Wine Spectator Top 100
Analyzing the 2020 list
This week, Wine Spectator, the nation’s most-read wine publication, released its annual list of what their tasters consider to be the Top 100 wines of the year. These are not wines that were produced in 2020, which – based on the weirdness of this year – will be interesting to watch in the future. Rather, they are the wines that were recently released and reviewed by Wine Spectator’s editors and tasters over the last 11 months.
The top wine, No. 1 on the list, was from Spain: the Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010, a tempranillo-based wine made by an old line Spanish producer. Of the 7,500 cases made, just 680 were destined for these shores. While it currently lists for $130 a bottle, watch as the price will inevitably rise due to its spot at the pinnacle of the most influential wine ranking in America. Being the top drop on the list forever changes the course of a winery and that of the life of a winemaker. Think of it as winning the Heisman Trophy of wine.
Fittingly, the notes for this year’s winner were penned by Thomas Mathews, the long-time editor of the Spectator, who announced he was stepping down at the end of the year. Matthews joined the magazine in 1988, the same year this list was inaugurated, and has long been the lead taster for Spanish wines. The selection of the Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja no doubt was shepherded by Mathews.
When The Top 100 list was originally conceived 31 years ago, it was created to provide a service for readers to help them navigate their way through the wines of the world. Since then, the list has evolved to become a powerful force in the industry, making the Top 100, and especially the Top 10, can make an unknown brand both profitable and relevant.
While it may seem like a fun process, tasting and rating wines 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 over 5,000 wines that have scored 90 points or higher. These wines represent successful wineries, regions and vintages from around the world.
The goal is to provide a list featuring wines that are tasty, provide great value, and that can reasonably be found in wine shops. Perhaps most importantly, they also need to be wines 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 undergo a thorough review so that the final rankings can be determined.
The Top 10 this year features eight reds and two whites represented by the Kistler Chardonnay Russian River Valley Vine Hill Vineyard 2017 (No. 7) and a vintage Champagne, the Bollinger Brut Champagne La Grande Année 2012 (No. 10).
While there are no wines from Bordeaux in the elite 10, there are two wines produced from Bordeaux varietals, a Napa cabernet sauvignon from Mayacamas, the Mount Veeder 2016 (No. 4) and a 100% Malbec wine from Mendoza Argentina, Bodega Piedra Negra Chacayes Los Chacayes 2015 (No. 8). The Los Chacayes estate is a project headed by French producer François Lurton.
Similarly there are no wines from Burgundy, but pinot noir is represented by a pair of American-made wines. The runner up wine at No. 2 is Mark Aubert’s 2018 Aubert Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast UV Vineyard 2018. This wine hails from a vineyard planted by one Sonoma’s most beloved grower’s, Ulisis Valdez, who passed in 2018, the year this wine was made, but whose children maintain his legacy and the quality of vineyard. Yes, story matters.
The other Burgundian red varietal is a Willamette Valley 2018 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir (No. 9) from the Ribbon Ridge vineyard. The Etzel family first settled in what is now the Chehalem Mountains AVA in 1988, yes the year the Spectator list began and Thomas Mathews first penned his stories for the publication. All three entities have prospered over the last three decades.
There are, of course, 100 wines in the 2020 Wine Spectator Top 100 list in the Dec. 14 issue, on sale now. Each has a story.
Reading and tasting them is a good way to close out a difficult year.
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