions on earth. Jancis’s solid reputation and extensive resume give her wine notes weight, positioning her and her team as perhaps the most respected wine review resources on the web.

A highly respected book author, Jancis Robinson and her team are brilliant. However, they don’t write enough reviews to be considered a top publication for ratings and reviews.

A subscription to their reviews is available for purchase.

Decanter Magazine

Decanter Wine Reviews

The monthly magazine Decanter was founded in London in 1975. Its in-depth, insightful approach makes it one of today’s best wine resources. Wine regions and producers are covered thoroughly, making the magazine a valuable source of information for amateurs and seasoned professionals alike.

Decanter’s wine reviews are incredibly detailed and focused, but most of them require users to sign into their paid Premium program to access. On the other hand, the Decanters Best lists are free and offer spectacular wines for different topics, like the Best South American wines under $20.

Decanter’s reviews tend to contradict other reviews and are not considered as significant as other national or international publications. Readers must have a paid subscription to access their wine reviews.

The Wine School

Wine Reviews

While the school’s reviews don’t have the Wine Spectator’s or Advocate’s breadth, they are essential to buying wine in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.  The school only reviews wines that are available in PA Wine & Spirits Wine Stores. You can check out our wine reviews here.

Wine Reviews: What to Know

Modern Wine Critics

Wine writers, critics, and specialized publications rate, review, and recommend thousands of wines every year. As we know it, the wine industry wouldn’t be the same without these information channels. Instead of Pliny the Elder, we have Robert Parker. Wine reviewers set trends and guide customers’ preferences; they are an essential part of the industry.

Wine Magazines

Specialized publications are often the link between winemakers and consumers. High points and accolades can change the future of a wine producer, but as a wine connoisseur, one must be careful not to get influenced by a single good review. The following are the most influential critics, publications, and wine reviewers. Getting to know them will broaden your wine knowledge. They may even inspire you to write your reviews.

Wine Preferences

But wine is also personal; its enjoyment depends on your tastes and experience. Your favorite wine might not earn high scores, and that’s OK. On the other hand, one hundred pointers might not be your cup of tea, either.

Each of the wine magazines listed here rates wine slightly differently. However, you may find that the wine ratings of specific critics align closely with your preferences.

The 100 Point Scale

The scale used for reviewing wines is pretty straightforward. Quality wines will be graded between 87 to 100 points. Anything below an 87 is not worth buying. A wine rated above 91 is exceptional, and a wine rated above 95 will be insanely good.

The sweet spot for quality for value typically ranges from 88 to 91 points. But what does the scale mean? It’s all about typicity. A Cabernet from Napa is a very different wine than a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, so they are rated differently. A 95-point Napa Cabernet that costs $100 means it is an exceptional Napa Cabernet for the price.

How to Get Wine Reviews for Free

Most wine magazines have put their wine reviews behind a paywall because many wine buyers are willing to shell out money. But what if you want to access them but aren’t willing to pay for those reviews? A few wine databases offer their wares for free (like we do).

What if you want access to all the wine reviews without shelling out hundreds of dollars? That is pretty easy. Wine reviews sell wine. That’s something everyone in the wine trade knows. That’s why most wine shops (and wineries) post positive reviews about their wines.

Using a service like wine-searcher will show you how many reviews a specific wine gets, and if you go to a wine shop that sells the wine, more likely than not, they will post all the positive reviews verbatim.

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