If you want to start a lengthy, heated debate with an oenophile, ask them their opinion on wine rating systems. It’s likely they’ll talk about the “Parkerization” of wine – this idea that producers are catering to the preferences of Robert Parker to secure high scores for their wines to sell more product. They may mention the dangers of consumers following the scores in Wine Spectator like they were baseball stats versus listening to their own palate. Or throw out alarmist phrases like “the loss of terroir” and a global market of wine catered to the American “Coca- Cola” palate. Ok, you probably don’t want to talk to those people because they are a little pretentious, but in general we share the same concerns. It’s not that we have an issue with the idea of a wine rating system; it’s just that in general, we find most of them a little broken.

The danger of assigning a number to a wine is it doesn’t provide any context. It doesn’t tell you about the region or the grapes. It doesn’t further your understanding of the wine. However, the 2007 Penin Guide to Spanish Wine ($36) is changing the dynamic.

8495203340.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V44986299_AA240_.jpgThis hefty guide (1171 pages) may seem a little intimidating at first but don’t let its density dissuade you. This book has tons of helpful tips and interesting facts for all skill levels. It provides the most comprehensive information on all Spanish wine regions, the current situation and the foreseeable future. Or if you want to look up a score on a specific wine, it’s likely to be in there among the 10,190 brands reviewed (but read the D.O. information that goes with it). But the best reason to get this book is to get know some of the emerging wine regions in Spain, where the values are located. At a press conference last week, Jose Penin, leading Spanish wine authority and coordinator of the guide, talked most proudly of the developments that are occurring in central and eastern Spain. He described emerging regions and a steady increase in quality in the Vinos de la Tierra (the Spanish equivalent of Vin de Pays, or wine of the country). Penin, believes that much of improvement is due to lack of restrictions for these areas, giving them flexibility to produce good wine. There are over 60 pages in the book dedicated to these wines alone.

This is a wine guide for those who want to become a savvier wine shopper, not just looking to buy the wines with the highest ratings. The scores in the book are conservative but consistent. Penin has taken the complicated, ever-changing Spanish wine landscape and made it tangible, approachable and exciting. And we don’t think there is any wine expert out there, worth the silver in their taste-vin, who would argue with that.