Wine Ink: America’s list as Wine Spectator names top 100
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
K Syrah Walla Walla Valley Powerline Estate 2014
It has been quite a year for Washington winemaker Charles Smith, who sold a number of his successful bands in 2017 to mega wine giant Constellation for over $100 million. But he kept the K wines series of which this Syrah is a gem. Big and dark, it is a wonderful expression of the power of Washington syrah. It came in at #2 on the Spectator’s Top 100 List.
It may be America’s most important wine list.
Each year, Wine Spectator, the bimonthly bible of wine in America, puts together its “Top 100 Wines of the Year.” This November the publication released its picks for 2017, and any one of the wines selected would be welcome at my table.
When the Top 100 list was originally conceived in 1988, it was created to provide a service for readers to help them navigate their way through the wines of the world. Since then, however, the list has become a powerful force in the industry. Making the Top 100 can make an unknown brand both profitable and relevant.
While it may seem like a fun process — tasting and rating wines — it can be a long and laborious journey for those at the publication whose job it is to whittle the world’s wines down to the final 100. The tasting team starts with more than 5,000 wines that have scored 90 points or higher in 2017. These wines represent successful wineries, regions and vintages from around the world.
The goal is to provide a list featuring wines that are not only tasty, but provide great value, that can reasonably be found in wine shops and that have great stories behind them. Or, as they say at the Spectator, wines that bring “quality, value, availability and excitement” to the table. The wines are tasted blind and rated on a variety of criteria. Once the best wines are identified, they then undergo a thorough review so that the final rankings can be determined.
Looking at the Top 100 list, it is easy to get a world view of wine. From Australia (No. 48 Penley Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra) to Argentina (No. 27 Kaiken Malbec Mendoza Ultra Las Rocas), from Uruguay (No. 41 Bodega Garzón Tannat Uruguay Reserva) to South Africa (No. 49 Rust en Vrede Syrah Stellenbosch), the southern hemisphere is well represented on this year’s list.
France and Italy, as one would expect, dominate. France has both white (No. 3 Château Coutet Barsac) and red wines (No. 5 Château de St.-Cosme Gigondas) near the top of the tastings with the great names and regions (No. 62 Clos Fourtet St.-Emilion and No. 83 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Clos des Myglands) sprinkled throughout. The highest rated Italian wine (No. 4 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino) is one that has been in the top position in the past. Spain also had a number of wines make the cut (No. 59 Bodegas Emilio Moro Tempranillo Ribera del Duero).
Domestic wines are largely from California (No. 16 Turley Zinfandel Paso Robles Ueberroth Vineyard), Oregon (No. 70 Lingua Franca Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Tongue ‘N Cheek) and Washington (No. 13 Sixto Chardonnay Washington Uncovered). But a beauty from New York (No. 31 Forge Riesling Finger Lakes Classique) found its way onto the Top 100, as well.
While some may assume that a list like this would lean toward expensive wines, there are an impressive 24 bottles, nearly a quarter of those represented, that cost $20 or less. The least expensive wine on the list is a mere $12, a Matua Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand, which clocks in at No. 40. The most expensive wine, at $165, is from the Napa Valley, the 2014 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon, which is ranked 93rd and receives a score of 96.
Of course everyone wants to know the No. 1, and this year the Spectator selected a classic. The 2014 Duckhorn Merlot from the iconic Three Palms Vineyard took the top spot. Editor Kim Marcus’ note on the wine read:
“A powerful red, with concentrated flavors of red plum, cherry and boysenberry that are layered with plenty of rich spice and mineral accents. Touches of slate and cardamom make for a complex finish.”
And while the $98 wine is perhaps the greatest merlot ever produced in the Napa Valley, I think there may have been some sentimental reasons for the selection. Both the Wine Spectator and Duckhorn had their genesis in the bicentennial year of 1976.
Clearly there is a generational simpatico between the Spectator and the Duckhorn winery, both of which have evolved over the past four decades to positions of prominence in the world of wine. Bravo to both for great work in wine.
The entire list can be found online, but the best way to experience it is to get a copy of the Dec. 31 edition of Wine Spectator, which goes on sale this week.
And don’t forget to get a bottle of wine to sip while you read it.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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