Editor’s Note: January/February 2013

We’re drowning. Everywhere we turn—choices and more choices. The settings on our cars, our phones, our Facebook profiles, our very privacy. The food we eat: vegetarian? Gluten-free? Our morning coffee: extra-strength? Half-caf? Yet for all the choices we face, we’re not adept at making them. “Most people are terrible choosers,” the New Yorker asserted a few years back. “They don’t know what they want, and the prospect of deciding often causes not just jitters but something like anguish. The evidence is all around us, from restaurant-goers’ complaints that ‘the menu is too long’ to Michael Jackson’s face.” Surfeit leads to indecision, indecision to inaction. Don’t believe me? Pick your own proof: when I searched for “paradox of choice” Google gave me 3.57 million options.

Paradox of choice is the name American researchers Mark Lepper and Sheena Iyengar gave to this gap between all the things available to us and all the items we’re sure we need. Their landmark 2000 survey (which has not been replicated) showed that shoppers in a supermarket were more likely to buy a new jam from six options than from 24—a counterintuitive discovery in an age built on the basic assumption of something for everyone.

Before these thickets of choice, how can we avoid paralysis? Often, we turn to experts—software suggests what music, movies, and romantic partners we’ll enjoy. Reality TV models our lives for us. I’ve spent my own career becoming an expert of sorts: for 10 years, I reviewed a book a week for local media. How did I select and evaluate 500 books? Choosing got easier. And now that I’m free to read as I like (or watch TV instead), I miss that unrelenting demand to select.

For this issue, we asked 17 experts to evaluate 650 wines. For three days, they sampled their way through every bottle, comparing notes, arguing over styles and profiles—trusting their instincts, their deep experience, and their pool of common knowledge as they whittled crates down to 106 value-rich standouts. Their findings begin on page 34, where you’ll also find their names—now you’ll know, the next time you’re at the liquor store, who to thank as you elbow between the ditherers en route to that great bottle you’re confident is the right choice for you.