• Alexander Smith

Wine Spectator Top 100...my thoughts

So a couple of weeks ago the Wine Spectator released their Top 100. If you are a winery featured in the Top 100, your sales are guaranteed to soar to new heights, even more so if you are in Top 10! Yet there is always controversy and questions with the way the Top 100 is selected, as you will read below.

Kistler Vine Hill 2017 came in at No.6 (obviously not Stone Flat!)

So how does the Top 100 work? Is it the highest scored wines featured in Wine Spectator? No. So according to Wine Spectator:

These wines are a diverse group—ranging from emerging labels and regions to traditional estates exploring new directions—and all generate the excitement we call the “X-factor.”

They also mention:

our selection also prioritizes quality (based on score), value (based on price) and availability (based on the number of cases either made or imported into the United States)


As many wines are made in limited quantities and not available in every market, our Top 100 is not a “shopping list,” but rather a guide to wineries to watch in the future

Ridge Monte Bello 2017 came in at No.77 (2006 shown)

So creating this list is very challenging. I will have my own Top 10 in a little over a week, and I am already scratching my head of which of the 400 or so wines I should place in the Top 10. Now imagine having tasted 1000s of wines and having to create a Top 10 or Top 100. It is not easy. I don't always agree with the wines selected, as you will see below, however in general it gives a good idea of which wineries are performing well in certain regions.

Wine Spectator diversifies as much as possible, and will try to showcase the vintage which is selling that year(not in 2020!). Looking at this year's list, just under 30% are from the U.S which makes sense, since they spend a lot of the year highlighting American wines. They do their best to cover a range of prices too, with around 90% below $100 USD. The cheapest is $15 USD and the most expensive $230 USD.

So let us look at the Top 10:

  1. Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010

  2. Aubert Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast UV Vineyard 2018

  3. San Filippo Brunello di Montalcino Le Lucére 2015

  4. Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2016

  5. Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Trois Sources 2016

  6. Kistler Chardonnay Russian River Valley Vine Hill Vineyard 2017

  7. Massolino Barolo 2016

  8. Bodega Piedra Negra Chacayes Los Chacayes 2015

  9. Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge The Beaux Frères Vineyard 2018

  10. Bollinger Brut Champagne La Grande Année 2012

A good selection of wines, and certainly worthy of the Top 10. I have never tasted Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta, yet to be on the Top 10, I will trust it is worth it.

So at this point, you are probably thinking, wow you have written this post with no additional thought than to say "Good Job Wine Spectator". Nope! Now here are some additional thoughts:

  1. Same wine used in 2019 and 2020? Yup, I noticed that both Château de Beaucastel and Mayacamas are in the Top 100 two years in a row with just a vintage change. Mayacamas made the Top 10 two years in a row. How does this make any sense? I thought the Top 100 was meant to be about originality. This is a poor choice

  2. Lack of availability - Aubert and Peidra Negra are fantastic and world class wineries, yet their wines are impossible to find. I understand that this gives a guide of which wineries to watch out for, but what is the point of highlighting a winery which you will never be able to buy wine from?

  3. Vintage choices - They did not have the best wines to choose from with most being of the famous 'bad' 2017 vintage. Yet, some producers did produce fantastic wines in 2017. My message: Showcase the vintage, and don't fall back to a previous sold-out vintage. AKA Mayacamas 2016.

  4. Boring choices - La Crema, Trimbach and Joel Gott are great entry level wines but are not suitable to be in the Top 100, and they certainly do not have an 'x-factor'.

  5. Where is the Australian quality? Penfolds, Fowles? That's it? I know Australia has significantly better wine which is being exported to the U.S: Henschke, Moss Wood, Leeuwin, Tyrell etc. Let us try to be a little bit original, no?

  6. Invivo Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough X, Sarah Jessica Parker, really?

Good SB, but not worth of the Top 100

So at this point, most are probably thinking....are these wineries paying to be on this list? I am 100% sure the answer is no. However does it benefit Wine Spectator to put big wine brands on the list every year? Such as Constellation Brand or Treasury? Absolutely. If they only had one spot for an Australian wine and they choose a boutique winery (exporting 200 cases) or Penfolds (1000s of cases), which one do you think they would choose? ;) Does Penfolds have an x-factor? Of course not. They make great wine, but do they deserve to be on the list for Bin 28? Of course not.

So which wines would be on my shopping list?

No. 6. Kistler Vine Hill 2017 ** difficult to find

No.9 Beaux Frères The Beaux Frères Vineyard 2018

No.26 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Fig Tree Vineyard 2018

No. 57 Château Figeac 2017

No.77 Ridge Monte Bello 2017

No.81 Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Léognan White

So in summary, my request to Wine Spectator would be:

  1. Focus on the vintage

  2. Ensure wines on the list can be purchased by the consumer

  3. Don't put the same wine and a different vintage, two years in a row

  4. Don't repeat the same names within a 5 year period.

So what does everyone think about the Wine Spectator Top 100 2020? Any discoveries which I missed?

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