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Highlights from the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting

mainroom.jpgAs regular readers know, I pride myself on my coverage of major wine tasting events. I go, I taste a lot of wines, I'm very diligent about it, and I report on the tasting very quickly, sometimes the same day. Well perhaps I'm slipping a bit, but it's been over two weeks since the Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries and Wines of The Year tasting here in San Francisco and I'm just now getting around to writing it up.

My delay has nothing to do with my lack of enthusiasm for the event. It was a very good tasting. The quality of the wines on offer were very high, and the food was plentiful and quite good. The folks running it could have done a pouring.jpgslightly better job arranging the tables and giving people a sense of where to go (the wineries were mysteriously grouped -- one room clearly was dedicated to "big reds" but another held both the aromatic whites and the pinot noir, while another held Spanish wines and zinfandels, and so on) but in general it was a nicely assembled event.
I tasted most of the wines on offer, though I ended up skipping a few in the effort to finish up during the narrow press preview before the public arrived and it became difficult to taste.

It seems as if quite a few of the wineries that were accorded the honor of being in the Top 100 were there (though there were notable absences, especially among the French wineries. Petrus didn't bother to show, and neither did a few others). It was interesting to note, however, how many of the wineries actually poured the specific wines that had been highly rated by the magazine. Chateau de Beaucastel, Bruno Giacosa, and M. Chapoutier brought out their top wines (including the 206 case production, $200 per bottle Chapoutier L'ermite Blanc), yet some wineries clearly brought their lesser wines for the tasting, which seemed rather silly and sort of cheap to me. food.jpg

The food offered was quite good for one of these public tastings, including shucked-to-order oysters, excellent cheeses, and canapés by some excellent restaurants in the Bay Area including Cesar and A16 among others. I especially liked a little mouthful by Cesar which seemed to be Jamon Serrano over a slightly sweet jam spread on a nice baguette round. It went perfectly with some of the bigger wines on offer.

For the same reason it's taken me a while to do this (being busy as hell), I'm not going to do my usual thing and review every wine at the tasting (or at least every wine that I tasted). I'll list my highlights, which I figure is what most people pay attention to anyway, right? While it might be amusing for you to know which wines sucked, the much more relevant list are the ones that were fantastic, no ?


2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo DOCG, Piemonte, Italy. Score:9.5/10. Cost: $127 .
2002 Cesca Vicent "Abat Domenech" Priorat, Spain. Score:9.5/10. Cost: $68.

1994 Bodegas Montecillo Gran Riserva "130" Rioja, Spain. Score:9.5. Cost: $50.
1996 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. Score:9.5. Cost: $75.
2002 Costers del Siurana "Clos de L'obac" Cabernet Merlot Bland, Priorat, Spain. Score:9.5. Cost: $68.
2003 Egon Muller Sharzhofberger "QMP" Riesling Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Score:9.5. Cost: $49.
2002 Flowers Vineyard "Camp Meeting Ridge" Pinot Noir, Sonoma, CA. Score:9.5. Cost: $65.
2002 Henschke "Mt. Edelstone" Shiraz, Barossa, Australia. Score:9.5. Cost: $100.
2002 M. Chapoutier "L'ermite Blanc" White Blend, Northern Rhone, France. Score:9.5. Cost: $200.
1999 Pecchenino "La Castella," Langhe, Italy. Score:9.5. Cost: $30.
2001 Pieropan Recioto de Soave "Le Colombare" Late Harvest, Italy. Score:9.5. Cost: $47.
1999 Pieve Santa Restituta Estate "Renina" Brunello, Montalcino, Italy. Score:9.5. Cost: $ 110.
1998 Prunotto "Bric Turot" Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy. Score:9.5. Cost: $ 76
2002 Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot, Sonoma, CA. Score:9.5. Cost: $52.
2002 Shafer "Relentless" Syrah, Napa. Score:9.5. Cost: $62.

2004 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, Australia. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $18.
2002 Dr. H. Thanisch "Bernkasteler Badstube" Reisling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $17.
2001 Babcock Vineyards "Grand Cuvee" Pinot Noir, Santa Ynez Valley, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $33.
1981 Bodegas Montecillo Gran Riserva "Seleccion Especial" Rioja. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $75.
2003 Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Francois Chidaine "La Tuffeaux" Vouvray Demi-sec, Loire, France. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $20.
2002 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, Russian River Vally, Sonoma, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2002 Gary Farrell Chardonnay, Russian River Vally, Sonoma, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2003 La Pietra del Focolare "Villa Linda" Vermentino, Liguria, Italy. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2002 M. Chapoutier "La Sizeranne" Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $75.
2002 Maison Louis Jadot "Clos de la Commeraine" Pommard, Burgundy, France. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Merry Edwards "Meredith Estate" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $48.
2003 Merry Edwards "Olivet Lane" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $62.
2001 Parusso Barolo, Piemonte, Italy. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $60.
2000 Pecchenino Bricco Botti Dolcetto di Doglani, Italy. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $30.
1999 Pieve Santa Restituta Estate "Sugarille" Brunello, Montalcino, Italy. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $ 140.
2003 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet, Sonoma, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $ 64
2000 Prunotto "Bussia" Barolo, Piemonte, Italy. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $76.
2000 Quinta de Ventozelo Tinto, Duoro, Portugal. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $15.
2002 Ridge Vineyards Montebello Cabernet Blend, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $60.
2002 Cesca Vicent "Lo Piot" Priorat, Spain. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $45 .
2002 Costers del Siurana "Miserere" Priorat, Spain. Score:9/9.5. Cost: $45.

2004 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis DOC, Piemonte, Italy. Score:9. Cost: $ 26.
2002 de Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume, Burgundy, France. Score:9. Cost: $39.
2002 Comte Lafond Sancerre, Loire, France. Score:9. Cost: $48.
2003 Francois Chidaine "Les Argiles" Vouvray, Loire, France. Score:9. Cost: $17.
2002 Georg Bruer "Terra Motosa" Riesling, Rhinegau, Germany. Score:9. Cost: $22.
2002 Henschke Keynton Estate "Euphonium" Shiraz/Cab/Merlot Blend, Barossa, Australia. Score:9. Cost:$45.
2003 Iron Horse Vineyards Estate Syrah, Sonoma, CA. Score:9. Cost: $38.
2003 La Pietra del Focolare "Augusto," Vermentino, Liguria, Italy. Score:9. Cost: $25.
2001 Martin Ray Merlot, Diamond Mountain District, Sonoma, CA. Score:9. Cost: $35.
1998 Parusso "Mariondino" Barolo, Piemonte, Italy. Score:9. Cost: $70.
2002 Robert Karl Cellars Cabernet, Colombia Valley, WA. Score:9. Cost: $26.
2003 Rosenblum Cellars "Lyons" Reserve Zinfandel, Sonoma, CA. Score:9. Cost: $40.
2002 Shafer Vineyards Cabernet, Napa. Score:9. Cost: $60.
2003 Tamarack Cellars "Firehouse Red," Colombia Valley, Washington. Score:9. Cost: $18.

Comments (9)

Carry wrote:
10.31.05 at 12:54 PM

Very interesting list of favorites. If I counted correctly, only three wines were from outside California and Europe. Have you thought about this in the context of your other reviews? Does it reveal a bias?

Lenn wrote:
10.31.05 at 1:37 PM

I'd still like to know which wines were awful... :)

Jack wrote:
10.31.05 at 3:53 PM

Alder's not biased - there were very few non-California/European wines at this tasting.

Vincent Pinard wrote:
10.31.05 at 8:21 PM

The list of wines appears to be quite a lovely spectrum of offerings.

That said, listing nothing more than a numerical score doesn't really give readers much of a sense of the character of the various wines being tasted.

All we know is Alder seemed to find the wines to be to his taste.

I can't tell from these "notes" if a wine is hugely oaky, slightly sweet, overly acidic, not acidic enough, an herbal Sauvignon Blanc or an oak bomb.

A few adjectives would be more helpful in actually offering "notes" about the various wines being evaluated.


Alder wrote:
10.31.05 at 9:34 PM


Thanks for the comments, and a perfectly valid question to ask. By "outside California and Europe" presumably you mean primarily South America, Australia/New Zealand, and South Africa. Of the 100 wineries that won awards (independent of which ones I liked), only 9 were Australian, 1 was Kiwi, 1 was South African, 1 was Argentinian, and 3 were Chilean. That means that a full 85% of the wines awarded were from California and Europe, which hopefully eliminates any question of bias on my part.

Alder wrote:
10.31.05 at 9:42 PM


Thanks for your comments. Yes, numerical scores are inherently limiting, and essentially meaningless unless you happen to know my palate and find agreement with what I like and don't like (this is true of any wine critic who uses scores of any kind). However, many of my readers have been around for some time, so the scores offer some information to them. Of course tasting notes, as you point out, are infinitely more useful, but it is physically impossible to write tasting notes at large tastings like this one and taste a good portion of the wines.

Essentially there is a tradeoff between the number of wines I can taste and how much information I can capture about each. Its most useful and educational to me personally (and for my readers) to taste a lot of wines and compare them, even if it is just by numerical score, than it is to make accurate tasting notes for just a few.

Also, the palate gets fatigued after 80 or so wines, and it becomes much harder to make accurate tasting notes, so I really can only evaluate wines more quantitatively at that point.

Jason wrote:
11.01.05 at 7:51 PM

Good to see you at the tasting! I also very much enjoyed the Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red. Here are some of my notes -- I believe all of these are available in the Bay Area:

Tamarack ("tree"): 59%(?) cab, 20% syrah, 10% cab franc, 10% merlot, 1% carmenere. 10,000 cases. Aged in American, French and Hungarian oak. Smooth, elegant, nice weight. Sorry it's not more detailed, but I tasted this toward the end!

2003 Elyse Petite Syrah from Rutherford. $35. Huge -- a smackdown in your mouth! Coffee, earth, smoked meat, blueberry licorice. Winemaker is Ray Courson, who also makes another favorite of mine, Shifflett.

2002 Perigee ("close to the earth"), made by L'Ecole from the Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley. 57% cab sauvignon, 37% merlot, 6% cab franc. $40-$45. Excellent structure, with blueberry and coffee grounds.

2003 Yangarra Estate Vineyard. 60% grenache, 35% shiraz, 5% mouvedre. 15 months in French oak. $25. This wine had a bubble gum nose which I found very interesting. The palate is elegant, with spicy notes.

11.07.05 at 9:37 AM

Coming from yesterday's tasting at the Geffen playhouse in Los Angeles myself, I'd like to add that it is virtually impossible to collect good tasting notes at an event where foods, perfumes, chatty people, your own chattiness as well as various smells and tastes of foods mixed with the occasional layer of stale cigarette smoke compete with the scent and taste of a wine which, typically coming from a generic little glass and often pulled from under your nose by a gust of wind or a polite little elbow jack to your lower ribs, is ultimately reduced to its bare essence,wine, without a lot of adjectives.

Alder wrote:
11.07.05 at 10:04 AM


Absolutely right. Love the point about getting the elbow in the ribs, I feel sometimes after these tastings like I've been playing rugby...

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