By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor

NYCR_WoTY Almost from the second that last year's inaugural New York Cork Report Wines of the Year tasting ended, we've been discussing how we want to evolve  the program moving forward. That desire to improve the WoTY has led us to make several changes — some small, some larger — for this year's edition.

The basics are still the same though. Our regional editors — Evan Dawson (Finger Lakes), Bryan Calandrelli (Niagara) and me (Long Island and Hudson River Region) — will choose the finalists, which will be tasted and discussed by the group in January. To be eligible, a wine must be released during the 2010 calendar year.

As with last year's tasting, the entire NYCR team is invited to the tasting, but only the wine editors can vote.

The wines will be tasted in regional flights first and then the winners of each of those will be tasted again in cross-state flights by category — Sparkling Wine, White Wine, Red Wine, Dessert Wine. Simple majority wins regional rounds and a state-wide winner is chosen if voting is unanimous.

We are making some important changes, however:

New "Beer of the Year" Category. Now that Julia Burke has taken on the role of beer editor (and with many of us drinking local beer with great regularity), we feel ready to add a single beer category this year. Julia will choose five beers from throughout the state for us to taste after we're done with all wine flights because after all, who doesn't need a beer after tasting wine all day?

Elimination of Chautauqua – Lake Erie Regional Category. We pride ourselves on our wide-ranging coverage of New York wines, but none of us feel comfortable enough with our knowledge of these wines to choose finalists in any category. Hopefully we'll be able to include the C-LE region again in the future.

Paring Down Categories for the Hudson River Region and Niagara Region. For a variety of reasons, we've decided to eliminate the sparkling wine and dessert wine categories for the Hudson River Region AVA. Similarly, we've removed the sparkling wine category for Niagara.

Adding Categories to Long Island and Finger Lakes Regions. Partly because we support the concept of signature varieties and partly because of our experiences at last year's tasting, we've decided to add "Riesling" as a category for the Finger Lakes (with "Other Whites" taking the place of "Whites") and "Merlot" for Long island with "Other Reds" replacing "Reds").

No Blind Tasting. We aren't going into this with the goal of selecting the "best" wine in any region or any category — that's an abstraction that doesn't exist. We're also taking into account more than what is in the bottle. A wine's story and context matter. So, we won't judge these wines in a vacuum.

Editor's Note: We decided not to eliminate blind tasting completely. Read the details.

Local Fruit/Juice Requirement. Last year, some of the finalist wines were made from fruit and/or juice grown in other New York regions. While we understand the need for that, our goal is to highlight the best of each region. This year, for a wine to be eligible at least a portion of the fruit/juice that went into it must be sourced from within the region.

We will be announcing the finalists in each region and category on Wednesday, December 15 here on the site, on Facebook and on Twitter.

For the tasting itself, the New York Cork Report staff will descend upon the North Fork the weekend of January 15, 2011.