Gregutt: My Tasting Methodology


A question came in from a reader that warrants more than a quick reply. He wrote: “I notice that you often try wines over a two- or three-day period, something I rarely do. What sort of things do you learn in doing so? Is it just age-ability or is there more to it? I usually only do it if a wine is entirely too young but wonder if I should broaden my tasting horizons. Of course, how many bottles of that wine I have dictates my drinking behavior somewhat. So does availability.”

Let’s dive into it. For all the many years I was reviewing wines for a wide range of publications, both print and digital, I had to follow specific guidelines. That’s part of the job – no complaint there. But when I decided to leave the corporate world to begin writing about wine here, I realized that I had the opportunity to set my own rules and guidelines. My guiding goals are fairness to the winemaker and value to the readers. In pursuit of those ends I gave considerable thought to how I would set up my now and future tastings.

I’ve written extensively about blind tastings and I won’t repeat all that here. But I do not do blind tastings. I want to know the full context of the wines I’m exploring, as you would were you tasting at home. I also have cut way back on the number of wines I’m tasting. I have done and can do a couple hundred wines in a day. I don’t believe that is respectful to the wine, the winemaker or the consumer. Along with cutting down the sheer number of bottles, I have greatly expanded the amount of time spent on each individual wine. That gets into the heart of the reader’s question. What is the added value of tasting a wine over hours and days rather than a quick splash and dash?

I would argue that with young wines (or barrel tastings) all you get is a quick snapshot if you blast through them. I want a movie, not a still image. All wines are in motion, and only by catching a wine, whether young or old, at various times over a reasonably lengthy period, can I give it a fair evaluation.

Furthermore, as I mostly taste young, newly released wines, I want to get a sense of a wine’s ageability. By returning to it over several hours and days, I can make a good assessment. I’m just now retasting a pair of Syrahs that were opened two days ago. Same winery, same vintage, different prices. They are both drinking quite well, and have smoothed out from the first day in a gentle, graceful way (see next part of this post for more on that!). That tells me that they are balanced, alive and worth cellaring.

To be clear, not every wine gets better after 24 hours. As a reviewer I’m also looking for unsuspected flaws. Sometimes I sniff something that seems not quite right. Give it a day and either it will go away or bloom into something more recognizably bad. Those of you who like to keep wines in the refrigerator and drink them cold take note that over-chilling wines shuts down the aromatics and conceals flaws.

OK, if you are leaving some wine in the bottle to taste on the second day, how do you preserve it? There are many ‘systems’ for preserving wines, and I use none of them. My system is to push the cork back in the bottle and leave it on my kitchen counter. On the next day it will either be better, the same or worse. Note that older wines move to the beat of a different drummer. My hold ‘em rather than fold ‘em methodology is specifically for young wines.

If you often find a half bottle is all you want to drink with dinner, you may try keeping a few empty 375s on hand for saving the second half. Pour the new young wine immediately upon opening it into the split and put the cork on it. Drink the rest of the 750 with dinner. I don’t recommend refrigerating either reds or whites but that’s up to you. Experiment and see what works best.

What about wine aerators? Don’t they accelerate and/or improve the flavors of new wines? Well that’s the claim they make, and I launched an interesting debate on my Facebook page by posting a link to an NBC News article that claimed to explain and recommend wine aerators. The article was a thinly-disguised ad for Coravin, which isn’t an aerator at all but a wine preservation system. The other aerators it examined were a mixed lot of not very good examples. Believe me, I’ve tried them all, up to and including a magic wine wand that sold for almost $500 but was supposed to make your wine taste better.

Come on! You don’t need to do anything more than decant wine to help it to breathe. You don’t need expensive aerators to beat the crap out of it. Serve it at room temperature and swirl it a bit in the glass. Decant if it still seems a bit closed. Forget about aerators. The discussion I launched on Facebook devolved into a theory that putting wines in a blender actually improves them! I’m sorry, this makes no sense at all to me.

Winemakers often go to great lengths not to subject wines to being pumped and jostled when moved from place to place in the winery. In some wineries gravity flow architecture helps to ensure that young wines won’t get trashed while going from press to fermenter to barrel. The best wines get light (or no) filtration. Some top wineries give finished wines extra bottle aging (up to several years) prior to release so they have time to knit together properly. And you’re telling me that in order to make them taste ‘better’ you have to put them through a blender?

NOTE:  Back home after a warm weather break I’ll be diving into more reviews of new releases from the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a taste.

Maison Bleue

Now owned by Willamette Valley Vineyards, this Rhone varietal specialist is one of the newest featuring estate grapes from the Rocks District AVA. Planted in 2018 to 15 acres of Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, the first vintage was harvested in 2020. These are the current releases.

Maison Bleue 2022 Voltigeur Viognier

Sourced from a new vineyard just off the highway at the east end of the AVA, this is loaded with flavors of peach, nectarine and guava fruits. It’s got a little bite to it as it settles down the palate, but with ample breathing it smoothes out and the aromatics explode. Barrel aged on the lees for eight months, it finishes with a touch of honeycomb and breakfast tea. The significance of Voltigeur remains a mystery. 475 cases; 14.2%; $45 (Rocks District) 91/100

Maison Bleue 2021 Voyageur Syrah

The winery notes that some Seven Hills Syrah is blended with the estate fruit, but apparently not much or the Rocks District AVA would not be allowed. Though the legendary funkiness associated with Rocks District Syrahs is here a bit muted, this is a fine example of Syrah as it expresses in such top sites as Boushey. Blue and black fruits, sappy acids, a streak of balsamic are all in play. This fruit-driven wine should be enjoyed over the next 3 – 5 years. 1300 cases; 13.7%; $58 (Rocks District) 91/100

Maison Bleue 2021 Frontière Syrah

Limited in production and higher in price, this appears to be a reserve though the named components are the same as the Voyageur. A barrel selection? With limited knowledge you search for what might differentiate this as a reserve. To begin, it’s most enjoyable, with ripe blackberry fruit and a defining frame of barrel toast. With a bit of sipping it’s clear that it’s got more grip and depth than the Voyageur, and makes a fine stablemate. The finish coats the throat with a mix of baking chocolate and espresso grounds. 100 cases; 13.7%; $75 (Rocks District) 92/100

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.


  1. Do you have an opinion on the simple,cheap Vacu Vin wine saver device vs. cork back in the bottle ? Thanks !

    • I don’t think the Vacu Vin does anything at all – neither good nor bad. I’ve tried it – I’ve tried pretty much everything. Go ahead and use it if you think it makes a difference. It won’t do any harm.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.