A Cracked Top 100

Wine Spectator magazine has an annual “event” they call the Top 100. It is their combined editor’s opinions on what wines make up the best 100 wines they reviewed in the current year.

For retailers and distributor sales reps, it means a lot of phone calls, some “hell no you can’t cherry pick my portfolio that you never supported in the past”conversations, some “yes, you can have wine X, so long as you take the rest of the alphabet first” and quite a bit of “well, we did have it earlier in the year and told you how good it was, but now we are sold out and onto the next vintage of that wine”.

Ahh, the good times, I remember them well. Thank goodness for speed dial.

This year there was a bit of added drama. I won’t go into the all the gory details, but you can explore them yourself at Wine Berskers and Wine Spectator. Basically, someone figured out the list ahead of publication and posted about it, forcing Wine Spectator’s hand into releasing the results early, not to mention banishing the offending poster of said state secrets. Don’t worry, even if you’d had this information, you still couldn’t get the WOTY (Wine of the Year) since it is a mailing list only wine.

Oh yes, you can view it for yourself by clicking the pretty picture and on Monday, 11/22/2010, you’ll be able to view the entire list free of charge. The magazine is running a promo allowing you full access to the site and 50% off an online subscription, which means you get a full year of online access for only $25. I’d give that a BUY.

As for the Top 10 revealed so far, it is actually a bit surprising and boring at the same time. First off, you’ve got other wines with similar scores, pricing and production that I’m surprised didn’t make the Top 10. The biggest shocker is the 2006 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, which garnered 94 points, has a retail of $34.99 – $39.99 (cheap for Napa Cabernet) and a readily available case production of 18,500. Compare those numbers to the 2007 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon (#5) which was 96 points (classic vs. outstanding for those two extra points), $85 retail & 3,000 case production and the 2007 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon (#4) with 97 points, $125 retail and 2,000 case production.

It is also curious because last year, when the economy really seemed to suck (is it really any better now…I thought it was worse…), there were many more value plays in the Top 10. Look at the 2009 #6 spot, which was taken by the 2006 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon which scored 94 points, retail value of $42 and 7,650 case production. Seems like the 2006 Hall would have been a shoe-in, but once again, it demonstrates the rather finicky nature of this annual list.

Another wine of topic was the 2007 Dow’s Port, which garnered the rare perfect score of 100, came in with a retail of around $80 and a decent production of 6,200 cases. Sounds as easy as slam dunking on a 6 foot rim. Was it left off because the man who reviewed it no longer works there? I’m speaking of James Suckling, whose tasting beat consisted of Italy and the sweet wines of Port (still wines are reviewed by someone else). Or was it some sort of conspiracy against sweet wines, which along with sparklers, are often neglected by well, everyone.

Overall, the top 10 was very different than last year in character. This year, it started out rather diverse, with a white CdP, a still wine from the Douro (same area as Port) in Portugal, a Tuscan (but not Chianti) Sangiovese that has been a Top 10 before, an Australian (the one value priced wine on the list) Shiraz and a Pinot Noir from California that is actually possibly still available at retail. Then, it went all California on us, with a whopping 5 out of 10, not to mention 4 of the top 5 spots. Hmm…perhaps they call from the Guvernator requesting insisting on help to keep California from declaring bankruptcy. Oh wait, they’ll just get a bail out from the Chinese federales.

Some folks say there are too many of the super concentrated, over-extracted, bombastic style wines on the list. Well, it is their list after all. And, honestly, a lot of people (myself included) like that style of wine. Maybe not all the time, but I don’t mind a good shot of ripe-syrupy-lacking acidity-oak laden fermented grape juice. Drinking wine as a cocktail is not a crime, though some wine geeks might have you thinking that. I can appreciate all styles and like to switch around, otherwise my palate gets bored. I have the same breadth of taste in music and movies, since I can in the same hour appreciate a soulful tune from Zero 7, a tour-de-force from geek favorite rockers Rush followed by a brain-busting-arena-rock-anthem from Kiss or Nickelback. I loved Lost in Translation (and was the only one in the movie theater when I saw it in its second week of release) and dug Armageddon for all its lunacy and classic over the top Michael Bay goodness. Now I know why I love Thanksgiving so much…the horn of plenty flows freely through my soul. Hell, I even watched Glee this week.

You’ll see lots of folks bashing the list and that is fine too, but I’m no hater. I used to have a customer who collected Top 100 wines. It was a ritual for he and his daughter, as they would sometimes go together, following the list like some long-lost pirate treasure map. I used to set aside a bottle of each in my inventory and contact him to see if he wanted them. Some he did, others he’d already bought during the year. For him, it was often a way to try new things. I thought that was cool to have such a family ritual and anything that gets people to explore new wines is a-okay in my book.

I do NOT recommend you buy a wine just because it was on some end of year Top whatever list, but if you use it to seek out something different that perhaps you’ve not tried before, go for it. Honestly, I think that is what many wine fanatics dislike about the list, that people think of these wines as being the absolute best wines. The list will be peppered with value priced wines that are worth seeking out and hopefully, they won’t have sold out already. Sometimes you can even find wines from previous year’s lists, like the 2008 Dr. L Riesling (#62 and around $12) from German genius Ernst Loosen.

Well, at least it gives folks something to hash and gnaw on for a few days. Until next year’s edition…

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